Sunday, June 19, 2011

MY Camino Becomes OUR Camino

Pilgrims on El Camino frequently speak of "my camino."  As in, "I made my first camino two years ago."  Or, explaining a decision, such as taking a bus or taxi because of time or injury or just tiredness, "this is how I need to do my camino."  Or, "every one has to do their camino in their own way."

I have come to the end of MY camino.  In less than 48 hours (not that I´m counting or anything) my husband Rick will be joining me to walk the last 117 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.  So MY camino is about to become OUR camino.  I am so looking forward to sharing this amazing experience with Rick, but am also aware that the experience, while I know it will be deeply enriched by sharing it with the person I love most in the world, will likely be different in ways that I cannot immediately predict.

So I thought I would offer some thoughts at this point about what my camino has been like.

Simplicity -  Life is simple on El Camino.  Walk.  Eat.  Sleep.  Almost everyone who walks comments on the simplicity of life.  You get up.  You walk.  You eat.  You find a place to sleep.  And the next day you get up and do it again.  There are rich variations and challenages each day, of course. But at heart, the agenda is pretty much the same. Walk. Eat. Sleep. 

No complicated problems to solve.  No meetings to attend.  No checkbooks to balance or stock reports to worry about.  No home repairs.  You are detached, indeed usually unaware, of world problems.  Just Walk. Eat. Sleep. 

I know that in terms of comfort and safety, my walk is immensely easier than all those pilgrims who have preceded me on the way.  But at heart our day´s agenda is the same, the simplest imaginable.  Walk. Eat. Sleep.

Community - It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of community on El Camino.  About 3 weeks ago I found a little El Camino family.  Two Canadian sisters, Pam and Donna.  Donna´s husband Fabio.  Maureen, a Canadian born in Scotland.  Lola, a South African.  Rita, from Italy.  Except for Pam, Donna, and Fabio, we all met on El Camino. The others had been together for a while when I attached myself to them.  After 2 1/2 weeks of walking alone, I was suddenly lonely, and these lovely people welcomed me into their circle.  Because there was only Fabio with six women, we often teased him about being Mormon, with six sister wives.  He put up with all of us with terrific grace.

El Camino friendships are a little like church camp--intense but limited.  You walk together for hours a day, often eat together, sleep together--certainly you laugh together, and look after each other, commiserating over blisters and other injuries.  You share the challenges of sleeping in crowded albergues and toiling over steep climbs. 

I am deeply grateful for the time I walked alone, and I am equally grateful for the time I walked in community.  Both experiences enriched me. 

But it is not just these friendships that make up one´s community.  You find that you see the same faces day after day--in the albergues, in the restaurants, in the mercados, on the trail.  You know some of their quirks, like the French group that got up early (always by 5:30) and had no compunction about turning on the lights even if everyone else was still sleeping.  Or the Germans who were always friendly and helpful.  The college group from Michigan.  The lovely couple from Australia who always seemed to figure out the best place to stay, and at 70, could walk most of us into the ground. The Buddhist nun who walked in her brown robes, and her mysterious woman companion who was sometimes less than gracious.  The attractive French woman who, true to stereotype, always looked fabulous when the rest of us were just struggling to be clean. (Her pack was the same size as mine, but she seemed to have an endless supply of attractive outfits.)

And there were friends that I made who kept reappearing, like Anna from South Africa or Jennifer from Australia or Claire from Belgium or Sandy from Seattle.  Seeing them was always a joyful reunion.

Of all the wonderful memories I take with me from El Camino, I can imagine none more important than these dear, dear friends.

Gratitude - One of my favorite praise choruses is "Give Thanks"--Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One, Give thanks because s/he´s given Jesus Christ his/her Son.  And now let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am weak because of what the Lord has done for me...Give thanks."

I sing this almost every day, usually over and over again.  I was and am so full of thanks for this opportunity, and for the small graces that fill each day.  For the songs of birds in the morning.  For sunlight glinting through birch trees.  For the sound of rushing water.  For tumbledown Spanish villages with little cafes where I can rest and revive.  For church bells through the day.  For the taste of cold water on a hot day, and cafe con leche on a cold one. For my body which has (mostly) unfailingly carried me nearly 700 kilometers. 

Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God."  For me each days has been charged with the grandeur of God, not just in mountain vistas and gorgeous sunrises, but in the small beauties of a field of poppies, or passing through a Spanish village and seeing window after window full of flowering plants, the soft benediction of¨"Buen Camino" from a Spanish farmer toiling in his field. 

How can I not give thanks?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What were they thinking??

I've been disgracefully negligent about writing in my blog lately.  Partly it has been spotty internet access, and when there was access there was a line waiting to use it, which sort of inhibits blogging.

Part was that I have been walking with what I call my El Camino family--two Canadian sisters--Pam and Donna, Donna´s husband Fabio, another Canadia Maureen, Lola from South Africa and Rita from Italy.  Instead of having all this time on my hands from walking alone, suddenly someone was always saying, "Let´s get some sangria" or "We're going to the supermercado, do you want to come?"  Community cuts into your blogging time.

El Camino friendships are like church camp--limited but intense.  Sadly, I said good-bye this morning.  Their schedule meant they needed to hurry on, and mine meant that I needed to slow down.

I´m drawing near the end of my walk, and will soon post some serious reflections on what I´ve learned, but in the meantime, after nearly 5 weeks on El Camino, I've become a conneisseur (spelling??) of albergues and some of their oddities.

Albergues are the hostel-like lodgings especially for peregrinos.  Some are private, and are usually smaller and often a little bit nicer, also slightly more expensive.  Others are large municipal albergues.  Albergues cost between 5 & 10 euros a night, so one doesn´t expect plush, but sometimes you have to scratch your head and ask, ¨What were they thinking?"  This is especially true of the shower and toilet facilities.  Apparently the Spanish don´t go to the toilet often, because it is not unusual to find only 1 toilet per 20 or 30 or more.  The brand new beautiful albergue in Burgos had 8 showers on our floor, but only 2 toilets! (I´m guessing there were at least 80 people for those two toilets)

Other weirdness--

The scarcity of hooks, which means you have to throw your clothes over the shower door and end up putting on wet clothes.  Since you also need to have your money, passport, etc. with you at all times, it is always challenging figuring out how to keep these valuables dry.  Plus, the hooks are often WAY up high, which means shorties like me have trouble reaching them.

The unisex showers with GLASS doors in Navarette.  Nothing like exposing yourself to 20 strangers.  Almost as bad as finding out way too much about your new roommates.  These were also the showers raised about 4 inches above the bathroom floor so the water ran down all over the floor, meaning that once you had exposed yourself to the world, you risked breaking a leg.

In Ponferrada, the unisex showers were across from the men´s urinals. Really--who thought that was a good idea?

In O´Cebreiro, the women´s showers had no shower curtains.  Even worse, there was a window in the changing area with a SIDEWALK outside.

Several perfectly nice albergues had showers with lots of hooks outside the shower door.  Unfortunately, the shower door opened inward so you had to expose yourself to grab your clean clothes.

Then there was the albergue that proudly boasted showers "heated" by solar power--we were among the first to shower and there was a trickle of ice cold water at best.

On the whole, the albergues have been nicer and cleaner than I expected.  Joyce Rupp, in her book Walk in a Relaxed Manner, was quite graphic about the state of some showers, but I have found most of them to be at least acceptably clean.  Many of the hospiteleros (the people who run the albergues) are volunteers who put in long hours and care very much about what they do.  Some of the private albergues are clearly only a business, but for others it is a genuine calling.  I have been greeted graciously and kindly in almost every place.

But there are times I can´t help but shake my head and ask, "What were they thinking?"