Santiago de Compostela reflections

Oops….below never got completed and published. Here’s a catch up FOUR months later! Better late than never.

May 6. Approx. 11.05am. Queuing to catch the bus back to Santiago from the airport, after returning the rental car. I was the last to board the bus in one queue, when I noticed a couple at the head of the other queue. They had about 6 medium to large luggage bags. I offered the lady to help and they were appreciative. It then struck me that we often see situations around us where others might appreciate a helping hand but we are sometimes too engrossed with our own life journey, that we do not take the proactive step to extend a hand. That’s when I decided I will try my best to assist in some way, everyday, someone who I come across that might need help. This attitudinal shift changes how one views one’s fellow neighbors around us.

May 7. Approx. 10.05am. Sitting in the apartment balcony, just before walking to bus stop to catch bus to Santiago de Compostela airport.

Just sitting still, ignoring any traffic noise below. Looking up, I noticed the winds were blowing the dark clouds in one direction. And way above were white clouds that appeared to be stationary. My brain worked out the winds were at a much lower altitude. As there was a gap in the dark clouds, I could see the evolving shapes of the white clouds above then. And I saw a protuding white ‘nose’ slowly forming. Pinocchio’s nose sprung to mind, unbidded. It slowly grew longer before it dissipated.

There was a message that I gleaned from this. I had been contemplating the insights from the Camino as I was just sitting still. And the message seemed meant for me. That I should not lie to myself. That while the nearer moving dark clouds might seem to indicate that I am making progress, the further stationary clouds cautions me not to fool or delude myself.

May 9. 4.33pm. 4 hours and counting due to flight delays. Learning patience. Learning not to waste emotional energy over this. Learning how to refocus the mind.

Sept 9. Here’s something I re-read since returning from the Camino. We can sometimes fall into a ‘trap’ where our thoughts and focus is either in the ‘Past’ and/or the ‘Future’. We reminisce about the happy and joyful times in the past, be it the Camino, vacations or celebrations. Sometimes, some even continue to hanker for the times of their youth. And such memory indulgences can sometimes put ‘blinders’ on us as we obsess about re-capturing these moments in the future. Which leaves the Present a step child of our attention and energies.

One of the significant practices that I put into place was more Reflection & Contemplation time into my day. On the Camino, this came about naturally due to the several hours walk. When one comes back to everyday life, one has to intentionally carve out time. Perhaps start with 15 mins or 30 mins blocks. The benefits cannot be under-played, and eventually, one will see that such Reflection & Contemplation time creates an ‘intentionality’ to how one lives. By the way, Carpe Diem really means ‘Pluck the day’, which lends a more thoughtful and respectful tone to one’s approach, than ‘Seize the day’.

O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

May 4. Day 38. 20.6 km. Departed 0607 hours, arrived 1155 hours.

We decided to have a very early start to catch the sunrise. Not surprisingly, we came across several others starting that early. Torch lights/headlamps are needed.

The walk went through some forested areas early on. And then along paved roads and through villages and residential estates.

That’s how dark it was at 0616 hours as we reached the forested trail. The spot of light ahead was by other peregrinos who walked without any hesitation.

About 5 hours later, we lingered at Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy). There was a fenced up monument as well as views of the city. We could spot the Cathedral towers.

Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy).

As it was our last day on the Camino, personal contemplation was a priority.

We were able to make it in time for the 12pm Mass at the Iglesia de San Francisco. And confessional services too.

Facade of Iglesia San Francisco. Standing room at the back and sides of Church during the 12pm Mass.

We meet Roberto after Mass. He had arrived a day earlier and recounted his crossing paths with the same group of 76 high school kids that we came across yesterday. They were exhibiting their youthful exuberance. Roberto was on the point of fatigue as his backpack hip belt had broken at the start of his Camino in Lugo, and he had hip issues. But that exuberance motivated him to continue to be in front of this school group. He later thanked the teachers as he was initially annoyed. Strange how things worked out.

We backtracked out of the historic center to have lunch with Roberto at a pulperia that locals patronize. Great racions and riberio (wine).

After which we walked back to the Cathedral, sat in the courtyard, and visited with St James/ Santiago inside.

Us with our friends, Josephine and Richard.

A panoramic view of the Cathedral from courtyard.

There were a lot of emotions. We saw tears, hugging, shouts of recognition, taking off boots/shoes, peregrinos lying flat on their backs.

Reaching Santiago is a triumph of will power over the physical, mental and emotional challenges. But the transformation (metamorphosis) had only just begun.

Most, if not all, in the Camino forums and groups agree the Camino continues when one goes back to one’s life. Many also wonder how to retain their Camino-self.

Me thinks there are several challenges post-Camino.

1. One’s mind begins to fill up with everything that one emptied during the Camino.

2. One begins to revert to past reactions, perceptions, behaviors, etc. as these lie just under the surface.

3. One neglects to spend time alone or in contemplation.

I found that putting a ‘big and long pause’ between the triggering event and my normal reaction, helps me maintain that inner peace. And sufficient time for me to prioritize what I desire as an outcome. When words quickly fly out of my mouth, the odds are high that I will regret some words used. Keeping and nurturing the vision of my Purer Version requires discipline and spiritual assistance.

There’s more to process from this Camino. Let me close this post with some pictures from Finisterra and Muxia.

0.000km milestone marker in Finisterra. May 5.

Cabo Tourinan, Muxia. May 5.

Sunset at Cabo Tourinan.

Short video clip.

Arzua to O Pedrouzo

May 3. Day 37. 19km. Departed 0745 hours, arrived 1310 hours.

The numbers of peregrinos on the walk today is several multiples higher than previously experienced. We ran into a high school group of 76 students with 6 teachers. We were pleasantly reminded of the exuberance of youth (where did those days go?). I got to chatting with one of the students too. They were walking the Camino to Santiago, from Sarria.

Today’s route was quite pleasant, especially through the forested trails. There were several inclines that got our hearts pumping, which I am sure, some will relish/enjoy.

Eucalyptus trees were introduced into Spain from Australia in 1865 with the intent for use in construction. If you see the picture, on the surface, this tree appears ideal, with tall tree trunks and minimal branches. Unfortunately it was unsuitable for such use, drives out local species and consumes lots of water.

Tranquil forested trail. Consider that some of these trees took 20-30 years or more to grow to the size and height that make up these forested trails. Who are those in our lives with those years who we should treasure more?

Morning sun beaming into forest – 1.

Morning sun beaming into forest – 2.

On our penultimate day, what has been our Camino experience? Our Camino experience unfolded over three stages.

1. Emptying Out & Pouring In of Inner Peace.

Solitude. Quiet. Stillness. Serenity. Calmness.

Being dis-connected for many hours every day for weeks has a therapeutic effect on one’s mind and soul. The world has continued on without skipping a beat. Our minds are slowly but surely being drained of worldly concerns and issues that we have no control over. Using social media to update others of our journey kept ‘social media’ in its proper servant place. These and the same daily routine, help create an emptying out of our thoughts, of our hearts from trivial and superficial concerns. We become more detached from the external during the Camino (some peregrinos go to the extent of not bringing a smartphone).

We begin to focus inwards. On our lives, our hurts, our pains, our joys. We slowly see our own imperfections and warts. We slowly see the hurts and pains don’t really matter. We learn to forgive ourselves and accept who and where we are. And we forgive others, even from decades-old events that we no longer recall with any clarity (or certainty). There is a un-burdening. An un-winding. There is a lightness. And slowly but surely, Inner Peace flows in.

Inner Peace of the mind as we let go of the past. Only the present and future matters henceforth.

Inner Peace of the heart as we let go of expectations of others and how they should respond. Only how we want to feel and act now and in the future matters henceforth.

2. Relationships, relationships, relationships.

As Inner Peace reigns, we come to realize that relationships is the crux and heart of our lives.

Relationship with our own selves. Being our own best friends. Knowing how to be a Purer Version (or Best Version).

Relationship with our loved ones. Choosing to express love vs satisfying our Ego. Tilting the scales of our focus, efforts and time to the former at the expense of the latter. Both of us struggle with the Ego, as we perceive that we are not being listened to with full attention, with empathy, and so on. This will be a work in progress until we learn to fully let go and accept without any expectations or perceptions. Expectations/perceptions is what potentially hurts the inter-personal exchanges

Relationship with our God. For us, this ultimately is the bedrock that all other relationships rest and build upon. We discuss the Spiritual within the Secular and our faith has been mutually strengthened.

3. Life with Meaning

In my first Camino, I desired to discern the purpose of my life from God. In this Camino, I have started to get glimpses and insights. I use the label, the meaning of life. It’s no longer checking off a bucket list that will satisfy my soul. The right purpose gives meaning to one’s life. It’s right when it resonates deep inside.

Thus, we begin. Living purposefully. The days of unconscious drifting is a luxury we cannot afford as the prime years of our lives are trickling away like the sand in an hour glass.

Tomorrow as we walk, we will figure out how to stay on course.

Melide to Arzua

May 2. Day 36. 14.5 km. Departed 0730 hours, arrived at 1315 hours (after a one hour lunch stop).

Here are some pictures of Melide from yesterday evening when we walked up to a scenic viewpoint.

In the distance is the Iglesia de Santci Spiritus. One will see its bell tower as one walks into the town.

Part of Melide. Following two pictures taken from the grounds of Iglesia del Carmen, west end of town.

The upper part of the main altar of Iglesia de Santci Spiritus depicts the Assumption of the Virgin contemplated by the 12 Apostles in a composition that gives a sense of upward movement.

A shorter walk today due to some steep uphill stretches (latter emphasized by Roberto, our Camino Spaniard).

There was no fog, and getting out of Melide into the countryside was relatively short. We definitely came across more peregrinos since the Frances route converges with Primitivo (Joon made an excellent point that the Primitivo was the original route into Santiago). Thus, Frances converges ‘into’ Primitivo.

As we walked out of Melide, we came across this which we had seen on our Camino Portuges.

It’s set up and fed by a river. All four sides have sloping ledges. In the center is where the body of water pools. What do you think this was used for? Answer later.

A great forested section of today’s walk.

As you exit Boente, you will pass the Iglesia de Santiago de Boente on the right. Given the Camino is because of St James, and a sello is available, it’s worth dropping in.

Much further away, we opted for the alternate non-road route, and were treated to amazing views.

The trees and skies were a real treat.

Remember the uphill sections mentioned earlier? That’s how one gets amazing views like this!

Puente Ribadiso over the Iso River. Pilgrims, punning on it, called it Puente Paradiso (Paradise Bridge). A bridge has spanned here since 572!

Anticipating the last uphill challenge, we were swayed by this persuasive poster. And had lunch before reaching our destination (atypical for us).

Rather than opting for any set menu, given there were 4 of us, we decided on ala carte. We had pulpo, calamari, padron peppers and spaghetti. This approach worked out very well.

This final uphill stretch was ‘played up’ by Roberto. It was very manageable and easier than yesterday’s uphill. And that picture was a communal lsundry washing structure!

We are not relationship counsellors. But we do know that one important aspect of our Camino is to strengthen our bonds of love. So, I created a special memory event for Joon in the Mesetas. Walking together, walking separately but within sight, is our Camino approach. Talking about stuff that we normally don’t, expands our togetherness. Expressing feelings and love more openly is a joy. Praying together is our offering.

Two days to Santiago. Buen Camino.

Post Script: We are lodging at Apartmentos Arzua with our friends. We are using only two of the four bedrooms. There is a well equipped kitchen with washing machine and a comfortable furnished living room. It’s costing us Euro 70. A fantastic deal. Especially since we were able to make our own dinner.

Ferreira to Melide*

May 1. Day 35. 21km. Departed 0805 hours, arrived 1400 hours.

The foggy morning returned which really made the walk easier. There was greater visibility than yesterday’s fog.

The walk was mainly countryside, a mix of trails and country roads. More animal farms.

One aspect of the Camino Primitivo is that there are less ‘established’ outlets serving peregrinos and hamlets are further apart. The plus is one doesn’t get distracted by cafes/villages, there are longer stretches of ‘solitude walking’. The minus is that the pricing of meals and non-albergue lodgings is like bigger towns. Thus, our lodging in Melide is cheaper and better furnished than in Ferreira.

The shorter distance today allowed us to walk a leisurely pace, and absorb the countryside. There were uphill and downhill sections but less onerous.

As we were leaving Ferreira, we came across this cascading stream. Having a stream, a river run nearby does add so much to the character and ambience.

A river further along the trails.

Can you spot the wind turbines? Nope, there was no rain, but at one stage, we could feel and see mist droplets falling.

Four friends enjoying their walk.

The views across the valley later in the morning as the sun came out.

How today’s trails entered this hamlet. That high wooden structure is called horreos, and was used to store grain.

The branches of this tree seemed so symmetrical.

There is a cumulative effect of walking the Camino for more than 30 days. One sees the wonders and beauty of the world around us with new eyes. One hears the voice within us. The inner peace returns, our hearts begin to sing. One begins to get to know one’s true self. The Purer Version.

Post Script:

We chatted with Roberto, a Spaniard at breakfast this morning. He recommended pulpo in Melide. In addition, the beef in this northern part of Spain was more flavorful. I must admit we have seen more cattle (and their droppings) in this section of our Camino!

Lugo to Ferreira

Apr 30. Day 34. 27.1km. Departed 0725 hours, arrived 1450 hours.

Yesterday, Apr 29 we took the train to Lugo, a short 27 mins ride. It was a rest day. We met our friends from Singapore, Josephine and Richard, who will walk with us from Lugo to Santiago, the Camino Primitivo. We wanted to avoid the crowds who start from Sarria. We later found out that the Primitivo converges with the Frances routes after the second day, at Melide.

There were about 16 of us on the Primitivo this morning! Obviously, there are the late starters as there were several unclaimed bags at our lodging when we checked in at 4pm (after stopping for a longish lunch).

This morning was foggy until close to 1130 hours! That made for a cooler walk which helped a lot. But we used our headlamps to flash our presence as most of the walking was on roads.

The fog that descended this morning seemed such an appropriate reminder with respect to maintaining peace of mind and heart. We have to jealously guard the tranquility we had secured.

Leaving at 0725 hours from Lugo.

A bridge as we left Lugo.

That’s how far down one can see in this fog. And why we used our flashing headlamps to alert vehicle drivers.

The fog persisted for close to 4 hours.

One of the best parts of today’s walk, through this forested trail

The owner had set up this rest stop for Camino peregrinos. It’s the best set up. It had a vending machine, a microwave if you needed to warm up a dish, another sitting area (not in picture) and a modern wheel chair accessible toilet!! I really hope peregrinos support him/her!

The sun started shining down at about 1145 hours. Here’s some vapor trails that reminded us of the scallop shell.

The last 4-5 km had several uphill and downhill sections. We felt different stresses – shin, calves, ball of feet, etc.

We had a great lunch at the only cafeteria to serve lunch in Ferreira. Because we covered quite a bit of distance today, the next 4 stages/days will be less taxing.

We decided to skip dinner given the late and heavy lunch.

Triacastela to Sarria

Apr 28. Day 32. 18 km (but felt like 24 km, due to non-protein breakfast!). Departed 0813 hours, arrived 1323 hours.

We opted for the shorter route as we left Triacastela. It was mainly country lanes passing villages and hamlets. There were less than 5 vehicles that passed us the entire morning (though today is a Sunday).

After so many uphill sections the past week, today’s still managed to challenge us. The muddy stretches were much shorter and less muddy. The landscape was more farm country as we passed several farms. Cows were a more common sight.

There was no rain at all, but we were treated to clouds hovering over the valleys and villages.

When one comes upon a particular scenic stretch, everyone will stop to admire (and take some pictures). We did too. The question arises when one starts walking from that brief stop – Does one resume one’s normal pace or does one slow down one’s pace? We can intellectualize about the Journey vs the Destination, but our habitual instincts/muscles will take over unless we are fully aware of the moment.

Today’s morning sun was a golden yellow.

Shadows of trees from the opposite hill cast down on their counterparts.

View of the cloud covering the valleys and villages/hamlets below.

As we entered these hamlets, the cloud was still persisting at 11am.

Picnic spot for an English tea?

This enterprising local had set up a rest stop for peregrinos.

Below sign caught our attention from the trail path, which led us to entrance of rest stop – Allow things to happen and you’ll start happening too.

A forested trail.

A tree that could feature in a children’s story book!

Sharing the trails with cows, which are being shepherded by a tractor!

A cow licking a dog! How did this affectionate behavior even begin?

And as we arrived in the outskirts of Sarria, we spotted this.

Love is blind.

Tomorrow is a rest day as we travel by train to Lugo to meet friends to begin the Camino Primitivo.