Archive for October, 2011

Chosen Cruce

Bury your burdens at break of day - Cruz de Ferro

Mount of donations.

Dedications across ages.

Collections of saints.

Offerings of paupers.

Salvation of sinners.

Contemplation of peregrinos.

Humbly chosen.

Grateful spirit.


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This is the unfairness of reality, of not living in the now     –    fading and overloading.

Details disappear and with it inspiration. Everyday input drown intuition.   Thanks to the movie “‘The WayEmilio Estevez,  inspiration surfaced again…

Everyday life has a way of interfering…   Deadlines have a way of destroying…  Chores have a way of chasing away…

I am talking about the waning of a thought process.  And the battle to maintain this flow of entries, based on ever fresh memories but fast fading facts.

Where did I lose the trail?   Burgos was the last day of credit.

Leon became a highlighted, albeit compulsory stopover.

  •                        Place to recover from flu.
  •                Shield from a cold, rainy spell.
  •         Coffee spot to catch up with fellow peregrinos.
  •    Space to rest and needed bano time.

Hostal San Martin - Leon

We spent 3 days nursing the aches and pampering the senses.   We admired the cathedral and wondered about insanity.  There was even time for politics and philosophy.

Then the restless leg syndrome interfered…

Leon Cathedral

A last and necessary step before continuing the journey.  MFF’s disbelieve in the ease of reducing my mane in strange places – with language barriers and basic sign language – was not a deterrent. Pragmatic comfort was needed for the last stretch. The hair had to go.

Leonine haircut

Hair gone.

       Cough cleared.

     Blisters absent.

       Backpacks ready.

     Restless legs in anticipation…

I remember leaving Leon as being hard. Not on a deep emotional level.  On an ‘everything’ level.   Any city I found difficult to walk through. Physically challenging and spiritually draining.

It was a very early start.  Although only about 23 km to Mazarife, it was a tough day.  The details of the walk escape me, but the ease and freedom I felt, is still a part of me.

Astorga, Foncebadon, Molinaseca, Cacabelos and Vega.   Beautiful and peaceful. Each worth mentioning but space and time limit me.   As the next post I want to dedicate to O’Cebreiro and Cruce de Ferro….and the final week to Santiago.

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My other half most of the time thinks that I exaggerate – most of the time. I, on the other hand and as the better half, feel that all stories need a bit of colour. Like jokes; it is appreciated more.

This is a short story based on a real happening.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Circumstances have been dramatised to add colour. Emotions have been invented to hide the truth.

Solo Returno Symbols

“Solo Returno”

“We are lost, but we are not alone.” A deafening cricket hijacks Juan’s comforting voice as I bend forward to wipe blood from burning scratches on both my shins. The once white wet-wipe fails to soothe. Wearily I notice the end-of-day length of our shadows crouching behind us. Warning bells drain all sounds and blood from my head. Lost in time and lost in space – the realization cracks through my mind, but never reaches my lips. But he is here. Juan will help me find the way.

Eight hours ago the day appeared bright and endless. The first Café con Leche awoke my senses and my being became all-powerful. I refreshed my memory with a scan of the crumpled foreign language map, and confidently tucked it away, alongside the water-bottle and the sunscreen. The first of many climbs was effortless and I found the hike easy. Light-hearted pleasantries were exchanged with passing pilgrims, all directing me back to where I came from. My point of departure, Finisterre, was their point of anticipated arrival. The brief explanation that I am in, “Solo Returno” (retracing my steps back to Santiago, alone) brought a flash of admiration in their eyes that did not escape my ego.

The day was perfect, my spirits high and the views spectacular. Little medieval towns surrounded by huge walls, built around a central plaza containing an ornate chapel with its inevitable bell tower, speckled the fawn coloured landscape of maize lands. Roman crosses and yellow arrows (in reverse) indicating my way. Almost trotting past dairy farms and minding the dung puddles with a rhythm in my feet and a tune in my heart, I felt invincible. One last hill to conquer and I would see the skyline of Santiago.

Somewhere up that hill; somewhere in the forest at the top of that hill; somewhere in the heat of the day; somewhere in my overconfident state, I missed a turn. There were no more friendly passers-by; no more city fathers with arthritic index fingers; no reverse yellow arrows. Only a stillness. Very faint village sounds emanated from beyond my physical reach. I was lost in a forest.

Robbed of my energy and drained of my confidence, I looked for a clearing to regain my sense of direction. As I pushed deeper into the woods for a vantage point – a view, which I hoped would orientate the foreign map – the lack of a shadow stopped me. The Pilgrimage across Spain is about following your shadow; east to west. Returning is the opposite. You allow your shadow to follow you. In this dense forest my shadow became non-existent, as did my ego.

The clearing appeared suddenly as did the apparition of a pilgrim. Hazy rays of sun outlined the approaching figure. It had the telltale symbols of a true pilgrim – the hiking boots, the hiking stick, the floppy hat and the back-pack. I blinked, looked again and confirmed, yes, but only one arm. The remaining hand softly touched my shoulder. “Hola! What’s your name? My name is Juan”.

During the final hours of this balmy afternoon, Juan found me. There I was, lost, exhausted and ego-less. ‘Solo Returno Peregrina,’ paled in the bright relief of recognizing a guardian angel and a beacon. Juan and I explored bushy paths in all visible directions. Dead ends, bad access and poor visibility slowed the process to a unanimous stop in the now familiar clearing.

“We are lost, but we are not alone.” He says again, the cricket now gone silent, and starts unfolding our sleeping bags. Juan’s youthful optimism is exactly what we need for the night.

“You are right. Tomorrow we will find the way together,” I croak gratefully and yawn.

Lone figure at a Fuente

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An African Proverb that I found in the Brierley Guide – “From contentment with little comes happiness “–   so apt and so applicable on the Camino, I had to use it.  At the same time it’s diversity in perception makes for good philosophy.

Although I often compare pilgrims with leafcutter ants in the Amazon, carrying loads on their backs to the next den along the same route, I also come to realize our human uniqueness. Our individuality that ensures  interesting conversations and extra-ordinary convictions en route and post-camino.

Pilgrims and crosses

It is our perceptions that make us unique.  “Happiness” and “little”  mean different things to different people. And where else can one find a better classroom than the Camino. To learn about these differences and also to be taught not to judge these differences.

       “Happiness”  in most dictionaries equals satisfaction.            Satisfied  with exactly what? …..

  • to walk?   Hours and kilometers, day after day, week after week, halfway or all the way across Europe?
  • to talk?     Foreign, sign and sometimes body languages to  – fellow pilgrims, city strangers, Cafe owners, coffee  makers, bread bakers, cleaners, farmers and their cows and dogs
  • to sleep?  Where you find a place; clean or not, fresh or not, to capacity or not, from dusk to dawn …or not.
  • to eat?      Whatever presents itself according to local custom, preferences and tastes.
  • to be?       Clean and clothed; healthy and strong; warm and fed; content and tolerant; undemanding and accepting; non-judgmental and grateful.


My Space - bottom bunk and all belongings

The meaning of “Little” is more direct and basic – small in size or amount.

The difficulty in the perception of  ‘little’ is big. It’s essence can be captured in the different levels of existence  – on a physical, emotional or spiritual level.  ‘Too much’ is not always the opposite and ‘enough’ does not balance it out. The vastness of the little word can only be appreciated when you have lack of….even a little.


What are you carrying that is unnecessary?

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