Tag: Ultreya


Spring Camino 1 June 2013: The Green Robes Of An Irish God

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Lounging in Leon

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

On the 1st June 2013 Dan writes from Leon:

I started on 9th May.  I have walked about 250 miles with about 200 to go. Weather for the last week has been glorious sunshine but cold. It was 32F (zero degrees C) in Leon yesterday.

I have spent the last 6 days walking across the Meseta, the high flat plane, planalto, that covers the middle of Spain. The meseta is high and flat as its name implies. It dips down here and there for a small town to nestle in the hollow and provide a place for a pilgrim hostal. I have stayed in several.

But up there on the plane I feel in a world apart, walking through huge patchwork quilt of greens and tans and browns, the greens being grain fields, tans where the grain has been cut and is drying, the year’s first crop, and the browns plowed for the planting of a second  crop.

My meseta walk was made much more interesting this year by the company (part of the way) of Tracy, a jolly Welshman who says he is just a farmer, but travels around the world advising on the planting of grains.

On a given day the way will be bordered by a rich dark green growth with a strong straight proud head of perfectly formed kernels. This is the elite wheat, tall and strong but hardly gives me a slight nod, even in a hefty breeze. Across the road another, light lively almost Kelly green. This is rye, but rye it isn’t. With the slightest breath of wind  rye gets silly, spinning and shimmying and waving at everybody. Rye is welcoming. As les zephyrs dance over this sea of happy green, the more sedate wheat sways with dignity. The whole scene proclaims life and its Source. If God is on the meseta–and most pilgrims will acknowledge a special presence there–if that is so then God must be Irish for She/He has chosen robes of exquisite green.

I must mention the boarders of these robes. The field’s edges, outside the reach of the giant harvesting blades but beneficiaries of some of the natural fertilizer spread on the fields, have given birth to a absolute riot of wild flowers. The Camino, at one point winds around a 6 or 7 ft high knoll whose side appeared as though a blanket of color had been thrown over it. The royal poppy, the more than royal poppy, “For not  even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these” (scholars tell us Jesus was looking at these Mediterranean poppies when he spoke these words) the poppies flood these wild patches, often springing up in dense clusters of small white daisies. Then there are several shades of purple, of yellow, of blue. It creates an almost complete cover of the ground, a veritable Giverny in the wild. I wonder did Monet make the Camino Francais?

I’m off to 6PM Mass now in the magnificent 1000 year old Cathedral of Leon which is famous for an early use of stained glass. I wonder if the inspiration for those  brilliant reds and rich blues came from the wildflowers of the Camino, which is a couple of hundred years older than the Cathedral.

Ultreya to us all!

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 16 May 2013: Expect The Unexpected

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The scallop shell tells you are on track for the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it when I was walking the Camino Francais.  Dan invited me to join him for cena, the evening meal, in Puenta La Reina.  A two-bottle wine evening during which I discovered that Dan was an ex missionary priest and that at the age of 78 he was walking his 9th Camino.  A spiritual journeyer of substantial mettle and consistent will Dan slowly moved ahead of me over the coming days but by the magic of email he snuck me little gems of useful guidance from ‘the albergue in Ventosa is delightful, welcomes with Mozart and wakes us with Gregorian chant and Vivaldi‘ to ‘I always get the bus from Mansilla das Mulas to Leon. I think it costs 2 or 3 euros‘.

On May 6 2013 he left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time.  The difference this time is that Dan is going to have a go at the less well known El Norte along the Atlantic coast.  Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email.  I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog.

Dan’s daughter, Kirstin made for him, when she was about 15, an awesome photo album make up of pictures taken of her up to about the age of ten with one or both of her parents.  That album, given as a Christmas present, inspired him in a brave move to chose the Expect The Unexpected as the theme of this Camino.  In his words:

She titled each entry with enigmatic sayings taken from a book we had of pictures of Buddhist practices and sayings the practice implied. The book was A Monks Bowl, portraying that monks live on what is put in their bowl in alms each day.  One picture shows me holding a 3 or 4 month old Kirstin, obviously diapered. We are gazing adoringly at each other. The title she chose was “expect the unexpected!” Typical of  Zen, this has any number of meanings. I chose that title as the theme of  this Camino.

I wanted a new experience and it has been unexpected:
I expected the route to be poorly marked. It is well marked.
I expected few people to be walking. The hostels are full to over flowing.
I expected it to be difficult. Difficult imagined is worlds away from difficult experienced.

I walked 70 miles in 7 days, a rate much less than earlier Caminos.  This is a much more mountainous region as the guide books warn. Every day there are several long strenuous climb ups followed by steep treacherous descents. The trails are poorly maintained and turn to terrifying mud slides when it rains as it did 3 of the 7 days I walked the Camino del  Norte. Yesterday, after I fell 5 times trying to get down a particularly difficult area I decided to bid farewell and return to the Camino I know.

There were lots of positives to these 7 days: many interesting people, a stop in Gernika, but by far the highlight was the 6 hrs I spent in the Guggenheim. It  was truly one of the most exciting museum experiences I have had. There are not a lot of master pieces there. They do have a great i.e. tragic holocaust display especially the Vichy government’s part in it.  But the building itself is the master piece.

He finishes up – I am tapping this out on the little screen of my “smart” phone,  not made for my stiff 78 yr old fingers and as announces he is heading to Logrono by bus to walk a more reasonable way he wishes us ULTREYA a funny little Spanish word that originates from the Latin to mean onward! It has all the punch of capitals and an exclamation mark.

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com