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 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 16, 2017, from Estella to Los Arcos, with pictures

Camino de Santiago ~ May 16, 2017, from Estella to Los Arcos, with pictures

At this time I have walked about 120 kilometers through Northern Spain. What a great way to see a country and meet the people!

So, this is the wine fountain, for real, it is found along today’s Camino route. Many pilgrims paused from their walk to enjoy the fountain. Water is on the right, wine is on the left. 

My day began late today as I had to make the stop that many pilgrims make; to the post office! It was time to mail some things home. I had been so careful in packing, thinking I had done well. One can always do better. That cool sun charger to hang on the backpack, don’t need it; that extra long sleeve shirt, gone! Since the post office opens at 8:30 it means I got a late start. Most pilgrims were well on their way, but there are always some whom you meet. There was an Italian couple who got to the post office after I did, they had more to send home than I had. 

Today’s 20 k walk was hot! There were hills, a few villages, but then there was a 12 k stretch that was extra hot. I ran into my friend John from nj at the wine fountain. He and I had been walking some together. He slowed down, then I walked ahead and saw the French woman who had brought her 4 year old granddaughter for 27 k over three days. (Maybe I will think of that for the future.) I stayed with Claudine most of the long 12 k hot part of the day. During that stretch there was a German pilgrim who sang to me, and a violinist who played for me. Three k from the end there was an oasis where a guy was selling cold items, which was delightful. The terrain has changed, we now see vineyards all around. I felt like a grape as there was “juice” running down my face all afternoon:)

Camino de Santiago ~ May 15, 2017 ~ Puente la Reina to Estella~scenery too

Camino de Santiago ~ May 15, 2017 ~ Puente la Reina to Estella~scenery too

The Camino is the only place I know, other than youth hostels, where you share a room with people you do not know, hope there will not be too much snoring, wake up at 6, and start walking by 7. Last night there were 9 people in my room, one other female, but we were all so tired that we slept well. 

Today’s hike was 20 k through changing scenery. While we still have the wheat fields, now we begin to see grape vines and scrub bushes. We walked through little villages, past 12 century churches, over an old Roman road, and arrived at Estella. 

Walking through a country really does give opportunity to get to know it well. Conversations along the way are rich, with people from all over the world. I was also able to find about an hour of alone time while walking. This is the thing that has surprised me most, that it is difficult to find time alone. 

Today was the first real hot day, I must have been a sorry site when I arrived at the albergue which is housed in a monestary and is WONDERFUL! Plus, they provided sheets and the room only has three others in it. All this for 11  € !

Some of the scenery is below, starting with the Roman road which is part of the Camino. (And it was difficult to walk on, especially on the hills.)