Saturday, October 24, 2009

Following The Signs

The tomb of  Santiago (Saint James) is most assuredly the most sign posted location in the world. With thousands of kilometers of paths from all over Europe, there are more signs and yellow arrows than one could ever count. I wonder if anyone has tried.

The signs range from large signs that can be easily seen to small and obscure, to faded yellow arrows that can be elusive to the eye.

They can be anywhere.

On a rock in the middle of a grape vineyard.

 On a sidewalk.

On a tree or stonewall leading into the forest.

In the middle of the road.

Just about anywhere that a yellow arrow can be painted.

And when there are no signs, Pilgrims make their own, just so the next person won't get lost.

It is easy to lose the way, by chatting, daydreaming, not paying attention, or paying too much attention to beautiful scenery.

One must be vigilant about looking for signs, and it is particularly important to look carefully for signs when walking in the dark.

Being attentive and looking for signs while walking the Camino,  again made me realize how true it is that the Camino de Santiago becomes that metaphor for life. Every day we must be attentive and look for "signs". The signs that keep us on the right path, that help us find our way when we have strayed, that keep us moving in a forward direction, that keep is mindful, helpful, generous and kind.

Call it what you will, intuition, gut feeling, grace. There is always that little "sign", that magic moment when we have a choice to act in a certain way to be more loving, more giving, more appreciative of the things around us, more attentive and more caring of our fellow human beings.

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."

There are opportunities to realize the truth of the above statement every day of our lives, we just have to be silent, watch, feel, and look for the signs.

I wish you peace, love and laughter

note: You may have to click on the photo to enlarge to see where the yellow arrows are.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Continuing on the Path

We have been home for a few days now but I cannot funtcion. I can't get the Camino out of my mind. It seems unnatural to just get back in the old routine of every day life.

I can feel the effects of the long journey physically, through the stiffness throughout my body, especially my legs.

But mostly the emotions of the journey are whirling through my mind. There is so much to digest from what we experienced that I can't let it go. I had so many profound lessons and peak moments that I have to sit with and think about. I need to make room to work on the things I have gleaned from the journey.

It wouldn't make sense to take such an arduous journey and then just let it go as if it were just another trip.
A very select group have the privilege, the desire and the ability of making such a trip. In my case it was more of a "calling". So I think that call was for a reason. That is the part I am still trying to figure out.

I do believe that the Camino is a methaphor for life. There are constantly lessons for us to learn from each other and teach each other in the course of our every day life.

Although I am still in the dark, I have faith that my messages and lessons will be revealed to me as I continue to walk this journey that we call life.

Blessings to all

Friday, October 16, 2009

Embracing Saint James

We spent our last 3 days in Santiago, exploring the streets of the medieval old town, and generally relaxing and enjoying good food, good friends and the city sights.
I spent a lot of time going back to the cathedral, the Pilgrim's office and the giant plaza, looking for friends and other Pilgrims and sharing the pleasure of their arrivals. And I loved going to the cathedral early in the morning and sitting quietly and having Saint James to myself.

One of the traditions is to go behind the altar in the cathedral and give Saint James an embrace. It was a special Camino moment for me, to finally greet the Saint that I had walked so far for.

I made sure I was early to attend the Pilgrims Mass, so that I could get a good seat in the cathedral.
The Pilgrim's Mass is overflowing each day with 800 to 1,000 including Pilgrims, other worshipers and tourists.
It was quite a thrill to see that even during the Mass the tradition of hugging Saint James continued and every now and them my attention was drawn to the rear of the huge gold and silver altar to see Pilgrims giving Saint James an embrace.

Another tradition is to walk or take a bus to Finesterre, which was believed to be the end of the world during medieval times. My journey was complete when I reached Saint James, so I had no desire to go any further. I did hear from fellow Pilgrims who made the journey that it did not have the same feeling as being on the  Camino; that it was not a the pilgrimage, but just a beautiful walk to the ocean.
I think that leaving Santiago de Compostela was more emotional than arriving, if that's possible. I felt like I needed more time to absorb and reflect on my experience before returning home. But when it came time, I was happy to return home to my family. I will have plenty of time to sit and contemplate the messages and lessons I received from the Camino.

I wish you peace, love, and laughter

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saint James

Day 33-Santiago

Even though we have arrived and the long trek is done, I was up early and anxious to go.
I walked to the cathedral, only 2 or 3 minutes away. To my surprise it was open.
Even better, I had it all to myself, except a very few other early risers.
I surprised myself. Instead of going directly to Saint James, whom I traveled so far to greet, I went to the Virgen Mary. I thanked her for her prayers along my journey. I think I said more Hail Marys while walking the Camino than I've said all my life.
Then I went to Jesus and thanked him for walking with me as my Savior and my brother.
When I finally sat down in front of the gorgeous gold and silver and bejeweled altar with Saint James in front of me I was awestruck.
No tears, no sound, no thoughts, just me and James.
We looked at each other for what seemed like eternity.
Silence, pure, gorgeous, beautiful silence.
Then I wondered...who had more for the Saint?...or the Saint for me?...and I recalled that the gospel tells us that James, son of Zebadee, was in his boat mending fishing nets when Jesus summoned him saying "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men". James and his brother followed Jesus.
And if one considers that 100,000 people a year make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to visit his burial place, it would seem that James is still a "fisher of men" more than 2000 years later.
I smiled at the thought and it seemed like old Jimmy smiled back, and that is when the tears started to flow.

Peace and Love to all
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, October 9, 2009

Santiago de Compostela

Day 32-Pedrouza-Santiago de Compostela
6 hours 30 minutes-21.2 km

We were all up at 5AM. I think the excitement of reaching Santiago today was somewhat like a child that can't sleep on Christmas morning.
We were walking by 6AM. It was still dark when we reached the Santiago airport.
We climbed our last hill Monte Gozo (Mount Joy), so named because atop the hill the Pilgrim gets the first joyful glimpse at the spires of the cathedral of the Saint they have walked so far to see.
Unfortunately for us the day was rainy and overcast so we couldn't see much through the fog and mist.
When we got to the outskirts of Santiago, the walk seemed interminable. Then about 5 km before arrival Heidi started getting severe hip and leg problems. I gave here my trekking poles to help and she hobbled slowly and painfully into the city and on to the cathedral.
I wept tears of joy when I came around the corner and there was the grand cathedral looming in front of me. I walked up the stairs weeping, and entered, but the Mass had already started and Heidi needed to get to our lodgings.
Once the girls got settled in, I went back to Praza do Obradoiro, the "golden square" in front of the cathedral where throngs of Pilgrims gather. The square was filled with excitement.
I saw many Pilgrim friends. We embraced and took many photos and even shed a few tears with some that had been with us from the beginning.
It has been a very exciting and emotional day.
My head is still spinning.
Blessings to all
(The photo only shows a portion of the magnificent cathedral.)
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mixed Feelings

Day 31-Arzua-Pedrouza
6 hours 32 minutes-21 km

A very relaxing walk today. The girls and Ron were out late last night, one of the drawbacks of staying at a hotel(or one of the bonuses, depending on how you look at it).
We got a late start, and actually started walking in daylight for the first time.
A delightful walk. Heidi and Ellen like to stop at every coffee shop!
Although the rain held off all day, it felt like walking through a rain forest. The air was heavy and thick with moisture.
The landscape is still lush and green and we passed through more eucalyptus forests, but now we have tropical climate and plants. There are palm trees, banana trees and even cactus.
And as always along the Camino the ancient medieval villages that time has passed by.
Most of the villages grew out of the need of serving the pilgrims and have changed little over time.
We went out for dinner tonight and had our best Pilgrim meal.
It has been an emotional day for me.
Tomorrow I walk into Santiago. I have mixed feelings.
It will be the end of a long hard journey....or will it?
How will I feel when I enter the city? Or when I finally greet the Saint that I journeyed so far for?
What are the lessons I have learned?
What does all the pain and suffering and struggle and perserverance signify?

Peace, love and laughter
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Eucalyptus and Torrential Downpours

Day 30-Palas de Rei-Arzua
10 hours-30.1 km
We started out in the dark, in the rain, and straight uphill. It was up and down hills all day and it rained off and on most of the day.
Some of the walk was along the roadside and through an industrial area going into the town of Melide.
But we walked through Eucalyptus forests off and on all day. And what a wonderful pungent fragrance it was.
Synthetic sports fabrics are marvelous. They are very lightweight, dry in a flash, easy to wear and durable. However they do hold body odor. And after 30 days of hand washing, no matter how diligent and thorough a job you do; in this humid, rainy climate of Galicia, you can smell the body odor at the first sign of dampness.
So, after 3 days or rain and dampness, today was a pleasure walking through the fragrant eucalyptus forests.
The above time for walking is a bit skewed because of 2 delays.
When the girls arrived in the airports of Madrid and Santiago, they tried to exchange dollars for euros, but unfortunately both airports money exchange systems were not functioning.
Today has been the first day we were in a town big enough to have a bank, and us being here during banking hours. I'll skip all the boring details and just say that after 1 1/2 hours, several banks and ATMs only one girl ended up with euros. It was very frustrating and a delay we did not need.
The second delay was when we had just stopped at a bar for a coffee break and no sooner had we ordered our coffee, we turned around to see that outside there was a torrential downpour that lasted over 30 minutes.
Heidi and Ellen were delighted to have such a long break but as soon as it slowed down we had to move on.
We walked in the rain for several hours more until we got to our destination.
It was a very long, very exhausting day, but so joyful and so rewarding in so many ways.
The girls did well and after yesterdays dingy hostal and cold showers they wanted to stay at a hotel.
So we 4 are cozily settled in a nice hotel room tonight and it is still pouring out.
Ron and the girls are downstairs in the bar having a well deserved bottle of wine.
Blessings to all
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Different Camino

Day 29-Portomarin-Palas de Rei
8 hours 15 minutes-27.1 km

We started of by the light of the full moon walking steeply uphill. It started to rain and continued to rain off and a good part of the day, but the countryside was filled with farms. We walked through several tiny farming hamlets. We met a few locals when passing through them and the girls had an opportunity to talk with them. They are amazed at the local hospitality and true warmth for the Pilgrims in this rural area.
One local farm couple were taking their herd of cows out to pasture and invited us to walk with the herd. We had a great conversation with the herdswoman.
We enjoyed watching the little dog work the herd and when one bull went astray it was amazing to watch the little dog take charge over the huge bull and in no time had the bull back with the herd.
Ellen and Heidi did great on this long tough walk today. They were ready to quit toward the end of the walk but we took a few minutes break and they were fine again.
I remember how exhausting the first few days were. I am really proud of how well they did.
Tonight we all had dinner with our Jesuit friend Philip; then we were joined by friends from Australia who will slow down tomorrow, so we won't see them again. So we stayed and had a farewell drink with them and Philip who we may not see again.
We talked about the feel of the Camino and how it has changed in the past few days.
One only needs to walk the last 100 km to receive a "Compostela" certificate so there are so many new Pilgrims on the road. We hardly see any of the Pilgrim friends we started with.
I am so happy that Heidi and Ellen are here to enjoy these last days with us.
Blessings to all

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, October 5, 2009

Taxi Anyone??

Day 28-Sarria-Portomarin
7 hours 50 minutes-24.4 km

Last night the girls arrived by taxi and got dropped off in front of an ancient stone church near our Pilgrim Hostal, to the sound of the church bells ringing, as if witnessing and rejoicing their arrival.
They only had time for a shower, a bite to eat and a visit to the beautiful church.
The walk today was equally as magnificent as the past few days with all the canopied woodland trails, open panoramic vistas, and peaceful country villages that time has passed by.
I am so happy that the girls' first day was so gorgeous. Their excitement brought back memories of y first few days. They oohed and ahhed and snapped photo after photo.
The terrain was not easy. We had a long steady uphill trek most of the day, with a very steep descent. At one point the girls knees were so bad, they tried walking down backwards.
Heidi is in the photo by one of the frequently seen taxi signs. I have seen many taking advantage of taxis or having a courier service carry their backpacks from one stop to the next.
The girls were on such a high with the excitement of being here and the beauty of the countryside that nearly 8 hours of walking didn't faze them.
I wish you peace, love, and laughter
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Enchanted Day

Day 27-Triacastela-Sarria
8 hours 6 minutes-26 km
We started our walk in the rain and it continued to rain off and on most of the day.
Our guidebook says we ascended only 200 meters, but we climbed up and down so many times, so I think we climbed the same 200 meters over and over again all day long.
Picture this: Miles and miles of trail canopied over with ancient ivy covered trees on one side, an 8 foot high moss covered timeless stonewall on the other side, a flowing river with several waterfalls and ancient stone bridges, little hamlets with tiny centuries old churches and one of the oldest most gorgeous monasteries in Spain.
That was our Camino today.
A long hard trek with lots of climbing, but the most enchanting day so far.
Now, in less than an hour, our daughter Heidi and our friend Ellen will arrive to walk the rest of the way to Santiago with us.
Blessings to all
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Three Caminos

Day 26-OCebreiro-Triacastela
6 hours 40 minutes-21.7 km

There is a saying in Spanish about the Camino. Loosely translated it goes like this:
The first part to tame the body. (Roncesvalles to Burgos)
The second part to tame the spirit.(Burgos to Leon)
The third part for the pleasure of the soul.(Galicia)
I think it holds pretty true.
The long hard days of trekking through the Pirenees certainly let's you know that your body is much more capable than we give it credit for and we push it each day beyond its limits.
Then there is the flat, hot, shadeless plains of the Meseta that seem to defy all rules of time. Patience is tried. It becomes a challenge of the will to endure the boring hot lonely landscape.
Now we are in Galicia, the final stage.
So far it has been magical and spirit lifting. Trekking hard terrain I still feel light and alive.
And the divine is revealed in these expansive vistas lifting my spirits.
I keep stopping, drinking in the unbelievable miracle around me.
The peace, the quiet and the beauty are overwhelming.
They bring joy to my heart and sustenance to my road worn body.
Peace, love and joy

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, October 2, 2009


Day 25-Villafranca de Bierzo-OCebreiro
9 hours 35 minutes-36.9 km

It was a very long, difficult day, but a very exciting and rewarding one.
In the morning the trail was along side a highway, but the bonus was that we followed along side a flowing river with several small waterfalls.
The sound of the rushing water and plenty of birdsong made for a very happy day, which just kept getting better all day long.
We walked steadily uphill all day. The first 5 hours were on good flat track.
But then we started our very steep ascent to OCebreiro.
The trail was very rocky and rough, but the higher we went, the more gorgeous the panoramic views that surrounded us were.
We passed through several Celtic villages complete with Celtic music. I expected my granddaughter Holly to appear at any moment doing the Irish Step Dance.
OCebreiro is like being on top of the world with 360 degrees of brethtaking views.
The village itself is charming with all stone buildings, some round with straw roofs.
We had originally planned on 2 days to make the tough ascent. But weather perfect, outstanding scenery and storybook villages kept our spirits high.
Ron said if you can't see God by looking at this magnificent mountain scenery, you never will.
A perectly magical day, even though my feet are aching miserably.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Celtic Country

Day 24-Ponferrada-Villafranca de Bierzo
7 hours 7 minutes-24 km

Our relaxing stay yesterday in Ponferrada was highlighted with a visit to the magnificent 12th century Templar Castle.
Another bonus was the big and modern Pilgrim Hostal we stayed in. We were reunited with many friends we had lost track of including Antonio and his adorable donkey Don PePe.
It was a long walk out of the city this morning then a long stretch along a busy highway. The noise and exhaust fumes were very annoying.
The morning was shrouded in mist and we had a light drizzle most of the day.
We are now entering Celtic country and it looks very much like Ireland, with lots of rock walls and green hills. Beautiful scenery of farms, orchards, vineyards and a spattering of sheep made it a delightful walk.
We had a long steep climb at the end of the day into the picturesque town of Villafranca de Bierzo.
Tomorrow we start a few very difficult days with our highest and hardest climb of the Camino.
Love to all
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sweet Treats

Day 23-Riego de Ambros-Ponferrada
3 hours 54 minutes-9.6 km
The first 2 hours of our walk was steeply downhill on a very rocky narrow path. As usual we started walking in the dark which made for a painfully slow descent.
But after a while in the early morning light, the mountain scenery was stunning and we found that we had descended into a deep beautiful gorge.
Off and on the Camino has had wild blackberries growing along side the trail.
They are a nice excuse to stop for a few moments and enjoy a sweet treat.
Speaking of sweet treats, we only walked for just under 4 hours today!!
Then we left our backpacks and walked around Ponferrada with its beautiful churches and an impressive castle.
How great it was to walk around without a heavy pack and to have most of the day to enjoy exploring, eating ice cream, and relaxing.
Peace and Joy
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry