Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing on a wall just before getting into Najera (Day 9 of my journey)

This writing sums up my camino very well.

        Dust, mud, sun and rain
        Is the Camino de Santiago
        Thousands of pilgrims
        And more than a thousand years

       Pilgrim, who calls you?
       What hidden force attracts you?
       Not the field of the stars
       Nor the grand cathedrals

       It is not the courage of Navarra
       Not the wine of the Riojas
       Nor the seafood of Galicia
       Nor the plains of Castile

       Pilgrim, who calls you?
       What hidden force attracts you?
       It is not the people of the Camino
       Nor the rural customs.

       It is not the history and culture
       It is not the cock of La Calzada
       Nor the palace of Gaudi
       Nor the Ponferrada Castle

       I see them all as I pass
       And it is a delight to see everything 
       But the voice that calls to me
       I feel much more deeply

       The force which pushes me
       The force which attracts me
       I cannot explain it
       Only He who is above knows it

Oct. 8, 2010 - Finisterre

Decided to spend one more day here. Our hostess served breakfast. There were 7 of us. I had met everyone before at one point along the way (except Nadine the German girl who was my room mate). It was a lively discussion with everyone talking about where we all met. After breakfast they all left to buy their bus tickets.

I went looking for my walking stick which I left somewhere the day before. Ran into Teresa from Austria. Sat and had cafe con leche with her. She also was feeling sad. I am glad I ran into her one more time to say good bye. I keep thinking I have seen everyone in the last couple of days that made up my camino, but I still keep running into people. Even though I walked most of the way by myself, I have met so many people who made a huge impact on my journey.

Sat on a rock watching the waves for a while when all of a sudden I got a panicky feeling that I should go. Just before I got to the marina it started pouring rain. There was a bar close by so I went in and sat at the table just in front of the open doorway. There was a street market just outside the bar and they were scrambling to cover their tables and racks with plastic tarps. The rain came down so hard and fast there was an inch of water in the street. The wind blew over a rack of clothes. Felt bad for the marketeers. In spite of the plastic tarps, everything was soaked and they all packed up and left.

Had an excellent view of the huge waves crashing into the breaker in the harbour. Actually sat there for 6 hours watching the rain and the ocean. At times the ocean looked so rough and turbulent that even the locals just stood in the doorway and watched. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I thought how could something so soothing and peaceful be so dark and rough and angry and frightening. I think that life is like that at times as well.

Never did find my stick. At first I was really upset. I carried that stick everyday for 37 days. It helped me climb up and down the hills and mountains, countless stairs, it saved me from many falls, it was a leaning post when I needed a rest, support for walking when my ankles hurt, and sometimes a pole to hang my coat when I stopped for a break. It had become a third arm and it served me well. Funny how as long as I was walking the camino I didn't even think about it, it was just always there. Yesterday, three times I had to go back for it because I kept leaving it behind. Guess I no longer needed it so it was time to let it go. I really wanted to keep it as a souvenir, however now I think of what a hassle it would be to take home. Maybe this is another life lesson. So many times I hang on to things that weigh me down that I should have let go of a long time ago.

Sitting and watching the ocean was mesmerizing. The waves got higher and the water kept coming closer. Felt like I had front row seats to the best movie in town. An emergency patrol vehicle kept driving by. At one point 4 men in orange fluorescent  suits got out and put rope blocking walkways where it was no longer safe to walk (not that anyone was out walking).

After a couple of hours a van pulled right up to the doors. I was annoyed because it obstructed my perfect view. An elderly man got out of the drivers side. He was using crutches and had a hard time walking. It took him 5 minutes to walk the 10 feet into the bar. I thought he must be some kind of celebrity because everyone in the bar stopped talking. Several men (it was at this point that I realized there were only men in the bar) jumped up to help him or offer him their chair. But no where was good enough. He wanted to sit at my table. Everyone looked at me. I said of course he could sit there (or rather I pointed to the chair beside me because I could not understand them and they could not understand me). He ordered a drink and  bought me a glass of wine. He shook my hand, told me his name, I told him mine, and then we sat for the next hour in silence just starring at the ocean.

I wondered if he was a fisherman at one time. He had such a far away look in his eyes as he was looking out to the ocean. Everyone who came into the bar nodded or squeezed his shoulder. At one point he fell asleep in the chair. He woke up and apologized for falling asleep. I said that was ok.

Another hour went by. I saw Renata walk by. I waved and she came in, ordered a glass of wine and sat and starred at the ocean with us (she decided not to go to Mosia Mosia because of the bad weather). The waves were getting higher and coming closer. If someone stood in front of us, the fisherman (I call him that because I did not understand what his name was) would say something and they immediately moved out of the way. The water had come so close the ground had become covered with crab like looking bugs that jumped. They started coming into the bar. The bar tender dumped soapy water in front of the door so they wouldn't come in, but the rain washed the soapy water away and they kept coming. Everyone was standing around looking at them and trying to catch them. Renata and I sat with our feet on the chair rungs just watching. The fisherman said something to one of the guys. The guy caught one of the bugs, brought it over and put it on our table so Renata and I could get a close-up look. The only thing I understood the fisherman say was "this was not normal". I had already gathered that.

Shortly after, the van came back to pick up the fisherman. Everyone in the bar stood up when he got up. Renata said "I think this was a special event". I thought so too.

I no longer felt lost and sad, but am feeling calm and peaceful and am now ready to say that my camino is finished even though I think it will take a long time to process the last 5 weeks.

Oct. 7, 2010 - Santiago to Finisterre

Slept longer than I intended (8:40). Was hoping to catch the 9:00 bus to Finisterre, however did catch the 10:00 bus in spite of the fact that, with my poor sense of direction (and no yellow arrows), I took a couple wrong turns to the bus depot. Ran into Rieta at the cafe at the bus depot also on her way to Finisterre. The views of the mountains and the ocean on the way was beautiful. I soooo felt like I should be walking.

Found a place to stay in someone's house. The people were really nice (even though we could not understand each other). Rieta had already left for Cabo Finisterre by the time I was settled (she was taking the 5:00 bus back to Santiago so didn't have time to wait for me).

Wandered around the marina and ran into Don & Mary Kay. We had lunch (it was already 3:00 and we were pretty hungry). I then decided to walk up to Cabo Finisterre - "the end of the world". It was a 2-3 km walk. On the way there I met Rieta on her way back. We said  our good byes. We called ourselves 'camino sisters' because we always seemed to be on the same wave length.

Like the camino, the walk to the-end-of-world and back was far more spectacular than being there. Got back to Finisterre around 7:00 and just wandered aimlessly feeling lost and sad. Found a rock to sit and watch it get dark - was no sunset because it was cloudy and misty, but it felt good to just sit and watch and listen to the waves of the ocean.

Went back to the house around 9:00. Renata from Germany was sitting by the kitchen table sipping wine and planning her next move. She poured me a glass and we chatted about our caminos till after 10:00 when we realized our hostess was waiting for us to go to bed so she could also go to bed.

Oct. 6, 1920 - Santiago

Had to be out of my room by 9:30. Can't believe I slept till almost 9:00. I had to hustle.

Found my way back to the plaza by the Cathedral and the place where pilgrims can store their packs till I could find another place to stay. Had a quick breakfast then went to the Cathedral for 12:00 mass. Got there around 10:45 and found one of the last seats only because, with my pilgrim's pass, I didn't have to stand in the long line. Steve got there shortly after me and was able to squeeze in the bench. The one hour wait before service and the one hour of sitting through the service and not understanding anything was worth being able to go for communion and see the swinging of the botafumeiro one more time.

After mass we met Riete and Roger for lunch. We ran into Don and Mary Kay from Ottawa so all had lunch together. Kept seeing many of the people I had met in the last 5 weeks. It was so amazing to see everyone. Ran into Leona at the Cathedral. She did find her credential on the floor in the bar at the last place we stopped.

After lunch we all made plans to meet for dinner at 7:30 and went our own way. I found a hotel room close to the cathedral. It was nice to have a few minutes to myself and soak in the tub. Tried to sleep for a while but couldn't so I just walked around the shops looking at all the trinkets for sale.

Had a very nice dinner. Said goodbye to Steve again, which was very hard to do because this time I knew for sure I would never see him again.

Oct. 5, 2010 - Santa Irene to Santiago

We left just before 8:00, the 4 Spanish guys leading the way with their flash lights. About 2 km down the road Riete and I stopped for cafe con leche and toast. We walked most of the way in silence, excited about getting so close, yet still feeling some pain from yesterday's long walk.

We stopped in Lavacolle for a break. Leona and her husband were there. We chatted for a bit. Leona had her credential out. Her husband said to her that she should put it away. We joked about how awful it would be to walk all this way and loose it at the last place you stopped before reaching your destination. They left and we followed about 20 minutes later. After walking about 15 min., we saw them coming towards us. Leona did not have her credential and they were going back to look for it (not funny!).

The path was crowded today. There were some tour groups that were just walking for the day to get a feel of 'walking the camino'. One lady was video taping Rieta and I and asking us all kinds of questions.

We arrived in Santiago around 2:00. It was about an hours walk before reaching the cathedral. As we were crossing a bridge, shortly after we got into the city, the 4 Spanish guys were standing at the bottom of the hill cheering us on. They hi-fived us and we walked to the Cathedral together. When we got there we weren't sure where to go or what to do. It was a bit overwhelming and we were confused and tired.

Riete and I decided to go to a restaurant, sit for awhile, and then figure out what we should do. As we were eating, Roger (can't remember where he is from) walked by and saw Riete (they had walked together for a  few days a couple weeks earlier). He joined us and then became our guide (he had already been here for 3 days). We ran into Bart from Belgium. He told us he was staying at the seminary albergue which was only a 10 minute walk away so we decided to go there too. There was a mass at 6:00 which Roger wanted to go to. We thought if we hurried, we could go get our beds, dump our stuff and meet him.

On our way back to the Cathedral we ran into Jacques and Liz (from Quebec) who I had not seen in 3 weeks. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited to see them. I still think of them as my guardian angels. I met them on the 2nd day of my journey and saw them everyday for the first 2 weeks. Every time I needed help or was going the wrong way, they were there to help or point me in the right direction. They wanted to go for coffee but we only had 15 minutes before mass started.

When we got to the Cathedral there were so many people everywhere. Riete found a bench that had a couple seats. She saved the seats and I went to look for Roger and Bart. I was talking to Roger and a familiar voice behind me said "You're not suppose to talk in here". I turned around to see Steve from Texas.  It was so good to see him!

Was very surprised at the end of the service when they swung the botafumeiro (You Tube). It is a massive silver incense burner that is said to be the largest in the Catholic world. It takes 8 men to tie the knots and get the massive apparatus swinging across the cathedral. This botafumeiro dates back to 1851. Apparently the original was stolen by Napoleaon's troops when they looted the cathedral.  It was quite impressive. As it was swinging over the pews, it looked like it just skimmed the top of peoples heads and almost looked like it was going to hit the ceiling. They usually only do it at noon for the pilgram's mass, however someone told me if someone makes a donation they will do it at other services (it cost around 800 euros each time they swing it).

After mass, Riete, Roger, Bart, Steve & I went for dinner. It totally amazed me how we all found each other with hundreds of people around. We were done dinner by 8:30 and the Pilgrim's office was open till 9:00 so Rieta and I thought we would see if we could get our compostela (certificate proving we completed the pilgrimage). Can't believe how exciting it was and what a feeling of accomplishment. Roger and Steve took pictures of us. It really was a special moment and even more so to be able to share it with someone.

Was back at the albergue by 10:00 (had my own room). Even though I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted I had a really hard time falling asleep.

Oct. 4, 2010 - Melide to Santa Irene

Left the albergue in Melida shortly after 8:00. As I was walking past the municipal albergue, Riete was just coming out so we walked together. Another guy joined us. After a few minutes I picked up my pace because I really do like to walk the first hour or so in silence. Met up with Riete further up the road and we walked the rest of the way together.

It was very quiet today. All the new people that just started were nowhere in site. There was quite a storm last night. The entire path, for the next two days, was littered with bark and tree branches. In three places large trees had actually blown over and covered the path.

We walked 32 km. My longest day of walking. Didn't plan on walking that far but when we reached Arzua it was only 12:00 and we both felt we had enough energy to walk at least 2 more hours. So we stopped for a cheese bocadilla (Arzua is famous for it's cheese - it really is very good), then kept walking. Two hours later we were ready to stop but there were no albergues. We ended up walking till 5:00 and were pretty tired. Riete was having problems with her knees and my ankles hurt.

After we were settled we found out that in order to have dinner we had to walk back 1 km. So we did. We splurged on an expensive bottle of wine (6 euros) to celebrate our accomplishment today and because it was our last night before reaching Santiago. We laughed a lot talking about our experiences and the people we met over the past 5 weeks. There were 4 Spanish guys sitting 2 tables away from us. We joked around with them all evening (even though we could not understand them and they could not understand us). They were staying at the same place we were. It was a fun evening and much excitement about getting so close to our destination.

We had to rush to get back so we wouldn't get locked out. A late night for pilgrims.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oct. 3, 2010 - Palas de Rei to Melide

Left around 8:00. It was raining quite hard but that was ok, still felt like singing. The song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" kept playing over and over in my head. A few days ago there were a couple of ladies walking behind me singing hymns in German. I recognized the songs but couldn't remember the words so I just hummed along. Several hours later (the ladies were long gone) I remembered a line from one of the songs, "Thank you, that I can know my worries can be cast on you". Now the song keeps coming back but I put in my own words.

I have always liked walking in the rain, especially through the forest and much of the walk was through the forest today. The colours and smells are so different in the rain. Some farm houses had wood stoves burning and I walked slower because I love that smell.

After walking for 3 hours I stopped for a break. Was surprised to see it was actually someone's house where they opened the front room for pilgrams to come in and have cake and something to drink. Riete from Holland and Leona from Australia were there (Leona's husband had joined her in Sarria to finish the last 100 km with her - she looked quite happy). It was so good to see familiar faces. It reminded me of Stephan's comment about how these familiar faces feel like home. We chatted for almost half an hour and sang a few lines from "Singing In Rain".

Walked the rest of the way to Melide with Riete. The mini rivers on the trail were becoming wider. In some places it looked like little lakes. Rieta joked that tomorrow we may need a canoe. I thought about the guy from Madrid who thought yesterday's walk was boring. He was having problems with blisters and  bought a pair of sandals. He said as long as he wore the sandals he was ok. I'm thinking he's probably not walking today.

Had planned on going as far as Azura, however, by the time we got to Melide I was soaked to the bone, my toes were squishing in my shoes, and I was worried that the contents of my pack were getting wet. I was done singing in the rain.

We found the Municipal albergue but it didn't open for another half hour. The private albergue beside it was open but cost 4 euros more. I was starting to feel chilled so paid the extra 4 euros so I could go get out of my wet clothes.

Only walked 15.5 km today. Spent the afternoon hanging around the albergue. Around 6:30 decided to go and explore. Walking past a bar, I recognized Riete's laugh so I went in and had a glass of vino tinto with her and 2 other ladies from Germany. Left there to find a pharmacy to buy some Halls. Didn't find a pharmacy but found the church where mass was just starting, so went there instead. On the way back to the albergue, I saw a Panaderia (bakery) that was open. Had a cup of decaffeinated loose leaf tea that tasted like cherries. Believe it or not, she also sold Halls.