Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Final Destination: The Cathedral of St James (Santiago) (7/8/2016)

For those of you who don't have Facebook, I post this video for you to see.

This is what Rachel posted on Facebook: Today we officially ended our Camino by attending a Pilgrim's Mass at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela with over 1000 of our closest pilgrim (and tourist) friends. There are no words to express how cool this was to finally see in person. The last stamps have been given, the boots have been put away, the last "Buen Camino" has been said, and the sense pot has swung. What an adventure! 

We got to the cathedral very early and chose our seats (around 10:30 for a noon service). It wasn't until the incense pot was swinging that we realized how excellent our choice was! 

We knew that the Botafumeira (incense pot) is not used at every mass, and I had jokingly said I wasn't leaving until I got to see it. We knew that for sure it would be used at the Friday, 7:30 p.m. mass. And we had heard that, for a donation, it is used at other pilgrim masses. Pilgrims had told us that school trips generally included the cost of the botafumeira in their trip costs to ensure it would be used. So, chances were good that we would see it. We decided that we would attend the Friday noon mass, and if we didn't get to see the botafumeira at that service, we would go back to the evening mass.

For those of you who are not familiar with the liturgical tradition of using incense, I will attempt to explain in layman's terms. (And Eric will tell me if I've screwed it up enough to post a revision. :)

The incense (often frankincense) is placed on hot coals in the pot to create smoke. The incense rising is a symbol of our prayers ascending to heaven.

In medieval times, when pilgrims actually slept on the 2nd floor of the cathedral, the incense was used to fumigate the smelly pilgrims. :)

Here's the video she took:

In the movie "The Way", this was one of the most moving and powerful moments. And it was one of the many things we were looking forward to. Some of these things--the beginning of our journey through the woods, the Alto de Perdon (where the iron sculpture was)--met my expectations. Others--like the Cruz de Ferro (the cross where you drop your rocks)--didn't.

Experiencing the botafumeiro was the highlight of the Camino and a most powerful end to our adventure! It was more moving and awesome than the movie conveys. I didn't have a camera in my hand, so I could just watch, listen, experience. And I am so glad Rachel and Eric were filming. You will see that at some points, Rachel loses the swinging pot. That's because you have to experience the moment not through a lens and so you are tracking with your eyes and not with the camera.

I think you can see in the video, this was a full service. Pilgrim masses are daily at noon and 7:30, with 800-1000 people in attendance. We suspect there were over 1000 people with us. All pews were full and people were standing in the aisles.

We saw a report that there were 40,000 people who completed their Camino in the month of June, just to give you an idea of how many people were on the journey with us.

I'm headed back to Green Bay in a few days!

Buen Camino, Y'all!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Final Walk (7/3/2016)

Today's walk was gorgeous, peaceful (for the most part...not a lot of traffic), bittersweet and exciting.

We started with a cool morning.

Peaceful Trails.
Sometimes haunting trails.
And another church near the airport.

Past an old church where we stopped nearby for coffee.

Up a high hill over looking the city to a set of statues pointing the way.
Down into the city of Santiago.
Where we crossed the WORST bridge of our journey!

It felt like we trudged FOREVER through the city, finally arriving at the Cathedral!
Next, we head to Finisterre (Fisterre) to view the coast.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Final Stage Remains (7/02/2016)

So, our walking is almost over, even though our time in Europe isn’t. Tomorrow we will walk the final leg of our journey into Santiago. We will then journey on to Finisterre and come back to Santiago at the end of next week to “officially” complete the Camino. I will then travel back home, while Eric and Rachel continue with travels in Europe since Eric is still on Sabbatical, and Rachel is still enjoying her final summer college break.

As we prepare for our walk into Santiago tomorrow, here are some top 10s that I hope to remember. (That means I have to put them in writing somewhere, or they will leave my brain…)

10 Things I’ll Miss About the Camino
  1. I have only one thing to do each day—walk.
  2. Slowing down: It has been awesome to not go at a break-neck pace and just walk, and think, and spend time with people I love.
  3. Time spent outside: I don’t know when I have ever spent so much time outdoors. And we have been so blessed with temperate weather. Cool mornings, some cloudy days, lots of sun—but not extreme heat, almost no rain.
  4. Not having to think about wardrobe much/limited options: Basically, I have about 3 outfit options in my backpack and two pairs of shoes—boots or flip flops.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
  5. Meeting new people: On the Camino, it has been easy to start a conversation with a simple greeting. You can start a conversation from one table to another at a restaurant, cafe, or hostel. Just jump in!
  6. People who really enjoy their jobs: We have mostly met people who really seem to enjoy their jobs. They smile, greet us enthusiastically, offer help. It really makes it apparent when we’ve run across someone who isn’t enjoying what they are doing. It makes me glad that I really, really love the work I do!
  7. Expending enough calories to eat what I want: Hours of walking each day justifies that ice cream! (Which, sadly, won’t be the case when I get home!)
  8. Greeting people with Buen Camino as we pass: Again, it’s a conversation starter, an encouraging phrase, and a door opener.
  9. Greeting people we've met on our journey/opportunities to reconnect: It’s fun to cross paths on numerous occasions.
  10. Cafe con leche for 1.30 and napolitano chocolate for breakfast: What can I say— Roughly $1.50 for a cafe con leech?!? What’s better than that? Well, a breakfast danish/donut/crescent sort of thing filled with chocolate! That’s what!

10 Things I Won’t Miss After The Camino
  1. European plumbing/toilets: We’ve encountered all sorts—some that won’t shut off; some that smell funny (not haha funny!); some without proper sanitary items…like tp; some without toilet seats
  2. Waking up different places: This is particularly concerning in the middle of the night when you need to find the bathroom
  3. Living out of baggies: One & Two Gallon baggies are great for packing…for a week of camp! But they can get a little tiresome after 6 weeks. Every day, open the backpack, pull out all the baggies, use what you need. Next morning, get all the air out of each baggy, load it into said backpack, head out the door.
  4. Barnyard smells: Yep, love the great outdoors…but there are a variety of inevitable farming smells that are just NOT wonderful. Silage, rotting things, dead things, animal waste. (Did I mention that you can do the Camino on horseback and that there were cows blocking our way one day and fields of sheep?)
  5. Washing clothes in the shower/hanging them out to dry: When you basically have 3 outfits, you walk about 10 miles a day and the weather is warm, laundry is a necessity. I’ve never washed so much, yet felt so dirty. :) And, you feel a little red-neck hanging your laundry out the window…of a hotel or hostel…on the main plaza of town. But, what are you gonna do?
  6. Strange foods and strange ingredients in common foods: Refer to earlier blogposts and Facebook posts for examples… :)
  7. Street noise at night: Lots of rooms in Europe don’t have A/C, which is fine because the weather has been cool at night, so we love having the windows open. But, Spain still has siesta…and apparently they know how to enjoy life…well into the night. And streets are narrow, with no yards, and buildings are several floors high. That means noise carries…right into our open windows….
  8. Trying to remember where we did what: 30 days of pilgrimage means you wake up in a different place almost every day. And everything blends together. You can’t remember where things happen, which village you left this morning, which one you are walking to right now. It’s like early onset senility.
  9. Trying to communicate in another language: We were so blessed to have people who were very patient with us when we had trouble communicating. And Rachel was a huge help. But, it is exhausting to try to communicate in a foreign language.
  10. Bus/taxi travel: The days when we had to take a bus (or ended up needing a taxi) were more difficult and stressful than days that we walked. Mostly it was a communication thing—how much does it cost? Are we on the right bus? Why is it late? Is it coming? Will there be room for us? Stressful!

10 Things I Look Forward To At Home
  1. Cooking our own food: Out to eat is lovely; not having to decide what to make, not having to clean up. But I’m ready to have my favorite foods done the way we like them and at the time we want to eat.
  2. Sleeping in my own bed: No explanation needed, right?
  3. Laundry in a washing machine: See Not Missing #5 above.
  4. Clothing choices: LOL! See Things I’ll Miss #4 above. While I love not having to think about my wardrobe, I’ve also missed clothing choices.
  5. Getting back into a routine: I miss work! I miss feeling productive, a sense of accomplishment, contributing to the world.
  6. Pets: I’ve missed the excitement of the pets when we come home, and the comfort of pets in my bed.
  7. Being in a quiet neighborhood: See #7 above.
  8. Trying to make some of the new foods we found: We’ve discovered new foods, like tortilla patata, and all sorts of ways to use tuna—who knew!
  9. Looking back/sharing memories of the camino: I realize the Camino is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I look forward to sharing (hopefully, not oversharing) and looking back on this wonderful opportunity and the challenges it presented.
  10. Figuring out more lessons from the Camino: The Camino has given me the opportunity to look at life from a slightly different perspective. I suspect that as the Camino becomes a distant memory, there will still be life lessons that we will learn from this time.
Buen Camino, My Friends!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Slowing Down (6/30/2016)

The last few days have been AWESOME! We took several rest days to get blister free, we slowed our pace, and life is good!

At a little chapel we went off the trail to visit.
I wouldn’t trade those early, hard days on the Camino because we learned a lot, we saw a lot, we met a lot of interesting folks, and we were forced to go off of plan. (Now, Rachel would probably happily trade those days—they were REALLY hard on her.)

But, we are now in the sweet spot. We can see the end is nearing. AND, we’ve been forced to slow down and soak it in instead of racing to the end.

Since we left Sarria (the starting point for a lot of people on the Camino), we’ve overheard a lot of conversations about how many kilometers people are doing each day in order to make it to Santiago by their deadline. Many are walking 18-20+ miles in a day to keep the pace they need. And, we mentally cheer them on and shake our heads. If there’s one thing we’ve learned on our journey, it’s that everyone is on the OWN journey. You do you…

But I am thankful that we’ve had the bumps along the road that have slowed us down. I know it is in my nature to want to race ahead, especially when the finish line is close. However, over the last 4 days, we have had so much more joy in the journey because we have slowed down.

If we were following our guidebook (see Eric’s post today about our guidebook), we would have traveled from Sarria to Santiago in five stages. We would walk as much as 16 miles in a day. Now, we could do that. But we’ve realized that going at that pace leaves us little time for enjoyment. We would get up and be walking by around 6:30, and we would walk until mid-afternoon, probably stopping 3-4 times along the way for meals, snacks, drinks, and recharging our legs. But, by the time we would get into the village, wash out our clothes, and clean up, we would be too stiff and tired to enjoy much. We would barely make it past dinner time. Into bed by around 9, and back up to do it all again the next day.

Time to enjoy the flowers along the way.
The joy of slowing down has been an overall calm to the day. We can start later; we can walk slower. We get into town between noon and 1, giving us time for a lovely, late lunch. And we can sit outside and visit with some of the people around us. Dinner isn’t rushed because we aren’t exhausted. And we aren’t in a hurry to get to bed.

And the biggest blessing of all—we aren’t tearing our feet up. No blisters; no burning feet walking the last 3-5 miles; no cramps and serious stiffness when we get up from a chair and start walking.

So, we are now 3 walking days from Santiago, which we will pass through on our way to Finisterre. We will rest for a few days in Finisterre (and see the end of the known world during the Middle Ages) and then journey back for our final leg in Santiago. We understand that the HUGE thurible always swings at the Pilgrims Mass on Friday, so our goal is to be there on Friday, July 8.

We are indeed blessed!

Buen Camino, Y'all!

Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Never What You Think (6/27/2016)

Part of our walk path from Sarria to Portomarin.
Today wasn’t what I imagined it would be at all. Well…for the most part.

I was worried about the commercialization of the Camino and feeling sorry for the people who didn’t start until Sarria because I didn’t think they would experience the same types of things we experienced when we started in Roncesvalles. Shouldn’t have worried…

I was right about one thing: there were definitely more people on the Camino today. Lots of what I believe were high school aged kids were on the road today. And the energy was good. There was excitement in the air that I hadn’t felt since our first day in Roncesvalles. People were excited to be on the journey…and it was contagious.

Because I had looked at the map and I had seen quite a few villages along the route, I assumed (yeah, you aren’t supposed to do that…) that it would be a more densely populated area. 

And I feared commercialization. LOL! Most of our journey today was on farm paths, complete with cows blocking our way and LOTS of farm smells on one section of the journey.

Steep descent!
And, as we made our way into Portomarin, there was this downward descent that was STEEP and it was made of rock. At one time, it might have been stairs, but I don’t think so. (Eric's quick turn around picture doesn't do it justice.) We were single file, using our walking sticks. And for Rachel and me, there were some pretty steep steps. This led down the hill into an opening that became the street into Portomarin.

Today was also the day of the dreaded bridge. Eric has been aware of this bridge since we first decided to do the Camino. He’s walked across every other bridge we’ve needed to cross—not without dread, but with a great deal of courage. But, this one, he couldn’t do. There were low rails on the street side, and a narrow walk path that wasn’t wide enough for two people. Oh…and it’s LONG, and reports said that the wind would often gust across the bridge. It was gorgeous, but we had to have a work-around for Eric. That story will probably be in his blog…

The dreaded Portomarin bridge.

It was a good walking day, and we look forward to tomorrow!

Buen Camino!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Last 100 Kilometers (6/25/2016)

For the past couple of days, we’ve rested and visited the city of Lugo, Spain, that is not along the Camino Frances. We did this because we felt like Rachel’s feet needed a rest, and so we needed to bus ahead. In order to get to Sarria, we had to take a bus to Lugo and transfer to Sarria. Once we looked at Lugo online, we decided it could be a fun place to spend a couple of days, so we did.

Walking the road on the old Roman wall in Lugo.

Now we are set to begin the final legs into Santiago, and I’m beginning to sense a lot of dichotomies. I feel the urge within me to race to the end. I can feel a “let’s get this done!” energy. BUT…because of the feet issues, we are actually stretching out these next several days.

In order to receive the certificate of completion (compostela), one must walk at least 100 km. So, people who have limited time, often start in Sarria. And, if we follow the suggestions of our Camino guidebook, we could finish this up in 5 walking days. But, we would be walking between 13-16 miles each day. And our past experience suggests that we don’t do well walking those distances.

So, my mind is gearing up to “Go, go go!” and our schedule is going “Slow, slow, slow!” We have scheduled shorter distances for the longer walking days. What could have taken us 5 days will now take us 7.

I liked the "Paso Peons" sign.

We’ve walked along very rural regions, along country paths, with limited road walking. And, we’ve had days where it didn’t feel like there were very many people on the road. It’s an illusion, of course. It’s actually amazing to sit someplace and watch the pilgrims pass by. Or to ride a bus and be able to see all the folks on the road.

But, now that we are in Sarria, we know the number of pilgrims will increase dramatically.

We’ve walked in lots of rural, rustic settings. Now we will find out how “commercialized” these last 100 km really will be. We’ve been so pleased with the lack of commercialism so far. In fact, there are days when I have wondered why someone couldn’t put up a lemonade stand on the long stretches in the middle of nowhere.

So here we are:
  • ready to be done, but slowing down
  • going from the relative calm of the trail, to the last 100 km of “busy”
  • going from quiet, contemplative trails, to what we expect to be crowded paths

And, I wonder, what will God show us on this leg of the journey? And what will we find in Santiago? And, finally, at Finisterre?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Communal Camino Lesson 2 (6/23/2016)

Yesterday, I came across a lady that we have talked with several times along the Camino. She is an older lady from South Africa—and that’s what I call her—South Africa. (And she calls us “Wisconsin.”) We’ve ended up staying in several of the same hotels as we’ve journeyed. And we’ve cheered each other on as we pass each other on the walks.

Yesterday when we met, she and I were talking about taking a bus out of Ponferrada, and I told her that Eric and I had just come from buying bus tickets and I told her how to get there. She said, “You’re my angel of the Camino today!” And we talked about how every day, we seem to have angels along the way. These are the people who offer words of encouragement, cheer us on, affirm the path we are taking, share insights, or help us translate.

The Camino is full of angels. But, I think that might be because we are all challenged on the Camino. It would be TOUGH to do the Camino on your own. And I don’t really think any of us were designed to do something like the Camino strictly on our own. We may have moments of solitude, but it is a communal journey.

Communal Life :)

On the Camino, we are so out of our element. Most of us have never been here before. Many of us don’t speak Spanish. And, because we walk (well, mostly…), we are moving slow enough to take the time to talk with each other. We move slow enough to recognize each other at a cafe or rest place somewhere down the road. And, we aren’t embarrassed when we don’t know names—we assign names like “Team Wisconsin,” “South Africa” and “Belgium,” and we greet each other in that manner. We check in with one another and see how the day has gone. We talk about where we are headed next and how we are getting there.

And, because the Camino can be brutal, almost all of us have stories to tell of blisters, hip & knee pain or other walking-related maladies. We can commiserate and offer advice.

But back to the idea that the Camino is a communal journey…Isn’t that true of our daily lives too? God didn’t create us to do things on our own. He created us in community, to do life in community. We need God and we need each other. On the Camino, it’s easy to go slow and notice each other. But how do we do that on a daily basis? How can we be angels to the people around us? I guess that’s one of the things I’ll be working on when I get back home…

Buen Camino!