Monday, October 21, 2002

The Camino is over !?

or just starting?! Dear Ones: Here I am again in Nice, re-shuffling things, organizing my luggage, doing errants and getting ready to go to Coppenhagen next Wednesday, then Germany and on November 8th, Bombay, India. I have not written in a long time, so get comfortable, this may be long. I left Nice last time on September 11 to Lourdes. On September 13th I was on my way to Spain. Below is a summary of what has happened during the last month and a little of my experiences during the walk to Santiago de Compostela. I arrived at Saint Jean Pied de Port August 13th, the last town in France after visiting Lourdes and the high Pyrennes. After getting my pilgrim credential and "orientation", Luca, a 68 year old man from Slovenia joined me on a taxi trip to Roncesvalles the next town over in Spain- we met on the train from Bayonne to St Jean. On October 12th, day of Notre Dame of Pillar, Spain's protector saint, we arrived in Santiago de Compostela for the special mass at 9:30am. It was beautiful, the best mass of the whole month - as pilgrims, we have this natural attraction to churches, monasteries and masses, not to mention a fixation with the health of our feet, always looking between the toes to check for any signs of blisters, applying vaseline, talking to it and pumpering it. They are always under a lot of pression in the camino and we know they have to be in good health. Anyway, the last mass and comunion at Santiago was special, unlike most masses I attended throughout Spain. Most were mechanical and stale, reflecting very little spirituality, the priests seemed to just be doing their "job" - I could hardly see their soul in it. Every town, one church, no matter how small, even a pueblo with as little as 7 houses would have a church. At VillaFranca Del Bierco in the Galicia, there were 7 churches for a population of 3,000 people, and most were big ones. An enormous show of power, the church had and still has lots of money. Spirituality gets a lost in the shuffle, I often felt very little in a big cathedral, not the big Self I know I am. The Fumador, a huge incense holder (about 500 pounds?) at the Santiago de Compostela cathedral set the tone for the mass at the morning of 12th of October. The fumador is handled by 7 men in a beautiful choreography, filling the air with frankincense, then the organ, the tenor and the array of priests, there must have been more than 10 of them in their special robes, some in black, some in red. The flower offerings by the faithful spanish ladies and the few pilgrims with their backpacks and walking sticks completed the sense of well being, of belonging. The official pilgrims mass happens at noon everyday, only a few of us were lucky enough to know of this special mass. We were also well rested and clean as we stayed at the Monte do Gozo, 4.4. km away the night before. As I could not make it to my reservation at the Parador Reys Catolicos on the 10th of October, I was glad to stay at a ****hotel before reaching Santiago. This was a small treat to make up for all the nights spent at refugios with people snoring to all different pitches. This was the only international language I was able to hear throughout the camino. In the "awake state" it was a mixture of spanish, french, english, german, dutch, portuquese, even japonese, all trying to share their experiences, exchange information and impressions. Being cleaned and rested when entering Santiago early on Saturnday morning, the town still sleeping, the ground wet from the rain the previous day added to feeling of well being, not to mention the feeling of completion of one more portion of this trip, of this life . We snicked in town after a great breakfast in the ****hotel, clean clothes and backpacks in place, now almost part of our bodies. Vittoria, an italian women I had met at dinner in Roncesvalles on the 13th was outside the church when the mass was finished. I was surprised as I had sad goodbye to her at the train station in Leon a couple of weeks earlier, when she said she was returning to Italy for family reasons. It was a long month, filled with adventures. I met dozens of people from all walks of life, age groups and nationalites. The camino also had many flavors- I am not talking of food which was kind of mediocre specially for a vegetarian in the small towns. My menu was basically limited to salada mixta, frozen merluza, fried trout and tortilla francesa (omelete). When I got to the big cities it was a different story though and the wine made up for it all regardless of the size of the town. Lots of wine!!! The camino had many flavors as the experiences kept changing, heightning my awareness in different areas. I started the camino on the 14th of September, not a good time of my internal womanly cycle, but Navarra, the first region was fairly pleasant and I immediately had a group of about 10 people around me walking relatively at the same pace. We would loose each other throughout the way only to find everyone again at the refugio late in the afternoon. There was a sort of camarady and random generosity among us. The fact is, we were a little nervous and anxious, or maybe I should speak for myself. My knees were still stressed and I started with ackes and pains on my lower back and thighs. "Will I find the way?" "Do I have enough time?" those were my immediate concerns. Nevertheless, I managed the first 130 km without major problems, even though my boots seemed too heavy for this type of walk and the wool socks I brought were boiling my feet - I had to stop every couple of hours to air out my feet. I walked the first couple of days with Robert Spanger, a 78 year old retired chemistry professor in California. He is originally from the Bay Area, and some of you may recognize the name. Yes, he is the nephew of the founder of the Spanger Restaurant in the East Bay. Throughout the day I would see Luca, always ready with a piece of fruit pealed for us, Aldamir, a brazilian woman, Heather (canadian), Vittoria (italian), Christopher (american), Pierre (french), Yolanda (spanish)among others I would meet on the way. It felt like we were classmates, the Class of Roncesvales, Sept 14th! At the end of the Navarra region I decided the situation I was in was too cozy and I needed to be myself. So, in Viana, when Vittoria told me she was taking a bus to Saint Juan de Ortega to see the fall equinox I was immediately interested. The church there is built in such a way that it reflects ligth at the capitel of the churche's column depicting the anunciation of Mary at exactly the time of the equinox. The light is reflected as though someone is reflecting a flashlight into it. I planned to take a bus back to continue the walk from where I left, but I decided not to. Instead I continued to Burgos the next day, where I got a massage and was able to continue on through the Castilla/Leon region. My jump to Saint Juan was over most of the Rioja region where the wine is great - I was able to verify this throughout the way in Galicia where I was completed addicted to the local wine. The Castilla/Leon region was the hardest for me. There were miles and miles of meseta, with nothing much to see, the crops of wheat, cevada, corn already harvested, not many towns in between, no shade, just a flat, boring, hot dirt road ahead. By that time I alreday had a couple of serious blisters on the back of both my foot. I had to stop every couple of hours to drain the water and dress it. The pain was great, my pace as slow as ever. I was walking with Aldamir, Erika and Guillerme at that time. It was nice to speak portuquese, we were all happy to have each other, cracking jokes. At first they would wait for me while I took care of my wounds, then I told them to go ahead, my pace was getting slower and slower, even after I decided to leave a piece of line across the blisters for "automatic" drainage. I also found new blisters coming. I remember being on this 17 km stretch, my skin roasting as though I was a pig being prepared for a banquet, I was not even sure I could walk anymore, leaning heavily on the "avela" stick Erika lent me. The only thing I had for sure was my breath, my mantra and the shade of my hat. It felt so good to have at least my face protected, the shade was like a little home. Only me and that endless road. Good time to practice, breathe, repeat your mantra I would tell myself. Thomas, a german guy I met the day before was coming from afar. One of his foot with a huge dressing - he stayed behing to go to the doctor who took care of a wound on his little toe, but he didn't want to stay behing, so he came, on foot with boot, the other on a cheap sandal, limping away with his stick. I looked at him and I had to laugh. We both looked like survivals of war. Maybe this was a war, the war of our minds, broken in many pieces, demoralized by our bodies. I was feeling so strong only a few days ago, walking 5 km per hour. The camino was completely under control, hardly feeling the weight of my backpack-I was going to "conquer" this camino in no time at all I remember thinking. Thomas and I walked together for a long time in silence. What we were going throught was already too intense, leaving little room for anything else. I saw the tower of a church from a distance and looked at Thomas - where there is a church there is a pueblo, pilgrims would always say - but when we came closer it was an abandoned place, I looked at him almost crying, this must be a bad joke, we should have arrived hours ago. Thomas said, saving words, "maybe after the horizon"...when I decided to let go, I saw a few roofs peacking in from a valley. Thomas said again in his broken english, "where there is roof there is a shower." Is this a german expression? I asked. No, that is a Thomas expression. Yes. Calzadilha de la Cueza was under the horizon Thomas had mentioned. What happiness a lousy refugio, a one bar pueblo can give us! To be continued....I am running out of time at the Internet Cafe. I will finished this saga tomorrow. Stay tune! Love and light to all, Marisa

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