Camino’s Ordeals and Offerings

(This post in lieu of Friday’s usual photo and poem.)

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia

“Travel is travail.
The ancient Greeks taught that obstacles were the tests of gods, and the medieval Japanese believed that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome and transform into poetry and song.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Quest. Pilgrimage. Hero’s journey. Each entails encountering and overcoming challenges and ordeals. Religious historian Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) describes four aspects to pilgrimage: singleness of purpose; freedom from distraction; ordeal or penance; and offerings.

And so it was that on this 20 km, second stage to Apulia, blisters made their appearance. Given my feet would walk me to Santiago, I took their care seriously, each day rubbing them with foot glide, taping hot spots, and yes, even talking to them with words of encouragement and gratitude for their strength and resiliency. The last time I’d travelled internationally, I was recovering from an excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, working with my chiropractor, putting indoor pickleball on hiatus, and packing a couple of pairs of shoes and Yamuna foot balls, I succeeded in walking pain free for three weeks. So yes, I took my feet and their care seriously.

This time I’d bought and broken in shoes a half size larger to account for swelling, and brought umpteen pairs of socks, finally arriving at the right combination of cushion, wicking, and comfort with Darn Tough merino light-weight hikers, socks that arrived just days before departure. My hefty but compact “foot care” kit included several sizes of COMPEED plasters, Rock Tape, moleskin, needles and thread, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic wipes, polysporin, bandaids, and while I was prepared, short of entirely taping each foot, I had no idea until that day of walking across varied surfaces, in growing heat, for six hours, what would be the rub and where the result. Rub identified – the outside heel edge of my insoles – and resolved with moleskin, several days later I was pain free and simply needed the COMPEED to do its work.

Apart from myriad details, and the hours and energy involved in planning and preparing for this first post pandemic international trip – researching equipment and resources, designing my packing systems for easy access, “rehearsing” during my Saturday Camino walks – I made sure to reserve time the week before departure for two vivifying activities: embellishing the pages of my travel journal with washi tape borders (tape I’d found resembling Portuguese tiles) and “touchstone” inspirational quotes; and preparing tokens of gratitude to gift people along the Way, to enact and realize my intention of walking in appreciation and gratitude.

“When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts. To make a peace offering at every stop of a pilgrimage is to recognize the sacred nature of the journey with a deep personal purpose.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I had discovered a collection of bronzed metal maple leaves – what could be more Canadian! – and golden elm leaves in my craft kit, a couple of cool swag pins from my radio station, and some other small tokens that I wrapped in colorful tissue and a sealed with floral stickers, making for little lightweight packets.

Paula fitting me

After returning to Lisbon’s famous glove store, Luvaria Ulisses (1925), to gift Paula, the delightful saleswoman who the day before had spent a good hour fitting and teaching us about the shop’s exquisite handmade collection – and making two sales! – I learned to always have some packets tucked in my purse to gift to the right person at the right time.

From my journal, May 11, 2022, STAGE 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia: “Another beautiful walk, so diverse as we passed thru morning residential neighborhoods with kids going to school, people stopping for morning coffee; then along the beach and back on the boardwalks. Delighted to meet some local women sitting in the sand, plucking and cleaning their harvest of sage-like greens (though not for eating, indicated with head shakes), and the kind fellow who interrupted painting the beach W/C for me to use (that morning coffee!). Learning I was walking the Camino, he regaled me with his own Camino stories and phone photos. I gifted him with a ‘Keep the Circle Strong’ pin which delighted me as much as him, seeing his surprise and joy. ‘I’ll put this on my Camino shelf,’ he smiled, wishing me ‘Bom Caminho.'”

I wrote Monday’s post days before the US Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe vs Wade, the historic federal legislation ensuring and safeguarding a woman’s right to choose. While I live in Canada, I know it to be both naïve and privileged to think such matters don’t affect me. The personal is political, a truth ever and exceedingly so.

When a friend said she couldn’t wait to begin her Camino to get away from it all – not an uncommon urge – her words gave me pause to consider. I knew I wasn’t walking to get away but rather to deepen into life as it presented itself. And so with “singleness of purpose,” and “freedom from distraction,” I remained tuned in enough to know about and walk with my feelings and prayers for:

  • the millions of people affected by storms that devastated Ontario and Quebec, news of which reached Portugal and Spain. I knew my nephew, a supervisor with Hydro One, would be leaving his young family to head up a team and taking as long as needed, would together undertake significant safety risks to repair transmission towers and poles to restore power.
  • the people of Buffalo, New York in the aftermath of a strategic, race related mass shooting. As my birthplace and always visually present in my childhood and youth having grown up across the river, and with family who have always lived there, the shock and grief felt by its people carried across the sea to me.
  • the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. What can I say that hasn’t been said, watching Americans I met walking the Way shake their heads in grief, with shame for the hundreds of school shootings and children killed in their country?
  • the ongoing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Again, no words.

Many mornings I’d be awakened early with powerful dreams seeded by the previous day’s events – near and far – and the “loosening” created by walking kilometers by and in the elements. Deserving of my attention, I’d be preoccupied and silent during breakfast and as I walked, working through to their wisdom. Too, daily tending to my body’s aches and blisters…navigating long distance family matters…and weighing heavy, the worry and risks of misjudged and insufficient preparations rubbed, creating its own blisters: insomnia, injury, illness…

Given my intention, walking the Camino – and now writing about it – I couldn’t disconnect from life, people, and the world around me. The paradoxical gift being that the weight of these ordeals kept me present in my body, on the path, in my life, and in the world I inhabit. Now home, some blisters have healed, some are callused. Others remain tender to the touch.

From my journal: “I wondered this morning that if by walking shorter stages, by ‘sauntering,’ enjoying the vistas, meeting people, taking it all in, if this is enough? Should I be carrying a full pack, walking longer stages? If that by allowing one to encounter and deepen into oneself, easefully, is this the true Camino experience? But as I write, I am answering my own question, and go back to why now and in this way? To walk in love and appreciation. To notice the beauty and encounter people. To go slow and easy…with de-light and in joy. And while I’ve yet to write a poem or paint a picture, I’m gathering the pearls of impressions to string together a beauty.”

“Only through a journey such as this could I come full circle in my life and touch something sacred that could revitalize my life.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Crossing Camino’s Threshold

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 1: Porto/Labruge to Vila do Conde

stage 1 – beach flowers along the northern Portuguese coast

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Thich Nhat Hahn

I wrote those words at the top of my journal page dated Tuesday, May 10, 2022, The Beginning – STAGE 1: LaBruge to Vila do Conde. Over the nearly 280 km I walked, those words would become my mantra – spoken aloud to the surf and sky, whispered on the wind and in the woods, eventually woven into the song I sang to myself and the Earth to keep the rhythm of my footsteps in sync with my breath and heartbeat.

At some point along the Way, I said to myself, “This an introvert’s paradise!” as for at least 250 of those 280 km, I walked alone in silence (except for singing and chanting and talking to myself and what was around me). Despite having the gadgets to listen to music or podcasts, and a few attempts to talk with fellow walkers whose long and steady stride matched mine, I became so filled with, enamored of, and enthralled by the ambient soundscape, that I quickly found conversation tedious, tiring, and distracting. Admittedly I didn’t always make for good company, but I had at the outset clarified my need to walk my own Camino. After all, how else would one walk?

“It’s your road and yours alone.
Others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.”

Rumi

I haven’t quite sorted out how I’ll write about the stages of my Portuguese Coastal Camino. As I had posted prior to my departure, often this route is walked over 12-14 stages/days, whereas I opted for a bespoke “easy walk,” stretched over 19 stages, including some “rest” days. Granted, 19 posts might be a bit much, so for now I’ll begin with how we started, quoting from my journal, trusting the pattern and rhythm will emerge, as it did walking:
“The Fair Weather Goddess shone on us – not because it was sunny. Not at all. We woke in Porto to pea soup fog and cool. After breakfast, our bags packed waiting in the lobby to be transferred to the first stage’s lodging, our backpacks with us waiting for the taxi to drive us out of Porto, north to the beach at LaBruge. While the boardwalk was visible, and we could smell the fresh brininess of the sea and hear the surf, visibility was very poor. Though it made for a very pleasant walk – bundled in my fleece, Eddie Bauer rain jacket and hat. Flat walking, through some sand swept paths, and the wonderful flowers!”

Praia LaBruge

Past the near deserted fishing village of Vila Cha, its morning catch already sorted for market.

Then the morning sun burned off the fog and this appeared as if a mirage…

For the remainder of the stage, the sun rose higher, the sky shone bluer, bringing our destination, Vila do Conde, into view.

Vila do Conde

Dating back to 953, the town’s history revolved around building wooden ships and making bobbin lace. Once checked in and settled, a mid-afternoon of meandering and we made our way to the Bobbin Lace Museum, where the lovely receptionist-host ensured we saw its exhibits and contemporary fashion applications; popped into the weekly class to watch the townswomen learn this honoured craft; and purchased just the right souvenirs.

After a curiously named, apparently lost in translation, but delicious soupy shrimp and rice concoction – “Wake Up Shrimp” – served in a bread bowl with a fresh saffron egg yolk stirred in for thickening, we rested up to begin the next day’s 20 km stage to Apulia. The sunrise from my room and early morning photos of Vila do Conde’s ancient Roman aqueduct (one of several we’d encounter) and 15th century church made for a beautiful farewell.

In hindsight, I’ve thought many times how perfect those fog enshrouded sights, sounds and feelings during that first stage. Evoked was my memory, preparation and experience of questing. I realized I had crossed a threshold into the liminal, sacred space that would be my Camino.

My subconscious must have grokked the significance because after a few steps down the boardwalk, I returned to the beginning to make a photo of our first Camino marker.

“A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier
that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.
Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up…
…listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Yes, after years of dreaming and months of earnest effort and preparation, my time had come to cross.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

You Start Dying Slowly

Portuguese Coastal Camino, from Oia to Baiona


YOU START DYING SLOWLY

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
if you do not listen to the sounds of life,
if you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colors
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.

– Martha Medeiros –

This says it all.
Why I took five weeks to walk everyday on different paths.
To travel, and be enthralled with the sounds of life.
To remember, to embody, that life is short, energy is precious, and that it is up to me to go after my dream, and appreciate myself.
To feel turbulent emotions which make my eyes glisten and break my heart.
To ask for help and let others help me.

Not to delude myself that I won’t die, but
to live my life well.
And in this way, to prepare for a good death.

Thanks to my friend, writer-poet Shawna Lemay for quickly advising me of this poem’s common misattribution to Pablo Neruda, who I had originally credited.

Porto, Oporto

Rua Santa Catarina tile facades

“What’s needed are eyes that focus with the soul.
What’s needed are spirits open to everything.
What’s needed are the belief that wonder is the glue of the universe and the desire to seek more of it.
Be filled with wonder!”

Richard Wagamese, Embers, 2016

Wonder companioned me throughout my five weeks in Portugal and Spain. Wonder guided my visit to Porto – what the locals prefer calling their city – the second largest in Portugal, with its historic centre, including its cathedral, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (I can’t believe we never made it up to the cathedral, the heat being a factor, and too, that Portugal Green Walks would be providing our Camino credentials during our orientation the eve before setting out. In hindsight, one of travel’s “shoulda woulda coulda” misses.)

Porto’s Cathedral – the “official” start of the Coastal Camino

We arrived via a three hour train trip from Lisbon early Saturday afternoon, time enough to settle into the Hotel Porto Trinidade and make our way to Rua Santa Catarina to meet up with a Taste Porto food tour, one I’d learned about from Monday Night Travels with Rick Steves. Iconic azulejos – those blue glazed ceramic tiles – of the Ingreja do Carmo shone brilliant against an azure sky and marked our rendezvous spot.

Ingreja do Carmo

Travelling solo, I often book a food tour when I land to learn about the city’s food and culture from a local perspective, become oriented, discover places to eat during my stay, and get my first meal. This four-hour, small group “walk, talk and taste,” expertly hosted by Miguel, whose joie de vivre for his adopted city and its local foods and wines, did not disappoint. From sampling one of Portugal’s most popular culinary exports – canned fish – with its signature tinto verde; to munching on savory Chaves pastries filled with ground seasoned veal; to the marinated slow-cooked pulled pork and smoked ham double layered “sandes terylene” sandwich accompanied by a red sparkling wine; sipping espresso with a square of fine dark chocolate at the art deco Cafe Guarany; and ending the feast with shredded cod fritters and “naughty” rice, we left sated with stories, fine local food and wine, and a glimpse into Porto’s rich architectural history and beauty.

Livraria Lello Bookstore

Sunday shone sunny and fresh, with the morning cool a deception for what would become a 30+ C day. Ambling towards the Douro River, we encountered a line of people waiting patiently outside building.
“Sunday brunch?” I wondered. Approaching, I realized this was the famous bookstore that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwart’s library in the Harry Potter series. Once free to the public, now the thousands that descend daily to visit are charged 5 Euro per person for the privilege, reimbursed with a minimum purchase.

Bookstore Interior, second floor

Passing more colourful tiles and street art, now early afternoon, it proved prescient to have pre-booked tickets to sit outside on the upper deck of a boat for an hour’s sailing up and down the Douro to see Porto’s six bridges. The Puente Maria Pia, attributed to Gustav Eiffel, is one of several bridges built in Portugal by Eiffel. We’ll walk across another in an early stage of the Camino.

Eiffel’s Puente Maria Pia

I’d learned about the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum from my co-editor, Karen, who with her husband and a group of fourteen others earlier in the spring had walked the Portuguese Central Camino from Lisbon. Featuring an expanse of park with installations by Ai WeiWei and a Joan Miro exhibition in the Art Deco building, meandering inside and outside the foundation’s buildings and grounds, with a delicious buffet lunch on the roof top terrace, was a perfect transition from the heat and crush of the “peopley” urban centres and sights of Lisbon and Porto. The following day, a week after having arrived in Portugal, we’d be delivered to the beach and boardwalk to begin stage one of nineteen of the Coastal Camino, where once again, wonder would be my guide and companion.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Mysteries, Yes

MYSTERIES, YES

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
 to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

– Mary Oliver –

For twenty days as I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino, I beheld mysteries “too marvelous to be understood.” Nature reminded me daily that I simply needed to be enthralled in its presence…filled with gratitude for a sunset or sunrise…the profusion of roses spilling over ancient stone walls and through fences…the myriad shades of blue in surf and sky.

And so I was. Allowing what shimmered to fill me, to sing me with joy, to laugh out loud in astonishment.

I bow.

Where Wish Becomes Possible

“And the road is plenty wide and welcoming,
speaking out to all,
This is the perfect place,
this is the right time,
this is where wish becomes possible.”

Susan Frybort, “On the Road of Great Wonder,” in Hope is a Traveler, 2015

I am home from five weeks of walking on roads – up and down the hilly tiled streets of Lisbon and Porto; the wooden boardwalks edging mile-long expanses of northern Portugal’s golden sand beaches; tarmac in urban centres and highways; quiet cobblestone village alleys; Roman roads, at least a thousand years old, rutted from cart wheels; sandy trails through eucalyptus groves. Each one the perfect place, the right time where my wish to walk my camino to Santiago de Compostela became possible.

I know many of you were eager to see and read about the unfolding of my journey. And yet I knew it best to limit my access to social media as I travelled, not wanting the work of posting, nor its distraction from my “sole (only)-sole (foot)-soul” purpose: to walk in joy and with gratitude for the beauty I would be experiencing. With the exception of daily check-ins with my husband on WhatsApp, a few emails to my parents, and three changes to my FACEBOOK cover photo, I kept true to my intention.

And as I gave thought to what and how I’d begin to “unpack” my experience, I decided to take a few weeks here to share photos with brief highlight notes of the stages. I know now, feeling so full of visceral impressions, I’m unable to discern the words of deeper meaning and resonance, the questions that stir, the wisdom to be gleaned. And I’ve decided that when those words and questions and wisdom emerge, I’ll save them for my next collection of poetry.

Beginning in Lisbon

Given I’d be in Portugal, I designed the journey to arrive in Lisbon, spend a few days acclimatizing and touring, then take the train to Porto to spend a few more days touring before starting the Camino a week later on the beach at La Bruge, north of Porto.

As my travel companion had spent time in Lisbon a few years ago, I asked her to plan our time there, my only requirement being to taste the famous Belem custard tarts and to have an evening of fado music, Portugal’s answer to the blues. The weather was terrific as we spent a day in Belem,

another in Sintra,

and our final day taking the tram to the castle with its peacocks, walking our way down through the Alfama district, and savoring a quinessential Portuguese dinner of caldo verde, bachalau and tinto verde with sericaia de elvas for dessert, to accompany that night’s fado performance.

A highlight was attending the post Covid premier of the “Lisbon Under Stars.” Originally performed in 2018, this award winning, multimedia immersive, staged within the Carmo Cathedral ruins, told the story of its origins and collapse in the 1755 earthquake.

Next up, Porto with its food tour, Harry Potter bookstore, river cruise, and day at the Serralves gallery and park.

“With each honorable step moving forward,
watching life unfold with marvel,
as beings simply being, they walk
upon this pathway of great wonder.”

Susan Frybort, “On the Road of Great Wonder,” in Hope is a Traveler, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Home Coming

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong… nothing

Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight… say goodnight

Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be

Hi yo we drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You’ve got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two

You love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh

Talking Heads: C. Frantz / T. Weymouth / D. Byrne / J. Harrison

“Home is where I want to be,” and now I am. After nearly five weeks away, realizing that 20+ year dream of walking a camino to Santiago de Compostela, I arrived home last Friday after seeing the sun travel full circle, rising in Madrid and setting in Edmonton. Two noneventful flights, albeit with significant delays, but a remarkably quick passage through Toronto, our Canadian port of entry, where within thirty minutes we had disembarked, cleared customs, walked the length of the terminal to be sitting at our gate for the final leg.

During May’s last Sunday afternoon, wafting through the open window of the guest house in Rua de Francos, Galacia, Spain – the resting spot for our “penultimate stage” to Santiago (quoting from Portugal Green Walk’s guidebook ) – I heard a woman’s beautiful voice singing this Talking Head’s classic accompanied by light acoustic strumming. Straining to hear, I rose from the bed where I’d been dozing, and pressed the voice recorder on my phone hoping to include it in the soundscapes I had been creating along the Way.

A gift of prescience, I thought, as a few years ago for my birthday, my husband created a playlist featuring this song, saying for him I’ve always had “a face with a view.” Later I dressed and went to sit in the yard, to warm myself from the chest and head cold that had walked with me the last couple of stages. There, I met Heidi from Portland, Oregon who with her “guitalele” – a slightly larger, more resonant version of a ukelele – was the source of my “homecoming gift.”

“And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time…”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

God’s Wounds

GOD’S WOUNDS

Beyond all that pain has taught
me, the soft well at the base of
time has opened, and life
touching me there
has turned me into a flower
that prays for rain. Now
I understand: to blossom
is to pray, to wilt and shed
is to pray, to turn to mulch
is to pray, to stretch in the dark
is to pray, to break surface
after great months of ice
is to pray, and to squeeze love
up the stalky center toward the
sky with only dreams of color
is to pray, and finally to unfold
again as if never before
is to be the prayer.

– Mark Nepo –

Almost three weeks away from home – the first time in over two years – and into my eleventh day of walking, I chose Mark Nepo’s poem to uplift and amplify my commitment to knowing my life as poem and prayer, and sensing I might be in need of its kind sustenance and tender reminder.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Who?

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?
Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.
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 –
(The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

On my long walk with and towards the metaphoric Shams, I anticipate days when my legs will get heavy and tired. I hope my feet remain blister free. I’ll welcome the moment(s) of feeling wings lifting me. And when I do, I’ll thank another of my guides, Rumi, and think of my friend Shawna and her wondrous latest novel, Everything Affects Everyone. I’ll whisper my gratitude to both on the winds.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

“Bom Caminho”

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along…

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler
Iceland Morning

A decade ago, I wrote a post about the Camino. Titled “Buen Camino” (the Spanish wish, above is the Portuguese), I described gathering with my friends to view “The Way,” a beautifully shot film about a bereaved father, played by Martin Sheen, trekking the Camino de Santiago, in devotion to his son who’d fallen to his death on the trail. I recalled meeting with two American hikers in Vernazza, Italy, where walking the trail high above the Ligurian coast towards Corniglia, they regaled me with their stories of having walked the Camino and shared a piece of wisdom I’ve held close and spoken forward on countless occasions. I wrote then “I know deep in my bones I’ll make that pilgrimage one day,” and so I am.

A week from today, I’ll be airborne for Lisbon, Portugal where, with a friend, I’ll settle and sightsee for a few days there and in Porto before a week later beginning my trek along the Portuguese Coastal Camino, returning home in early June. Last fall, walking my second local Camino de Edmonton, my twenty year dream of walking – one that has waxed and waned many times over many years – became re-ignited. In a more recent blog I wrote about that experience, what I had learned about myself, and how I’d need to apply it when making my dream come true:

“I learned that my way of walking is to saunter. I need to take my time to notice, to observe, to photograph, to hum a tune, sing a made-in-the-moment, soon-to-be-forgotten lyric. I enjoy conversation, and have had some delightful, edifying ones. And then what I notice – the shiny and the shimmer, the magic that suddenly catches my eye and speaks to my heart – shifts my attention.

And so, thinking more intentionally about a long distance “saunter” to Santiago, through Portugal, next year, the “easy walk” – taking several more days than the typical two week allocation – with ample time to rest and appreciate the ambiance of local villages, having my accommodations with breakfasts pre-booked, and luggage transferred, viscerally has me gasp with delight and settle my covid concerns. New impressions…the moments inside the moments…the magical stuff…the glory of life.

In response to that post, a friend told me about Portuguese Green Walks, a company specializing in designing treks through Portugal, including an “easy” coastal Camino. I loved that I’d be “living local with love,” investing in Portugal and her people, post pandemic. After several weeks corresponding with Paola, their customer service rep, despite being in our 5th Covid wave, in need of bringing the Christmas promise of joy into my life, I metaphorically struck the earth with my warrior-walker’s staff by making the 25% deposit, thus signaling to the gods and fates my commitment and requesting their support in helping me pull this through.

A customized 20 day itinerary, in contrast to the typical 12 or 14, with an average 10-12 km per stage, accommodations booked, bags portered, breakfast served, giving me ample time to take in the vistas and villages along the way. Meeting with people, savoring the food and culture, time for writing, photography, painting…walking alone and together with my friend who is “simpatico” in this way of wanting a more immersive, esthetic experience. And while I had weighed going solo, I am happy for her companionship, particularly as it will be our first time travelling internationally since the pandemic.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

In the spirit of “freeing my heart of ballast,” I won’t blog and hold only lightly the possibility of posting on social media. Not from a desire or need to get away from it all, but rather to enter more deeply into what this is – admittedly not really knowing what this is – wanting instead to give myself over to “the urgencies that deserve to claim me.”

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

What I know most of all is by taking flight next week to realize my twenty year dream, I am going to walk my Camino “because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.” – Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. I’ll be back here sometime in June.


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