Camino de Santiago ~ May 25, 2017, Santiago de Compostela and community 

Certain life experiences are difficult to describe. For me, walking the Camino is one of those times. I had done research, read books, read other people’s accounts of their journeys, in fact I had attempted to prepare physically, mentally and spiritually, (I even wrote a daily prayer which I used, well, daily,) but none of that was enough. There are so many parallels here to our life journey. (Some of a those will be brought forth in our early summer sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” You can listen to those messages, beginning June 11 at this link. Just click on the sermon link.)
Perhaps the sense of community on the Camino was one of the most profound. Community was formed not only out of the common purpose of walking to Santiago, and of being “away” and in this “bubble,” but community is also formed because of the nature of the Camino itself. One always greets another with the words “buen Camino.” The People who live here also want you to have a good experience. One day Paul from Ct and I were walking out of one of the larger cities together. Suddenly the trash man ahead asked if we were pilgrims, we said yes, and he told us we had missed a turn about a block earlier. 
This sense of community is what Jesus was forming in the world. It is found here. One is never alone unless one wants to be alone. On the nights where there were not big tables of pilgrims for meals, smaller groups naturally formed. It’s natural to invite someone to sit with you. So one night I ate with a woman from Bombay, the next night a guy from Sweden, the next a French woman, the next night a woman from Poland, and the next evening a guy from Ireland. (Yes, I did tell him how many American women love the Irish accent.) In each of these cases, deep, profound conversations took place. 

The sad part is that some of that feeling of community already began breaking up in Santiago, the very place we were destined to walk. Santiago is a big city and also has many tourists. The pilgrims become very spread out, that sense of community becomes lost very quickly. Even though I had a nice conversation with a woman from Australia at the Tapas bar, the conversation was different; less personal, less deep. 

The cathedral itself at Santiago must be one of the largest cathedrals in which I have ever placed my feet. Saint James sits above the alter, his body is in a casket underneath in the crypt. You can actually go up behind the altar and wrap your arms around his golden neck and tell him “thanks” or whatever you want to tell him. 

The pilgrim’s mass is at noon. They give a blessing over the arrival of the pilgrims and they announce their arrivals. Yesterday there was a big group of Germans, Italians, Koreans and people from all over the world. I wish I could have understood the sermon, but my 100 word Spanish vocabulary is not that good. Usually the giant incense burner called the “botafumeiro” is used only on Friday. It takes about 8 guys to swing it back and forth. It was originally used to get rid of the smell of sweat and odor of all the pilgrims. (I can assure you, that is needed for me and my clothes about now.) In any case, we were blessed and they used the botafumeiro. What an exciting experience! The Spanish woman next to me did lower her head a few times for fear of being hit! By the way, they are doing work on the cathedral, so there was no going through the famous door and seeing “Jessie’s tree.”

The pilgrim’s office is about two blocks away from the cathedral. It is there that the pilgrims await to receive their Compostela, or certificate of completion. A certificate is only given if you have walked the last 100 km. While I have walked 200 km, I was not eligible for the certificate. I knew that when I made the decision to walk in the mountains instead of the busy and crowded last 100 km. It’s a decision that I do not regret. I did wait in the 1 1/2 hour line of other pilgrims in order to receive my last stamp in my credential “passport.” It is the stamp from the cathedral itself. 

Finally, the food in Santiago is amazing. Any weight loss that I might have had was instantly gained back here! There are a few places here that still serve “pilgrim meals” for 11 €. (I ate with a Frenchman who had just completed his third Camino, this time for him was the Portugal Camino.) We had an awesome meal of octopus, a delicacy of the region and fish. After that, for dinner, it was Tapas all the way!

I should explain that there are many different routes for the Camino. All paths lead to Santiago. Perhaps the one I did, the Camino Frances, is the most well know. There are many paths from France, one from Paris too. There are different paths in the North, one from Portugal, and one that is called “primitive.” As stated in an earlier post, pilgrims from the Middle Ages walked out of their front door to arrive to Santiago. They also had to turn around and walk back home! (A few pilgrims walk back home today, but only a few. There were many more Europeans walking from their front door to Santiago. Some do the walk over a course of a few years, a few weeks at a time.) many also continue a few days more to Finisterre, which was considered “the ends of a he earth.” It was here that the miracle of Saint James happened, and there are two different tales of how his body, which was being transported from Jerusalem to Spain, went into the sea. A storm caused the body to be lost, the miracle is that he came out alive, covered with scallop shells, hence the symbol of the scallop shell for all the pilgrims. 

I am currently in the airport in Santiago about to return to Paris where I will spend some time with my girlfriend and her family. Then the end of my sabbatical will be a week with my extended family and grandchildren in the states. I have one more post that I want to share within a few days, along with a few other pictures and a video of the sounds of the Camino. Thanks for joining me on this amazing journey. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 25, 2017, Santiago de Compostela, community

Certain life experiences are difficult to describe. For me, walking the Camino is one of those times. I had done research, read books, read other people’s accounts of their journeys, in fact I had attempted to prepare physically, mentally and spiritually,  (I even wrote a daily prayer which I used, well, daily,) but none of that was enough. There are so many parallels here to our life journey. (Some of a those will be brought forth in our early summer sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” You can listen to those messages, beginning June 11 at this link. Just click on the sermon link.)

Perhaps the sense of community on the Camino was one of the most profound. Community was formed not only out of the common purpose of walking to Santiago, and of being “away” and in this “bubble,” but community is also formed because of the nature of the Camino itself. One always greets another with the words “buen Camino.” The People who live here also want you to have a good experience. One day Paul from Ct and I were walking out of one of the larger cities together. Suddenly the trash man ahead asked if we were pilgrims, we said yes, and he told us we had missed a turn about a block earlier. 

This sense of community is what Jesus was forming in the world. It is found here. One is never alone unless one wants to be alone. On the nights where there were not big tables of pilgrims for meals, smaller groups naturally formed. It’s natural to invite someone to sit with you. So one night I ate with a woman from Bombay, the next night a guy from Sweden, the next a French woman, the next night a woman from Poland, and the next evening a guy from Ireland. (Yes, I did tell him how many American women love the Irish accent.) In each of these cases, deep, profound conversations took place. 

The sad part is that some of that feeling of community already began breaking up in Santiago, the very place we were destined to walk. Santiago is a big city and also has many tourists. The pilgrims become very spread out, that sense of community becomes lost very quickly. Even though I had a nice conversation with a woman from Australia at the Tapas bar, the conversation was different; less personal, less deep. 

The cathedral itself at Santiago must be one of the largest cathedrals in which I have ever placed my feet. Saint James sits above the alter, his body is in a casket underneath in the crypt. You can actually go up behind the altar and wrap your arms around his golden neck and tell him “thanks” or whatever you want to tell him. 

The pilgrim’s mass is at noon. They give a blessing over the arrival of the pilgrims and they announce their arrivals.  Yesterday there was a big group of Germans, Italians, Koreans and people from all over the world. I wish I could have understood the sermon, but my 100 word Spanish vocabulary is not that good. Usually the giant incense burner called the “botafumeiro” is used only on Friday. It takes about 8 guys to swing it back and forth. It was originally used to get rid of the smell of sweat and odor of all the pilgrims. (I can assure you, that is needed for me and my clothes about now.) In any case, we were blessed and they used the botafumeiro. What an exciting experience! The Spanish woman next to me did lower her head a few times for fear of being hit! By the way, they are doing work on the cathedral, so there was no going through the famous door and seeing “Jessie’s tree.”

The pilgrim’s office is about two blocks away from the cathedral. It is there that the pilgrims await to receive their Compostela, or certificate of completion. A certificate is only given if you have walked the last 100 km. While I have walked 200 km, I was not eligible for the certificate. I knew that when I made the decision to walk in the mountains instead of the busy and crowded last 100 km. It’s a decision that I do not regret. I did wait in the 1 1/2 hour line of other pilgrims in order to receive my last stamp in my credential “passport.” It is the stamp from the cathedral itself. 

Finally, the food in Santiago is amazing. Any weight loss that I might have had was instantly gained back here! There are a few places here that still serve “pilgrim meals” for 11 €. (I ate with a Frenchman who had just completed his third Camino, this time for him was the Portugal Camino.) We had an awesome meal of octopus, a delicacy of the region and fish. After that, for dinner, it was Tapas all the way!

I should explain that there are many different routes for the Camino. All paths lead to Santiago. Perhaps the one I did, the Camino Frances, is the most well know. There are many paths from France, one from Paris too. There are different paths in the North, one from Portugal, and one that is called “primitive.” As stated in an earlier post, pilgrims from the Middle Ages walked out of their front door to arrive to Santiago. They also had to turn around and walk back home! (A few pilgrims walk back home today, but only a few. There were many more Europeans walking from their front door to Santiago. Some do the walk over a course of a few years, a few weeks at a time.) many also continue a few days more to Finisterre, which was considered “the ends of a he earth.” It was here that the miracle of Saint James happened, and there are two different tales of how his body, which was being transported from Jerusalem to Spain, went into the sea. A storm caused the body to be lost, the miracle is that he came out alive, covered with scallop shells, hence the symbol of the scallop shell for all the pilgrims. 

I am currently in the airport in Santiago about to return to Paris where I will spend some time with my girlfriend and her family. Then the end of my sabbatical will be a week with my extended family and grandchildren in the states. I have one more post that I want to share tomorrow along with a few other pictures. Thanks for joining me on this amazing journey. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 23, 2017, O’Cebreiro, in Galicia

Over and over again I hear of the culture and people of Galicia. Santiago itself is in Galicia, the region boarder is crossed about 2 k from the top of the mountain at O’CEBREIRO. Since I worked so hard in climbing this mountain, I was going to enjoy this little village situated on top of the world. 

Brierly states that, “The mountains of Galicia are the first object in 5,000 km that the westerly winds coming across the Atlantic hit, so expect a weather change.” Indeed, the wind was howling, the sun was warm in the day, and the winds were bitter at night. In addition, one could enjoy both the sunset and the sunrise over the mountains that seem to go on forever. Once again, I was on top of the world. 

The adaptation to the environment had the people build huts out of stone with a thick straw roof. (When I get a stronger Internet I will upload photos.) The people here in the Ancares mountain region lived off the mountain land by farming, raising cattle, sheep and planting big gardens. They have one of the huts open for visitation. In addition to being part of the Camino, this cute little village is also popular with tourists. 

The church here, Santa Maria la Real dates from the 9 th century and is the oldest existing church associated directly with the pilgrim way. It has administered to the needs of pilgrims since the “twilight of the first millennium.”

An earlier parish priest, Don Elias Valina Sampedro is buried here. Much of his life was spent restoring the integrity of the Camino, and it was his idea to mark the path with the yellow arrows all along the way. It was largely due to his efforts that pilgrims can walk the route today, especially without getting lost! Can I tell you how MUCH I love those arrows?

Today I spent much of the morning praying in the church. It was good to be there. I had tears of gratitude as my time here is starting to wind down. It has been an exciting journey! I also spent time just looking at the mountains and giving thanks, with Psalm 148 taking the lead. I gave thanks for this sacred time on the Camino that has blessed me beyond measure. I hope my writing this little travel journal has enabled you to join me on this journey. 

Since I have been walking to Santiago, but I know I do not have time to get there on foot, tomorrow I will take an early morning bus so that I can at least see the church and the relics that I have been journeying towards; yet the journey has been so much more. It has never really been about the final destination, but rather it had been about the journey itself. It is always about the journey!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 21,2017 Villafranca and music on the Camino

Camino de Santiago ~ May 21,2017 Villafranca and music on the Camino

Sunset from my window. There is a kind of freedom in waking up every morning and knowing that your only job is not o get up and start walking. You walk, find your food, and find a place to lay your head. 

But today there was another decision on o make. My time on the Camino is nearing its end, so I must choose where I want to walk. Those who want to receive the Compostela, the official paper saying you walked here, must do the last 100 k. Those last 100 k tend to be more crowded and a little less pretty in scenery compared to other parts. I have already walked 200 k and do not have the need for a piece of paper, but I am jumping ahead a little bit today in order to experience another part of the Camino which is supposed to be another mountain of beauty. Villafranca del Bierzo is my destination. I hung out in the bus station with a German woman who is also limited on time and is jumping to do the last 100 k. We exchanged showing each other pictures of grandchildren. 

As I was waiting I got in the bus station who walks in but the dad of my Swedish friend with whom I had dinner the other night. They were the Sam ones who jumped with me before. His son is running today, and he is taking the bus. (We could not hav planned these meetings, even if we tried!)

I have not talked about the music one hears on the Camino. The Spanish love their music, but I have not heard any Spanish music. It seems each albergue owner and each bar plays what they like, very loudly. One place I stay d played classical music, and in the morning he played songs that I knew that were done almost in a style of Gregorian chant. You have not lived well until you have heard “Bridge Over Troubled Water” slowed down and sung in a very different style than originally created. And when the song “We Are the Champions” came on in the same style John and I just could not stop laughing. 

That same day I stopped in a bar for lunch and they were blasting Handell’s Messiah. I came in just when they were playing the Hallelujah Chorus, and I did not know if I should sit or keep standing. Later, on one of those long, hot stretches where an entrepreneur put up an “oasis” they were playing “I Got a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. 

The other night in Rabanal, there was an evening service in the church and the monks did sing the liturgy, it was true Gregorian Chant. Thanks hat night a German woman and I were invited to read the scriptures for the day in our native languages. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro


Not all 18 k hikes are the same, especially if there is a big difference in elevation. Another famous “landmark” of the Camino is the iron cross. At 1,505 meters high you do feel like you are on top of the world.  It was a great hike. 

Pilgrims from all over the world bring stones from home to lay down a sin or a burden or a hardship. I brought a stone from home, but on today’s hike I also collected stones to lay down for others. By the time I got to the cross I had a pretty big pocket of stones. I marked several of them: for my family, for our MUMC family, for friends, for the folks on the prayer list, and one for Claire. There is a stone here in Spain at the Cruz de Ferro for Claire. I spent about an hour praying here. There is something special about praying where many others have prayed, especially the Saints of long ago. 

The scenery was spectacular! It truly was on top of the world!

Part of my daily prayer is that I would have Godly encounters all along the route. Today there were several that were divine appointments. (A woman from Poland, the hospitality of the British who had apples and peanut butter for breakfast, chats with folks from South Africa, and all over the world!)

Now I have a top bunk in an albergue tucked away in these mountains that cost me 6 Euros. The woman on the lower bunk is French and we are going to have the pilgrim meal together, for 11 Euros we get a three course meal!



Camino de Santiago ~ May 19, 2017, Astorga to Rabanal

Last night when I got off the train in Astorga I was surprised  to see a Swedish young man and his dad get off the train. I had walked with them earlier and they, too, had jumped ahead. (They figured out how to take two trains to get there.) We had dinner together and enjoyed the local specialty meats of the area. 

Astorga leads into a new set of high mountains. (By the way, the huge cathedral here is also beautiful and has the Bishop’s house next to it. The Bishop’s house looks a little like a castle) Francis of Assisi walked through this city and stayed here on his way to Santiago!)

Today’s 20 k walk was not hard, but it was windy and cold; Think beach front in October. I was grateful for my green jacket that does a good job of protecting from the wind, and it was still cold!

Today I met Mojo, a four legged friend walking with her person. Her person said it was actually a little hard to find places that take dogs. That dog has walked all the way from France! I also saw my first rainbow on the trail. 

As we started going up into the hills there was a long fence upon which people had weaved crosses made out of sticks into the wire. (Picture below.) I wondered about those who are “simply searching” and what that cross means for them, or if they even put one there. 

Last night’s albergue held 95 people in two rooms. There were a lot of beds and the old building near the cathedral creaked every time someone walked. Tonight I am staying in an Albergue run by the British confraternity of the Camino. Volunteers run the place, and tonight’s volunteers, who all do two weeks at a time, are all American. I am looking forward to high tea at 4:30. 

(Sorry pictures to come later)