Day 36 October 25 2012, 0 km. Santiago de Compostela

This is the last entry to the blog. The suitable end for this pilgrim was the pilgrim’s mass at noon. Having been to very few in my life I didn’t know what to expect. It was impressive. One nun had a stunning voice and she led the congregation in song that many knew. There were many monks and red coats (sorry, I don’t know their title, but when I got my Compotsela (certificate) the day before they had a record where each pilgrim began their pilgrimage and we were all mentioned during the service by country of origin not by name. Most of it was in Spanish, a little in English and there was someone honoured in Polish which made Walter feel at home since he understood what was being said. All in all, a wonderful ending to an intense but excellent experience. The rest of the day was spend vegging. It felt great! Off to Barcelona tomorrow for a couple days of rest and then home. Thank you all! I appreciate all of your support during this endeavour.

Day 35 October 24 2012, 19 km. Santiago

I got up this morning knowing this would be my last walk on my pilgrimage, a little excited, a little relieved but mostly open to whatever. Rain was predicted and yes it did: lots and lots of rain. It was a little symbolic in a sense, a final cleansing before the completion of the pilgrimage. As I walked, I could hardly believe it was coming to an end. As I thought back, I marvelled at the fact that I actually walked over 700 km. It serves to demonstrate how when one puts one’s mind to something, and perseveres, anything is possible. Am I better for it? Absolutely! Am I one of those that will become a Camino junkie? No, I think not but the experience was everything that I had hoped for and more. We arrived at the Cathedral soaking wet because of the rain and we waited in line for our Compostela, a certificate of completion. Mine was for religious/spiritual reasons and Walter received one as well because as I had mentioned one only needs to complete 100 km. in order to receive a certificate. Walter got his for culture and sport. It is done! I will report on the Pilgrim’s mass tomorrow at noon and then the blog will be done as well.

 

Day 34 October 23 2012, 19 km. Rua

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After three days of catching up with Walter, I was back into quietude and my rhythm. Walter found his own. The path was particularly beautiful today. In speaking with some pilgrims during the last few days, I realised that I was not alone in terms of a compromised body. My situation happens to be a little unique and I was told by an epidemiologist that the hyper-allergic reaction is to the bed bugs that I had had weeks before. It is slowly getting better but I am still living on 2 Benedryl 3 times a day in order to survive this. Everyone who started when I did, has had something that has compromised their ability to function, either a twisted foot, stomach flu, food poisoning, bed bugs or blisters that can keep anyone from reaching Santiago. Its a pity that the body is what is sacrificed in order to experience a clear or possibly empty mind. The restructuring that happens inside the mind is an amazing thing. It is so amazing that many who do the Camino become Camino junkies in order to re-experience a no thinking kind of mind. As I think back to how this came about, it makes good sense. As I began my walk, the first 7-10 days I coped with physical pain and the need for the body to get used to the rhythm. Then the emotions got addressed. As I walked I remembered dealing with my preferences, rationalizations and of course processing all emotional hotspots back on the home front. Then the focus became a new kind of mindfulness that is very aware but cannot think the way that it had. For me, the inability to take in spanish lessons on my ipod made that very clear. The mind refused to be full of chatter. There you have it: the formula for an open, clear mind.

Day 33 October 22 2012, 30 km. Arazua

The beauty of this experience is the constancy of the now. We know and have heard hundreds of times that there only is the now and yet the mind either takes us into the past or projects us into the future. While walking, there is only the now, the rhythm of the step, the rhythm of the breath and a constant immersion into the beauty of the environment. Slipping into this space for over a month now has created a familiarity which hopefully can be found at will when I am not walking the Camino. I have been asked by some who have been walking for much shorter distances like 150 km. if I have enjoyed it. “Enjoyed” is not a word I would use to describe this experience. Its been an important experience in my life, one, very consciously undertaken, grueling at times, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Day 32 October 21 2012, 28 km. Palais de Rei

All things considered, today was a good day. My affliction whatever it is, is somewhat under control with the use of meds that I got from the doctor and the Benedryl that Walter brought me. Although we started later than usual, we were walking in a cloud and could not see too well. It has been staying darker longer these mornings and now it doesn’t get light until at least 8:45 am. This reminds me how long I have been at this. I started very comfortably getting out walking in the light by 7:45 am. but that’s changed. Walter and I had much to catch up on and so this is the first time that I have gotten lost and we wasted a half hour of time and we walked an extra two km. Things have changed for me but its all good. Having company at the dinner table is lovely. Having someone I can lean into since I haven’t been feeling well is wonderful so even though my rhythm has changed, it feels good. My toe is working and now it’s only the largest organ of my body, my skin that is screaming loudly. The cloud lifted by 11:30 am; the sun was shining and the temperature was perfect for walking. The scenery has been stunning. We walked in and out of pine forests, villages, green pastures where cows and sheep spend their days. All in all, a tranquil lovely day in Spain.

Day 31 October 20 2012, 24km. Portomarin

The flare up left its marks on me that may take many weeks to heal. The itches aren’t gone but they are manageable, so far. I was told that if it is not gone by the time the meds are gone to consider coming back to a hospital for another shot. We shall see. No question the timing isn’t the best, but that’s life, isn’t it.

Walter arrived today at 7 a.m. and had his first day of walking. The weather and the scenery were quite lovely and I think he had a great first impression. He came to keep me company for the last 100 km. and he will get his credential from the church because it doesn’t matter that I walked 675 km before he got here, as far as the church is concerned its the last 100km. that counts. We walked on rural roads today, many ups and downs, beautiful vistas through hamlets and past farms where people are quite poor. There was a man in his 30‘s about 15 km. into our walk, who spoke a good english, sitting there with a basket of brown eggs and wine and salt. We stopped and talked and he said it was by donation. Both the eggs and the wine were delicious–a perfect lunch. I asked him why the yolk of many of the eggs are orange and he simply said that the hens need to be happy to lay eggs. If they are not happy there are no eggs. He did some sort of short cut and he was waiting for us about 5 km. or so down the road so that he could tell us about the orange yolks. He had thought about that question after we left and he needed to tell us that the orange yolks are from young hens and yes, he agreed that they are tastier. The Camino has changed for me with Walter here, different and that’s very fine.

Day 30 October 19 2012, 26 km. Sarria

Like I said every day has its challenges. This day was special. For some reason during the evening, I developed an allergic reaction to something and my body was on fire. I broke out in welts that were so itchy and at the same time painful that all I could do was put a facecloth with cold water to calm them slightly and keep me from scratching. I did not sleep for a minute all night. This thing, that I have never had before started at 10 pm and lasted until 7 am. It seemed to subside then and after breakfast I went to visit the doctor anyway. After 40 minutes of waiting and not knowing when he would show, I left without any antihistamines to my next destination. Bottom line, it was a miserable walk. Because I had had no sleep, I had no energy. My itches started around noon and I had another 3 and a half hours to go and then of course I can’t forget about my baby toe that has continued to make its presence known for quite some time now. The trip was a forever hell. By the time I got to the hospital I was a raving sobbing lunatic. My body was screaming and it was very hard to contain myself. No english but thank goodness for a program on the computer that translates from one language to another as you type. Thats’ how the doctor and I communicated. After two shots of cortisone, anti-histamine and drugs, I felt that I could cope. As for the walk, no memory of it. Its so interesting, if the body isn’t happy, nothing else seems to matter. In meditation its also true. If the body is uncomfortable, there’s no way one can meditate. Its a temple and/or a prison.

Day 29 October 18 2012,

Day 28 is missing because my baby toe needed a day off. It was supposedly the second hardest day of the Camino but it poured and poured, was cloudy and the great views that were promised, were hidden, so I could better rationalize my decision to take a day off. Today, my foot worked because I honoured my body and gave it the needed break. I know that in the past I would just plough through, pain and all, but what for? So I consciously chose to do it differently. This is an important change for me. The Camino as I had mentioned weeks ago, has its daily challenges, no different than life, I suppose. Its just that when life situations are encapsulated in a 5 to 6 week Camino experience, its quite easy, if we choose to observe, to see when and why we react like we do – like project, have expectations, are reluctant to accept situations that cannot be changed, feel irritable or lonely, etc. Its a beautiful way of seeing the journey of life and most importantly, our response to it in this microcosm.

Day 27 October 16 2012, 25km. Villafranca

Every day has its challenges. Today was no exception. The extreme and very long downhill yesterday destroyed my healing blister and I am back to square one with it. The pharmacist lanced it after my walk today and we shall see what tomorrow brings. You may have noticed that the kms. don’t jibe because I was in so much pain that I took a cab at the last town. While I limped along I was reflecting on some observations of the last few weeks. I was introduced to Magpie birds in Colorado years ago and Spain is the only other place that I have seen them. It took me awhile to clue in but the landscape has no maple trees. Being from the part of Canada that I am from, it is strange to see a landscape without them. There are not that many trees. They are shorter generally and the leaves that are falling because of the season are either oak or poplar. Did you know that Spain is the largest exporter of olive oil in the world and was the largest exporter of wine until Australia stepped up recently and now has that position? I was surprised to learn that. I understand that in the south of Spain there are huge expanses of olive trees growing. One thing that impresses me very much is the material that they use for sidewalks. It doesn’t matter if you are in a city or a small village, the sidewalks are never cement. They pattern them with all kinds of rocks, stones, terrazzo, field and flag stones, slate, interlocking bricks as well as a more refined material than cement that is patterned and coloured. The roads in villages are beautifully patterned and one can see that there is much care taken. Since my head is down looking at where I am stepping as I walk, I have noticed these things. Most towns have plots of land that are divided up with knee wall fences of some sort or other and I have been observing from town to town that vegetables and fruit are grown on these parcels of land. I saw a man unlock a gate to get to his little plot today, where he grabbed two lettuces, put them in the trunk of his car and drove off. Where they can, they have chickens that are allowed to roam and find their food the natural way. As homes here are not like at home in that there are no backyards, it looks like there are co-operatives where people grow their own produce. I think its brilliant. All their food is tastier than back home and they seem to have a healthy relationship to the earth. In comparison, we eat plastic.  An addendum to the cost of museums and cathedrals…..there is absolutely no information in English or any other language besides Spanish given with admission, so I am on my own trying to figure out what I am looking at and its importance. Then I saw the one and only sign in English on the road yesterday and I thought that maybe that’s why they stick to Spanish. If you can make it out, let me know. The last thing to mention and I have held off wanting to get at least halfway into my trip across Spain so that I can visit many the toilets along the way before I commented. There is no question in my mind that it is a 7th ray country, a country of order. It doesn’t matter how meagre or how deserted a place has been when I have needed to use the facilities, it is always clean and has toilet paper. This is quite unheard of in comparison to other countries and the one that I am thinking of in particular is Italy. Beauty matters, not bathrooms. As a visitor to this country, I appreciate their priorities.

Day 26 October 15 2012, 28 km. Molinaseca

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This was by far the most strenuous day. My heart rate monitor registered 2091 calories. My walk/climb lasted 7 hours and 41 minutes. Had this been on the front end of the trip there is no way I would have been able to do it. I can tell that I have gotten stronger. I started this morning before day break because I knew that I had climbed yesterday and there is more climbing which means a possibility of a great sunrise. I was right. It was stunning. I have a few pictures of the rising sun in a slide show. Had there been precipitation it would have been snowing. It was very windy and cold. I had 2 layers on my bottom half and 4 layers on my top half as well as a toque and gloves. In spit of the cold, the day was thrilling, interesting and the highest altitude to date, almost 5,000 feet. The alpine vegetation was interesting. As soon as the sun came up, the gorgeous cloud that displayed wonderful colours became the veil for the sun’s rays for many hours. The day was spent climbing to the highest point where there was what is called the Iron Cross. There, we are suppose to put a stone that had either brought from home or found here which symbolizes a burden that we are leaving behind. If I were Christian I could see that there would be an opportunity for a mystical experience here. The way up was a breeze. It was the way down that was very challenging. The feet and the knees get a workout even if it doesn’t register on a heart rate monitor. Since Leon, the number of pilgrims have dwindled. I think it will probably pick up again around Sarria which is a little more than 100km and just enough for the church to recognise one’s credentials and give you a positive ok. whatever that means. I have a Canadian Pilgrim’s credential that I have had stamped at every place of lodging that I have stayed in as well as bars along the way. According to the church, if you do 100 km. from the end which is Santiago de Compostela than you get an affirmative nod, I suppose with all that you have accrued. The day was stunning but very challenging. Whenever there’s an up which is fine with me, I know that there will be a down which is hard on my knees and feet. This was the longest and hardest down I have ever encountered, but, I am still ticking. I am alive and well and hope to complete the 29 km. tomorrow. – brutal.