Hello! I am back from Spain, and my first taste of the Camino de Santiago. I walked a good portion of the Frances route over the last couple of weeks, and it was a wonderful look into the pilgrimage culture. Not knowing what to expect, it didn't surprise me that the best part of the experience, beyond spending quality time inside my head, was the diverse group of people who were on the path with me. In many ways, it was very much like cruising, where you find yourself among self-sufficient, like-minded people from around the world, enjoying and experiencing life in a most unusual way.
I met Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, and Japanese, as well as people from South Africa, India, Lebanon, France, and England. Scotland, all across Canada, and many other countries were represented on the path of the Camino. Much like cruising, I kept seeing these pilgrims over and over, as each person's journey occurred at one's own pace. But with bars and inns along the way for a break and a strong cafe con leche, those in front of you soon were behind you, and the process of leap frogging along the Camino continued each day.
One older Italian man really struggled on the day I first met him walking down the mountain from the Cruz de Ferro, his walking sticks keeping him mostly upright, if not steady, yet he kept showing up again and again in a day or two at the next town or restaurant. Same with an older German woman who hardly seemed fit enough to make it through the day. Yet I saw her at the cathedral square at journey's end, eager to tour the cathedral and see the coffin of St. James. Not all that different from spending a winter in the tropics, where you keep seeing boats met many ports ago, as most all generally head in the same direction, but following their own schedule.
Just like a modern cruising guide and buoy system, stone markers and yellow arrows showed the path, also often indicating how many kilometers were left before reaching the goal of Santiago de Compostela.
I am still processing this trip, but it was a good recharge of my inner self. While many pilgrims I met spoke of spiritual moments and revelations, for me it was mostly a time to think and walk, and walk, and walk. After the first three days, I was even able to clear my mind completely, totally, walking with a blank slate. How wonderful to experience such tranquility. My boots were a good choice as they took care of my feet on the many rocky paths I encountered.
And I had the chance to ponder my future path and the next chapter in my life among many options. Rather than let it just happen, I want to live it mindfully. It is now my next goal.
One particularly special moment at the end of the pilgrimage was when I attended the pilgrim's mass at the cathedral where they decided to perform the ritual of the Botafumeiro, the swinging of the heavy crucible that burns incense inside the cathedral. It is performed only occassionally, so I was lucky to be present when they did it. Check out the video for this amazing event, in a packed cathedral of 5,000 pilgrims and parisheners. And notice the small round window high up on the far wall. One year the Botafumeiro broke free of the rope as it reached maximum height and the 130-lb crucible crashed through this window. It landed in the square outside the cathedral, smashing a vegetable cart to bits. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
It is nice to be home, but my feet still want to keep going, racking up more miles among such natural beauty and scenery.
Have a great week.