Thursday, September 27, 2007

There are as many reasons for walking el camino

We are only 4.5kms from Santiago and can almost smell the incense wafting from the Botafumeiro! But, we have curbed our enthusiasm to rush the last day and will stay here at the huge complex of Monte do Gozo tonight. We arrived at about 12h30 but couldn't check in until 13h30 so we had a sandwich and a drink before checking in. This complex will provide a free bed for one night to 800 pilgrims (they never have that many though) and still has beds for 2000 more people at 7 euro a bed. It looks like a military barracks with rows and rows of dormitories, a cafeteria, self-service restaurant and a few shops. One of the statues is of pilgrims pointing the way to the city. This is the only spot left on the Mount of Joy where you can actually see the steeples of the cathedral. Right now we are waiting for our washing cycle to finish. It costs 3 euro for a wash (E1.80 for the powder blocks) and 2 euro for the dryer. Sharing between 4 people makes it worthwhile - especially if your accommodation is for free. After a surprisingly good sleep on Wednesday Finn really got into his stride! It was his 5th day of walking and his competitive spirit kicked in - passing poor struggling peregrinos and chalking them off as successes - 43 pilgrims so far! He even counts those who dare stop to take a photograph, looking back at us with a triumphant smile. On Wednesday we decided not to stay in Santa Irene as we arrived early and read that the albergue only opens at 2pm. So we decided to walk 4kms further on to Arca. (Joy-belle, that is where we made a meal for Elsabet and sat waiting for the albergue to open whilst the backpacks piled up to the top of the driveway). When we arrived at the albergue we saw that it was similar to the one in Melide - a huge municipal albergue with no doors on the showers and reported to be in a poor state in 2006. We decided to find a Pension instead and Finn and I left Marion and Anneliese in the line whilst we walked into the small, one road town to find rooms. Eventually, at the far end of the town, we found a beautiful place that gave us two rooms for 30 euro per room. The owner very kindly drove me back to the albergue to fetch Marion and Anneliese and we were soon checked into lovely clean rooms with a shared en suite bathroom. Only a pleasure! There was a cafe-bar downstairs (owned by the same person). We had lunch there and bought rolls, ham, cheese, tomato and lettuce to make our own supper in the sitting room provided for guests. Today's walk was mainly up steep, short inclines which somewhat curbed Finn's need to pass every backpack in front of him! Marion's shin splint has crept up her shin and she groans at every downhill while Finn moans, "Bugger me!" at every uphill. We will leave at about 8am tomorrow so that we arrive in Santiago just after 9am. Hopefully Marion Bowles will be waiting for us and will take a short video of the intrepid four walking into the Obradoiro Square up to the cathedral. I have fallen in love with the Horreos - little structures on stilts used to store corn. They are now protected and many have been restored and preserved.
Lil Parker asked the other day, "Why do you do it?
There are as many reasons for walking el camino as there are pilgrims, and over 100 000 will earn the compostela this year. Although the Santiago pilgrimage is a Christian one, many pilgrims profess to walking it for spiritual reasons rather than religious. Many say that they don't know why they walk it, that it 'called to them'. You would think that any sane person would have a really good reason to leave their comfort zone, their family, friends and home (and their country) to go and walk 800kms across a foreign land, staying in humble, shared accommodation, eating strange food and struggling with a foreign language. They do all this with a backpack containing everything they posses for a month and will continue walking with blisters, tendinitis, cellulitis, shin splints etc. It is amazing! Perhaps the common denominator for all pilgrims is their 'humanness' - we are all pilgrims journeying through this life and when millions of fellow humans follow a particular path, we feel the urge to join the stream. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was the most walked path in medieval times (even more popular than to Rome or Jerusalem) and today it has almost reached the same levels of popularity as the 14th and 15th centuries. It is said that pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and perhaps the camino is life in microcosm. One experiences joy and sadness, ups and downs, easy days, difficult days, sunshine and rain, weariness and wonder, hunger and compassion. When we reach Santiago we have learned what we are really capable of. Some pilgrims succumb to injuries, or to tiredness whilst others find it impossible to keep to their planned schedule and end up catching a bus or taxi to stay on track. Those who persevere on foot to the end will have the joy and sense of achievement that all the millions of pilgrims before them have experienced through the ages. Tomorrow we will join those pilgrims when we walk into the square and see the cathedral for the first time. Tomorrow we will feel the souls of pilgrims past through the soles of our feet. I will let you know about our time in Santiago in another post. Till then, love to all.
S A M and Finn

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:38 pm

    if you're reading this it means you've finished. Well done, all! I've been following your blog and look forward to catching up with you on the SantiagoToday forum sometime soon (ish)