Friday 2 November 2012

Walk This Way

We are all travelers in the wilderness of the world, and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Juli: I am going to write a book and call it “Waking Up Crazy”
Stacy: Is it going to be about you in the morning?

After 5 weeks of walking together, we have become a comedy routine. We laugh uproariously about our unparralled wit, but we have noticed most others do not understand our humor. Perhaps you had to be there…every step of the way. Walking makes you a little crazy. In a good way.  Walking teaches you that trying to be like everyone else is crazy.

It is tempting when you walk to match your pace to those around you, whether fast or slow, short or long strides. Quickly (hopefully) you discover that if you try to walk in some one else’s style (or steps) leads to injury. Blisters, shin splints and other assorted hazards of walking are minimized by listening to your own body; walking your own path, in your own way.

Stacy was surprised to learn that she is a very determined, very goal oriented walker. She set her sights on the village that was our goal for the day and she walked, often without stopping, until she reached our destination. I was surprised to find that though my life dictated living like this (appointments, classes, practices that all had to be managed and traveled to on time) my inner voice dictates more of a meandering style of walking. I still arrived each day at our destination, but often an hour or more after Stacy. I stopped and looked at bugs, gazed at the sky, and laid in the grass (or dirt) and breathed in the day. (Unless it was raining, then I walked like Stacy).  While Stacy is a straight arrow aimed right at the target, I am on a zig-zag course, still aimed at the target, but more likely to be distracted by several things before reaching my goal. Neither way is right or wrong. Just different.

We met some pilgrims who had a strong opinion about the ‘correct way’ to walk, but most agree, that it is important to listen to your own voice, your own body, and walk in your own way.  If you listen the camino can teach you to live your life in your own way as well. I hope we listened carefully.

While walking across Spain Juli’s house in Calgary sold. She is now a nomad. She is currently working on a book called “Walking In Zig-Zags’.

Stacy returns to Calgary where she has many projects on the go. She is also in the midst of setting up her own Hairstyling Business. She continues to walk in style.
Stacy + Juli
Fisterre, Spain
October 25, 2012

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Tuesday, October 23: Ponte Ulla to Santiago: (20km)

We met up with F (South Africa) in Ponte Ulla. Since we first met F in 0guillena, our first night on the camino, and have shared many experiences over the past 5 weeks, it seemed apropos to enter Santiago with her.

Again, Stacy, young, strong (and a fast walker) leaps ahead. I think she also just needs more time to think, to be alone.

F and I are chatting, walking slow. Excited, but reluctant. We enter a cafe on what I am sure is the outskirts of Santiago, trying to delay the end of the camino. And then we see it. Though neither of us have actually seen a photo of the cathedral in Santiago, there is no mistaking the spires that pierce the blue sky. But as we climb the last hill in to the city we can no longer see the spires and become disoriented. 'Is this it?' we ask, disappointed, as we stand, underwhelmed in front of 3 different buildings, before a young woman hears us, and offers to guide us to the Cathedral Santiago de Compestella. Lucila then becomes our impromptu tour guide and takes us the last few meters to our destination. As we turned the corner in to the Plaza and the Cathedral loomed overhead the first person I saw was Stacy, smiling, waiting. Then A from Milan, M, from France, E from Australia and 2 of the 3 Musketeers from Paris...a reunion and a shared feeling of 'wow! Okay, what next?'

F, Stacy and I enter the Cathedral and stand in awe. There is talk of showers, but I am anxious. I want to go report to the pilgrim office that minute and receive the congratulations and fanfare that has so far been missing. Where is the band to announce our arrival? Where is the red carpet? Where is the paparazzi?

We stand in line, each taking our turn. We make the suggested donation and receive our credentials. A piece of paper that states we walked the Via del la plata and arrived in Santiago on October 23, 2012. Our first names have been written in latin. I kind of wanted my last name in latin as I was sure it would be Santiago. F suggests I change my name to St. James anyway; my nom de plume.

Outside the Cathedral we realize we are all a bit numb...what was this about anyway?...

F is restless. Within 2 hours of arriving in Santiago we wave farewell. She is on her way to Finnesterre, the end of the world. She is walking.

And Stacy and I?... Give me a day or two...I will return and report...

Blog Title: so what does it all mean anyway?

A week ago today, after walking for 5 weeks, covering a distance of over 1000 km, we arrived in Santiago de Compostela and entered a bit of a fog.

This general malaise seemed to permeate all whom we had met over the time we walked from Sevilla to Santiago. I wondered, what was this about? Where was the 'aha' moment that I was so certain would happen as I stood before the Cathedral in Santiago.

Quiet, contemplative, we both thought about what this walk had meant to us personally. Some of my own thoughts are still too private to share, but I'm going to try and explain.

The 'Aha' moment in Santiago did not come in the way that I anticipated. What I realized is that my own growth and transition had been gradual over the duration of the journey. The 'aha' was realizing the truth (for me) in the statement 'it is not the destination but the journey that is important'.

On the journey we came to see how little one needed in terms of temporal belongings. A change of clothes, some soap to wash. Perfect!

I, whom am never without a book (in my past life) spent 5 weeks without any books. This, in some ways, made me more present. I listened to the stories that were around me. I created stories from what I saw and experienced. I lived the story I was in...

Life can be very simple but we tend towards making it complicated. I'm not sure why. And maybe, as F (South Africa) suggested to me one day as we walked, it is not necessary to know the 'why'. F thought, perhaps, it is unnecessary to have the answers at all. For what is an answer except one person or another's perspective? Few things in life have definitive answers. Maybe it is as my dear friend M (Ottawa) suggests, that there is great beauty in the mystery, in the not knowing, in this great adventure we call life?

Tired (more emotional than physical), we traveled by bus to Fisterre, 'end of the earth.' Stacy had already tossed her hiking boots and was wearing high-heeled boots as we walked the 4 km from the bus-stop to the light-house. I was amazed as I watched Stacy march uphill never once stopping to complain that her feet hurt. She continues to impress me!!

I tossed a rock that I had carried on the camino in to the sea and then placed rocks on the base of a cross for both Stacy and I. A symbolic gesture recognizing a new life beginning as the camino ends.

M, from France told me that the real camino begins now. It is what you carry inside you as you go forward. For isn't all life, all journeys, a camino of sorts?

Does the real camino begin now?

I suppose that is a decision made by the person who walks.

Anastasian + Iuliam
(Our names, as written on our Camino Credentials, in Latin)

Where in The World are Stacy and Juli?

It's been four days since we arrived in Santiago. I do not know how to describe the space we are in...and so perhaps I should back up...

Sunday, October 21, 2012: Oseiras to Silleda, 37 km.

Stacy, the gazelle, walked with me for the first hour. The next nine I was alone. The area was beautiful. And the hunters out in force! Before Stacy and I became separated she asked if I had noticed the hunters? Immersed in the view of the valley to my left I hadn't noticed the men, looming over my right shoulder, guns cocked, waiting for wild boar to visualize.

It was interesting to be so completely alone for such a long time. While walking, thoughts, and ideas, previously confused, became more clear. An email of thanks to write. Business decisions. Life plans. I found that Thomas Mann is correct when he said; "thoughts come more clearly while one walks." And Nietzsche who said: "all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." Have I had truly great thoughts? I don't know, but I have had many healing and strength building thoughts. A good place to start.

At one point during the day, after checking to make sure I was truly alone, I start dancing to the music streaming from my i-pod. Not far ahead, hunters in a car spot me before I see them. They pull up beside me, roll down the window, and laughing wish me 'Buen Camino!'

Then a lovely surprise as we entered Silleda! F (Italy), who had already reached Santiago, was waiting. Dinner, and a casa rural (instead of the shared dormitory quarters of an albergue). It does not take much to make us feel spoiled now. Still, I felt quite spoiled. A hair dryer? Wow!!!!

The Casa Rural on the edge of Silleda : Casa Grande de Fuentemayor   has been owned by the same family for over 300 years. A must visit, especially in clothes that don't smell! (Check their site on facebook!)

Monday, Oct 22: Silleda to Ponte Ulla: (20.4 km) Stacy and I set off from the Cathedral in Silleda at 9 am. I was excited. I admit, I forgot to be quiet, even though it was not yet 11 a.m. But Stacy was feeling it too, and was forgiving. Only 1 day away from Santiago!

We continued to walk alone a good part of the day. I think, as the goal nears, we were both becoming quieter than usual. Excitement, but also trepidation. Pride for reaching our goal, yet not really wanting the experience to end.

I am understanding more fully the 3 Irish men, who every year, walk a different section of a camino, never reaching Santiago, never wanting the experience to end...

Walking Update

Saturday, Oct 20: Ourense to Oseira: 8.8km

Sunday (21): Oseira to Silleda 37 km

Monday (22) Silleda to Ponte Ulla, 20.4 km

Tomorrow...October 23, 2012...we walk in to Santiago!

Monday 22 October 2012

Monasterio de Oseiras

We were met at the entrance to the monastery by Friar 'Jesus' (I made up his name; I don't actually know it). Fr. J was dressed in traditional monk robes, white, loose, flowing, a black apron over top, tied at the waist with a white sash. The white robe appeared heavy, likely as much from tradition as for practicality; cutting the chill that is ever present in the thick stone walls of the 12th century monastery. He didn't speak but motioned for us to follow him through a large wooden door and into the heart of the monastery.

 Earlier in the day Stacy and I had toured the monastery with Fr Luis. He had taken us to see a grand staircase, the 'Bishop's Stairs', but we had not been allowed to ascend. Now Fr J brought us to these same magnificent stairs and, still silent, began to climb, motioning with a nod for us to follow. I was so excited I almost felt irreverent! At the top of the stairs we gazed around at the beautiful carvings and then followed Fr J through another door. A hallway, lined with beautiful paintings. Were these too Fr Luis' paintings, I wondered? (Fr Luis was a fashion designer before receiving his calling and becoming a monk at the age of 27. He has lived in the Monasterio de Oseiras for 39 years. Among his gifts is that of artist. We had each been presented with a small painting of Christ after our morning tour, each an image painted by Fr Luis).

 We remained silent as we walked. The surroundings commanded silence, whispers, only when necessary.

Other monks began following our procession. Eventually there were about 20 of us; 5 pilgrims, 5 locals, 10 monks. We sat across from each other, our backs against the wall, the monks, 5 on either side of the room, facing each other.

We were in the upper chapel, a smaller (but still large) room above the cathedral. Vespers. Evening song and prayer.

We were each given a hymnal, but as the monks began to sing, often one side of the room (or one monk) and then the other side (or another monk) singing in response, I put the hymnal down and just listened. The monks, many dressed in white, long sleeve robes over their regular monks clothes, would throw back their sleeves as they picked up a hymnal and sang.

It was beautiful, sometimes haunting. Peaceful. And at times I felt like I was in the middle of a Dan Brown novel!

We attended Vespers with A (from Germany) and M (from Madrid). They had arrived later in the day after walking 40+ km.

 Lovely, but strongly opinionated about what makes a true pilgrim, 'A' vented her frustrations about pilgrims who wear make-up, take transportation, wash clothes, dress like women...

 I was fearful that 'A' would inspect our bags, find our samples of Chanel perfume, and be left with no choice but to burn us at the stake for heresy and sacrilegious behavior unbecoming a pilgrim. She would have felt bad about it because I know she liked us. She shared things that night about her experience on the camino; how depressed she'd become, the criticism she'd felt subjected to, about the way she walks, not washing her clothes, the way she looks. I taught her the word androgynous. She likes this word, remembering it by saying 'and rocks'. She is also much happier since meeting 'M', a police officer from Madrid. They walk together covering great distances every day. M seems like a very gentle, kind man, whom I think may have appointed himself guardian of the somewhat 'special', 'A'.

We didn't end up writing ghost stories during our night at the monastery. We had a fun night with 'A' and 'M', going to Vespers, then sharing food, drink and laughter.
Besides, the fear of being found out by 'A' was enough.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Monastery, Oseiras, Spain

(Distance travelled 911.7km. Distance left to Santiago: 95.3km)

We arrived in Ourense determined to keep our mode of transportation a secret. Every albergue hospitalerio asks the same question, 'where did you start walking?' Sevilla. No problem.

Cold, wet, and now me struggling with the same sick stomach that plagued Stacy on the way to A Gudina, we walk in to the albergue in Ourense and see J (from Germany.) Looking for an unoccupied bed we enter the next room and there are the 3 french men. Our cover is blown, but we will still keep our secret from the hospitalerio. But then he asks where did we walk from? Sevilla I reply. No, he says, today? Not quick enough I say A Guidina. 67 km. Comprehension dawns on his face and he says 'ah, autobus!' Cover blown completely.

In Ourense there are hot pools. Traditionally, pilgrims would purify themselves at the pools, to cleanse before the last leg to Santiago. After Santiago there is a place where tradition dictates you burn your pilgrim clothes. The morning we left Padornela  while we waited for morning light inside a cafe, I asked Stacy if she knew what the terrible smell was? It's us, was her reply. The purify and burning tradition of the camino makes much more sense now.

Our plans in Ourense changed once we bought warm, dry clothes. Feeling better, but with boots that were still wet, we decided to walk the 22 km from Ourense to Cea. The first leg involved a steep climb which several people had warned us about. After the walk to A Gudina, the hill felt like a breeze. You want to know hard? Try walking in pouring rain for 33km with a sick person who is also gone a little crazy and insists on walking! Try realising you have also gone a little crazy in the cold and rain and find you are planning your funeral and eulogy, not sure if death is from exposure to severe elements or because you may walk in to oncoming traffic to end the misery.

Yes, we have become real pilgrims. We have earned the title. We are as crazy as everyone else walking the Via De La Plata.

The night in Cea included a plate of sauté mushrooms, picked in the wild by T, from Poland. As Stacy and I sat at the table, I asked T's friend why he wasn't eating any of the mushrooms. 'I don't trust T' he replied. 'I don't think he's very good at choosing safe mushrooms.' Stacy then asked how we will know if they are in fact poisonous, will we throw up? No, I think we will know by morning, I told her. We'll be dead. T's friend started laughing as we both shrugged our shoulders. Oh well, and finished our plates. (Which were delicious by the way).

As we get closer to Santiago the number of pilgrims en route has increased. The albergue in Cea had about 24 people. 19 of which were snoring smelly men. Great. At 2 a.m., I thought Stacy was crying. She was laughing. So was E (Australia) on Stacy's right. We were surrounded by snoring men. We are in a snoring sandwich I told her, which set off a fit of giggles. Sleep obviously being unavailable that night I asked if she would like to start walking? We waited until 7.

We've walked only 8.8km today, stopping in Oseiras where Fr Lucas gave us a tour of the monastery. There is an albergue attached to the monastery. 40 beds and only the two of us for the night.

'Let's write ghost stories tonight!' Stacy suggests.

Of course the stories will be set in a monastery.

Sleep may elude us tonight too.