In circle work, as taught by my teachers and elder “heart sisters,” Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in The Circle Way, knowing when to call for a pause is a practice tenet. To regather one’s thoughts or focus, to recentre to purpose, taking a deep breath or several in silence supports the moving through and forward.
So it is that after a month of walking, and another two reflecting and writing about it here, I am pausing from writing my Monday posts. I may return to posting my Friday feature photo and poems, and in fact, have one lined up for Friday. But I’ll see how it rolls. Needing my attention this month are a few projects: writing the foreward and composing poetry for an anthology of women’s leadership in education, fine-tuning my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions to publishers, and preparing the next issue of SAGE-ING for our September 21 online publication date.
In signing off for now, and “tucking in” my reflections on the Camino, here are beautiful words that affirm who I am and how I show up in the world, evident in my recent Camino photostories. Again, one of those timely Facebook finds:
“Are you happy? In all honesty? No. But I am curious – I am curious in my sadness and I am curious in my joy. I am everseeking, everfeeling. I am in awe of the beautiful moments life gives us, and I am in awe of the difficult ones. I am transfixed by grief, by growth. It is all so stunning, so rich, and I will never convince myself that I cannot be somber, cannot be hurt, cannot be overjoyed. I want to feel it all – I don’t want to over it up or numb it. So no, I am not happy. I am open, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“There is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.”
Freya Stark in The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Waking at dawn to the sound of pilgrims’ footsteps passing by my open window, I’d prayed to the Fair Weather Goddess to hold off on the forecasted rain until our arrival in Santiago. I would, but knew walking in more rain, given my fatigue and cough would take more out of me. Despite heavy clouds during this three hour final stage, she had heard and thankfully granted my request.
It was a curious stage, through parkland and woods, meanderng into the thick urban commercial centre of the Santiago suburb, Milladoiro, where we stopped for coffee at the crowded cultural centre, then back into more eucalyptus groves. Climbing and descending, we finally reached the proverbial fork in the road with two Camino markers, each pointing the way to Santiago. Conferring in broken English with another walker, consulting the GPS and guidebook, we opted for the one pointing right. Described as the new “official” route via another suburb, A Conxo, it would be less congested and longer, but avoided a steep climb. We continued to walk in relative solitude. Crossing motorways, moving now into a consistent urban vibe, with markers few and far between, and only the occasional peregrino, identifiable with backpack and scallop shell, I was surprised by the lack of Camino energy and convergence of pilgrims I’d read about as the hard-earned destination drew nearer.
“Things are always different from what they might be.”
Henry James in The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
From my journal: “Three hours of walking, not many pilgrims on the Way. At the crossroads we headed right to AConxo and saw no one. Arrived at Prazo do Obradoiro in time to hear the cathedral’s 12:00 pm bells and struck by how few people were gathered here in front of the cathedral. As we stood side by side, I wasn’t overtaken with feeling…instead I felt subdued, relieved to have arrived safely, and tired. Observing myself, I was surprised at my response…perhaps because I had realized a 20 year dream and now is the time to lay it down. I walk my Camino every day and now I have the stamp and certificate, so be it. But when I called home after settling in at the Parador, I cried deeply…”
It would take several weeks to unpack those tears.
At the outset of planning this walk, and for long before, I had been clear within myself about the importance of holding both the deep value of the journey, walking every day, and the significance of the destination, arriving at the plaza in front of that magnificent structure, as had thousands of pilgrims for the thousand years before me. A few years ago, when I had last given serious thought to walking, I suddenly cancelled, heeding one of those hardly articulated hunches. A few months later, it would be confirmed when I discovered that the cathedral would be closed and hidden by extensive scaffolding to undergo a multi-year restoration. I knew that if and when I ever walked, I would need, as Bettina Selby describes in The Art of Pilgrimage (1998), “what the newly arrived pilgrims see, exalted as they are at the end of the trek, and by all the magnificence and beauty they have already seen in the approach to their goal, the pool of warm golden light drawing them on.”
So yes, as I observed myself standing in front of the cathedral, taking in the final stage of arriving at my long held dream, I was surprised with my response. Where was the feeling of exaltation? Where the feeling of jubilation and accomplishment I had seen in the hundreds of photos posted by women on the Facebook site I’d followed for years? Was I subdued because I’d already been here, albeit virtually in several livestream tours a couple of years ago? Or was it a visitation by “the dragons of disappointment”? Citing from The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) archeology scholar Michael Guillen’s experience at the palace of Knossos on Crete: “I felt very little at the site itself because of all the crowds and the meddling that had been done with the restoration; the only real power I felt was in the surrounding land. I felt that the site had been transmogrified, and that the only spirits left were in the objects in the museum. I suppose this is the danger of mass pilgrimage, the loss of spirit at the site, especially when the gods flee to higher and higher places.”
In a recent chance reading of a blog by a fellow who, walking the Portuguese route had taken the right turn at the fork, passing by the historic building at A Conxo, providing the name for my photo above, he, too, wrote about being struck by his own “let down” anti-climatic response to arriving. Not at all what he had anticipated. Hmmm, I wasn’t alone, and imagine there are countless others who have felt similarly.
When I designed this walk with Paola at Portugal Green Walks, I determined it would be prudent to stay 72 hours in Santiago in compliance with the then known Covid-19 travel requirements, something that would become moot when we actually departed Canada. The same friend who had recommended PGW said in hindsight, she wished she’d stayed at the Parador in Santiago, the beautiful hotel bordering the plaza, beside the cathedral. “In for a penny, in for a pound, ” my companion agreed and so we partook of its sumptuous surroundings and the best breakfasts.
Rain finally came later that afternoon, and poured the next day, making for a perfect time to explore the historic centre, the Cathedral museum, and as luck would have it, attend the daily pilgrims’ mass. As it was Tuesday, and no one had paid the required 400 Euros, we didn’t have the experience of witnessing the famous swinging of the incense filled botofumeiro, so a view of it from the cathedral and its solid silver counterpart in the museum would have to suffice.
Despite my initial “flat” response – let’s mark it down to being sick and tired and relieved – I was enthralled with the cathedral, catching it from different perspectives at different times of day during my time in Santiago. As if to confirm and assure myself that yes, I had arrived.
That despite it having been a dream to walk the Camino, it was now very much part of my lived and waking reality, of who I now am, in the cells and fibre of my being.
That upon returning home, and devoting these past two months to its reliving, reflecting, re-imagining, and writing, I bring back the boon of some insight and self awareness, and much gratitude.
“The story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey. Perhaps it was in the form of an insight into our spiritual life, a glimpse of the wisdom traditions of a radically different culture, a shiver of compassion, an increment of knowledge. All these must now be passed on. The boon…is a presence in the soul of the world that can be sensed and honored and carried home in your heart.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Dear readers, thank you for walking with me these several weeks. I’ve appreciated hearing from those of you who commented here and on social media, helping me to remember that while we are often walking alone together, ultimately we are all, as Ram Dass famously said, walking each other home.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. And to read about my walk in sequence, I’ve created a new page with all the posts titled and stages named. Buen Camino!
I am tired. I feel a heaviness in my chest, a bit of a sore throat, and some sinus congestion. I’m coughing. Today we’re having our hottest day of summer here in Edmonton. I feel much as I did that day in May walking to Padron, where the temperature there had reached 32 C, just as here today (Thursday, July 28). Here and there, now and then, the same cloudless blue sky and dry hot breeze blowing. Coincidently that was exactly two months ago to the day.
I am weary. Remembering, reliving, reflecting on nearly twenty consecutive days and over 240 kilometers walked, with its insights and lessons, joys and griefs, blessings and ordeals… through the elements, immersed in beauty. I am in as much need of completing this written journey, as I was then of finishing the physical one. Careful though, both then and now, to not “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” – a wise instruction received many years ago from a wise woman – describing our human propensity for distraction and derailment from realizing our intentions. I did then and will here continue, complete, and arrive.
From my journal: “Our decision to leave at 7 am without breakfast was a wise one given how hot it became by noon. Many did the same as the Way was crowded. Again a lovely route thru hamlets, forests, with several cafes along the way. An early stop for coffee and juice as I didn’t have enough energy to eat breakfast before departing. Later at 11 am, another café stop where I finally satisfied my hankering for a fresh salad…few and far to come by.
…Opted for going directly to the hotel – Pazo de Lestrove described as ‘an emblematic 16th c recreational mansion that belonged to the Compostela’s archbishops’ – now a luxury “parador” where weddings and large receptions are held. Waiting for luggage and our rooms, I sipped another icy vermut in the shaded corner of the stone terrace – again that Italian Martinibrand, but learned I’d be able to get the famous Petroni – made from Albarino grapes harvested here in the Padron valley – in Santiago…Laundry dried fast in the heat and huge open window overlooking the grounds and hillside. Slept for a few hours and given the heat and fatigue, opted for dinner in the attractive dining room…”
Legend has it that Padron is the town where the boat carrying from Jerusalem the remains of Jesus’s disciple, St. James the Greater, anchored after his crucifixion. The stone to which the boat was moored, called a pedron, gave the town its name, and rests within the Santiago church in Padron. (Photo of lawn art depicting the legend of the boat and stone.)
From my journal: “I continue to be happy with my planning and knowing myself. While the heat made it difficult to take in Padron and its historic sites, staying here in this old Galatian manor house is another facet in the rich cultural experiences provided by PGW.”
Sunday, May 29, 2022 – STAGE 18: Padron to Teo-Al Farma
“Imagine the moment when you ‘hit the wall’ on your journey. You’re tired, you’ve lost track of your original purpose of taking the pilgrimage. Your feet hurt, your eyes smart, you are feeling angry with other travelers in your group or toward the local people you are encountering. What do you do?
Try taking a day to brood. Take your good old time, by yourself, and sit on it. Time and patience are the most natural therapists in the world…
Think of the darkness as potentially healing…the appearance of what Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca called ‘duende’ – the dark sounds in music, dancing, poetry, the ritual of the bullfight, the roots of all arts…the dark and quivering companion to the muse and the angel…”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
And there we have it. I hit my wall on that penultimate stage. Yes, I was tired. No hurting feet, but my eyes smarted with tears. I hadn’t lost my purpose but was questioning it and myself. And yes, I had been feeling angry, and a range of other emotions off and on. From my journal: “So if a chest cold is helping me feel the weight of what I have been carrying – the need to get it off my chest – today’s head cold feels like sadness and the tears I need to shed…Walking alone I wondered about my Camino, what it had all meant. Thinking about others I knew who had had epiphanies, profound insights, almost mystical realizations. Talking softly to myself, and God, through the silent Sunday village lanes, I said knew I hadn’t come in search of a miracle. I came to say ‘thank you’ … that every step had been a kiss on Earth, every step a prayer to Earth. I began to cry and could have sobbed were it not for my fear of waking the village from its Sunday slumber…For the weight on my chest, in my heart, on my back, since the beginning…the judgement, worry, disappointment…I cried. For the near relief we are almost at Santiago, not without its challenges…I cried. For the ‘letting down’ of all I had been holding in the months prior, in preparation and planning…I cried. For the fears I’ve carried…I cried.”
And then I remembered…
The night dream I had had many months earlier of me with my elder “heart sister,” she who had guided me on my vision quest a couple of years ago. We were standing apart but facing each other, folding a large cloth item, like a sail or a sheet, something that goes better with two people folding together. Each of us holding the edges, she said, giving me guidance as elder sisters do, “You know, Katharine, every step matters.”
Every step matters. Every step I had made walking this Camino – kiss or curse, prayer or pain, joy or judgement – it mattered. None were better nor worse. Let it go. Walk it out. Every step matters.
“It’s the fourth Sunday here. I am so tired and wonder, will I remember… the roses of every color imaginable, stumbling through fences, cascading over stone walls, standing erect against ancient chapels, guarding secrets, holding scents?…Will I remember the abundance of beauty, from simple to sublime? I feel so full, yet I’m unable to discern anything. I am tired. I weep and pray I will remember. My photos will help me, and too, these words on these pages.”
And then I remembered…
I had walked with wonder as my companion. That in heeding the advice of theologian-poet John O’Donohue -to make a journey a sacred thing by ensuring to bless my going forth – I had emailed my three elder “heart sisters” to ask for their blessing. One, practiced in shamanic arts, gave me the gift of journeying for an “elemental” who would accompany me throughout. Named “Wonder,” and embodying the form of a young speckled fawn, “she” attracted that essence in the poetry I had serendipitously found and scribed in my journal before leaving, and in the myriad experiences along the Way, where each day was an unfolding of magnificent beauty: alleyways abundant with roses; stone walls covered in fragrant clover and jasmine; eucalyptus forests dappled with sunlight, their scent wafting in the rising heat; sea and surf in every shade of blue pounding on golden beaches, and rocky shores; skies heavy with sodden grey clouds rolling down mountains bringing veils of rain; fresh briny sweet seafood, simply prepared, drenched in olive oil and smoky paprika; local wines that complemented the local cuisine; and innumerable cups of ubiquitous cafe con leche.
That, as I had written in my first post about this Camino, when I left Canada in May to realize my twenty-year dream, I, like Peter Coffman wrote in Camino (2017) , would be walking “because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.”
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. One more day.
“If you ever get the chance, go alone. Walk alone, travel alone, live alone, dance alone. Just for a while. If you ever get the chance, learn who you are when the world isn’t demanding you to be one way or another. Most people only know how to stand on their own if someone else will stand beside them. Don’t let that be your story. When you get the chance, know that the opportunity to walk alone, even for a bit, is a rare gift, one that will hand you insight that can change the course of your life.”
I got that chance during the 15th stage when my companion chose to take a day off to recover from the previous day’s fall. Even though I’d been walking more or less on my own with my companion bringing up the rear, today I’d truly be walking alone. This would be a short stage where upon arrival in San Mauro, I’d need to contact the transfer service to take me back to Pontevedra. I was a bit anxious about how that would go, given some challenges the last time we called for a transfer taxi. With a forecast of sun and 30+C temperatures, I opted for an early start, giving me an early return to do laundry and more exploring in Pontevedra. From my journal: “Today’s stage, ‘alone together’ with other pilgrims was a rest… cold and fresh as I walked at dawn, through Pontevedra’s historic centre, down cobblestone streets embedded with blue twinkling lights marking the Way, crossing the wide expanse of the Ponte de Burgo.”
Past homes, parallel to train tracks, then on a busy road to more train tracks, finally in the sun dappled shade of the Reiris woods, to the stage’s destination at the Café a Posada do Peregrino, boasting one of the oldest credential stamps on the Portuguese Way. There, under the flower laden, pergola covered café, filled with pilgrims taking pause and refreshment, most of them continuing on to Caldas de Reis, I enjoyed another culinary delicacy: “sharing fresh Galatian octopus – boiled, sliced, sea salt, hot and smoky paprika and EVOO – with Denise from Ireland (first met in the hotel lobby in Baiona, then in Vigo and now here in Pontevedra) in gratitude for calling my transfer taxi.”
“I returned to the hotel around 11, just as the sun was coming around to my balcony, perfect for drying clothes and boot liners. Napped and showered, I did more exploring – the Basilica of Santa Maria, Alameda and gardens, the ruins of Santa Domingo. Ice cream and pharmacy stops…video call home…then another great Italian dinner steps away from the hotel…Buonasera bella!”
Friday, May 27, 2022 – Stage 16: San Mauro to Caldas de Reis – Another sunny, cloudless blue sky morning, that would bring even hotter temperatures sooner in the day. I woke feeling unwell. A headache, a sore throat. Dreamt of taking a rapid test so heeding its wisdom, I bit the bullet, googled what happens if I tested positive in Spain – nothing – and swabbed. Thankfully a fast and fifteen minutes later, unequivocal negative result. I’d felt my immune system wavering in Arcade after sitting there chilled for several hours following the preceding two days walking in relentless rain. Then, those few moments of feeling deep fear seeing my companion immobile proved enough to topple it. I’d walk the remaining four stages to Santiago under the weight of chest and sinus congestion, coughing, and growing fatigue.
But for now, relieved I was covid free, we met our driver who delivered us the short distance to San Mauro to begin the four hour walk to Caldas de Reis. From my journal: “Transfer back to San Mauro went without a hitch. Joined the ensemble walking at 9:15 am. We stopped early and I ordered a cappuccino, the owner gesturing for me to wait outside. Little did I know what was being prepared for me! A spectacular whipped cream concoction, now on top of those 2 perfect glazed donuts at breakfast! This stage had at least 4 cafes. At another we sat in the sought after shade drinking radlers, probably not the best idea after whipped cream and the rising heat.”
A mid-afternoon arrival at our destination, again waylaid by misunderstanding the directions to our hotel and eventually guided there by a local woman to whom I gave one of my remaining gratitude gifts, we checked in, settled, and walked across the bridge to the Taberna O Muino. Its outdoor terrace, situated in the shade over the river, was a cool respite with temperatures now in the low 30s. From my journal: “Tapas at 2:30 – the owner kindly seated us despite saying it was full and we had no reservation, then when I asked, seeing people leave, he moved us to a better table. Another ‘coup’ as the terrace was filled with locals and the occasional peregrino ready for a leisurely Friday afternoon multicourse lunch. Had my first sangria – too sweet for my liking as an accompaniment to food – razor clams (not as good as those first ones in Castelo do Neiva), manchego cheese, white chorizo (uncured and unsmoked so like Italian sausage, it needed to be cooked), fried sardines which despite being “small” were not the finger length fried-to-a-crisp variety we’d savored at the tapas bar in Triana a few years earlier. A complementary EVOO cake for dessert that unfortunately got only a sampling, being full and hot.”
Caldas de Reis has been a thermal spa-town since Roman times, with medieval travelers documenting its similarity to the famous baths in Baden, Germany. Our “relais” Hotel Balneario Acuna (1812) featured a beautiful thermal pool and throughout the town there were numerous thermal fountains.
As I’d been feeling increasingly under the weather, and with the next day’s forecast for more clear, hot weather, we chose to forgo breakfast for a 7:00 am start, to walk the 20 kilometer stage to Padron before it became scorching. Hindsight would prove us right, and too, the truth of these words scribed into my journal on Thursday, May 26, walking alone to San Mauro:
“‘I do not go into the forest to be alone.’ She said, ‘I go to be with the ONES who speak without human words.'”
This was one of the shortest stages, under two hours, less than 8 kilometers, but with a steep climb through the transmission corridor early in the walk. With the sun shine, blue sky, and cool breeze, it was an invigorating start to the day, getting heartbeats up and leg muscles warmed as we continued to have episodic glimpses of the large and long Ria de Vigo, the lifeblood of the region. Reminded of the Galicia’s Celtic roots, we met a piper in the woods, busking for coins, a preamble of what we’d encounter in Santiago.
True to the witnessed weather patterns and forecast, by the time we’d arrived in Arcade, several hours too early for checking in to our hotel, the clouds had rolled back in bringing afternoon showers. From my journal, Tuesday, May 24, 2022:“…we nursed coffees in the hotel café, and partook of the Arcade iteration of a ‘ploughman’s lunch’, each of us ordering one of the two options to share: ham and cheese pie made in puff pastry; a simple but delicious and easy to replicate chick pea soup with smoky chorizo; cod baked in EVOO and paprika with boiled potatoes; marinated shredded pork with fries; and a simple but good creamy cake. Finally checked in, with our bags having arrived…a hot shower to kill the inner chill, nap and now at 7:30 hoping the sudden cloud burst passes so we can walk the 15 minutes up the road for signature fresh oysters…Of course arriving earlier than the norm, we had our choice of tables at the lovely Marisqueria Arcade: a dozen fresh oysters, and finally tasted percebes (an homage to the women harvesting at Oia, and thank god I’d watched that YouTube video to know how to eat them!!!) with grilled scampi, and the famed Spanish albarino wine. The finishing touch sating my sweet touch, a complimentary snifter of the region’s cream liqueur.” On the walk back to the hotel, I discovered what they did with all those oyster and scallop shells.
The next day’s stage would bring me to, what in hindsight was my favorite stop along the Way, Pontevedra. Somewhat ironic because our arrival had been marked by the morning’s earlier mishap when my companion tripped and fell on the path. From my journal, Wednesday, May 25, 2022: “What started out as another cool, fresh, and sunny walk thru woods and villages, heeding the advice of 2 different men – one playing the archetypal ‘fool,’ carving and selling his wares in the woods – to take the flat ‘complementario’ route by the stream in the forest vs the exposed hot mountain climb, was well worth it…until she tripped and fell and I stood terrified for those first few moments…immediately many on the path were there to offer support and wish us well…intuitively I accepted the wise ministrations from the young Portuguese men, one with first aid training, and his friend, a padre. Bases covered, I wept with relief and gratitude.”
Not to be denied, I held its impacts and implications together with the comfort taken in asking for a room change to one with sunshine and a balcony from which to hang my sink-laundered clothing, and a solitary exploration around the city’s historic centre with camera in hand. My first icy vermut (what, Italian Martini and not those fantastic craft pours I’d fallen in love with in Andalusia!) – another generous pour – sipped al fresco at a café perfect for people watching warmed my soul in the late afternoon sun.
Discovered once home, these words became another source of solace, and a most apt description of my Camino, its purpose, and its gifts:
“In the fields, she stopped and took a deep breath of the flower-scented air. It was dearer to her than kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. And for a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to absorb its wild enchantment.”
“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
And so describes the next stage. After a night of thunder, lightning, and rain pelting down on the balcony, morning dawned with heavy cloud cover, puddles, and mud. It would be a wet walk. From my journal, Sunday, May 22, 2022: “Lo and behold, if Carlos, our driver yesterday, didn’t come back to take us to Corujo, our starting point for and a suburb of Vigo, missed when we’d walked along the coast and never did merge back onto the ‘official’ route. Walked thru the quiet village, mostly along the small murky creek, on muddy paths busy with Sunday saunterers, cyclists, dog walkers…thru the Parque de Castrelos, into and up residential streets. We overshot and had to back track, asking for help to find our way to the hotel, but en route, on the pedestrian main street, stopped in a pastry store selling empanadas – octopus and scallop – and ate them in the rain – checking off another culinary ‘musttry’…Bueno!!!”
Vigo. Spain’s largest Atlantic seaport, and Galicia’s most populated city, with an ancient history of Celtic and Roman settlements. When I’d returned home, our Camino friends from lunch a week ago in Viana do Castelo sent their photo slideshow of their walk. In response I wrote: “As one photographer to another, how similar and then how different what catches our eye, and makes for a wonderful photo. You saw a Vigo that I missed completely – one rich in history, texture, colour. Perhaps it was that we had walked in the rain, got a bit misdirected finding our hotel, but it felt so urban, cold and industrial…your photos gave me a fresh and more balanced perspective.”
But then again, we did taste those famous empanadas. And right outside our urban hotel, I spotted the first and only Illy coffee sign of my trip, and opted for a quick Americano before dinner – the best coffee since leaving home – which became a belated birthday celebration with chocolate cake, my companion’s treat. “Eat dessert first!” so I’m told and did, with gusto!
Another Monday. Another day of walking in the rain, to Redondela – where the central and coastal Portuguese Caminos converge. From my journal, Monday, May 23, 2020: “Straight forward walking up and out of Vigo into fog, mountain mist and steady rain. Thankful for having invested in that pack raincoat. Kept dry but damp. Finally learned that those dark containers we’d seen heading out to the Cies Islands were mussel and oyster flats. Saw hundreds of them along the Ria de Vigo.
Walked along forest paths, thru residential areas so no cafés. Finally I said out loud ‘I wish someone would invite us in for a hot cup of coffee.’ Not a minute later I see painted on the tarmac, ‘Coffee Bar’ with an arrow pointing up to a sweet little home café – warm – serving hot, homemade chicken soup! We had the place to ourselves, but a half hour later, every pilgrim walking to Redondela was lined up and out the door, stopping to dry off, warm up, and get their stamp.”
By the time we’d finally walked into Redondela, seeing many more pilgrims on the streets, the sun broke through to reveal its 19th c viaducts, 15th c church dedicated to St. James, and Alameda Park and gardens.
There’s an oft spoken saying among those walking that the Camino provides. In the rain, in need of something hot to drink, seeing that yellow painted sign on the tarmac seconds after asking was an unequivocal example. Too, the numerous strangers who pointed us on the way, or gave us directions when off route, weary, and wanting to find our accommodations. The server who saw a woman in need of the care an extra large glass of wine would ensure. The pharmacists in every town, knowledgeable about and prepared for the range of walking ailments – from heat rash and the ubiquitous blister treatments, to sunburn, colds, bruises, inflammation, and infections. Or in a later stage, the “peregrinos” soon present when my companion tripped and fell, their support and skills a much appreciated balm to her limited, and thankfully superficial injuries, and to my recovery from those initial moments of feeling terror as she lay facedown, motionless on the ground.
One of my travel strengths is asking for help from strangers. A lesson from my father, that if I don’t ask for what I need, how would anyone know what to offer? I’ve learned that asking for help gives another the opportunity to be of service. An encounter which, despite language differences, creates connection through a gesture made, a smile shared, a vulnerability acknowledged, an open heart in need. It joins us in our shared humanity, making for memories and stories that uplift and amplify kindness, generosity, and gratitude…reminding us, this is the way.
“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”
Half way through my Camino and the “ordeals” I’d mentioned in an earlier post were coming to bear. Despite waking to a glorious sunny day, my mood was cloudy. Again, a couple of FACEBOOK finds, written in my journal with the title, “thoughts for my day that re-ignited my love and joy”:
“I worried alot.
…Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
…Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.”
Mary Oliver, I Worried
And this one:
“I was in darkness, but I took three steps and found myself in paradise. The first step was a good thought; the second, a good word; and the third, a good deed.”
Breakfast with time taken to unpack matters weighing heavy meant for a later start, something we’d need to contend with as the temperatures rose and blistered feet swelled. (Though as I write this now, nothing like the record breaking heat both Portugal and Spain are experiencing – so intense that many are walking at night, or canceling their Caminos altogether.) And our decision to ignore the GPS route to continue walking along the coast would prove less successful getting to our endpoint, though a cooler and beautiful alternative.
Crossing over the River Minor via the jagged 13th C Ponte da Ramallosa bridge with St. Telmo watching over :
Walking on the boardwalk by one of Galacia’s golden beaches, Praia America, with its steeple and domed mosque in the distance:
To finally eating our packed lunch at Praia Patos, further north along the coast on the other side of the peninsula, where, in the hot and hazy distance, we saw the next day’s destination, the Cies Islands:
Maybe it was the blisters, or the bee stings, or the blazing sun, but when my companion acknowledged her need to call short this stage, letting us make use of the nearby hotel to call a cab, she gave us both the gift of an early return to Baiona to enjoy a leisurely lunch over a bottle of “rosado,” some sight seeing, and to organize the cab to Vigo to catch the morning ferry to the Cies Islands the next day. From my journal: “The chapel of Santa Liberata (1695) commemorating Baiona’s martyred daughter and 1st woman in the world crucified, and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria-Virgen de la Rosa – I felt very much the feminine spirit of this place…how today we had dipped into the wounds of the feminine – as mother, daughter, women…and how in the surrendering to need, giving us a most beautiful day.”
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
e.e. cummings – written on my journal page, Friday, May 20, 2022: STAGE 10- Baiona to Patos
The following day brought a cycling back around to cool, overcast weather. Maybe a blessing as we’d be hiking in the elements with limited shelter on the fixed ferry schedule I’d reserved months earlier. The Cies Islands are an archipelago of three islands in the Atlantic at the mouth of the Vigo River. A designated natural reserve with pristine white beaches, cliffs, and fragile flora and fauna, access is restricted with ferry crossings pre-booked online. From my journal Saturday, May 21, 2022 – “Free Day” Cies Islands: “Like clockwork! Front desk reserved a taxi and Carlos picked us up promptly in his immaculate CRV, drove us to Vigo and was there again at 6:00 pm to return us to Baiona. Perfect weather for walking on the ‘Ruta del Alto do Principe,’ to the cliffs on the north island – Monteagudo – facing west onto the Atlantic and the lighthouse – Faro de Cies – in the distance. Ate lunch and then relaxed at the harbor, people watching and waiting for the ferry. Taking a ‘rest day’ I realize my fatigue. But once I clarified with lovely Paola from PGW, who I met tonight, on how we proceed tomorrow, I’m ready for the long walk to Vigo. ‘Stay on the blue GPS route,’ she instructed. “
Back in Baiona, those laden skies opened up, pouring as we crossed the street for dinner, and for most of the night, with thunder rumbling and lightning flashing across the sky. By the time morning came, it lifted enough to set out with Carlos, who having returned, would drive us to the next stage’s starting point, Corujo.
Reflecting that day on the Cies Islands, I recalled my solo travels in Italy, to the time when sitting sipping icy limoncello on the boardwalk at Monterosso al Mare – the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – I watched two silver haired women disembark from the train, obvious trekkers with their boots, backpacks, and poles. Inspired by their presence, I made a mental note that I wanted to be like them at their age, which I’d imagined to be in their seventies. As fate would have it, these words appeared on my FACEBOOK feed later that evening:
“Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfilment and confirmation of one’s character.”
While I have a few years before my hair becomes as silver, I am more becoming myself with every step, and mis-step, taken in this Camino that is my life.
Portuguese Coastal Camino Stage 8: A Guarda to Oia-Viladesuso Stage 9: Oia to Baiona (In lieu of Friday’s photo and poem feature.)
sunset shots from Oia-Viladesuso
“I sometimes forget that I was created for joy. My mind is too busy. My heart is too heavy for me to remember that I have been called to dance the sacred dance of life. I was created to smile, to Love, to be lifted up and to lift others up. O Sacred One, untangle my feet from all that ensnares. Free my soul that we might Dance and that our dancing might be contagious.”
Like following one’s daily horoscope, I discovered when away that a quick scroll on Facebook always reaped a pearl of wisdom for my day. I know its about algorithms and such, that what I post, like, and follow brings up more of the same. But still, it was uncanny how many times a post was especially relevant for the day, or at least oriented my thinking during the kilometers of walking with myself, in silence.
And so it was on Wednesday, May 18, the 8th stage from A Guarda to Oia, these words from my beloved Hafiz appeared, eventually weaving themselves into the chant I composed with the words from Thich Nhat Hahn, and those from my other beloved, Rumi, which I’d auspiciously written on my journal’s page of the same date: “The Soul is here for its own joy.”
From my journal: “Another beautiful coastal walk – this time along rocky shores. Overcast, cool. But again as the day passed, and now 6:00 pm sitting at the hotel at Oia – really 4 km north at Viladesuso – clear sky, high white clouds. Seeing more ‘peregrinos’ walking – and at “THE” rest stop café at Portocelo, where we shared a terrific homemade breakfast sandwich with cappuccinos, met our friends from lunch in Viana do Castelo. Too, the four American women from the hotel in A Guarda, heading to Baiona. It seems PGW might underestimate distance, as they quoted 13-14 km, when I registered over 17 when all was said and done.”
Percebes. AKA gooseneck barnacles. I’d first heard about them watching Rick Steves eating them in Spain, or was it Portugal? Then, our friends from lunch in Viana do Castelo mentioned them as being a “must try” food adventure…that their father, originally from Spain’s northern coast, would special order them for Christmas at home in Costa Rica, and that they were anticipating this taste of memory and tradition. Walking to Oia, I realized, seeing the jauntily attired woman sitting on the ground with a tarp of odd looking black things in front of her, that these were them – barnacles, fresh from being scraped off rocks by her and her intrepid team of free divers. Cleaned and sorted before being sold to local restaurants, no wonder percebes are called the world’s most expensive seafood. Curious and adventurous, my anticipation would grow until I finally tasted them a few stops up the coast.
Thursday, May 19, 2022 – STAGE 9: Oia to Baiona. Waking at dawn the next day, the weather pattern shifted again, with sun and warmer temperatures forecasted. Morning fog settling on the coastline brought a soft outlook to the day’s start. From my journal: “Now it might be having opted out of following the route up thru the woods, choosing instead to walk along the coastal highway to Baiona, that our day was wonderfully shorter than anticipated. Just as we’d crossed the highway and passed thru the ‘questionable gate’ to begin the climb, I turned around and there was Tircia, the young woman, who with her parents, had braved the elements with us crossing the river in the outboard at Caminho, walking alone. Deliberating back and forth, and hearing her say ‘it’s the last day the route is along the coast,’ I finally made the decision for us, inviting her along the coastal walk. Such a good choice!!! As after several days of low cloud, mist and rain, it was still cool with fog but beautiful ocean vistas soon shone bright and blue. I realized yesterday this walk has been an ‘Introvert’s Paradise.’ I feel no inclination for conversation or small talk. I feel very good, very light, very pleased that a mis-step led me to the empty chapel yesterday morning in A Guarda, where I could get my bearings and guidance, as hundreds have done for hundreds of years before me…to know my next step.”
That stretch of coastal walk was one of the most beautiful, where hitting my stride, I felt myself smile and dance with joy. Having abandoned the map, heeding input from a younger woman’s knowing, and trusting intuition – and the simple logic that by keeping the ocean to our left we wouldn’t get too far off course – we made our way, I walking ahead, singing to myself, the sea and sky. Pausing now and then to take in the magnificence and make a photo, I found myself thinking about what it means to make a commitment, particularly to one’s self – often the most difficult one to make, particularly for women. Remembering the commitment I had made to the Camino the moment I had said “yes” last December, I realized it and my commitment to my life were steps in the same dance. That when I followed its sacred choreography, the more my joy. And that this joy was palpable…it flowed, attracted, and was contagious to those open to catching it. Like the young waiter at the café in Baiona where we stopped for lunch before checking into our hotel.
Sitting al fresco across from Baiona’s marina, I scanned the menu and saw rice with seafood and squid ink. My traveling companion game, and having ascertained it would take at least 30 minutes’ preparation, thus guaranteeing its freshness – I ordered, much to the waiter’s skepticism. “Was I sure?” he wondered aloud with gesture. I assured him I knew what I was doing, thanks to those cooking classes back home. Forty-five minutes later, the younger waiter – who had several minutes earlier assured us it was coming and would be fantastic!!!! – again with unabashed delight, now presented us the spectacle – a very hot terracotta pot steaming and bubbling like molten lava, rice blackened with squid ink, filled with shrimps, clams and squids, a creamy mound of aioli in the center.
A celebration of joy, that memory-making meal. The pinnacle of joy in that memory-making walk.
“With every step I kiss the Earth. With every step I make a prayer. The Soul comes for its own joy. Dance on, dance on, dance on.”
Portuguese Coastal Camino Stage 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora Stage 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain
“Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods. Like art, pilgrimage cannot wait for the right mood to appear. Like poetry, pilgrimage is beyond time and space. It happens now, or it doesn’t happen at all.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
“Inclement weather.” And so it begins.
Walking, I’d noticed a pattern where several days of sunshine and warm, verging on hot temperatures would then be followed by socked-in skies, rain, and wind. We were due. Since arriving in Lisbon two weeks prior, we had walked in fog and heavy clouds threatening to burst, but we’d not yet walked in rain.
From my journal, Monday, May 15, 2022, STAGE 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora: “Wow! What a day! Left Viana do Castelo in the rain and walked most of six hours, over 20 km, in the rain. Thankfully sheltered by the stone walls. Thinking of the ‘Litoral’ route along the coast would have been very wet, and even more windy than we experienced, being in the open, in the elements. Met Michael from Munich walking ahead – a young fellow whose red rain poncho was like mine. His ‘sloshy’ shoes were the dream I’d had that made me rethink my footwear. Grateful for gators and my ALTHUS rain poncho – though I wished it was vented like Michael’s…”
An ordeal for some, oddly enough, I was looking forward to walking in the rain, curious to see if my preparations would pay off. Last fall, one Saturday walking my local Camino de Edmonton, it poured rain the entire morning, soon enough showing me that all my so-called waterproof wear was not. I promptly researched and invested in new boots, and waterproofing wash and spray for my pants and jacket. In the new year, deposit paid to Portugal Green Walks for this Camino, scrolling though one of the Facebook Camino groups, I learned about ALTUS lightweight, breathable raincoats fitted to backpacks, long length with sleeves, remedying the blowing out in wind which often renders useless more typical poncho styles. I knew walking on the coast would be windy, so with a quick search, discovered Spain’s Deporvillage stocked and shipped, I made the investment and within four days had mine for just over $100 CAD all in – the duties as much as the coat, but far less than the $200+ quoted then on Amazon.
Ordering footwear – ten pair at one point – varying in makes (Merrell and Keen), styles, sizes, and widths – I finally settled on the pair that met my criteria, but weren’t waterproof. (I’d read walking in warmer weather feet get too hot in waterproof footwear – hence go up a half to a full size to compensate for swelling – and add to blister risks.) Then the gift of my nighttime dream…seeing myself in these boots, hearing and feeling my feet sloshing in the rain…and I woke knowing I had to rethink my footwear choices. My waterproof Merrell Moab hikers bought last fall gave me ankle and foot support especially on the stoned paths, and stayed dry inside.
Again part of the weather pattern, by mid afternoon, with temperatures rising and wind blowing apart the cloud cover, sunshine and blue sky made for a welcoming arrival into Vila Praia de Ancora. Once checked into the hotel, wet clothing and boots laid out to dry, I discovered the unsightly but painless hiker’s rash on my lower legs, the result of overheating from wearing gators. I’d recalled and found the photo another “camiga” had posted of the same, with comments as to probable diagnosis -“vasculitis”- and went to the pharmacy for treatment – a chestnut-based cooling cream. Within a few days, and forever dispensing with gators, it healed completely.
Wandering around town, finally rested enough to eat, I discovered a restaurant, empty except for a local nursing his beer. The hostess welcomed me in and yes, dinner could be served to me at this early hour of 7:00 (both the Portuguese and Spanish restaurants are notable in their late dinner hours, where 8:00 pm is often early!) From my journal: “I went my own way for dinner and did I receive! All women cooking…the hostess, in between preparing a rear room for a large party of diners – a group of walkers I’d see the next morning at breakfast – poured me a huge glass of a beautiful Portuguese red and took my order: a grilled veal steak, served flambé, with roasted potatoes, rice and EVOO drizzled greens. A rich and silky homemade chocolate mousse for dessert. I was in heaven. The women and I exchanged blown kisses in appreciation. Such a marvelous night being fed and tended to by these kind women.”
En route back to the hotel, I walked to the town’s namesake beach – “praia” in Portuguese – to take in the sea and sky and ready myself for the next day’s walk.
Tuesday, May 16, STAGE 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain -A shorter stage where we’d be making our way into Spain, crossing the River Minho at Caminha. Inclement weather returned. From my journal: “Another overcast, windy walk along the coast, but not as hot as ‘sans’ rain poncho and gators. Feet are doing well. Pretty straightforward into Caminha, through its old gates, lovely square, and then it started to rain in earnest. See the clouds rolling down the mountains and by the time we join the family of three on the outboard water taxi, the wind and surf and rain were coming down soaking us. I loved it! Could hardly see in the storm, but I’d fortified with a trick I’d learned in Capri, an ‘espresso corretto’ made with that terrific Portuguese brandy, minutes before boarding.”
“Then in Spain – Galacia – and through forests, the still quiet and birdsong into the walled fishing port of A Guarda. Another nondescript hotel, lunch sandwich made from breakfast’s offerings. Slim pickings for dinner as many restaurants close on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’ll assume vinho verde now gives way to vermut and manzanilla, roija and tempranillo. Walked to the port for tapas of fresh seafood: steamed mussels, A Guarda’s specialty – langoustines split and fried with sea salt and chiles, and crispy calamari.”
“For many women, going on a sacred journey means getting back in touch with what is sacred in the earth.”
Joan Marler in The Art of Pilgrimage,1998
Yes, and I would add to that, getting back in touch with and staying present to what is sacred in one’s self – one’s needs, one’s knowing, one’s intuition.
Thinking back, that dinner in Vila Praia de Ancora stays with me, deep within my heart and mind and belly. Not only because it so simply and deliciously satisfied my knowing and need for a good, hot meal after a long day of walking face first in the elements, but also because I was tended to with such simple love and kindness, in the most fundamental ways, by the women in that restaurant. Even now, I’m moved to tears thinking back to that evening…what it gave me…how it sustained me.
Portuguese Coastal Camino Stage 5: Castelo do Neiva to Viana do Castelo (In lieu of Friday’s regular photo and poem feature.)
“…But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation, so everyone will understand the passage, “We have opened you.” Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy and tired. Then comes a moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting.”
Rumi, “Who?” in The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Prior to departure, I had indicated that while I’d not be posting stories nor photos on social media, nor blogging, I would select and schedule posting my weekly Friday photo and poem features during my walk. That I’d be curious once home and looking back at my choices to see what, if any, correspondence they had to my actual experience. Rumi’s “Who?”– excerpt above – coincided with the day before our shorter fifth stage, walked again in heat though now with humidity thanks to early morning rain. Coupled with a particularly intense climb on tarmac, giving us the first view of our next destination, Viana do Castelo, “heavy and tired legs” were a reality. But first, breakfast at Quinta do Montevedra…
Waking to steady showers and seeing heavy clouds rolling down the hills to the sea, we opted for a leisurely breakfast in another of the Quinta’s beautifully appointed spaces, hoping an hour or two would bring sunshine. Delicious hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and other fruits, creamy scrambled eggs, an assortment of fine sausages – chorizo and Iberian ham – and cheeses – soft brie, aged sheep and fresh creamed – crusty bread, crispy croissants, flaky pain au chocolate, and soft Portuguese pastries. Yes, to linger enveloped in such sumptuousness…listening to music that evoked the memory of a recently passed friend who would have loved this walk, in this way…“we have opened you.”
The sun eventually broke through. Cozy warm and waterproof layers dispensed. The cab called to take us the few kilometers to the stage’s beginning. “Obrigadas” and gratitude gifts exchanged with our host, Fatima. And we set off. Through the forest, with the ocean in the distance to our left, on paths of glittering stone and mud; cobbled roads through villages and vineyards, to the 11th C Sao Romao de Neiva monastery where not a moment’s pause was given to consider climbing this 186 step stairway to heaven!
Once across another Eiffel Bridge – the first we had cruised under on Porto’s Douro River the week before – we passed the city’s cathedral en route to the what, in hindsight, would be an adequate, but least favourite hotel.
Since medieval times, Viana do Castelo has been a pilgrimage stop en route to Santiago. Rich with history, architecture, and culture, we took a “rest day” to more fully appreciate its credentials. The next morning, Sunday, after waking to the news of the race-related mass shooting in my birthplace, Buffalo NY, rain threatened to fall from heavy clouds as we rode the funicular up the hillside to the famous landmark towering over the city, Santa Luzia Basilica. Foreboding weather and gloomy vistas were an apt reflection of grief.
The city’s annual floral festival where gerbera blossoms festooned the riverside plaza, echoed the colors and designs in the embroidery and weaving of the region’s traditional clothing seen in the local museum.
Finding color on a dreary day was surprisingly easy wandering through the historic centre, past the floral embellished 16th C Praca da Republica Fountain to a children’s art gallery, and then onto a side street festive with suspended umbrellas which held the day’s delight. Waiting in line, a fellow “peregrino” from Colorado invited us to share a table with him and his sister and brother-in-law at a restaurant favoured by locals for their traditional Sunday lunch. Served family style, platters of grilled bachalau with braised carrots, cabbage and potatoes, and again, the beverage of choice – tinto verde. Being the only one game to accept the owner’s invitation to sample an after dinner brandy, he placed the snifter and bottle – Aguardente Velha – beside me while the others wished they’d said yes! Remedied, he brought them small glasses and another Portuguese liqueur – all his way of saying “obrigado” to us for eating at his restaurant. Flan to follow, sated, warmed, and smiling…I wrote later in my journal: “a true Camino experience of sharing a meal with others. I hope it is the first of more to come, being in community, on The Way.”
Bordering the journal pages of this day’s entry I wrote a quote, which like the scheduled poem, had been chosen many days before, and yet too, was on point: “There are times in your life you are flung into an undiscovered country of being, a place beyond time and tide and details, the full magical breath of you heaving with the joy of being, and you realize then, that parts of you exist in exile and completeness is journeying to bring them home.”
Such synchronicities become that “moment of feeling the wings I’ve grown lifting,” bringing me home.