Posts Tagged ‘Pilgrm’

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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“This too will pass” – a mantra that helped me through physically difficult times. And one that I would not want to apply to this growing awareness of ‘interconnected-ness’ phase.

Wind and wheat

A comfort zone where:

  • Pains and aches have vanished.
  • Needs and wants are minimal.
  • An inexplicable ‘rhythm’  replaces the ‘discomfort’.
  • Disabilities become challenges.
  • Irritations turn into lessons.
  • Obsessions are replaced by gratitude
  • Intolerance is washed away by a sense of humor.

Part of this physical relieve is due to the wise choice of taking time out to rest –  by taking a bus to Burgos.

Traversing La Rioja across the border to Castille y Leon, we often hug the Camino and empathise with pilgrims dotted over the landscape. Passing Najera, Santo Domingo, Belorado and St Juan, add much needed credit to our time and distance bank.

Hotel Espanol, at 48Euros per room, is an instant Heaven on Earth, found in Burgos. And for one night of luxury, very affordable and justifiable. We deserve this….

High and Low

Quoting John Brierley:

‘If you go as a pilgrim you travel two paths simultaneously.

You have to get to the point where you balance inner and outer realities.

Everyone has different needs and pathologies, psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical.

Under the protection of the Camino one can let go of the safety of the familiar and dive into the unknown…..’

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Friendly horse - unfriendly hill

Waking up to a bright but chilly day makes the stopover in Orisson worth it and all the normal fears of novice Peregrinas (female pilgrims) dissipate with the mist.  An early start (to be the norm throughout our journey) rewards us with spectacular views in all directions and way beyond. Flocks of sheep, friendly horses and excited pilgrims add to the already charged mood of anticipation.

The most unexpected proves to be the physical onslaught, and the feeblest becomes the unexpected. Mortality and Ego take the back seats in the show of battles between Lungs and Quads. The altitude in the Pyrenees makes lungs suffer and hills push boundaries with knees and thighs. The long distances and extra weight burden the back, knees and already blistered feet.

All of the first week gets gobbled up by time-consuming rituals essential in surviving from hour to hour, day-to-day, village to village :  –

  1. a quick sit to adjust the bandage supporting a buggered knee,
  2. a short rest to change the plasters on oozing blisters,
  3. a brief wait to breathe again and allow fresh oxygen flow to exhausted muscles,
  4. a view admiring and picture taking stop to rest slouching backs and to sunblock sweaty faces,
  5. a ‘bar’ break to boost the energy and rejuvenate the tummy with a quick pop of another anti-inflammatory.

A week which stretches across the Province of Navarre into La Rioja to end in a village called Navarette, and which brings us 150km into our pilgrimage. This Physical Phase seizes my entire focus, it consumes all my energy, it gnaws away at my sense of humor and worst of all, it exposes myself to me.

Endurance and Perseverance

With passing time and steady walking, the physical demands and needs diminish and the emotional starts to surface.  A wonderful sense of achievement, the awe of  fitness and health, trigger the next phase – the awakening.

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Any beginning spells change – a change from the old into the new, a change in perspectives and attitudes and hopefully always a change for the better.

This pilgrimage – “My Camino” –  starts with the usual overnight flights from southern hemisphere into northern. Then inevitably connecting  to final destinations within the favored hemisphere. With the collection of our plastic- wrapped backpacks from Pamplona’s rotunda, our names on a taxi sign board, a winding trip across the Pyrenees, our journey starts from St Jean Pied de Port.

One night in Albergue L’Esprit du Chemin (French for a backpacker’s hostel called The Spirit of The way) to restore travel fatigue – which feels non-existent compared to the much bigger adrenalin rush and energy churning excitement about the unkown.

Like the first day at school millions of years ago, I can’t wait for the doors of our Albergue to open so that I can put all the prepping into real action! The start of our adventure – hiking across the Pyrenees  …  My Fairy Friend (MFF) and me!

Misty start across the Pyrenees

Stepping into early morning mist does not dampen our spirits, it rather acts as a fuzzy blanket protecting us from cold, harsh realities and paralysing fears.

Everything is new. Thin air with strange smells from pre-dawn bakeries and last night’s left overs in foreign streets,  muffled sounds of like-minded pilgrims on the move and a chiming bell announcing the time of day, cobbles under our keen feet and chill on our cheeks, ancient walls and unfamiliar gardens. The senses are alert.  This ‘new’ is the unfamiliarity associated with the beginning of an adventure.

Orisson Albergue  lure us from the mist with the smell of hot chocolate, away from a viewless pilgrims road – yellow guiding arrows barely visible and peregrinos (pilgrims) and their mochillas (backpacks)welcome navigators.  This first stopover away from ‘civilization’ proves to be a very gentle introduction to shared accommodation and facilities – the beginning of adaptation. We have no illusions about the necessity of a good meal and sound sleep to assist with the next day’s test in endurance – survival.

The expanse - interconnected with all

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Any trip has 3 equal parts, all connected like the sides of a triangle – which mathematically can be contained in a circle – the proverbial and ever present cycle of life.

Journey = Plan + Start + Finish

After the effort of explaining and justifying my passion in mathematical terms, I have now reached the point where I have to sit and face my demon – creative writing.  This urge to write, I presume, is a normal consequence for anyone on a journey or who ever  experienced some amazing travels.  The trigger for my ‘urge’  was an amazing pilgrimage .  The Camino de Santiago is a very popular pilgrimage/hike across the northern provinces of Spain and there will be more details in future posts as the journey unfolds.  “My Camino”  finally happened to me over the period of May, June and July 2011.

Although the planning started years before with the usual hearing about it, reading about it, asking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it and being envious about it – it never reached that pinnacle of deciding on a date.  During March 2011 the decision was finally made and logistics became a straight line as all fell into place and the planning phase very quickly became the packing phase!

The inevitable ‘trying-to-get-fit’ frenzy had to fit in between the ‘exchanging-my-responsibilities’ and the ‘streamlining-of-duties’ meetings. There were also seven whole weeks of getting my physical and proverbial house in order to enable me to undertake six weeks of backpacking.

Finally it was packing, repacking and weighing. Ticking off lists of needed and wanted items, finding small containers to decant, stocking up on emergency supplies, clearing the camera’s memory card, checking out the what-ifs  …  and then starting all over again – packing, repacking and weighing.  Until finally all was ready and the total weight was miraculously  just below 10kg’s.

My guide book reminds me that, “If you go as a pilgrim you travel two paths simultaneously, always try and balance inner and outer realities,” and my preparation takes on a different approach. Pensive now overrules practical and time is a blur. Finally it all becomes real as I fasten my seatbelt.

The actual beginning of the adventure – without the start there can be no journey! “Whatever you do, don’t forget to start!!”  – Brierley

The dawning of a new day

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It was a quote from the Camino de Santiago Pilgrim’s guide  (John Brierley)  that got me planning and walking! And living….
Quote by  William Ward :-
“To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk being called sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken
Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing
The people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow
But the cannot learn, feel,change, grow or really live
Only a person who risks is truly free…

"The End of the Earth"

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