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 firstname.lastname@example.org