....To Santiago

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!