Monday, 26 April 2010


Now that I am so happily back in Moratinos, I suppose I should keep with the franchise of this blog and tell you about the Big Fun going on in this Tiny Pueblo.

The swallows are back in the barns, the storks are hauling great loads of sticks to their nests (and dropping them at times on peoples´ heads), yesterday was, yet again, the big fiesta out at the Virgin de la Puente. Alas, this year for the first time in eight decades, without our old friend Paca Luna heading up the march. Still, the weather was fine, the snails were fat, the music was hot, and a good time was had by all out on the lawn.

And so it is spring on the Meseta. The pilgrims are bombing through in earnest, even though the hospitaleros continue to complain that their numbers are way down compared to previous years. But the big building projects continue, with or without pilgrims to justify them. Spain may be mired in an economic crisis, and Europe may be facing ruin very soon, but the locals feel perfectly confident that plenty of well-heeled tourists (and skint pilgrims, too) will be through here in the years to come. They´re counting on it.

Here in Moratinos the Italians´ albergue is well on its way, with staircases, thermopane windows, and all the wiring done, and the roofing well on its way.  Bruno and Daniel moved out of the Peaceable a couple of weeks ago, to a place in Sahagún... Paddy was getting too squirrelly with the extra souls about the place, and the albergue project is dragging on into overtime, so everyone was glad for the change. No hard feelings.  The left a lovely yellow Easter cake, shaped like a dove.

And at the entrance to town, on the threshing floor, the German/Italian couple who proposed a two-star hostel last year have finally go all their plans in order and started work on that place -- soon to be a bar, vegetarian restaurant, and lodging for sixteen.  The backhoes started digging a  week ago, and now the concrete forms are up... our streets are buzzing with vans and concrete mixers and people we only see on sunny weekends. The church was full yesterday. Add in the returning swallows and flies, and we´ve got a crowd on our hands!  The place is heaving.

In St. Nicolas, three kilometers on, our friends at La Barrunta bar are well on their way with an eight-room hostel, bar, and restaurant. They gave us the big tour yesterday evening. They haven´t a thought in their minds that there might be some over-building going on here...

The neighbors all think it´s great. We have mixed feelings. But it´s inevitable, really. For another view of the situation, check out Modesto´s blog -- he´s lived here for more than half a century, so he´s a bit more entitled to opinions! (He says we are the first foreginers to come here and stay, so in a way it´s our example the others are following... they see it can be done. I am not sure this is a compliment, but hey. This is Capitalism, which trumps all government, laws, gods, and morals.)

I just finished walking the Camino, and now I see what an amazing value the Peaceable is to pilgrims, and how we really have left ourselves open for exploitation. Everyone in every town before us is charging at least 5 Euro for even a moldy old bed, 8 Euro for dinner, and 4 Euro to wash a load of laundry...  we´ve been asking a donativo. If people are accustomed to paying, and suddenly someone says "donation, whatever you feel it´s worth," it´s no wonder they see us as an opportunity to save a few bucks. We are operating in an obsolete mind-set, which modern pilgrims just don´t understand. The only wonder is we have not been overrun by now. Still, with a few minor exceptions, pilgrims have treated us with great generosity and kindness, proving the dictum "You reap what you sow."

Speaking of kindness, Kim left us yesterday. She is off to follow her dream: shooting photos all along the caminos for a full year. She´s starting with a dip in the holy baths of Lourdes. We wish her well. We hope she comes back soon.

Meantime, with just the two of us here (or just the eight of us,  if you count 4 dogs, a cat, and a canary), a good time is being had. We walk the dogs in the mornings, do some kind of housework, have a delicious lunch, park our carcasses in the sunshine, maybe blog a bit, maybe have a spot of dinner, read, listen to music, open up some wine, potter around in the garden, visit with the neighbors, take a walk... So much to do! So little time!

And from 3 p.m. on til about 8, everything is illuminated. It´s a strange trick of the light, but all the tulip and daffodil bulbs I planted two Autumns ago decided to skip a year... so now the chicken pen is surrounded by blooms, and the patio is dotted with spots of red and yellow and purple. And in late afternoon, the sun catches them just so... they are lit up like Christmas tree bulbs, chiarascuro-like. It´s delightful.

The galgo girls get more stupid every day. My ankles are still recovering. The patio has beautiful new weather-proof furniture, and is looking very civilized. All we need now are some pilgrims...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A Pilg´s Last Days

Some people finish their caminos with a sad sense of longing. They can´t seem to let go of the trail. They finish their visit to the great shrine cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and they just keep walking, onward to the Atlantic at Finisterre -- also known as The End of the Earth.

Me? I couldn´t wait to get to Santiago this time. When I first spotted its towers in the distance on the evening of 19 April, my heart went pitty-pat. I remembered reading about medieval pilgrims who had a similar experience back 800 years ago. When they saw the cathedral they supposedly fell to their knees and burst into a hearty chorus of "Dum Paterfamilias."

I just said "Yeehaw! I´m almost there!" and then turned my attention to securing a bed in the nearest Casa Rural. I stayed at a couple of fabulous Casas Rurales this trip -- these are bed and breakfast inns set in old country houses, usually run by families. They don´t cost much more than a regular pension or hostal, and they´re clean and charming and the food is much better. And they usually have a dog around who likes to be petted. Value added, I call that.

I set out from Lestedo the morning of April 20 for the last push into the sacred city. It was only 9 a.m., and the signs said Santiago was only 10 km. away. I walk an average of 4 km. per hour, so I could easily make the noon Pilgrim Mass. I thought.

But it was not to be. The road zigzagged and doubled back on itself, gerrymandered and detoured, climbed and plummetted, and just generally gave me a last-chance going-over. Yes, there were pretty baroque pilgrim fountains, chapels, and quaint scenes of hay-mowing and carts being pulled along by cows. When I finally got into some serious suburbs, it was already almost 11. I realized I wouldn´t make that Mass, and was peevish for a few paces. And then I decided I didn´t need another church service to make this real. The pain in my ankles was real enough. I needed to slow it down and let this day´s walk unfold like any of the 30-odd days that went before it.

Not long after I sat down on a bench near a little babbling river. Traffic rumbled over a sweet little three-arch medieval bridge. And on the other side, through the trees, I saw the apse of an unmistakeably medieval church. I had time. I decided to check it out.

It was Santa Maria la Mayor y Real de Sar, the oldest church in Santiago, founded in the 8th century. A playground full of schoolkids screamed and shouted alongside. A teacher sat on the stoop, smoking desperately. The church is open, she said. Go round the other side. There´s a tour-bus full of people in there already.

How lucky! I thought. These ancient suburban churches are almost never open on weekdays, and this one might have a guided tour going on that I could poach a listen to. I stepped inside, got a cool stamp on my credential, and showed myself around the beautiful little cloister garden. The church door was open, and voices floated outside. I walked closer. They were familiar somehow, cadenced. A Mass was going on. It was the tour group, evidently a religious one, traveling with their own priest. And they were speaking English. North American English! Again my heart went pitty-pat.

I stepped right in and crashed their Mass. I had MY pilgrim Mass right there in Sar, in my native tongue, amongst 38 jet-lagged Canadians on a whirlwind tour of The Great Shrines of Europe. I felt immensely blessed, swept up into Divine Providence... how likely was this? How rare, how wonderful, and how perfectly timed for me, who hasn´t heard a church service in English since London in February. I am not sure how my fellow worshipers felt at the Peace, shaking hands with a damp, bedraggled stranger. But in that place, that morning we all were strangers and foreigners and travelers and pilgrims. They ain´t tourists, I thought. They´re my brothers.

After that it was not long until I arrived at the Pilgrim Office of the great cathedral atop the hill, where pilgrims take their stamped credentials and apply for the Compostela, the official church document that attests to their intestinal fortitude and their worthiness for extra credit on Judgement Day. Who was working the desk but my friend Johnnie Walker? 

Gone were any doubts about the acceptability of my Camino Invierno pilgrimage -- I was signed, sealed, and delivered within moments, with hugs and kisses all around. We went off to lunch in a lovely little garden restaurant. I found a 20 Euro hostel room, and got a train ticket for home. And after a shower and a ceremonial Tossing Of the Busted Hiking Boots Into the Dumpster, I made my way to the Cathedral to deliver all the promises I´d made for people.

It was three pages long, mostly just peoples´ names, but there were a few other things on there, too:  Peace. Politicians. Moratinos. Volcanic Ash Cloud. The Bangladeshi döner kebab man in Barco de Valdeorras. The priests of Roncesvalles, and the one in Los Arcos. The old lady at the church door in Burlada. The doctor in Puente de Domingo Florez. Rory, the Methodist minister from South Africa, and Rafa, the only other pilgrim I met on the entire Invierno Way. Farmers. The Peaceable Kingdom. The next big project. Hospitaleros. Waymark-painters, guide-writers, and map-makers. The Canadian Catholic tourists, and the attendant at the door at Sar who gave me a great big hug when I enthused about finding my little miracle there.

There was a bit of a queue to hug the St. James statue, a traditional pilgrim gesture. I decided to pass. I´d been hugged already by a Saint of God, that very morning in Sar. I´d walked my many miles and delivered my prayers at the altar. My pilgrimage was finished.

So I got my hair cut. I bought some fresh bright clean socks, an Arzua cheese to take home, and a nice pair of silver earrings. I took a nap, with the great bells of Santiago singing out the hours until I met my friend again for a seafood extravaganza, til an all-night rain rolled in, til the 9:20 Arco pulled out of the station the next morning and carried me backwards over the trail I´d just walked, all the way to Sahagún and Paddy and home.

The finest place in the entire world is right here.

But here are a few photos of the final five days of the trail.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Closing In: A Warning

I will make this quick, as this internet place is expensive!

Since I wrote you last I´ve acquired a camera (which I have no cable for, so I will show pics later). I´ve had a lovely cuddly visit with Patrick, who took cabs and trains forward and back to be with me for three days between my hikes. (He walked one of the days, between Monforte de Lemos and Castellon de Something...a really tough little stretch of rural blacktop. He very wisely packed it in, as his shoes weren´t suited to the task.) I feel like I´ve had a very privileged camino, what with people coming out to meet me, and a few others owing me favors and paying me back double and triple... and a few others who are just saints.

I know I said this before about the English Way and the Camino San Salvador, but this Invierno Trail is some of the most lovely, untouched Camino I ever experienced. I witnessed the birth of a Jersey bull calf outside Chantada, way up at the top of a rugged bit of medieval road. I rode a couple of miles standing on the plowshare of an old Massey-Furguson tractor. I played with five tiny four-day-old lambs, I prayed in a 9th century church, and I walked miles and miles and miles of asphalt and a good bit of Roman pavement too. I slept at Pension Tropicale, a 15-Euro per night flophouse (the bearded, mumbling, wine-scented men outside could´ve easily passed for pilgrims, except most pilgs would never pay 15 Euros for a bed). and I shared a corner Tower Suite in a 15th century monastery turned 21st-century Parador hotel. I liked the Parador better than the Pension Tropicale. I got a good ten hours of sleep in both places, which makes you wonder. (A simple, clean room, with its own shower, sheets, and towels, averages 30 Euro.)

So that´ll show you one thing about the Invierno: there aren´t many albergues. So you have to stay in pensions. It´s inexpensive, but it´s not cheap. (I may never stay in a pilgrim albergue again. Those clean towels and sheets are SO worth it!)  

Another thing you can learn from my experience is this: since I left Chantada, three days ago, I lost about seven hours of hard hiking floundering around trying to find my way. This trail, especially the last two days, is VERY POORLY WAYMARKED. To the point of being cruel, or even dangerous. The etapas are very long, sometimes more than 30 kilometers. There are very few bars in rural Galicia (people must drink at home!) and even fewer restaurants or places to sleep.

I´ve been using a guide posted online by one of the Invierno Friends of the Camino groups, and I warn everyone against using it -- the person who wrote it means well, but having walked the length of this trail it is clear to me she drove parts of it in a car, walked some sections, and cobbled together the rest while sitting in a bar with a pile of maps, a ruler, and a gang of friends who also had walked bits and pieces. I will try to update the guide that exists online, to prevent anyone else becoming as terribly lost as I was. But having lost whatever "real" path is out there, my version won´t be a lot of help. Lost is lost. When you get un-lost, you don´t walk back to see where the mistake was made. (you usually just say a couple of bad words, and keep walking.)

I wasn´t "lost in an Arctic storm" lost. I could almost always see the 7 kilometers of wind-farm on the mountain opposite, where I´d walked the day before. I could see a green hog barn in a valley, and a huge chicken farm atop the next mountain. I´d walk a couple of miles of verdant green valley, or climb a mountain through a million pine trees, and come out on a tractor path... and there would be the hog barn again. And the windmills. Slightly to the west or south of where I last saw them. I stopped a farmer in the middle of plowing a field (at about 17 percent grade!) and he told me Lalín, the town I wanted to get to (the town a mere 14 km. from where I started) was only two kilometers that way. So I headed that way. It started to rain. I eventually came out on a blacktop road. Where I flagged down Jose Ignacio in his Massey-Ferguson. He said the road will take me to Lalín. It´s only six kilometers, he said.

"SIX kilometers?? I´m going to cry now," I told him.

"Don´t cry," he said. "I´ll take you the first couple."

This is where I wish I traveled with a camera crew, because I must´ve been a sight, clinging to the back of the tractor, flying down the road with my backpack under a flapping red poncho -- must´ve looked like the farmer´d been accosted by a flaming hunchback. I actually yelled "yeehaw" at one point, before I realized we were going a good 30 mph and the edges of that poncho were kinda close to the wheels, and thoughts of Isadora Duncan´s untimely end flashed through my mind. What a way to go, I thought. Better this than bleaching my bones in some pine plantation six kilometers back.

Anyway, that 14 km. stage took me seven hours to complete. It was disheartening. I kinda wanted to get to Santiago in time to see Johnnie Walker, one of my fine buds from London, who was in Santiago for a little while but was supposed to go home today.

And then I learned that John is STILL in Santiago, stranded there by a giant cloud of volcanic ash that´s shut down air traffic all over Europe. (How apocalyptic do I gotta get to see my friends?)  I am very much NOT rushing this camino, not for anyone, and especially not with my feet running on Injured Reserve Backup status and my boots falling off said feet. But I really want to see John. I think I will need to talk with someone once I get to Santiago. I need to process this strange, choppy, solitary camino, and I´ve been on my own now for several days. Much as I long to arrive, I would really rather not face that city alone.

This morning, outside Lalin, the Invierno joined the Via de la Plata, a big north-south route that is beautifully waymarked. The path today went over mountains and hills and bogs and Roman bridges, very similar to the Invierno, but with reliable arrows and granite markers... I LOVE those! Much as I like being challenged, I´ve had enough of orienteering, thanks!

And in the same vein, think back on my disdain for the radio-toting knuckleheads in Foncebadon. This morning my heart rejoiced to see 20 Spandex-clad bikers blast past me, all shouting "Buen Camino!" as they drove happily headlong into oncoming traffic. Yay knuckleheads!

I am even glad to see some traffic... some. I am a day and a half short of Santiago, in a little crossroads town called Bandeiras, in a bar called Arume, where they have fat cañas of Estrella Galicia beer and a superb Sandwich Vegetal. I´m gonna post that recipe someday.. and a photo. YUM!

I have much more to report, but this will have to do for now. Until I get to Santiago and a proper internet place, and a washing machine, and a haircut/manicure/pedicure place, and a MariscoRama dinner place...

Over and Out
from Scout

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Long Time Gone

It feels like a hundred years since I blogged, many miles and many days and nights. I write this from Monforte de Lemos, on the Camino Invierno in Galicia. It´s 100 km. to Santiago!

(If you´d like a smile, here is the film version of the Homecoming photos from the last post. Kim continues to work her magic.)

The weather is kind, sun and cool breezes all morning, and enough heat in the afternoon to give me a sunburn if I am not careful. Last week there were still few pilgrims out there, and the innkeepers and hospitaleros are wondering if perhaps something is amiss... only four of us at Casa Jesus, back when I last posted. Only ten of us at Refugio Gaucelmo in Rabanal del Camino.

Still, the trail from there on was crowded with knuckleheads -- big groups of 50-something men leaving great trails of litter behind them. Beautiful youngsters lying on their backs along the path, their backpacks cast aside, yammering into mobile phones. And the crowning touch: a couple outside the Yoga Refuge in Foncebadon, walking into the spotless morning sharing an IPod. And via speakers mounted on the shoulder-straps of their packs, sharing their screeching "Ya Ya RoMaMa!" pop music with all the world round. (This, if nothing else, is the best argument for gun control. If I´d had a weapon, the IPod would have been only the first casualty that day...) 

But I got to El Acebo, and I got to Jaime, another twinkly Camino Sensei, this one at Hostal La Trucha. He chilled me out and calmed me down and we put some potatoes into the ground on the final day of the moon cycle for such things. And he showed me a map of where to go next, to escape the "real Camino." Because frankly, this girl is FED UP with the Camino Frances... or at least the loud, crass, trash-tossing lowlife that seem to populate the place now.

It´s not exactly a shortcut, Jaime said, but it takes you over the mountain to Peñalba de Santiago, (Peñalba means "white mountain,") a beloved shrine for everyone in Ponferrada and El Bierzo. And the day after, a long walk through a place known as (get this) The Valley of Silence. It would join me up to the Camino Invierno, and cut out the racket of Ponferrada city. It would be "inolvidable," unforgettable.

And so I did it. And so it was. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Completely solitary. Perfectly ancient -- I walked paths set by Roman engineers and Visigoth hermits, and people who´ve lived medieval lives right up to last week. Altitudes stayed very high, waymarks were, well... not great. But the sky was full of birds great and small, and birdsongs I´ve never heard before. (only later did I learn I was walking through a massive bird sanctuary), the sky was bright blue, the villages home to abandoned monasteries and yowling cats and fuzzy white donkeys, and ancient chestnut trees twisted into Wizard of Oz Enchanted Forest shapes. Matter of fact, my inner soundtrack for these couple of days was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which I sang in several arrangements and a few keys nature never intended.

After the first 20 km of mountain I stayed at Peñalba, a touristy mountain hamlet restored to movie-set perfection. In the center stands a jewel of a Mozarabic church, once the heart of a monastery, now a historic site. By some miracle the every-two-weeks Mass was set to start in an hour. I nailed down a garret room in a Casa Rural, and was at the church in time for the ExpressMass for Six. Peñalba is a lovely little place (I had my first really excellent dinner there in many weeks -- real wild salmon, with real homemade Hollandaise), but any strange monastic energy was sucked out of the town eons ago.

The next day was monumental. It followed three mountain-faces down the Valley O Silence, then crossed over into the next range, where Romans used water power to blast away several mountains to uncover tons of gold -- and thus create the surreal natural sculpture/environmental nightmare now called Las Médulas. (A miniature sort of South Dakota Badlands.)  It´s a good 30 kilometers´ walk, all of it uphill. It was beautiful. It was a too much for me. Or to put it most plainly, it kicked my ass.

So I got the rare and coveted Peñalba stamp on my credential. And I learned how, at the bottom of it all, stamps and credentials and all those things are utterly meaningless on a Sunday night when you can´t find dinner and a bed. (I did, no worries. But it was minimal. I needed a bit more.)

Amazing what 12 hours of perfect sleep will do for you. I am amazed at what my 48-year-old carcass is capable of. It is doing much better this time around, nine years after my first full-scale Camino. But I started out with a lot less weight this time -- in my pack, on my physical frame, and in my head.

And so I was on the Camino Invierno, finally. I rose early Monday and left Las Medulas behind me, seeing as there simply is no breakfast to be had there on Mondays. Puente de Domingo Florez is a mere 9 km. on, down a country lane.

And ah, what a country lane it is! Birdsong, vineyards, pine woods, misty valleys, wildflowers (even some poppies!) all abloom, sheep and baby goats, and a story idea to roll around in my mind... silence. Visigoths. A mobile phone call from home, and finally a decent signal!

I think those first couple of hours on the Invierno may stay with me for a very long time. They were as close to perfect as Camino-ing has ever been for me, even though I´d had no caffeine.

And then came Puente de Domingo Florez, and a great pain in my gut...
A day lost to the medical center, medicines, sleep, fever, Hostal La Torre, where a wonderful riverside garden offsets the seedy rooms. (There´s an emu in the garden. Honest. I thought I was hallucinating.)

And today a mere 14 km. to O Barco de Valdeorras: I met Rafa, my first and only fellow Invierno pilgrim, a nice man from Ronda who helped me past a tough bit of trail --- proving that sometimes you really DO want a hiking stick!) I stopped in an abandoned village, where an owl flickered out of a hole in a wall like a sheet of newspaper on a breeze. Up the road an old couple gave me a big stream of water from a red clay jug. They´d never met an Americana before. In a ragged little slate town half a building had been demolished, and left the other half intact, open to the air, with just one of the four walls missing. A bedroom with the bed, a kitchen with the cooker and dishes, an attic with the garlic braids drying in the rafters -- all of it exposed like a stage set, or a doll´s house -- open to the weather. Nobody home.

This is the Spain I saw when I first arrived on the Camino, in 1993. I am afraid to write this, but I will. The Invierno is the Galicia I met then, the Spain I fell in love with, back before the Camino Frances was paved and pimped by the Xunta de Galicia and Xacobeo and private-interest money-mongers, before it became the moving tourist trap it´s become today.

Almost no albergues at all: Just pensions and sports halls and hotels. Nobody has a sello, nobody knows where the marked trail is, and those nice wooden posts with trail markers on them may disappear into some farmer´s fenceline over the winter. Tourists don´t expect special favors, and few are offered.

Even though a few pilgs have passed here each winter for a thousand years of so, this is
not a "traditional" Camino de Santiago, so it does not have that peculiar "pilgrim vibe."

It also does not have special pilgrim knuckleheads blasting Lady Gaga into the mountain fastness. You can sleep late in the morning if you like. The food is better. The wine is fabulous. People offer you a space on the pew at Mass. They look you in the eye and say hello. Their eyes are not hard and cold, measuring up how much money you might mean for them.

The Lord is with me. The Invierno is very long and tough and Spanish. It is beautiful, and silent.

I am SO ready to get to Santiago.  

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Sleeping at Jesus´ house

So, halfway through a solitary camino I fall into a little community of pilgrims.
It is very good to walk and talk with someone, especially when hiking across the long, spare expanses of Roman road after Calzadilla de Hermanillos.

I walk and talk with Rory, a gifted young South African who works in northern England. We were almost to Mansilla when I realized something interesting:; I walked these long miles nine years back with another tall, rangy young minister wearing an Indiana Jones hat -- this one is Methodist. That last one was Dick, a Catholic priest from Holland who is still a dear friend. Cool. Can't shake that clerical affinity, eh? Not only do they discuss Karl Rahner and the Pietists, they are amazing cooks, too.

Even the wild sections of the Camino are bulldozed and channelled and planted with skinny trees. No one can leave anything alone around here. The only thing not renovated since 2001 is the rickety bunks and squidgy mattresses in the pilgrim albergues. Eeugh. I keep telling myself that when I get to bigger towns I will stay in nice touristy places, but so far I have not. At least until I really really need to get a good night's sleep, or get some laundry done. Or get away from someone.

Rory is only one of four of us. There's also The Other Rebecca, a German girl from Dortmund,  and Elizabeth, privileged young San Franciscan who's walking out from under the shadow of her powerful father. She speaks fluent American. She is the only other American I have met on this camino,and she´s even met up with some people I know from the West Coast pilgrim community.

We walk together sometimes, seperately other times, but we walk a similiar rates. We meet up again at the end of the day. And in Leon, at the end of that day´s  walk, we met up at a Pizzeria, to celebrate my birthday! Paddy called to wish me well, and in the background I could here Nabi Dog singing out a "woowoowoo" greeting, and it made me homesick.

The  Leon convent pilgrim accommodation was almost full, and featured a Snore War in the men´s section. (I was way over in the opposite corner with my earplugs installed, and heard not a thing! Yay!) A storekeeper today told me 500 pilgrims started their caminos back at Roncesvalles on Good Friday. Thank God that wave is well behind us..

Cool and sunny these days, the wind has FINALLY died down and walking is beautiful. I feel very fit and well. I am looking forward to Ponferrada, and taking The Road Less Traveled from there: I will follow the newly "rediscovered" Camino de Invierno, a 12-day path that follows the River Sil instead of climbing over O Cebreiro with the the ever-growing pilgrim throng. I kinda wish I had someone to walk it with me, just for surety and to help take notes (I´m going to contribute trail notes to a new English language guide). Maybe the Trail will provide. Maybe I will be alone again. Maybe I´ll get another one of those wonderful Inspiration Afternoons out there, and book into a room with a desk where I can just scribble away the afternoon...

Sorry there´´s so little of inspirational nature here. I am just bobbing along on the current here for now, enjoying hearing someone say "Right On," and "Ooh yeah" and maybe even "Jesus H. Christ!" (We are staying at Vilar de Mazarife, home to Refugio Jesus -- the last remaining hippie-style accommodation that is right now also undergoing a transforming renovation job. You still get to draw and write on the walls, though. And there´s a polystyrene Viking ship out in the back garden, left over from Carneval. And you can sleep out on the porch if you want. So all is not lost...and maybe with the shiny new kitchen I will not get food poisoning here this time. )

So, Come to Jesus and Find Rest, Ye Weary Pilgrims. 

Friday, 2 April 2010

Halfway Home/Home Half Way

WARNING: This post may contain Pseudo-Mystical Nonsense. Pragmatists Turn Back Now.

I am halfway to the End of the Earth. Which is to say I am back at home at the Peaceable, which is just about halfway down the Camino Frances to Finisterre. (This may be the title of my next book, so consider it hereby copyrighted.) The family came out onto the trail to meet me. Kim shot photos. I could swear Tim is smiling in this picture... or maybe I flatter myself?

It is a strangely in-between place. It is utterly familiar, perfectly comfortable, and completely mine, so far as anything can belong to anybody. This is an environment made-over by me, to suit my personal taste and comfort. It is assuring and healing and, in its way, numbing.

The food is wonderful. The company is the best my world can offer me: my husband. Our family by adoption: Kim the mystic butler, (who maintains things beautifully, including the labyrinth)... Bob the meistersinger, Tim the comforter, Una the old best friend, provident chickens, luxuriating Murph, the pure aesthetic of the galgo girls. And Ramon, Kim´s novio -- an energy-worker massage therapist equipped with herbal unguents and electrical hands that put the battered pilgrim back in order. I am in my own little heaven.

As I walk I am carrying along a tiny edition of the Tao Te Ching, a 3,000-year-old book of boiled-down Chinese wisdom served up in couplets. It tells me to "give myself up to whatever the moment brings." So I let the healer spin my chakras, I taste the pungent yellow curry til my eyes cry and my sinuses open up. I put on the Sidney Bechet and Death Cab for Cutie music that makes Bob sing most happily.  I soak in a bathtub full of green-tea scented foam. I sleep in my own bed, for hours and hours. I treat the infection in my toe. I wonder if maybe I should just stop here, call off this Camino-walking nonsense, seeing as I already walked the whole Camino once, and that oughtta be enough for anyone. I live on the Camino. I can walk up and down its bony spine whenever I need to.
 The first half of the walk has been difficult and distressing, spiritually if not physically. So why go on? Why beat myself up this way?

This very day, the sage Solitary Walker blog had this to say, from the old Buddhist monk Ryokan:

My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe.
When the moon comes out, I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.

Maybe I ought to just stay here in my hut, eh?

Still, I wash everything very thoroughly, and start to re-pack my bag. (I don´t think anyone here has noticed they´ve been washing the laundry in fabric softener...) I need to go tomorrow morning so I don´t lose my walking rhythm. I have walked now from Roncesvalles to home. And now I will walk from home to Santiago de Compostella, and from there perhaps to the End of the Earth, and even on to San Andres de Teixido, depending on my feet and my energy level and this freakin´ never-ending cold headwind. It´s a great privilege to do this walk, to have the time and money and support. Who knows when I will again have this opportunity?

"The Moment" brought me here. Circumstance allows. I can go now, so I will. But with very low expectations.

Meditative pilgrimage is a discipline, a conceit, an artificially-induced stress with clear, challenging, but achieveable daily goals. The racket of bills and telephones and regretting yesterday and planning for tomorrow is stripped away and I am left with only birdsong, footfalls, and the varying levels of noise in my own head. And my fellow travelers, people on thier own wildly varied versions of the inward journey, teach me many things too, if I can stop being annoyed by their self-absorption and noise long enough to listen to them. If I can lay aside MY OWN self-absorption and noise long enough.

Still, I see The Peaceable in a new light now. As a pilg I am a sort of leaf bobbing on the Camino stream.  And the Peaceable is a stone in the stream, a place where a leaf can fetch up for a while, before the current carries him away again. My unique gift is I can be a leaf for a while, and still be part of the stone, too. Not to mention the stream.

The Tao te Ching says:

The Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views
She stays serenely within herself.

Why should the lord of the country 
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

I´m not the lord of the country yet, so I shall shove off back into the stream, just to see what the water is like these days, the places where "our" pilgs are heading when they leave us. And maybe just learn something from the rocks and dirt and pilgs and leaves and noise. Learn some balance. Learn how to ignore the stupidity, cupidity, and politics that increasingly pave and litter The Way, and just let the Road be what it is for now. It has survived worse insults. It´s going to outlive all this marketing-hype horse-shit and political back-stabbing, even as it outlives Xacobeo 2010, Junta Castilla y Leon, la Federacion de Amigos del Camino de Santiago, the European frickin´Union, and the Peaceable Kingdom.

And me. I will stay serenely within myself. At least until the third glass of Albariño. And unless I bump my bad toe.