Thursday, August 18, 2011

Belated Spain Post

Another 5 days of walking and a few dozen amazing churches later. My last entry captured a good sense of the daily rhythm of our journey. It was somewhat amazing how the days just slipped from one into another. Occasionally there was some boredom in the afternoons after we had arrived and found our place for the night. Similarly we'd sometimes be counting the minutes between kilometer markers. But for the most part it was a nice change of pace from our normal lives. Wow! A vacation.

We chose not to speed up our itinerary and do a more challenging walk all the way to the sea - it wasn't on our original agenda but when we heard about it and realized it was doable, we briefly considered it. Instead, we chopped one day into two and got to indulge at the end with a couple of days in the amazing city of Santiago de Compostela.

The low-down on this millennium old walk is that Saint James (supposedly the # 2 or 3 disciple depending on who you are talking to) is buried here. There are many legends and questionable histories but the pilgrimages began as a desire to see these holy relics and the magnificent church that was inspired by said bones. Even back in the day (11 th century), people walked for different reasons - even then some of it was just tourism - albeit much harder. The church that has been constructed over the centuries is magnificent (although I think I still prefer Leon - especially after seeing it one last time with its phenomenal stain glass glowing in the afternoon light) as is the city which hosts a plethora of palaces and churches all worth as much time as one can stand looking at ancient workmanship.

As a side-note, I've been fully Catholicized. Multiple masses were incurred over the last few days of our journey including two-in-one-day in Santiago - the second one was kind of a mistake - we went to hear the nuns sing at Vespers and it turned into a Mass that we were too embarrassed to leave (only 10 of us in the church!). I hope my Catholic friends (and the pope) will forgive me this indulgence - I've been informed that I'm not supposed to take communion unless I've first confessed and also a member of the Catholic church. We Protestants are such trouble makers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

100 Km Check-in

Many miles since I last wrote. El Camino de Campostela de Santiago aka Camino Frances - the first name because it is the path to Santiago and the second because Saint Frances was one of its most famous walkers* - has been a real treat.
Most of the pilgrims, or peregrinos, are up at dawn to try to walk the 12 to 20 miles they need before the heat of the day. We have been spared the heat, which has been a blessing given some of our late starts, extended meals, and long detours into churches and other historic places. Most afternoons we roll into whatever town we call home for the night at around 5 - we hope to get better about the hour of our arrival during the second part of our trip. An inn, Albergue, or even private home may be where we lay our head depending on what's available. As we draw closer, especially the last 100K (we started just over 200), the competition for beds has become greater.
This has traditionally been a spiritual and mostly Catholic path. Today it is a strange mix of hikers, tourists, travelers, and seekers. We've met our share of all of them - we are trying to be a little more attuned to the historical nature of the camino and trying to do a certain amount of spiritual seeking, but are certainly have our own elements of turista in us.
I have loved the hiking - although today and yesterday were tough - blisters and a bad back are a constant worry. I think my two highlights of the trail have been the vistas on our second day of hiking - more sweet because we took a less travelled path - and the Cathedral in Leon, on the Camino but not actually part of our hike as we flew into Leon but then hopped a bus down to Ponferrada as a starting point. I have seen many of the great churches in Europe and Leon's Cathedral may be the most beautiful - not sure why but it certainly made an impression. Sadly, one of the hikers I met on the trail said she didn't even go in it.
I wonder if many of these travellers are turned off by the religious aspect of the trail or if they are simply not tuned in. I have a certain amount of contempt for the checkered history of the Catholic church but its monuments and certainly many of its key figures, Jesus, Saint Frances, Mother Theresa, seem to deserve at least a nod of appreciation here and there. I feel some of my compatriots on the Camino are missing out.

Sat morning update: in wonderful cafe as rain pours outside. Will likely have to go out in it eventually. Janine and I were talking this morning and realizing that those who have been walking for four weeks and 600km are likely motivated by very different things at this point - ie get the miles in and find a bed for the night - the prize is in sight.

*UPDATE ON THIS ERRONEOUS INFORMATION: Yes Saint Francis walked this trail but it's called Camino FrancEs because it is the FRENCH way, there's also a Northern Way along the coast plus another 5 or so other Caminos with their own names that all lead to Santiago.