....To Santiago

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The blog that went silent

Even with the best of intentions, it turned out to be impossible to blog on this site while I was walking the Camino.  The best I could manage was to post some of my photos on FaceBook, so I will try to fill in the gaps and post photos later.
The walk took 11 days with one rest day on the 7th day (funny how the Sabbath insists on being honored.) we averaged 15-20 kms per day with somewhat challenging elevations and cobblestones through the entire Portugal segment.  Cobblestones are very tiring underfoot, but beautiful to look at as they curved gracefully ahead of us through the lush and elegant landscape.
Aside from the physical challenges of cramps and blisters and walking through pouring for entire days, the emotional challenges dwarfed them during the second week when I received the news that my mother passed away on May 11, just three days before Mothers Day.  My mother always scoffed at Mothers Day, disparaging it as a "Hallmark holiday". But she could not escape the piignancy of our family feeling as we poured our hearts out on social media, seeking solace.
I just kept walking, knowing that this was where I was called to be at this very sad moment.  And I was grateful for the chance to be left alone for long hours of walking and absorbing my surroundings, reflecting on this turn in the road in our family life.  My sister let me virtually "visit" my mother's bedside as she was fading, and we shared our grief.
So I walked into Santiago where I lit a candle for her and for others I was praying for in the Sepulcher of the Cathedral.  And my Camino family, including Stuart, comforted me and kept me company until the time of return from our pilgrimage.  Now we are back and the way forward still awaits.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Camino Stride

This is our third day of walking in Portugal and we are just beginning to get our Camino legs. Today was tough, 20 km with a big climb, on and off rain all day, but we sent our packs ahead of us which helped with speed and blisters.
More importantly we have begun to form a Camino family with a mother and son from the U.K.  We met them at the start of the second day as we were leaving the village of Rates.  We bonded almost instantly and are helping each other along the road.  We all sense that we are brought together for reasons that only the Camino itself knows.
There are signs that my personal pilgrimage has started with intensity:  I woke up the second day in Vila do Conde with a bout of self-pity which needed an immediate remedy.  As I was slinging my pack on for the first walk of the day in front of a small church, I stabbed my finger badly on the sprung safety pin that fastened my pilgrim scallop shell to the pack.  I cried out and called to Stuart to help me get a bandaid out of the first aid kit. As I stood nursing my bleeding finger, a gentleman walked across the square and approached me swiftly.  He spoke a few soothing words in a language I could not understand but his intention was clearly to offer kindnesss.  He extended his right hand towards me and I took his hand with my uninjured left hand and after a quick squeeze and a soft look into my eyes, he was gone.
I bandaged my finger and as I began to walk, the thought came to me that I had just encountered Santiago himself, who wanted me to know that I was in his care here on the Camino.  The next thought that arrived was that I was now to be prepared for whatever work or grace is destined to come my way as I walk the Way. I was deep in a prayerful inner dialogue when we met our first Camino friends, so now it begins.
We are at the famous Casa de Fernanda albergue this evening, having finished a communal dinner with eighteen pilgrims at one table, ending with rousing song and dance, and much rich conversation with pilgrims from around the world.  The Camino magic has begun!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Day 1: Arriving in Porto

It has been a grueling day and night of travel: We left yesterday morning and trained to Boston Logan, flew to Philly, then all night to Lisbon.  Once in Lisbon we took a train to Porto and wandered around getting a meal and our pilgrim credencial stamped at the Cathedral Se to begin our Camino formally.  Then a final trudge through the old city to our hostel and holding on as long as possible to synchronize with the new time zone.  Stuart has a hard time with foreign trace and this time is no exception:  I hope he feels better tomorrow and ready to walk.  I seem to be blessed with an iron constitution for travel and for that I am grateful.
Wearing the pilgrims scallop shell evokes many a conversation about pilgrimage with strangers.  Met a Catholic priest from Kentucky at the airport who was on his way with his flock on pilgrimage to Ireland; a young woman chased me down to ask about the Camino because she hopes to walk it soon;  a German man sitting next to us on the train to Porto shared his pilgrim experience with on the Norte route to Santiago.  If you are pilgrims it is always an immediate bond when meeting.
I am in the gathering darkness on the roof of this hostel listening to the sounds of pigeons cooing, dogs barking, cats chasing each other on the tin rooftops and seagulls calling.  It barely sounds like a city, more like a farm yard.  But Porto is very lively and full of beautiful blue and white tile murals, lovely Romanesque buildings, river scenes, and a warm vibe.  The Portugese are as wonderful as I have always heard, so friendly and helpful!
I will try to post photos later.
Off to bed at long last.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ultreia!...et Susiea!

In medieval times, walking a pilgrimage to Santiago began the moment your foot left your doorstep to make your way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela-- usually on foot, possibly with a burro or horse, perhaps as a mendicant, perhaps as a king or queen.  But to make a pilgrimage was an intentional commitment to put aside a period of your life to submit completely to the Way of Saint James, also known as the Jacobean Way.  The journey could take more than a year to complete!
The early pilgrim had no options to return by train, bus or airplane, but had to return the same way that they came--on foot, or horse or burro.  It is said that pilgrims on their way to Santiago would exhort other pilgrims with the salute: "Ultriea!"  which  translates roughly as "Onward!"and pilgrims on the return journey back to home would shout the greeting, "et Suseia!"-- roughly, "and Upwards!"

(These words appear in the 11th century hymn, Dum Pater Familias, which appeared in the Codex Calixtinus.  The Codex is a medieval anthology of detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of St. James the Great, in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.  Today's Codex is more likely to be the Brierly handbook with its detailed maps and descriptions about the physical and mystical path, but the idea is the same.)

As for me, the modern pilgrim, I know that I can take an airplane after my two week walk and be home by a specific date to return to my normal routine.  But one is never the same after a pilgrimage, whether it be for two weeks, two months, or two years.  The Camino has its way with you in the most subtle of ways.  Gently unfolding, the road you traveled physically now moves internally, like a wispy travel weary map with deeply furrowed and beaten pathways, reframing your inner landscape over time,  much more time than the time spent on the walk itself.  If you have even walked a labyrinth, you understand this effect of the walking journey, no matter its length.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Training for Portugal

Stuart on Lantern Hill trail
Training for the Camino has not been our strong suit in the past:  Slogging with our loaded packs through sweltering, sopping July days in Washington DC was a greater hardship than the actual hike straight up into the Pyrenees that first day on the Napolean Route out of St. Jean Pied de Port in September of 2012.   We gave up on training and left it in St. James' hands to carry us on that pilgrimage.

It worked out pretty well, actually, as our bodies adapted quickly and we grew our "camino legs" by the end of the first week.  And though we averaged only 20 kms (12 miles) per day over the entire 420 mile pilgrimage route that we walked, we were booking much faster than that by the last 150 miles: more like 27-30 km (15-18miles) per day, especially when goal-line fever kicked in the last few days as we neared Santiago.

This time, we are five years older, but in preparation for our Camino in Portugal we are a bit wiser about the process: our packs, fully loaded, are stripped down to the bare necessities and weigh about 15 pounds, without food and water, which will add about 1.5-2 more pounds.  That is workable!

This view of Stuart from a few paces behind him brings back memories of the last camino, when this was a most familiar sight during most of my days:  Stuart up ahead, with his golden backpack looking like tortoise shell shining in the sunlight.

I obtained some trekking poles, thinking this would be a good idea to help our backs and knees. Stuart outright refused to use them, scorning those "dork sticks" as soon as I whipped them out.  He insists that the way he rolls is with a trusty bastone, the Moses staff of ancient tradition, fashioned from a big old stick.  He is carrying one here, and tossed it aside as we finished our hike.  And I have to admit, having tested out the trekking poles and trying my damnedest to get used to them, I have to agree with him that the bastone is the way to go, so I ended up fashioning one pole into a staff length and I will find a staff when we get to Portugal.

In front of Santiago Cathedral, a last twirl of my bastone
before leaving it in the Pilgrim's Office, which I regret.
Discussions ever rage on the Camino forum over which is best, hi-tech poles or a staff, and it is clear that most folks develop a preference for one method over the other.  Since we both walked the last camino with woooden staffs, it seems the body memory is strongly inclined to carry one long stick, leaving the other hand free to carry a drink, take a photo, gesticulate, or adjust the headphones without stopping.

The bastone carried horizontally is useful when walking on the verge of a busy road, to force the cars to keep a safer distance.  In fact, this time I will bring fluorescent orange tape to tie onto the ends of the bastone in traffic, in addition to the hi-vis vests we will be wearing front and back on our fleshly frames!  I hear that the drivers in Portugal are even more insane than the ones in Spain, so that totally justifies looking like a neon-festooned freak out there on those roads.  It is certainly not all woodland romps on the camino, which is the impression you get when watching Camino videos on YouTube.  Of course, pilgrims rarely film the harrowing highway segments of their camino as they are too busy trying not to get killed and, naturally, the road slogs are not as scenic as the rural pathways.  You just don't want to remember those hair-raising parts of the Way, but it is good to prepare.

I have rambled long enough on this subject....Ultreaia et surtreai!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Preparing for the Camino Portugese

Preparing for our second pilgrimage brings on some now familiar feelings of anticipation!  It has been five years since Stuart and I walked for 32 days on the Camino Frances across Northern Spain.  This time we plan to walk the Camino Portugese from the city of Porto north into Galicia and onward to Santiago, over the course of twelve days of walking.  That is barely enough time to make the 270 km but we will do our best.
There is a mysterious timing to walking the Camino: you don't know why you are called to do this at a certain time in your life and sometimes it only becomes clear in hindsight once you are back home and have time to absorb the experience. Upon our return, we discussed our Camino experiences every night over dinner for six months, remembering details, some painful, some insightful, some miraculous.  Almost every moment was digested and stored in the deep parts of our souls.

The Camino prepared us for some major life changes which began to take place within a short time after we returned and stored away our backpacks.  I don't know if we could have navigated those changes as gracefully as we did had we not been so strongly challenged by our 40 day pilgrimage. Walking those 420 miles made us much more assured that we could handle anything life might throw us: I had to very soon face that my working life had become toxic and was causing me to suffer from disease; I was diagnosed with Lupus.  My father died over the following summer and my shoulder needed surgery soon after I dealt with his passing.  We decided to leave D.C. where we had lived for decades and raised our children and enjoyed many friends.  We sold our house and moved to my father's house in Connecticut, a move I had always wanted to do.  All of this happened within a year after waking the Camino and we have navigated through so much and we are so grateful for how our lives have changed.  Life is wonderful and relaxed and full of joy and faith and new friends and our new home is a dream.

So as we prepare to step out again onto the road, feeling called once more to walk the Way of St. James, I am full of joy and faith that this call is also timed perfectly to prepare us for whatever our lives are holding in store.  I think I may have some serious life decisions to make and I pray that all will be solved by walking, as St. Augustine so wisely said.  Ultreia and surtreia!