Saturday, August 9, 2003

Spain - The Camino: After

It’s difficult to describe the Camino. It is such a personal and grounding experience. Everyone creates their own journey and discovers different aspects of themselves along the way.
There are many branches of the Camino that radiate outward from Santiago de Compostella, which is like a magnate drawing all the pilgrims together. Some people even began their journey as far away as northern Europe. Some people walked, some biked and some traveled by horseback. There were also a few people who brought, or also even found, a dog along the way. There was even the odd through-back to the medieval spirit, of making the journey with a donkey.

Our journey was along the Camino Frances; this is the most popular route with plenty of accommodation. We usually covered between 25 and 30 km per day. The nights were spent in various modes of pilgrim’s quarters. They usually consisted of bunk beds and communal showers and toilets. Some were huge rooms containing over 50 people and others were divided into smaller (cozier) rooms for 4-6 people. The average age was probably 55, as most people had to be retired to afford themselves two month’s time.

Although this brought up a newly gleaned fact, many older people snore! During our two months, most of the pilgrims were Spanish, French and German; but as the season changes, so do the faces of the pilgrims.

Rough retain
Nicole and I were enthusiastic to make side trips and explore other segments of the Camino. The Camino has evolved over the centuries, with additions and subtractions being made to alter the route according to the taste and fancy of the rulers at the time. The power over the Camino wielded power over people, it brought money and commerce into regions.
Urgently needing a nap
The towns along the Camino prospered, since not only paupers, but also royalty and their entourage made the journey. So we followed a few of these routes that were erased from the currently evolving route. (We could even see changes from our 1999 guidebook that reflected new ways often leading through the town centers) But the pilgrims are revitalizing the small villages that were previously quickly disappearing with the exodus of people moving to the big cities. After all, we need to eat and drink and it was quite frustrating to arrive and find a closed shop, which often happened on a national holiday or during the long 4 hour siesta.

All the lunch we wanted to carry
We tried to have enough reserve in our packs to prepare a meal in the evening for an emergency but carrying too much made each footstep heavier. Our packs were usually about 14 kg, which included a liter of water, lunch (which sometime included a bottle of wonderful local red wine!), a sleeping bag, a second pair of shoes and then all the other stuff.

River crossing , a blessing for my feet
The most common ailment along the way is related to the almighty FOOT. It becomes the most cared for and loved part of the body. People look after their feet like you can’t ever imagine. Mine felt the weight of the extra kilos that they were transporting. They were hot and throbbing from the overwork each night and when I returned home, I realized that they had transformed too…into caveman feet. Today marks the first month after the Camino and I still feel that sensation of pain when I get out of bed each morning reminding me that my feet still do exist. I wonder how long they will continue to remember our journey?
There is also an issue of new priorities taught to each of us. The ritual of arriving in the Refugio is finding a bed, showering, washing the sweat and dirt out of the clothes and looking for food.  But also other changes in lifestyle become evident, we carry fewer old habits.

At the Refugio
They get heavy and discarded along the way. World events don’t intrude into the Camino very easily (since most papers are local and in Spanish, all I could procure was that Beckman is Big in Spain and the Basques are still active). But anyway, most people are simply too tired or relaxed to think too much. Actually, there is very fast news chain along the Camino but it is spread by “word-of-mouth” conveying the events or activities of the pilgrims. We were always kept up to date about the people we met along the way.
The Camino Stone Cairns
This was what was important. They were like a substitute family. We were all in the same “pot” sharing the Camino. There were many people that we would never have met in the “real” life simply because our paths would never have crossed. The Camino is literally a cross-path!

The cross in Galacia
Embracing the "inner" poppy
Nicki, my Camino companion

First sight of the ocean
By the time that we finished our journey, we had covered 1250 km/750 miles. We thought that we would never want to stop walking and had planned and searched for ways to extend the trip.
“Where else can we walk to?” was the question during the last week. But strangely enough, this urge subsided once we arrived in Finesterre. We had arrived. Simply, the journey was over. We then enjoyed our last days in a beach town nestled on a craggy outreach of rock and land eating fish and staring at the endless blue water. It was kind of intoxicating... in a meditative kind of way.
Finesterre, at the end of the Camino
After so many days of strenuous activity, my brain had stopped thinking. All my waking energy was funneled into the legs and after endless footsteps they carried me into a heightened state of awareness that felt empty at the same time. The brain was quieter and I noticed things better. Or perhaps I should say, I noticed the smaller things now.  Like the subtle way the season changes with frisky grapevines escaping from gnarled woody stems that eventually hold tiny specks of pre-grapes which ever so slowly add dimension and transform into wine…oops I got carried away, but I will enjoy the 2003 Rioja vintage once it appears.  I feel that I participated in creating it!

Anyway here are a couple memorable quotes that summarize this paragraph:
“I don’t feel like thinking anymore.” (i.e. I’m brain-dead or enlightened now)
“I’m watching the clothes dry.” (pure, unadulterated exhaustion)

Well this is just a small snippet of the Camino. wish everyone a beautiful and peaceful journey wherever their Camino takes them!