Spring Camino 2014: A Tale Of Two Caminos

IMAG1117-2I met Dan McCarthy when I was walking the Camino Francais from the Spanish border with Spain to Santiago De Compostela in October 2012.  Dan was back in 2013 and guested the Spring Camino blogs here in 2013.   He has just returned from his most recent walk this time on the Camino Portugese walking from Lisbon north through Portugal to eventually cross the border with Spain and walk into Galicia to Santiago.  Dan’s yearly commitment astounds and humbles me, not least because he will be 80 this year.  He has given me kind persmission to publish his reflections on the differences of these two caminos.  Dan offers “A Camino is in a way a life time in miniature.  It does not lend itself to facile analysis. But here is my effort.

“In my beginning is my end” says TS Eliot in East Coker, one of his Four Quartets. I happened to be reading East Coker for a discussion group in which I participate and have found several passages which seem to help me to articulate my thoughts about this Camino. I hope TS will forgive me if I totally distort the meaning of his great poetry in bending it to make some sense of my experience.

A first impression of a major difference in the two Caminos, the Camino Francais which I have walked eight times, and the Camino Portuguese is the difference in their beginnings. And I believe that difference colored the whole experience for me.

The first day or two of the Camino Francais is a 15 mile climb up the northern slope of the Pyrenees to the Monastery of Roncesvalles which commemorates the setting of the eighth century battle of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army which is enshrined in the Song of Roland, an epic poem of the French language. The monastery has been a refuge for pilgrims for close to a thousand years. One of the high points of the stop for me is the Pilgrim Mass at 6PM when the celebrant announces the places around the world from which the pilgrims who arrived that day have come. After Mass The celebrant blesses pilgrims in their native language and then in a darkened Chapel we all sing in Gregorian Chant the Salve Regina.

For the next couple of days pilgrims negotiate a rather steep incline, struggling in places and stopping at a couple of lovely small towns, to arrive at the magnificent walled city of Pamplona.  The pilgrim hostel in Pamplona is across the street from the Cathedral where on Sunday you can attend a Mass sung in Gregorian chant. Leaving Pamplona and arriving in Puente La Reina I stay at a monastery of the Padres Reparadores and attend Mass in the 12th Century church of Santiago.

Two characteristics summarize “my beginning” in the Camino Francais, the spectacular natural beauty of the climb up and down the mountains and the availability of a nourishing liturgical life. In fact I had not reflected on this latter blessing until I thought of the contrast with the Portuguese Camino. Another characteristic of the Camino Francais I should mention is the presence of other pilgrims along the way.  In the early years of my walking usually just a scattered few up ahead or behind, now many more some times too many.  For me all of this creates the aura of THE CAMINO that is palpable.  I have said in the past I experience the Camino as a country 10 yards wide and 500 miles long winding country  across northern Spain. It becomes my land, a place where I feel at home. Much of the Camino Francais is not actually so rich in Liturgical experiences. Churches are often not open and the surroundings are not always so uplifting. But that beginning sense of being at home endures. And the company of other pilgrims who seem to share that same sense of belonging is constant.

I am now entering risky territory, a comparison about which I have some strong feelings.  Comparisons are odious. If you are thinking of doing the Camino Portuguese please consult other impressions to form a more objective opinion.

I began walking the Camino Portuguese not from the Cathedral in Lisbon the traditional starting place, but at Moscavide, a suburb of Lisbon about 6 miles into the first stage beyond the beginning at the Cathedral. I took this short cut because I was already getting close to my limit of days to walk. I had taken three days off to visit the Azores and going into Lisbon from the Airport would have cost me another day while Moscavide was five minutes from the airport and had a Youth Hostel on the Camino, although it had no official relationship to the Camino. Also starting 6 miles into the Camino reduced the first day’s walk from 19 miles to 13 miles of city streets through some industrial areas, some picturesque walks along the river Tagus. I stayed that night in a pensao, a B&B with no particular connection to the Camino. I had not seen any pilgrims that day and was the only guest in the B&B. Most of the walk during the first week or so was on city streets or highways

I continued this routine for the next four or five days. No other pilgrims, no signs of any religious institutions, not churches, not monasteries, not albergues and not another pilgrim. The route was flat but long; 18,19 mile days long, staying in pensaos usually the only guest. While there were way marks they only marked where the route turned. I am used to marks frequently along the way and when they disappear I am aware I missed one. The more sparse marking requires much greater vigilance and consequently I got lost several times, once adding about  5 miles to a 19 mile day. Feeling lost began to be the predominant emotion of the walk a vivid contrast with the sense of being at home on the Camino Francais. Once in a wooded area the way marks disappeared entirely because the trees that had been marked had been cut down for some construction. Some workers got me back on the way.

This beginning as you can see turned into an uncomfortable anxious experience. A friend with a Buddhist background reminded me that desire causes suffering. So I began to reflect on what was the desire that was causing this anxiety. At the most superficial level I realized it was my concern about finding a place for the night. When you’ve been walking for six or seven hours with no end in sight incipient panic rises. But in my effort to get these desires under control it dawned on me what a powerful form of ascetism it is to give up your place of rest. It was what Jesus didBut Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20.  The holy men of India are said to sleep by the side of the road. I struggled with the sense of being lost, of not being at home on this. Camino for the rest of my walk. “In my beginning…”.  I never felt at home as I do on the Camino Francais. I do wonder if this anxiety had something to do with my physical problems at the end.

What to do with this feeling of not being at home?  It occurs to me that in a couple of weeks I will complete 80 yrs of age. It’s harder and harder to ignore that I am in the land of seniorhood. And some of this land feels a bit strange. My body is of course weakening and memory is a bit vague at times. My eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be. And hearing is slightly impaired. Was the Portuguese Camino a vivid  introduction to THIS new land? Here are some of T.S. Eliot’s thoughts about the land of seniorhood from East Coker:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

100 Days Of Awe: Day Thirty One – SatNav4TheSoul Toolbox

Day 31: SatNav4TheSoul Toolbox

IMAG0696I have to fess up that I didnt take this picture today.  I took it when I walked on the Camino Francais to Santiago de Compostela in 2012.  It is my blog avatar and the image I use to represent my SatNav4TheSoul app toolbox.  But this blog is not intended to be about gratuitous self promotion but rather about awe.

I use some simple but powerful question based processes in my coaching work.  Often after a session I would be asked for the process, assiduously I would write up these questions and email them off. I have no idea if they were ever used again but I was conscious of their flatness outside the context of a coaching session.  I launched my first app FindYourMojo in 2012 but it was only last year that the idea to encapsulate some of my other tools as apps emerged.   With the benefit of a visual design to create some of the support of a coaching session these could be more powerful takeaways for my clients or for anyone curious about intuitive coaching.  It is one thing to conceive of an idea, quite another to bring it to life and it throws me back into my old life as a systems analyst and writing technical documnentation; scoping out a design, schemas and functional specifications.  Design and schemas are completed and now I have intensive focus on the nitty gritty of the functional specifications.  I am not there yet but today I was conscious of the ease of being in the flow of the spirit of the toolbox.  And that is awesome.

100 Days of Awe is a playful project I set up to bring my attention to awe in my daily life. I see awe as wonder, a mixture of amazement and respect.  I expect the experience of awe to be about perception shifting awareness and that demands a reframing of some sort.  I am excited to see what will awe me on this journey.

Anne K. Scott is an imagination technologist, her work to teach, facilitate and deliver innovation for individuals and business.  She is the creator of FindYourMojo a FREE iPHone productivity app. If you are interested in what intuitive coaching can do for you please do contact me.  I support clients all over the world.


Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Eight

DAY FORTY EIGHT: 25 November 2012 Muxia to Santiago de CompostelaIMAG1502 (2)I was sitting on an escarpment in Swaziland in August 2012 when I first saw this pilgrimage; a trail laid out across scrubby, foreign land, a long, long walk leading all the way, I imagined, to the sea and a sailor in a pea green boat.  Over the subsequent months I had followed the clues to arrive in Galacia and I am now curious about this rocky shore the end of the walk.  What would the reality of the metaphor be?  Could my sailor be Miel the policemen from San Sebastian in his high tech fluoro green walking jacket or is it the soul of Ireland on the distant horizon or perhaps something else all together?  What colour is pea green anyway?

I had dinner with Tobias from Denmark after the Marea documentary in Restaurent de La Lolo.  This was the classiest restaurant with a pilgrim menu so far.  Sleek, modern ecletic style more suited to hot Summer days than chilly winter but the heating was on and the staff were pleasant.  The 3 course menu proved to be pleasantly different from the usual pilgrim fare and the wine seemed extra special too. If we weren’t in pilgrim attire we could have been mistaken as a couple; me the cougar and Tobias my toyboy.  Tobias is polite, good company, has great manners and a Colgate smile.  He has a face that will only grow more handsome as he shape shifts into his life whatever that may be.

Miel is Tigger in the morning, eager for breakfast and company but my preference, Restaurent de La Lolo of the night before, doesnt sit well with him.  I hold my ground and have breakfast to my delight on my own.  I am assimilating this trip. I want to savour the last drops of it dripping slowly and honour it’s closure.  A short walk from the town is the headland where the Virgin Mary came to assure Saint James that his mission to convert the population of Fisterra from their pagan worship of the sun had been a success.  I have no intention of being blasphemous but my guess is that Mary was a mistress of metaphor while poor old James was getting all bogged down in the logical reality.  A bit like me and my sailor in his pea green boat.

Mary’s boat is said to be still here, petrified on the headland below the imposing coastal-Gothic style church of Our Lady of The Boat.  I was curious to see it.  Sure enough there are are three huge stones one of which definitely looks like the upturned hull of the boat and another has a look of a sail.  The third stone, supposedly the rudder is a little less convincing.
IMAG1527IMAG1529I suppose it is no surprise that my original curiosity to follow the Camino to the sea was spurred by an imaginary sailor man.  Muxia and Fisterra are fishing ports after all and where there be working boats, there be pleasure yachts and handsome sailors.  Over lunch of whole baby squid, slathered in butter I muse the symbolic currency of this stone boat with the romantic talisman of my imagination.  At the day’s end the boat I left on was a modern day coach, a behemoth of a vehicle muscling its way through the narrow arteries of Galacia’s rural rocky roads back to Santiago de Compostela.  And my companion? Miel in green, both of us passengers back to life.

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Seven

DAY FORTY SEVEN: 24 November 2012 Lires to Muxia on the Camino Muxia.IMAG1472I braved the wet, dark rain to eat at As Eiras, sparky with the tatters of community, a smattering of pilgrims. Designed for efficiency rather than warmth and comfort, it would be a quick visit on this dreary November night before repairing to the warmth and comfort of my stone walled room in Casa Luz.  I had never been sick on this Camino, not a hint of a cold or the gyrations of a dicky tummy but in the morning when I woke I felt an angst and nervousness in my bowels.  It didnt feel like anything I had eaten more about the impending unknown and not so much the unknown of the path from Lires to Muxia but the unknown of life after the Camino.  This was my last day of walking.  It was a strange to experience my body crumple in fright about the expansiveness of life opening up again.  Rationally that excites me but my reptilian brain screams no; I am reminded of tandem hang gliding in Rio De Janerio, I was so excited to do it, to float in the air captured against the back drop of the famous Sugar Loaf.  Once strapped in my instruction was to power through my legs and run off the cliff.  In my mind I did.  When I heard the instructor’s ‘fuck’ and the plummet as the cliff edge disappeared I was surprised.  Witnesses later told me that I ran about two steps and my legs crumpled, my knees glancing the ground as we plunged over the edge. My body sabotaged my brain.  Fortunately my co-pilot was a hero so I am still here to tell the tale.

The remnants of rain were all around; sodden earth, dripping wires, saturated hedges, happy puddles but the rain clouds were gone and the sky wiped into a fresh powder blue.  It was Saturday, a white washing day and less than 15 kms to Muxia. Stepping out I felt alone in the world, like it was all mine so I was a little miffed when a jaunty walker, more like an SAS militia man stomped into the vicinity with gusto and bravado.  At the pace he was travelling I was consoled that he would breeze through my bubble with the minimum of interference.  I was wrong, like a moon trapped in my orbit I wasnt able to shake off Miel for two days.  He was a boisterous bouncing puppy of a man from San Sebastian.  He had the raspy tones of Asear, the cabellero I met in Bar La Pena, Rabe but any charisma was drowned out by  neediness to connect and be connected. It didnt surprise me to find out he was a policemen, I was more surprised to discover he was a garrulous companion who spoke no English; he muffled and mumbled and swallowed his words. I was grateful to realise that although I wasnt going to shake him off he didnt need me to participate in the conversation.  He had the innocent glad heartedness and delight of honey – which is what I thought his name was until he checked into the hostel and I saw that it in writing – Miguel.

Miguel’s spirit nudged mine to soar a little and there was a rush of pleasure on the last stretch of this Camino through the long strand of the fishing village.  I dont know if it was the weather or Miguel but Muxia was positively spruce and stylish compared to Fisterra, less world weary and more magical.  I had decided that I wanted to stay at the new hostel Albergue Bela Muxia and for a half an hour or so I thought I had lost Miguel.  He didnt want to walk to the farthest end of town or pay the premium rate for this new designer hostel.  Sometimes I cant explain why I want to stay or eat somewhere that I have never been or have a personal recommendation for but there are times when an inexplicable certainty wills me beyond my normal thresholds.  I am drawn towards rustic, cosy, budget but Bela Muxia is more modern, corporate and market rates.  Bizarre.  As it turned out I loved the open hearted welcome, my private cubby hole of a bunk with personal locker, light and charging points.  The personal touch was incongruous in this space designed for efficiency and business.  I was aware that I was a customer but it that was conveyed in the nicest possible way and I couldnt resist the garish pink and blue Bela Muxia octopus t-shirt and my leather camino bracelet.  I could feel the bubble of delight rising in me a realisation that I had done it, I had walked the Caminos de Santiago, Fisterra and Muxia.  Or perhaps it was because there was Miguel again, jaunty and happy to see me.  We are captured for posterity in the Bela Muxia hall of fame.IMAG1533I still had to walk down to Punta da Barca (Boat Point) and check for the sailor in the pea green boat (as opposed to the hiker in the pea green jacket!) from the dream that first called me to this journey, but that is a journey for the morrow.  Right now it is a dash to the local community hall for a showing of Marea a documentary about the impact of the sinking of The Prestige Oil tanker of 2002 and the volunteer response.  Muxia was ground zero.  The documentary is in Spanish but this is a sociable event; people are here to see themselves on screen, to remember, relive and to celebrate solidarity.

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Six

DAY FORTY SIX: 23 November 2012 Finisterra to Lires on the Camino Muxia.


Despite my aversion to Finisterra the day before I find leaving difficult. The days at the dying of the year can be full of light and benign brightness or scratchy with rain and the furrowed brow of storm. This Friday is one of the latter; the day has no chance to open it’s eye to the light as the darkness of Thor’s angry countenance lurks over the Costa Da Morte. There is a storm warning about. After coaching calls and goodbye to a rather hung over Kevin who had crashed on the living room floor after celebrated his final day of walking with beer into the night, I unfold my achy limbs and fumble my way up and over the scraggy edges of town. The south pointing finger of Cabo Fisterra behind me I turn north and falter along, the fractured exposed coastline initially hidden to my left. As I plateau I meet the boisterous salty cuffs of a wind that has careered unobstructed across the Atlantic the air is electric with squall. It snatches at loose debris and gnaws the patchy forest for more bones for throwing. I catch glimpses of glorious beach and sea, stooks of hay splay anchored under the strange light of the scudding sky. I am walking to Lires where I have booked into a Casa Rural for the night. It crosses my mind that perhaps this is none too safe but I am strangely at one with this energy feeling the creative flow of it as words begin to arise and swirl forming into a shape that comes with the haunting twang of acoustic guitar. There is a symbosis between us; the gale and I and we create a broken hearted love song. It crys copious, fat, lachrymous drops wetting me through, running rivulets down my face. The church bells are ringing a death as I arrive in Lires my stop for the night. I am grateful for the comfort of my pretty stone privacy at Casa Luz.

I am hunkered down
Licking yesterday’s wounds
My howling heart
Racked and ruined
An angry sea boils up in me
Regrets of life’s missing memories

Raw, broken, scarred
I whimper still
Feeling the ache
Of goodbye’s bitter pill
I am wrung out, consumed
A ragged shadow of love’s promise

My soul has opened wide
To connections I never knew
Across time and space
The principles are few
My spirit chose to dance with yours
In love, truth and unity

The debris of the storm
Is silent, lifeless dross
There is calm within my heart
I am through the wound of love and loss
Soul-cleansed and scrubbed alive
Core vibrations electrified

You came to me from nowhere near
You looked me in the eye
We shared a drink or two or three
I thought that I might cry
But instead I drank the joy
And saw you helped me fly

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Five

DAY FORTY FIVE: 22 November 2012 Cee to Finisterra and to the LightHouse.  Day Four, the ultimate day on the Camino Fisterra.

IMAG1426I awake in the top bunk, alone in this ugly hostal in Cee.  There is nothing to compell me to linger but I struggle to step into this long awaited day from under the heavy weight of last night’s anger.  I am planning to continue up the coast to Muxia but there is something about the lighthouse on Cabo Fisterra, my destination today, that has a finality to it.  When I conceived of this pilgrimmage I envisaged walking to the end of the known world and there would be a boat there waiting for me.  Captained by a handsome pirate prince, I would unfalteringly step from the rocky terrain of terra firma onto the foot worn warmth of an oak planked deck and we would bob away into the ocean like the Owl and the Pussycat.  Today is the day that my two realities are due to collide.  Caught between the rock of this angry Cee and my fear of the brink I am like a briar; scratchy and irritable not sure that I can manage the critical step across that threshold.

Corcubion and Cee are kissing cousins, nuzzled up against each other, it is hard to see where one begins and the other ends but at some point the jittery business of one is replaced by the the laid back indolence of the other. I take the pretty medieval route through the town and up the shoulder to San Roque.  It is a short 5km back to the seashore.  The rhythm of walking calms my soul though the edginess of my destiny loiters in the back of my mind.  I fancy breakfast facing out to sea, in a room with a picture window to frame the view. I panter hopefully up to and around the grand Hotel Playa de Estorde but this is off season and there is nowhere open to cater for my whims.  Despite the vagaries of the day, as hopelessly unhinged as I am, it teeters on the edge of storminess, just when I am enjoying the wildness of the sea, big fat drops of rain and a dark frowny sky, I hunker down and then it lets up and pretends to be just a damp whingy blanket of poor me.  I am not enjoying it.  I miss miss the charms of the woodland path to Punto de Vista, the vast dazzling white sands of Langosteria are dull and deadened by the sky while their hoard of pilgrim symbol St Jacques are carefully stowed away.  It is a mere 10km to Finisterra, in my imagination a romantic fishing town.  I  know there is room for me, white walled and bright with achievement,  waiting to embrace me with skin stroking linen and jovial taverns cluttered celebratory sea captains.

IMAG1418I sit in glum expectation in a tidy, modern seafront cafe.  All far too contemporary for me; TV, chrome tables and chairs,  everyday meetings and early birds from the office.  WTF?!  Still in denial I tramp the town with hope of that room and that linen.   Hotel Naturaleza Mar da Ardora is a little rock of modern seaside architecture perched above the Praia do Mar de Fora at the back of the town.  It is so what I am looking for and so not – at the same time.  It is closed, empty, hopeful, waiting.  The owners show me around, I could have the whole place to myself but it would be pushing the budget and screaming out my aloneness.  I opt instead for the hippy, run down comfort of Albergue do Sol e da Lúa where my host mistakes my disgruntled humour as a judgement on his rooms and apologetically insists I can have a private room all to myself for little more than the price of a dorm bed.  As a result I create my cheapest private room with wi-fi on this trip.  Not much consolation in the face of prevading depression.  All I want to do is get out of here, no lolling in soft linen or drinking up my achievements.


The only thing to do is trudge for the light house. The lighthouse is stolid and impassive, its gimlet eye facing out to sea.  The 0km milestone, the museum, the peace pole and the fire pit but distractions from its proper job.  My only companions a Spanish couple who are walking all around the coast of Spain for charity.  A far more worthy cause than mine.  It is traditional for pilgrims to burn something in the firepit below the lighthouse to represent the burdens they have let go of on the walk.  I am holding on to every threadbare belonging and grizzly emotion. When I ask myself what is going on I realise I am angry with myself for not having the ‘right’ kind of pilgrim experience and projecting that pain on to everything around me.  The end of the known world is just not up to my standards. There is no handsome pirate prince, no sun, no flags of jubiliation, no one, just me. What I am experiencing isnt what my friends said they experienced, no champagne corks popping, no pals to high five, no coquilles st. jacques on the beach & far too cold to delicately paddle my toes. I am in a town on a rocky outcrop of the Atlantic on a stormy November day that is  just doing what it can do to get by off season.   What I would love is just to be, to stop struggling and resisting to just love who I am, where I am, and whatever reality I am experiencing; to let it wash over me and around me.  I am above the lighthouse now, below the twin peaks of Monte Facon and Monte Guillermo walk.  Relief seeps in, the tension drops and I realised I am beloved.  I have loved this journey, my journey, the only one that matters.  Get in!

IMAG1450 I am smiling and the cockles of my heart are warmed. I text my long suffering parents, a little missive of joy skims across the grey Atlantic waters to the shore of Tramore and I receive little tokens of congratulations by return.  I enjoy the boisterous gloomy walk up to the ruined remnants of the Ermita de San Guillerme to see San Guillerme’s bed reknown for its miraculous powers of fertility.  This headland is layered with pagan and Christian ritual, an altar to the sun, a place where the spiritual and the material shake hands.  I am buffeted by the flailing curtains of this multi-verse but I walk energised and exhilarated and find myself looking forward to the cheap warmth of the albergue.  It is a hive of activity when I get back and long lost Kevin is there; celebrating with hearty mugs of German pilgrims all set to wallow in beery inebriation.  I discover that will I was looking down on the world stepping into my cloak of beloved Kevin was at the lighthouse popping that bottle of bubbly.  Ah well.  We head to dinner, seafood and Albarino before I return to the luxury of my private room and to all night beer drinking in the living room.  The end of the world is not the end of the world after all.


Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Four

DAY FORTY FOUR: 21 November 2012 Santa Marina to Cee, Day Three of the Camino Fisterra

IMAG1398Hallelujah, hallelujah, I have never been so happy to wake up beside a graveyard.  Casa Pepa in Santa Marina wins the prize for being the most unexpected and divinely welcome surprise of an albergue.  Dinner, bed, hot showers, wifi what more could a needy pilgrim want.  I loved everything about the solid reality of it, I could feel the vibration of love in its creation.  A little puzzled by its proprieters; a family team Mum, Dad, baby and grand parents.  Continuing the magical themes of yesterday it was clear they were hobbits who had no idea how magical they were.  This little business singing and humming around them like a bewitched kettle while they solemnly hold the fort, gently warming up the longer I stayed.  It was a strange sensation the feeling the place was running the show not the people, it was easy to linger over breakfast.

Leaving Santa Marina there was a new world; the pit of witches, trolls, imps and warlocks behind me on the timeline.  The benign smile of Mother Earth warms my heart with a different kind of magic. Dropping down to the Rio Xallas Olveiroa is a welcome stop for breakfast and with a couple of albergues and Casa Rurales it is full of familiar pilgrim verve.  Leaving the small village I cross an emerald green stream, no place for trolls here, this feels full of the magic of elvin people and giveaway wishes even the usually garish harshness of the windfarm on the top of the hill is softened and muted.  Tall, elegant taut bodies of metal harnessing the invisible forces of the wind in service to mankind.  Too busy to talk or recuperating.  I walk in hushed reverence to the top of this world and rejoin the road at Hospital where a stuttering chain of articulated lorries rush me to the coast and in the middle of what seems to be nowhere the large hulk of the Fabrica of Dumbria and Marina’s last chance saloon as John Brierley puts it in his guide.

IMAG1399It is right and fitting to stop for a coffee before I head across the moors and one of the longest and most isolated stretches on this camino, 12.3km according to the guide but for convenience rounded up on  the sign at Cafe O Castellion.  It is too early for me to stop for the night but that doesnt stop Marina trying to get me to stay in her new albergue.  It is good to see more places to stay opening up on this camino.  Up to recently it could only be done in three long stages staying in pilgrim hostals.  I am looking forward to the walk across the moors but my poor body is beginning to creak and ache under the dead weight of my pack and the relentlessness of my determined walking.  Reaching the high point of the day at 370m and the junction of the Camino Muxia and the Camino Fisterra it is like I have walked throught the gateway to the sky, its light blue watery wash is a handstretch away.  There is a religosity to this walk, perhaps the magic dewdrop of the little chapel to Our Lady of the Snows or the impending promise of the ocean.

IMAG1400I need Van Morrison to take me across the line to see the sea at Cee.  The rush of my welcome friend washed over me as I spied it in the distance nd the lure of its salty embrace spurred me on down the bone throbbing suffering slope and into the slopy outskirts of the confident industrial port town.  The friendly promenade put me in hope of solace in a quaint seaside hostal but this is a town that is trying to be modern despite the scars of history.  The streets are scrappy and anticipatory buildings abandoned and uncared for.  I falter and am felled by my romantic heart to stay at the Hotel Camino das Estrelas. My worst hostel experience to date.  A flash hotel with all mod cons, a hostal tacked on to the side. I join three stoic pilgrims who are resigned to no hot water, no heating and no wee-fee so I do what is obvious, loose my temper, stamp into the hotel, say f*&k and then face off to the poor staff member and demand she check out the shower to prove that it is hot.  She sees me back and in the end I am the one who disrobes with a flourish to fortunately discover that there must have been a secret switch in reception that was flipped unseen as I bravely stepped into water that moments before had pierced my skin with its chillness.  The whole experience sticks in my craw even more when I later discover that Kevin, once lost now found, has braved the closed up sign at my first choice hostel and manifested a cosy room for himself. The end of the earth is just one day away and beyond that the Coast of Death.  Perhaps I am having trouble walking to the edge of the known to step into the abyss.

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Three

DAY FORTY THREE: 20 November 2012 Negreira to Santa Marina, Day Two of the Camino Fisterra
A grey dreary day to match my furry mouth and foggy head. It would seem that last night, I at least, fell off the razors edge between celebration and narcotisation tipping into the gap of oblivion creating a bruising start to my day.  Without the energy of other pilgrims and the shoo-ing out of the hostel guardian I dont wake until close to 9.30am.  Kevin is still out for the count.

I am not up for the long haul of the typical 33km route to Olveiroa but neither am I attracted to the hostels basicos that seem to be de riguer on the route; mattresses on the floor and no heating.  On this far side of Santiago the chilly fingers of Autumn have a steely grip.  The air is sodden with moisture always on the cusp of raining, ever poking its clamy hands into my cosy pockets; innocuous and unassuming it  insidiously whinges and wheedles its way under the skin of my outer garments.

On this most normal of days I feel surrounded by the cacophony of invisible forces; it is as if I am walking the line between two worlds.  One moment a gust of dirty golden leaves, the next the skittering wash of a warty witch on a broom stick, tempestuous swiping wind a field of giant trolls playing ball, glitter of winking sun through the trees, the twinkle of a glory of unicorn horns.  Kevin overtakes me as ever and walking down the road he is swept into the vortex by the backdraft of a rumbling articulated lorry masquerading as an evil warlock.

After weeks of independent walking and generally incidental meetings we have agreed to connect for lunch at Vilasario in the bar adjoining Suso y Silvia’s hostel.  I am realising the luxuriousness of the Camino Francaise well and unambigiously way marked.  My furzy brain in and out of a state of presence is challenged to navigate the route.  A late start and lunch time in Vilasario is dark.  The ‘popular’ bar is dank, dreary, depressing and there is no sign of Kevin.  Have I taken so long to get here that he has given up and moved on? Am I in the wrong place? Is he in a parallel universe?  On second thoughts the leaden unwelcoming bar tender remembers someone passing through hours ago.  Perhaps it was I that was in that parallel place.  The Albergue Escuela with mattresses on the floor doesnt seem to be an option but I would still prefer to have pilgrim company than rattle around in this damp tin can of lonelyness so a quick coffee and I am back on the road.  Passing the escuela it is obvious that if Kevin was ahead of me he would keep moving.  The rain is now unapologetic and insistent, the way markings more illusive – no doubt the playthings of pixies.  The incipient danger of road walking gives way to deep rutted cross country paths, nobviously the highways of Gulliverian carts on the way to market.  I am edgy in the shadow of alcoholic withdrawal. I really dont know what world I am in.  Searching the scrubby horizon for some comforting sign I see a splash of gleaming sky blue, a raucous rag of orange hunkered down by the road.  Thank goodness a real person – a pilgrim who is reorganising her pack on the side of this wild thoroughfare under the umbrella of this mad day.  All I see is a mischevious imp and I hasten on my way not wanting to draw the attention of scallywags.

There is an albergue at Maronas, apparently without heating but there is no way I am going to make the comforts of Olveiroa before dark.  It is not what I would love but I am resigned to discomfort.  It doesnt have to mean anything.  Coming to that realisation it feels like I am coming out of a cloud, I am no longer straddling the dimensions of different realities.  At the cross roads in Maronas there is a lady waiting and she asks me if I am looking for an albergue because Casa Pepa is just opened and down the road.  She turns out to be the most tangibly magical person I have met all day.  Casa Pepa is a renovated stone Galician abode across the road from Santa Marina graveyard.  There is a cafe bar, a wood fire, wifi, an intimate dorm underneath the rafters and rustic stone lined showers of steaming water.  I have arrived in Heaven.  Still no sign of Kevin but we can connect on Facebook.  He has just arrived in Vilaserio, lost in the wilderness it seems was indeed swept up by that warlock. The imp arrives and turns out to be a garrulous eccentric from San Francisco.  What a day!

Camino: A Heroes Journey

I had the privilege of meeting Liam Cullinane from Galway (Ireland) in Spring 2012 while on a retreat in the Aran Islands run by Greg Muller, human conditioning and performance coach.

Liam has a remarkable story to tell from the wild freedom of the French Foreign Legion to the inconceivable strictures of meningitis.  Liam choses daily to take action to be a fully functioning human being.  Despite or perhaps in spite of a bleak prognosis Liam has engaged his will over 20 years to inch his way back to being physically able and engaged in the world.

Last Autumn  it was a serendipitious surprise to bump into Liam again in the midst of a milling crowd on Oxford Street;  a million miles away from the lonely outcrops of rocky land off the western most reaches of the land of Saints and Scholars where we first met.   I was about to head off to walk the Camino Francais.  Obviously that meeting planted a seed for Liam as he has been inspired to walk the Camino for himself and is locked in on being able to do that in April 2014.

Liams story will be documented by David Souto, a basque filmmaker based in Galway for the last decade. David is choosing to tell Liam’s story because of his admiration for him as well as being compelled to document a life changing event and an adventure that ends in Galicia where his roots are.  They are working together to raise funds to create a documentary to inspire and serve.  Liam is now focused on enhancing his physical fitness even further and the first round of funding to faciliated Liam to travel to Atlanta USA for specialist treatment and for the filming of his trip has exceeded the funding target so he is on his way.

I am learning that the Camino is less about a walk and more about life.  Our lives are Camino stories;  starting with conception and winding on to the day we leave this mortal coil.  The journey from the lead of our human-ness to the gold of our spirits.  Be inspired by Liam’s story to see your story.  I look forward to sharing more about Liams journey here over the next few months.

Spring Camino 14 June 2013: Wading Into The Ocean


Harvest apocalyse on the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

On 14 June 2013 just 3 days before he completes his tenth Camino Dan writes about the subtler but deeper realities of the Camino.  I too experienced the magical connections of dining with other pilgrims that Dan shares but walking the fallow land of the Meseta in Autumn after the apocalypse of harvest was quite a contrast to Dan’s rich experience of Spring growth.

Several weeks ago I was walking the marvelous, the magnificent meseta, the high plane that inserts days of quiet, flat, meditative walking into the struggles of the Pyrenees of the beginning of the Camino and those of the mountains of Leon that make up the greater part of the last third of the Camino. The Way was passing through fields of grain  that I could not identify, having for some time lost contact with Tracy the jolly Welshman and grain expert.

The grain was very fine, just a slender stalk, no leaves like the very green sprouts that support wheat, but tall and thin reeds, light green color at base but a rich blue green in their head with well formed kernels. I waded into the grain field to get a sense of the height of the grain. It was up to my chest. But standing in this  field with its dense growth, light green below, almost blue on the surface stretching for acres brought a sudden memory of wading into the ocean at Scarborough* on a bright calm day.

And I had an impulse to lower myself into this immensity as I do in the ocean. I resisted the impulse but was overcome with the sense that I have at the ocean of giving myself to something greater than I, the ocean, somehow the force of life, immense, beautiful, awesome. I felt the Camino as large, as forceful, as full of life as the ocean, as full of life as the mountains I had walked over, as the rivers who had gurgled and raced along side me as I walked the valleys, as the bird song and wild flowers that had gladdened my days. And I found that life in the pilgrims I walked with and, truth be told, in myself. I have felt alive on this Camino, strong, well, my body like a walking machine, my mind empty (nothing new there some will say) and at peace, alive!

Night before last I had the usual pilgrim cena (dinner) with people I had gotten to know along the way, Marcelo from Brazil, Deidre from New Zealand and Neil from Ireland. Neil apparently has made enough money on the Irish Tiger and kept it so that he can live 6 month a year in Ireland “to keep in touch with my roots” and live in India for 6 months ” a place where spirituality is alive, where you can always find people who take spirituality seriously”. and then he added that that Camino was like India in Europe.

One of the advantages of so many people walking is that every evening you will have several choices of which table of pilgrim to join for dinner. And so the wine will be poured and the intense conversation will begin, the day’s experience, what the Camino means to me, personal reflections on the meaning of the Camino etc, etc. And so the Camino gives life, experiences life, comes alive around the common meal, generous with wine each evening. The meal nourishes life, brings life. Pilgrims transmit life to each other.

Each of us will label this life source out of our own tradition. For Christians it will be the Spirit sent by the Lord Christ. Jesus knew what he was doing when he made wine the sign, the Sacrament of his sharing of life. That life is in all everywhere but more vividly available in sacred places as on the Camino de Santiago.

*Scarborough State Beach is in Narrangansett, Rhode Island, USA

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com