Tag: Pilgrimage


Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Eight

DAY FORTY EIGHT: 25 November 2012 Muxia to Santiago de CompostelaIMAG1502 (2)I was sitting on an escarpment in Swaziland in August 2012 when I first saw this pilgrimage; a trail laid out across scrubby, foreign land, a long, long walk leading all the way, I imagined, to the sea and a sailor in a pea green boat.  Over the subsequent months I had followed the clues to arrive in Galacia and I am now curious about this rocky shore the end of the walk.  What would the reality of the metaphor be?  Could my sailor be Miel the policemen from San Sebastian in his high tech fluoro green walking jacket or is it the soul of Ireland on the distant horizon or perhaps something else all together?  What colour is pea green anyway?

I had dinner with Tobias from Denmark after the Marea documentary in Restaurent de La Lolo.  This was the classiest restaurant with a pilgrim menu so far.  Sleek, modern ecletic style more suited to hot Summer days than chilly winter but the heating was on and the staff were pleasant.  The 3 course menu proved to be pleasantly different from the usual pilgrim fare and the wine seemed extra special too. If we weren’t in pilgrim attire we could have been mistaken as a couple; me the cougar and Tobias my toyboy.  Tobias is polite, good company, has great manners and a Colgate smile.  He has a face that will only grow more handsome as he shape shifts into his life whatever that may be.

Miel is Tigger in the morning, eager for breakfast and company but my preference, Restaurent de La Lolo of the night before, doesnt sit well with him.  I hold my ground and have breakfast to my delight on my own.  I am assimilating this trip. I want to savour the last drops of it dripping slowly and honour it’s closure.  A short walk from the town is the headland where the Virgin Mary came to assure Saint James that his mission to convert the population of Fisterra from their pagan worship of the sun had been a success.  I have no intention of being blasphemous but my guess is that Mary was a mistress of metaphor while poor old James was getting all bogged down in the logical reality.  A bit like me and my sailor in his pea green boat.

Mary’s boat is said to be still here, petrified on the headland below the imposing coastal-Gothic style church of Our Lady of The Boat.  I was curious to see it.  Sure enough there are are three huge stones one of which definitely looks like the upturned hull of the boat and another has a look of a sail.  The third stone, supposedly the rudder is a little less convincing.
IMAG1527IMAG1529I suppose it is no surprise that my original curiosity to follow the Camino to the sea was spurred by an imaginary sailor man.  Muxia and Fisterra are fishing ports after all and where there be working boats, there be pleasure yachts and handsome sailors.  Over lunch of whole baby squid, slathered in butter I muse the symbolic currency of this stone boat with the romantic talisman of my imagination.  At the day’s end the boat I left on was a modern day coach, a behemoth of a vehicle muscling its way through the narrow arteries of Galacia’s rural rocky roads back to Santiago de Compostela.  And my companion? Miel in green, both of us passengers back to life.

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Seven

DAY FORTY SEVEN: 24 November 2012 Lires to Muxia on the Camino Muxia.IMAG1472I braved the wet, dark rain to eat at As Eiras, sparky with the tatters of community, a smattering of pilgrims. Designed for efficiency rather than warmth and comfort, it would be a quick visit on this dreary November night before repairing to the warmth and comfort of my stone walled room in Casa Luz.  I had never been sick on this Camino, not a hint of a cold or the gyrations of a dicky tummy but in the morning when I woke I felt an angst and nervousness in my bowels.  It didnt feel like anything I had eaten more about the impending unknown and not so much the unknown of the path from Lires to Muxia but the unknown of life after the Camino.  This was my last day of walking.  It was a strange to experience my body crumple in fright about the expansiveness of life opening up again.  Rationally that excites me but my reptilian brain screams no; I am reminded of tandem hang gliding in Rio De Janerio, I was so excited to do it, to float in the air captured against the back drop of the famous Sugar Loaf.  Once strapped in my instruction was to power through my legs and run off the cliff.  In my mind I did.  When I heard the instructor’s ‘fuck’ and the plummet as the cliff edge disappeared I was surprised.  Witnesses later told me that I ran about two steps and my legs crumpled, my knees glancing the ground as we plunged over the edge. My body sabotaged my brain.  Fortunately my co-pilot was a hero so I am still here to tell the tale.

The remnants of rain were all around; sodden earth, dripping wires, saturated hedges, happy puddles but the rain clouds were gone and the sky wiped into a fresh powder blue.  It was Saturday, a white washing day and less than 15 kms to Muxia. Stepping out I felt alone in the world, like it was all mine so I was a little miffed when a jaunty walker, more like an SAS militia man stomped into the vicinity with gusto and bravado.  At the pace he was travelling I was consoled that he would breeze through my bubble with the minimum of interference.  I was wrong, like a moon trapped in my orbit I wasnt able to shake off Miel for two days.  He was a boisterous bouncing puppy of a man from San Sebastian.  He had the raspy tones of Asear, the cabellero I met in Bar La Pena, Rabe but any charisma was drowned out by  neediness to connect and be connected. It didnt surprise me to find out he was a policemen, I was more surprised to discover he was a garrulous companion who spoke no English; he muffled and mumbled and swallowed his words. I was grateful to realise that although I wasnt going to shake him off he didnt need me to participate in the conversation.  He had the innocent glad heartedness and delight of honey – which is what I thought his name was until he checked into the hostel and I saw that it in writing – Miguel.

Miguel’s spirit nudged mine to soar a little and there was a rush of pleasure on the last stretch of this Camino through the long strand of the fishing village.  I dont know if it was the weather or Miguel but Muxia was positively spruce and stylish compared to Fisterra, less world weary and more magical.  I had decided that I wanted to stay at the new hostel Albergue Bela Muxia and for a half an hour or so I thought I had lost Miguel.  He didnt want to walk to the farthest end of town or pay the premium rate for this new designer hostel.  Sometimes I cant explain why I want to stay or eat somewhere that I have never been or have a personal recommendation for but there are times when an inexplicable certainty wills me beyond my normal thresholds.  I am drawn towards rustic, cosy, budget but Bela Muxia is more modern, corporate and market rates.  Bizarre.  As it turned out I loved the open hearted welcome, my private cubby hole of a bunk with personal locker, light and charging points.  The personal touch was incongruous in this space designed for efficiency and business.  I was aware that I was a customer but it that was conveyed in the nicest possible way and I couldnt resist the garish pink and blue Bela Muxia octopus t-shirt and my leather camino bracelet.  I could feel the bubble of delight rising in me a realisation that I had done it, I had walked the Caminos de Santiago, Fisterra and Muxia.  Or perhaps it was because there was Miguel again, jaunty and happy to see me.  We are captured for posterity in the Bela Muxia hall of fame.IMAG1533I still had to walk down to Punta da Barca (Boat Point) and check for the sailor in the pea green boat (as opposed to the hiker in the pea green jacket!) from the dream that first called me to this journey, but that is a journey for the morrow.  Right now it is a dash to the local community hall for a showing of Marea a documentary about the impact of the sinking of The Prestige Oil tanker of 2002 and the volunteer response.  Muxia was ground zero.  The documentary is in Spanish but this is a sociable event; people are here to see themselves on screen, to remember, relive and to celebrate solidarity.

Spring Camino 14 June 2013: Wading Into The Ocean

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Harvest apocalyse on 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. 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 14 June 2013 just 3 days before he completes his tenth Camino Dan writes about the subtler but deeper realities of the Camino.  I too experienced the magical connections of dining with other pilgrims that Dan shares but walking the fallow land of the Meseta in Autumn after the apocalypse of harvest was quite a contrast to Dan’s rich experience of Spring growth.

Several weeks ago I was walking the marvelous, the magnificent meseta, the high plane that inserts days of quiet, flat, meditative walking into the struggles of the Pyrenees of the beginning of the Camino and those of the mountains of Leon that make up the greater part of the last third of the Camino. The Way was passing through fields of grain  that I could not identify, having for some time lost contact with Tracy the jolly Welshman and grain expert.

The grain was very fine, just a slender stalk, no leaves like the very green sprouts that support wheat, but tall and thin reeds, light green color at base but a rich blue green in their head with well formed kernels. I waded into the grain field to get a sense of the height of the grain. It was up to my chest. But standing in this  field with its dense growth, light green below, almost blue on the surface stretching for acres brought a sudden memory of wading into the ocean at Scarborough* on a bright calm day.

And I had an impulse to lower myself into this immensity as I do in the ocean. I resisted the impulse but was overcome with the sense that I have at the ocean of giving myself to something greater than I, the ocean, somehow the force of life, immense, beautiful, awesome. I felt the Camino as large, as forceful, as full of life as the ocean, as full of life as the mountains I had walked over, as the rivers who had gurgled and raced along side me as I walked the valleys, as the bird song and wild flowers that had gladdened my days. And I found that life in the pilgrims I walked with and, truth be told, in myself. I have felt alive on this Camino, strong, well, my body like a walking machine, my mind empty (nothing new there some will say) and at peace, alive!

Night before last I had the usual pilgrim cena (dinner) with people I had gotten to know along the way, Marcelo from Brazil, Deidre from New Zealand and Neil from Ireland. Neil apparently has made enough money on the Irish Tiger and kept it so that he can live 6 month a year in Ireland “to keep in touch with my roots” and live in India for 6 months ” a place where spirituality is alive, where you can always find people who take spirituality seriously”. and then he added that that Camino was like India in Europe.

One of the advantages of so many people walking is that every evening you will have several choices of which table of pilgrim to join for dinner. And so the wine will be poured and the intense conversation will begin, the day’s experience, what the Camino means to me, personal reflections on the meaning of the Camino etc, etc. And so the Camino gives life, experiences life, comes alive around the common meal, generous with wine each evening. The meal nourishes life, brings life. Pilgrims transmit life to each other.

Each of us will label this life source out of our own tradition. For Christians it will be the Spirit sent by the Lord Christ. Jesus knew what he was doing when he made wine the sign, the Sacrament of his sharing of life. That life is in all everywhere but more vividly available in sacred places as on the Camino de Santiago.

*Scarborough State Beach is in Narrangansett, Rhode Island, USA

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 6 June 2013: Wild Flowers & Murder

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Bucolic British wildflowers

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.

One month in to the walk around 7 June Dan writes:

I walked 15 miles to arrive in the small city of Villa Franca de Bezeiro, about 110 miles from Santiago. These last 2  weeks have been as good as any I have walked over the previous 9 walks, great weather, stunning scenery – now in the mountains brilliant with wild flowers, days alive with the most interesting walking companions.

Although I may not have actually have met THE most interesting. The local paper this morning had an account of the arrest of a man from Barcelona who was wanted for murder. The paper noted that he had spent last night in the same albergue (hostal) as I had. I did speak briefly with a man from Barcelona but there are many from there. 

All of the above legitimately in the category of the unexpected.

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

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 24 May 2013: An Ecumenical Encounter

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Love, Peace, Joy on 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. 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.

Pentacost Sunday, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles 40 days after the Resurrection was on 19 May this year in 2013. On 24 May Dan in his own words:

On Pentecost Sunday I stayed in an albergue which was made up of several large rooms in a huge several centuries old stone monastery, Abadia they call it, of Cistercian nuns, monjas in Spanish. It was a day of grace.

On signing in the hospiteleira asked me if I was a priest. A bit taken aback I asked her why she thought so. The tradition of the indelible mark sort of shook me in this ancient holy place. She said she did not know why she thought so. I did acknowledge my past. Whether for that reason or not I was assigned a choice room, a small room with 3 single beds,no bunks, while the rest crawled into uppers and lowers in the cavernous dormitories.

Sometime later the hospitaliera came to sort of ask my permission to assign the remaining 2 beds to a married couple Kirk and Sue from Oklahoma. They worked for a Methodist mission society recruiting volunteers for missions in South America.

I found Sue and Kirt to be very bright and witty. The bathroom in this place was co-ed with a couple of shower stalls on one side and toilet stalls on the other. As any pilgrim will tell you taking a shower in one of these places, while keeping your clothes dry and your dignity in tact requires a bit of acrobatics and some contortionism. In my phone booth size shower stall I undressed and carefully placed my clothes on the floor outside the stall door to keep them dry. For some reason wall hooks are quite unknown in many albergues. Shower done, but tyle floor wet with soapy water, conscious of modesty, quickly opened the stall door and tried to modestly retrieve my cloths only to lose my footing and go rocketing through the door out into the middle of the bath room. Sue in the next stall yelled “Dan are you all right?” to which I immediately answered, “Yes” and scrambled back into stall cloths in hand.

Later Sue said that she was so thankful I answered so quickly. “I was in no condition to rescue you” she said. “Well”, says I, “I was in no condition to be rescued.” So I guess there are limits to ecumenical brotherly (or sisterly) help, even on Pentecost in the Abadia.

Later Sue said wouldn’t it have been an awful way to end 10 Caminos…I broke my leg in the shower! At least there was ecumenical humor at the Abadia on Pentecost.

You can contact Dan on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 19 May 2013: And Each Heard Them In Their Own Tongue

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Monasterio Santa Maria de la Real, Najera, La Rioja

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.

Two days in to his walk on the Camino Francais he has walked 31 miles and on Pentacost Sunday 19 May at Mass in a 700yr old Cathedral he contemplates the Pentecost experience of the Camino. He talks about sharing meals with Linda, a German, Troy from Florida, Sung a Korean woman, Alfred and Juan are Spanairds, Kathleen is from Australia, Fatima a Brazilian and Michele from Quebec. 8 people, 6 languages.

In his own words: “Each understood in their language.” Ironically, the instrument of the Spirit in this case is English. I wanted to point out that one of sources of the extraordinary sense of community that develops on the Camino is the shared experience of the difficulty of the day’s walk. This realization came to me as I was approaching the town of Santo Domingo at the end of a 15 mile walk. I was approaching one of those “heartbreak hills”. A long, steep hill that you can see a long way ahead. I was watching pilgrims way ahead of me, appearing like little ants slowly moving up the climb. I was particularly wanting to determine whether they were walking in the center or along the sides. If along the side there was sure to be mud, the bain of walking pilgrims. To avoid the mud you walk in the vegetation along the side. As I was thus observing those I realized in about 20 minutes I would be one of those ants and others way back on the trail would be observing me to attempt to determine their own fate. And when I got on the hill I imagined others back there observing me and it struck what an intensely shared experience this is. When later that evening at Mass I heard that description of those who listened to Peter and the others I was back at that climb and felt indeed the spirit is at work here. And then at dinner, as at many Camino dinners, I sensed the special communion of the Camino again. “Each experienced what the others had”

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