I’m relaxing in a pizzeria on Finisterre harbour having just returned from my eight kilometre stroll up to the lighthouse at the cape point.
These past two days have been great. Anna (aka Barefoot), one of my original walking crew arrived in Santiago yesterday and we celebrated Spanish style. Cerveza and tapas (octopus stewed with garlic and mushrooms) until 2am. On my pilgrim schedule, 2am would almost be time to get up and start walking. This morning I took the three hour coastal bus to Finisterre and the views were breathtaking. I’ll be staying here tonight to soak up a bit more seafront ambiance and then head back to Santiago tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a perfect way to unwind after the Camino.
Lighthouse and peace pole at Cabo Fisterra Finisterre – the end of the earth
As I sit on my balcony in Santiago, looking up at the cathedral towers, I find myself wondering what the Camino will mean in the long term. Will it be like hurricane Ivan; a defining event in time and psychological thought? Will I in the future refer to pre Camino and post Camino as I still do with Ivan? Is it the end of a period or the beginning of a period? Is it both? Or is it simply a minor waypoint in my life; easily and quickly forgotten? I will only know in time. But for right now it is very nice to be still.
Inside the cathedral with the giant incense burner hanging from the rope.
Walking the Camino de Santiago over the past twenty seven days has been an amazing experience. I’m sure each pilgrim’s camino is different but my camino had three distinct phases.
The first phase – enjoyment – was filled with excitement and wonder. The beautiful landscapes and new food provided an exotic backdrop to meeting people from all over the world, hearing different languages and engaging in long, ambling conversations. Sleeping, showering and everything else in close proximity to tens of strangers was still a novelty and the caffeine, bread and chocolate for breakfast overcame the sleepless nights.
The second phase – endurance – was tough. The lack of sleep finally hit me. The landscape was dry, dusty and hot. The trails were rocky and seemingly endless. It was time to be alone; no one wants to talk with a dry mouth. The afternoon heat was unbearable and swarms of flies buzzed my face all day as I walked. Then one day it all changed. Blustery winds, cold persistent rain, damp rooms – the endurance continued.
The third and final phase – enlightenment – was really the last few days. The sun came out, the woodland landscape was quiet and beautiful, the walking was peaceful and reflective. I realised (or learned or remembered) some things in those last days. 1. I don’t need to worry. At no point did I have need for anything; everything was provided for me when I needed it. 2. I actually need very little to be comfortable; a clean, dry space to sleep, food and drink. But I do like my privacy. 3. Little things can feel like luxury – a warm shower, a hot coffee, a cold beer. 4. The pain of yesterday and today does not have to go with me tomorrow. A sore ankle can heal even as I walk twenty miles on it every day. 5. Other than God, my children are most important to me; nothing else even comes close.
Santiago cathedral – my camino is finished.
It was a lovely day of walking today. Sunshine and scattered clouds. Woodland paths through the tallest eucalyptus trees I’ve ever seen.
I’m forty kilometres from Santiago and though my guidebook has it in two sections, I’ve decided to pull a double again and do the rest in one day. According to my guidebook, the last section has a wave of pilgrims rushing for the pilgrims mass at noon and as I’m not one for crowds, I’ll do one section in the morning and the final section in the afternoon when it should be quiet. So if my feet hold out then, God willing, I should be in Santiago tomorrow night.
If it wasn’t for the Spanish signs I’d think I was walking in England or Wales. The green hills, cold persistent rain, sheep grazing; very different from just a few days ago.
A light for my path
On the camino, in order to avoid the mid-day heat, many mornings I set off well before sunrise. Now some of the paths are dangerous in daylight but in the dark they are deadly. To see when I’m going I use a little light I have. Unlike the 100 watt floodlights that it seems that some pilgrims have, I only brought my little two watt led light to find my way to the bathroom at night. But it’s all I have so I use it. And it’s amazing how in the pitch black how even a little light can be the difference between a safe step and injury or worse. As I walk In the dark with my little light I am reminded of the scripture – Psalm 119 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
For the past week it been hot and dusty. Well yesterday I went up a mountain. And went up and up and up and up. And it rained and rained and rained. My guidebook says the views were magnificent but I could barely see ten metres. After a night in a cold, wet village I felt the need to come down from the mountain. So today I walked two stages, a little over forty kilometres in the rain but finally found a little sunshine by the end of the day.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ponferrada – Templar castle
Signs are really important on the camino. Some signs are really obvious, some much more subtle. Some places seem to have a sign or marker every few feet; other times you can go for a kilometre without a sign.
Once starting the camino, you very quickly become attuned to seeing the signs. You are constantly scanning for the yellow arrows or scallop shell signs and markers. But sometimes when the signs are the most important they are the hardest to see. Big cities often use a small (4 inch) imprint in the pavement. With the distraction of flashing signs, beautiful buildings, traffic and large intersections, it is very difficult to keep following a little pavement imprint.
Because the hostel I stayed in in Leon was not on the camino, I had to pick up the camino trail in the early morning. I spent thirty minutes getting lost and searching in vain until a kind gentleman guided me almost a kilometre and pointed to the scallop shell in the pavement.
I believe life and direction from God is similar to the signs of the camino. We need to attune our senses to God’s signs and guidance to be confident that we are on the right path. And when we feel lost and distant from God, we may need to only find a little imprint in the pavement, rather than some big and obvious sign we may be expecting. Not all signs are a big yellow arrow on a tree next to the path.
Where is God?
I had some coffee and bread before setting off very early this morning. I planned to get some breakfast in one of the mountain villages shown on my map. But after walking over 12 kilometres (about 8 miles) and two hours, uphill, over the camino alto, I hadn’t found any food and was starting to feel my energy level drop. After passing though Manjarin, a village with a population of 1, I was starting to get concerned about finding some food. I needn’t have worried. A mile beyond Manjarin, on the most remote little track, I suddenly came upon a little stand with fruit and juice that had been set out with a little cash tin for donations. I thankfully gave a donation, said a prayer of thanks and had my breakfast.
Last week I walked for two days with a lady from Holland that had started her camino walking from her home over two months ago. She appeared deeply religious having converted to Catholicism five years ago. She expressed the importance of religious knowledge and appeared sceptical of feeling the spirit of God. She said she had no sense of God’s presence and was amazed when I told her that I believed that God walked with me and I could talk with God just like I was talking with her. To explain my faith and my sense of God’s presence, I told her of some of the things that I received which I believed were blessings and reassurances from God. I was amazed when as a woman of faith, she stated that these things were probably just coincidences and nothing to do with God.
Our conversation made me really think about God’s activity versus coincidence. In the end, I decided that I would rather see God in everything and be wrong, than see God in nothing and be right.
The mountain village of Manjarin – population 1
Cruz de Fero at the alto (high point) of the camino.
I didn’t know that the Hobbits came from Spain.