Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Buen Camino

Remembering in anticipation

In September, we plan to walk the ancient pilgrim route known as the Camino Portuguese, from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain. In anticipation of this pilgrimage here are a few photos and memories from our last camino.

Three years ago, we walked el Camino de Santiago, 'the Way of St James'from the small French village of St Jean Pied de Port on the eastern side of the Pyrenees to Cape Finisterre on the far northwestern corner of Spain. This route (approx. 900kms) is also known as the camino Frances or French way.

For a thousand years this path has been recognised as a significant Christian pilgrim route. It was well worn in the Middle Ages, but the Black Death, Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to a dramatic decline in the number of pilgrims. By the 1980s, only a trickle of people were walking this path but all that has changed. In the past twenty years it has attracted growing numbers of pilgrims from around the globe (over 200,000 last year)

We began our pilgrimage on 16th September 2013; from the mountains to the sea, the centre to the edge, it was an exacting and wonderful journey of transition and healing. 

Here's Sarah, in the beautiful village of St Jean, kitted and ready to go.


And again, a couple of hours later, powering up the steep slopes of the Pyrenees and still smiling!! Notice the two cyclists dropping off the peloton - clearly not climbers!!


Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a climb like that. This auberge at Orrison is where we spent our first night on the camino. How's that for a view!!


The weather in the Pyrenees is renowned for being fickle and next day, true to form, the rain came and the view disappeared! 'The camino gives you what you need', they say. Sometimes we wondered if we needed everything it gave us!!


Refilling at the Fontaine de Roland, a reminder of the historical significance of this route. Roland, Charlemagne and Napoleon all crossed the Pyrenees using this path, as have hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before and since.


A little later we passed through this ancient beech forest on the descent to Roncesvalles, our first stop on the Spanish side of the border.


Thanks to 'The Way' (the movie) this has to be the most photographed sign in Spain.


One of many little bridges we crossed. There were so many crossings, large and small, a reminder that to walk from here to there is to be in transition. And, so it proved to be in the lives of all we met. 


What is the collective noun for a group of pilgrims? I favour a 'stagger'. Sarah is not the first pilgrim to lean on this sign. Walk on pilgrim, walk on!!


Olives and grapes in the region of Rioja; side by side they make a beautiful quilt-like pattern.


Approaching the village of Ciraqui. It reminded us of 'the Heavenly City' in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Notice too, our shadows, constant companions along this way. Engaging your 'shadow' is surely part of this pilgrimage caper. In his book Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane refers to walking as 'a reconnoitre inwards' and this was certainly our experience.


A particularly 'sunny' (if slightly aged) sun flower!!


Neil walking with two Irish pilgrims towards the small town of Los Arcos. Connections and conversations on the camino, though fleeting, can be very rich.


Later that day, a joyous gathering of pilgrims from many nations sharing simple food and friendship. This feast was concocted by Antonio, an Italian chef who'd run a restaurant in Malta - that's him in the black teeshirt on the left holding up a glass. Cheers to you, Antonio - buen camino!


 Stopping briefly for some podiatric repairs. A walk of this intensity exposes every weakness in your feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips. Thank goodness for Elastoplast and Ibuprofen!!


Some poignant grafitti on the wall of an underpass.


Another bridge, another small transition. Walk on pilgrim, walk on...


On the Meseta - the long high plateau midway along the camino Frances.


More rain and mud - another challenging day!!


Sarah soothing sore soles in the public fountain in Mansilla.



Standing outside the Parador Hotel in Leon. To our great surprise they let us in for a reasonable price. Definitely the most luxurious accommodation we had on the camino - it even had a bath!! You can imagine how good was to bathe aching feet and muscles.

And below. The Gaudi Palace in Astorga (not that we got to stay in this!). It looks like something out of a Disney fairytale. The Spanish have some amazing architecture.


A simple picnic along the way. We savoured these rest stops and simple feasts.


Some of our pilgrim pals - (l-r) Marianne from Denmark, Annemarie from Canada, Ken from Canada, the local shop keeper, Sarah, and Geoff from Canada. We're looking forward to walking again with Annemarie and Geoff on the Camino Portuguese.


And, here's some of the Aussies we met along the way - (l-r) Bob, Devina, Robyn, John and Rory all from Queensland.


The yellow flechas (arrows) show the way. Mostly they are just painted on the path or a tree or pole. We missed some but it would be hard to miss this one. I'm going that way!!


Cruz de Ferro - the highest point of the camino Frances. We arrived before dawn. The huge mound on which Sarah is standing consists of stones carried there and left by pilgrims, a symbol of burdens laid down over many centuries. Some of them were pretty big! It was a moving experience.


This municipal albergue in Portomarin was more typical of our accommodation. Not much space or privacy here but it was a bed and a shower and for that we were grateful. Who looks tired?


After 33 footsore days we limped exultantly into the Cathedral of St James. There is so much I could say about this experience but I'll save that for another time and place. Santiago is the stopping palace for many pilgrims but we always intended to walk on.


And then, after three more days of walking (well paddling actually) in floods and wild wind we reached Finisterra, 'the end of the earth', where I threw myself off - naked! You'll be pleased to know there is no photographic evidence of this 'baptism' (our camera died two days earlier in the torrential rain!!). We also threw the little rocks we had carried from Canberra into the Atlantic (another symbol of letting go) and then stumbled back up the headland to a little cafe where drenched, we celebrated Sarah's birthday with a spaghetti marinara!!


This shot, on Cape Finisterre, was taken during a brief clearing in the mist and rain on someone else's phone. That black pit next to us is a fireplace where pilgrims burn boots and all manner of items, a sign of having completed their pilgrimage. 

Alas, no sooner had we arrived than we realised our pilgrim days weren't done. And so, we plan to walk again, this time from Lisbon. We leave in September and we'll keep you posted ...

'To journey and be changed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.' Mark Nepo  

Buen camino!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Neil & Sarah,
    Just found this lovely post and it certainly brought back many wonderful memories. There are faces in your pictures of several people we chatted briefly with along the way. Kind of fun to see them again. I remember taking the photo of you two in Mansilla. That was such a hot day! Reading this post and beginning to look ahead is making me pretty excited for our upcoming Camino together! Annemarie and I will both return from separate trips by Father's Day and we have agreed that shortly after that we will get ourselves organized gear wise and turn our thoughts to the up-coming journey. We are very much looking forward to sharing some new experiences with you both, and of course that very cold end of day beer!! Best to you both.

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