Sunday, September 22, 2013

Coming Home

Yesterday was my last day in Santiago.  I wasn't sure what to do, but I knew I was not through with those bones yet.  I went back to the cathedral early, and once again, I had that silver box of bones to myself.  I don't think anything dramatic happened,  I was just there peacefully for a while.  As people  Egan to come in, I said my goodbye to James, thanked him for such a rich experience (even though I cannot exactly describe what that means), and I wandered back out into the large square in front.

Forgive me if I have written this before, but most pilgrims approach the cathedral from the back.  Built in 1100 (so some say) the town grew up around it, crowding up close to the building.  There is no vast vista where one can see the entire building from afar.  So, the pilgrims come on a stone street ( no cars here) that slopes towards a small tunnel or arch.  Just inside this arch, at least while I was there, a man stand playing the bag pipes, his strange and piercing music adding mystery to the scene.  Just past him there is a set of steps, and at their bottom pilgrims turn left into this huge square, bond on all sides by mideval structures.  As they come into the square, they turn left and see the face of the cathedral.  It is a moment of such complex emotion - so much celebration or joy or even deep weeping.

Last Satruday it was a square full of activity.  First were the large groups of tourists being escortd by their tour guides.  I'd guess there were twenty to thirty of these groups.  On the edge of this mass some sort of antique car show was being organized.  Wonderful cars from the20s and 30s, 40s and 50s were driving in on a side street and being parked so all could see them.  There were the vendors selling their Camino wares, some dressed in period costume!  It was very festive"

I stood just at the bottom of the steps where I could extend a final Buen Camino to theilgrims as they emerged into this scene.  It was a ot of great joy, and I wanted to express my admiration for each but not intrude on their own experience.  I loved standing there and being a part of the end of their caminos.  For me, there is so much joy and wonder in that exact spot.  My heart felt full, and I was SO GLAD to just be right there.

Later, it was time to  is my few souvenirs.  I did not want or need much and am coming home with vey little that was bought.  I, packed  up pack, walked to the bus stop and headed out to the airport.  Back in the real world I guess....rush rush, tickets, security, wait in line, wait for the plane, the confusion of the airport in Madrid, finding the hotel shuttle then repeating all of that agin this morning.  

Now I am on the plane, headed back to Charlotte.  This flight seems endless.  I am not used to being in a metal cylinder, cut off from the sky and the earth.  Six hours have passed, and in that time on the Camino, I would have seen so many things, talked to many people, and would have just walked.  Here there are babies crying, people stuffed too close together and not much conversation.  The young man sitting next to me is traveling with his acting troupe to Santa Monica where they will perform Henry VIII in Spanish.  He does not speak much English or just wants to be left alone, so we have not talked much.

On the other side of the plane is Polly, a woman from Wilmington who walked the last 65 miles of the Camino.  We had such a great connection in the airport, but our paths diverge.  Still, I am glad to have felt the energy between us and grateful for our  usual u derstanding.

Before I left the square in front of Santiago, I ran into Kiwi, the young woman from New Zealand who walked up that challenging mountain at O Cereberio ( I really don't understand why I cannot remember how to spell this).  She and the two Italians, Gianni and Merino looked after me on that tough day.  She has run into them the day before and they had asked her toscay hello to me.  How I would have loved to see them one more time - to thank them, to share the vast space of our connection even for a minute.  They, of course, know I would  feel that way and we all know that we have become an important part of each others' lives.  I know they would have liked that moment evy bit as much as I would have.

When I was flying over back in August, I met Dave in the aiort in Dublin.  I even walked with him a couple of weeks ago.  I was sitting at a table in the Santiago Airport having a coke, and I spied him out of the corner of my eye.  He slipped away, but I found him shortly.  We had one more good chat before he was off to his flight to Dublin.  The Camino continues to give, and I suspect that will be true in unexpected moments for a long long time.  

So, in about three hours will be home, and tomorrow I will go see my doctor about my toes ( Did I mention that my toes look terrible!), and my life will go on.  Thanks for being a part of this with me.  You have boosted me along more than you would ever guess.  I don't imagine I will write more in this blog. But, I sure do hope I get regular writing back into my life.

Buen Camino!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Power of Old Bones

Today I feel like a refreshed peregrino.  When I arrived yesterday, I was so tired!  I walked by the cathedral and went to get my compostela.  Then to my hotel (there is even tv in English here - BBC and CNN - too bad not much has changed in a month!).  So, I recovered.

Today I was up and about with new zest.  After I dropped off my laundry, I headed off to the cathedral.  First, a bt of background.  For most of my adult life I fought with the church. I definitely do not like the way so many Christians spend so much energy judging others - that does not seem Christ-like to me.  And, especially in my work, but in my own life, I have seen the wounds of misguided Christians.  Not happy in the church, I also learned that I am not happy without a spiritual community. A few years ago I made peace with the mystery of Christianity - I am comfortable with "not knowing" what the truth is.  I believe that spiritual life can offer much comfort and connection.

On this trip, I have made a practice of pausing before churches, being quiet and expressing a gratitude.  I have also understood that the impetus for El Camino floes from Christian beliefs.  There are so many crosses along the way, there are numerous altars.   There are abundant stacks of stones, indicating some sort of belief or expression.  But it is those sole crosses that have provided the most reflection for me.

I tend to be a wonderer about so many things.  On this pilgrimage I have wondered how the institution of the church got so separated from Jesus' teachings.  I am encouraged by the actions of Pope Francis I As he seeks to shift the emphasis away from condemnation and power to service.  I have wondered how the church clings to the notion of religious relics with such intensity.  This is especially true after visiting the cathedral at Burgos - truly a magnificent building, but one that seems to stress wealth and power over religious substance.

So, you get the picture?  Doubting Bob approaches Santiago, ending this part of his pilgrimage.

Today I entered a quiet cathedral.  I could hear the chants of mass in one of the chapels.  And, somehow I walked straight to some steps going down behind the altar.  I was alone,  the building was almost empty.  And suddenly I was standing in front of a silver casket that many believe contains the actually bones of St. James.  If true, here I am a few feet away from the remains of someone who knew Jesus, who came to Spain to spread this religion.  I do not need to know if these are the REAL bones.  It really does not matter if they are real or not.  I have walked a long distance just as others have for the past 1100 years.  And, here I am standing in front of a silver box.  I have experienced kindness and concern from people I will never see again - thoughtfulness that has no ulterior motive.

So, these bones, this religion, this church inspire me to be a better person.  How that will play out remains to be seen.  There is no conversion, nor is there a desire to become active in a church community.  But, there is a strong hope that I will be kinder and more loving towards all.

The Pilgrim's Mass that I attended at none did not really speak to me.  It was in Spanish, I had to stand, and my legs were aching.  After a while I decided that I wanted to move around a bit.  I began to see people I have walked with and warm smiles ensued.  I watched as the incense burner made its wide arc over the gathering, inhaling the aroma and a bit awed by all of the drama.  As the mass ended, a woman and her husband who had walked with me two weeks ago stepped forward with a warm smile and a genuine desire to know how I was.  Such tenderness!  And Frank, a man who had been along with way with me for a few days, was suddenly standing there!  Antonia, a Swedish woman who has kept popping up over the past two weeks joined us.  The joy of being together again swirled around us!  For me, this was the real mass - this gathering of people who had not known each other four weeks ago and who are not likely to ever be together again - this mass of loving without expectation.

That silver box of bones surely brought us together.  And in the coming together, my life has been enriched.  I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bob Reflects on Santiago Eve

Here I am in O Pino, only 12 miles from Santiago.  It has turned cool, and, fortunately for me, the rain or drizzle held off until after I got here.  I am snug and warm and have the afternoon free in what feels like a roadside stop.  I will probably leave here about six in the morning.  I've finished my last hand was of clothes!

Last night I woke up about three and got to thinking about this trip.  When I started it, I thought of the whole thing as an expression of gratitude for this rich and exciting life I've led.  Naturally there have been very tender moments as I have thought about various experiences I have had, some sad and some sweet.  And, through the many people I have met, I have come to appreciate aspects of my self, and I have been deeply moved at some of the tender moments with others.  Some of those gestures have been large demonstrations of joy being exchanged.  Others have been as simple as the Dutch woman who reached out and touched my arm with massive tenderness.  There has been much gratitude on the Camino.

But, the majority of my conscious gratitude has been my growth in thankfulness for my friends and family.  I have felt others who are genuinely interested in what I am doing.  I have loved the "encourages" even from one of my brothers and so many others I have not seen in years.  Three friends from high school, many people who seemed to have drifted out of my life - there you are cheering me on!   I am so lucky to know each of you and to have shared experiences with you!

These past two days I have been walking through eucalypts forests.  The aroma from the trees and falling leaves has transported me back to 1989 when I moved to San Francisco.  I had told my wife and my children that I am gay (that was the single most painful moment in my life) , and I had moved west to get to know this new me, to learn how to integrate him with other aspects of my self.  It was a risky and rich time in my life.  The smell from the trees brought back so many, many memories!  And I felt grateful for my life once again.  No one wants to hurt people who love us.  And I still wince at the thought of the way I caused pain in my family.  But, almost simultaneously, I rejoice at being able to be more fully who I am.  At the end of the day, I am so very grateful for all that followed that time.

This Camino has been somewhat similar although not nearly so dynamic.  Here I am sitting around feeling like my life no longer has much possibility and BOOM! I make a decision that changes me deeply.  Walking the Camino is much much harder than I imagined.  Being able to cope with unexpected events with resilience has been confidence building.  Whole I am not sure what is ahead, I know there are choices, some may be very hard others almost effortless.  I am more than I thought I was as I near the age of 73.  And I am so grateful for that awareness.

My daughter, Ashley's partner, Sandra said she expected whops and hollars tomorrow.  I am not one much given to those kinds of expressions.  But I believe I will walk into Santiago with a deep and rich gratitude for a,, that has been given me, for the love and support of so many, and with a sense of excitement about a future that I thought was limited.  I also will be very tired and excited not to have to walk this rocky uphill path again.

If you are reading this, you Re a significant player in what has happened and what lies ahead.  Thank you so much for caring for me so.

Buen Camino to all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bob in Arzua

I'm getting close.  There ate a number of ways I could predict this even if I did not know where I am.  Each day I walk through a less-scenic environment.  It's not urban or industrial.  It just dot feel as remote and romantic as what was before.  And there is very different energy between the pieregrinos.  People are tired and focused on "getting there".  It is cooler, and while it still has not rained ( how lucky I am!), the days are cloudy and breezy.  I suppose I could make a GRAND push tomorrow and get to Santiago, but I will do it in two days.

I left Palas del REI about 6 this morning.  Now, it is dark until almost 7:30, and since I have a re ord of getting confused in the dark, I was especially cautious.  But, all went well, and soon I was confidently moving up the trail, away from the city.  The challenge in this is that there are MANY ups and downs, and often the trail is very rocky.  I suppose I was "gingerly picking" my way ( but feeling the pressure to get the 20 miles in.  In the dark there is little awareness of what I am walking through.  This morning I thought about being fraud of the "bogey man" in such a dark and strange place.  There were lots of large trees around me, and occasionally I could smell cows on the other side of the stone wall (actually cow "smells" are characteristic of El Camino).  Fortunately. I am not freaked out by walking in a deep, dark woods without a clue of who or what might be lurking to grab me!  Soon the light came and then a series of small villages.  The "gently rooting hills" of Galicia turned into a series of long and steep up sand downs, and I found myself annoyed that I had not anticipate this.  The day will soon be here when walking on sharpe stones is OVER!

Several people have asked me about the food on the Camino.  I donor have an adventuresome palate, so I may not have much to offer.  I usually eat a banana and some sort of bread for breakfast, and most days I have a left over from dinner sandwich for lunch, along with a handful of nuts.  Most dinners are what is called the Pilgrims Menu.  It costs about 9 Euros and has three courses.  El Primero might be soup, or salad, and usually has spaghetti (good for carb loading).  The serving of spaghetti would feed at least two people.  It is tasty and all,Amy's some of my fear about carb energy.  El Segundo might be ham or pork or eggs, and, rarely chicken.  However, often the slices of this meat Re VERY thin!  Spanish people in this area really like fried eggs!  There are fried eggs served on top of French fries, and I even saw pizza with two fried eggs as the topping.  French fries are served at most every meal.  And one day I actually ended up with a potato sandwich!

Pulpa is very popular...a choice one night was piulpa cooked in its own ink!  I actually tried some as a tapas - much too fishy for me!!  Sometimes what is called ham looks more like fat back, and I've actually seen humans gobble this down!  Some days I just stick with cheese.

All that said, the service is typically great, and the servers are patient and want you to take your time.  Most real restaurants do not open until 7:30 or 8, and that is definitely too late for this old man!  There is always plenty to eat even if the options might be different.  My friend, Eric found a place in Burgos that he Re mom ended, and I actually got three of my buddies to go there. But, when they saw that the meal might cost 25 € they passed.  Pieregrinos do not go for fancy I guess.  I think that was the night I got pasta with fried eggs on top.  Yummy!

Ok, enough of this.  As the end nears I think a lot about how to describe this experience.  I have not come up with much, but I will try to sort a few things out.  It has been amazing and VERY challenging at the same time.  More on that later...maybe.

Buen Camino!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day five? Check. Four to go!

I walked out of Sarria at 6am and prompts got lost.  Seems like I left by guidebook, , I never know where I am!  Yesterday I also got lost...or took a wrong turn and ended up walking to Samos, only added 10k to the day!  Today I was on the Camino and then I wasn't!  It was dark, and in Spain few people get up early.  Fortunately I was on the main road to Portomarin, so I just ambled along, flagged down the first car that came by and asked "donde es el Camino?"  I got back several paragraphs that I did not understand, so I said my gracias and walked on.  It is really very nice to walk on a paved road in total darkness with only the Milky Way to see.  One of the stories about El Camino is that pilgrims would follow the Milky Way to Santiago.  So, I did.  Eventually I found my way to a small town and was back where I belonged.

I've found myself ruminating a lot the past two days about "ending" this adventure.  I will get to Santiago.  I will have done it.  But I'm sure I cannot explain what I have learned or even how it has changed me.  I cannot even say it was fun.  It has given this old man a sense of confidence and some certainty that his life still has a lot of possibility, something that is not as limited as I thought before.  I am stronger and maybe a little less heavy set, as some might say!  I tend to be a home body, and I do know that I can survive on my own in a place where I do nit speak the language and have only myself as a resource.  Maybe later I will understand more.

As I was nearing Portomarin, Antonia, a woman I met last week appeared.  I am not sure why we keep walking together.  She talks about herself constantly and is not very kind.  But, there she was!  I wondered why she is around so much, and what I might learn from her.  I never got any answers, and I was happy when she went on ahead.  Almost immediately I met Albert, a64 year old journalist from Holland.  Right away I knew we would have lots to say to each other.  He was curious, entertaining and eager to connect.  We talked as we walked into Portomarin and then eat down and shared a cold coke with ice!  Then he moved on to the next place.  I could tell we shared a joy in our brief encounter.

Tomorrow I walk on to Palas del Rey...maybe my throne will FINALLY be ready?  Stay tuned!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Moving Along

Hello Folks!

The good newsis that I am past O Cerebrio and now in Triacastela!  Yesterday when I left on my first guide less day, I Meyer two Italians just as I crossed a bridge.  I saved them from an unnecessary much longer walk, and we went along  together.  Gianni is about 40, and is walking with his childhood friend, Merino.  He is a physician who trats adults with leukemia, and he is burned out.  We had a great conversation about the stress of working with people who die, and a bond was formed.  I had planned to walk only 14km that day,mostly be ause beyond that is 10k of a rocky trail going almost straight up! But, when we got to my stopping point, it was too early, so I plowed ahead.  By this time we had been joined by Kiwi,  a21 year old girl who jumped on the camino impulsively after seeing the movie on a bus to Pamplona.  She got off the bus, gathered together so e equipment and was off.!  Her lively chatter was good for all of us.

Now, I want you to know that walking El Camino is so much harder than I ever imagined!  It is hard work every day.  Generally I am out walking in the dark by 6:30, and I try to stop around two because of the heat.  I have been so very fortunate to have only had light rain on days one and three.   Other than that, it has been fiercely sunny..both a blessing (not having to walk in the wet) and a burden (the hit afternoon sun).  O Cerebrio is famous for foul weather..cold, wet, windy.  I was so lucky to be there when it was sunny!  But the walk up?  OH ME,  TOTAL TORTURE!  It took me about four hours.  And I would not have made it without the constant support from my walking friends.  They would walk ahead and then wait for me to catch up!  It was so evident that they were not going to walk off...maybe once again I was looking wobble-ey.  Whatever II a so grateful for their support and encouragement!  Their constant " Only 20 more minutes Bob!"  Kept me moving.  The problem was not a lack of strength but of cardio fitness.  I would have to stop and pant often!

When we final,y got to the albergue I had all the chores - washing my self and my clothes,finding a grocery, and organizing myself for today.  Once that was done I went out to sit on a bench and tend to my badly infected toe.

Before I started out on this adventure, I had posted ona Camino age that I would like to share a taxi from Biarritz to St Jean..the day before I left I had a reply from Dave, who wanted to share.  We. Et in the Dublin Airport where I changed planes.  He is a fireman, maybe 40, and we had an instant connection.  That first night in St Jean, we stayed in the same place, and the following day he walked off, on a faster pace.  

While working on my toe - there was Dave coming over to say hello!  We were so glad to see each other and swap stories!  Today he walked with me to Triacastela, a slow walk for him ( only 22k).  He was my patient companion today.  When we got to Trtriacastela,( I knw there is something wrong with this spelling, but I am sitting outside...lots of glare and small font)) we had lunch, and he went on to Sarria.  I done enough for today.  I'm tending to my toe and resting.

Tomorrow I will walk to Sarria, about 20k, and then it is only five days to Santiago.  Unless my toe has a total collapse, I will be there next Thursday and then home next Sunday.  As I sit here in front if a cafe/hotel, Gianni and Merino, almond with Deiter, a man I met a week or so ago. Have passed by.  I am so happy to be here!  I am back in the mountains , and the scenery s so beautiful.  And, here is Deiter, getting ready to sit down and visit with me!

Hard?  You betcha!  But, so wonderful!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Onward independent,y

Hello Readers!

I'll not write a lot tonight.  The situation on El Camino is changing.  Suddenly there are more people and spaces at albergues and hostels fill up quickly.  I picked a GREAT time to leave my trusty guidebook behind.  In that book, I had seven more days to reach Santiago.  Guidless!  Yikes!  What to do?

First stop was the office on tourism.  Concerned and kind but no suggestions.  I decided to go too be of the albergues Nd see if there were English speaking people there who might have left a book, or who might share a book somehow.  plan B was to take the bus to Sarria and meet my college friends there who are doing the last 100k.

At the albergue, no A,Erica's, but, BINGO, two AUSTRALIANS who sent me a PDF file of the book they are using.  So, I studied it intensely and created my own guide, taking only one day longer.  Then I went and asked at this hostel if it was possible to get a reservation ahead.  She made some calls - most reported "Completo!", so we looked at alternatives.  If I walk 1 km less, I can have a room.  Done!

The walk today was mostly along city streets - at least until half way, when the Camino took off into the fields!  I enjoyed it, especially a hippy-flavored cafe...shady with restful music (it'll post a pic soon).  The last part of the walk was hot and long!

So tomorrow I will approach the final mountains before Santiago.  The ups and downs will be steep, but the views are supposed to be just great!  I'm guessing I will get to Santiago next Thursday or Friday.

This part of the walk is much different from the start.  People seem lees willing to talk, there are few Americans, and I'm trying to stay where I can get my own room.  Walking alone is nit bad, just different from before.  I am glad my adventuresome spirit allows me to strike out on my own!

I'll let you know more about that tomorrow!