Day 38, Monday, May 20: Lires to Muxía (25 km, 15.5 miles)

Yes, full to overflowing! Memories, thoughts, experiences, heart, backpack! All of it: full to the brim, and then some.

You might be asking: Is she ready to be done with this vagabond life? Have her feet had enough? Is her body protesting? Enough already with disposable paper sheets, with carrying it all on her back, with keeping track of where she’s placed everything, with needing to vacate premises by 8:00 am, with the same clothes day after day? Had enough of being at the mercy of the elements? Etc.

First, let me make this absolutely clear. I do miss family. I miss friends. I love my chosen hometown. I will transition back into the groove. (Hopefully it will be a “new and improved version” of me that does that transitioning. Hopefully the Camino will stay with me and that I will find that “the real Camino” begins when one returns, transformed to one’s former life.)

That said: there was both joy and nostalgia in my “final stage” yesterday. For starters, I’ll focus on the nostalgia. Strange, but I hadn’t even finished this final stage when I found myself already missing the Camino. Yes, a part of me could definitely go on. Most definitely! Another week of walking? Another month? As long as the weather stayed on the cool side, the bugs kept their distance, and the rain teased and flirted no more than it has recently, most definitely I could continue.

The hostels? They’ve been fine. Some nicer than others (and here on this “add-on” Camino, superb!), but all totally acceptable. No bed bugs. Almost always blankets available. Almost never lukewarm water instead of hot. Respectful pilgrims with whom to share accommodations. Generally faces you recognize. Smiles and goodwill in abundance. The sharing of experiences and the realization that there is so much more that unites us than what might separate us.

Perhaps it is that goodwill that I will miss the most. The instant friendships. The stories.

Oh, but I must be honest: I will miss the beauty! The awareness of beauty. The time to stop, look, drink it all in. The freedom from “to do” lists that pull me away from contemplation in the name of efficiency and organization. I will miss the freedom of living in the moment. Or at least the ease of doing because obligations and responsibilities and “shoulds” aren’t pulling you in many directions.

On the Camino there is this: put your world in your backpack, strap it on, and walk. Follow the yellow arrows. Let your thoughts come. Make your way. Be alert to the messages that are all around you. Appreciate the miracles that are all around you.

More luxury than any 5-star hotel can provide!

A follow-up: sunset in Lires

You may (or may not) have seen photos, but I wanted to let you know that I did, in the end, walk down to the sunset in Lires the other night. And though there were ample clouds along the horizon, I am very glad I bothered adding 4 extra kilometers to my evening. Drop-dead gorgeous it was not, but striking, nonetheless. There is only one building at that end of the bay; it is a bar that sits up on a promontory with indoor and outdoor seating and a perfect view of the western sky. Most of the people there did not seem to be pilgrims but rather people who had arrived by car. I did spot a Korean woman I had seen before (a “roommate” back in Finesterre) and I boldly joined her at her table to toast the sun as it sunk into the clouds. Theresa’s English was quite limited, but I learned that six years ago, at age 60, she had flown to California where she spent 25 days hiking and camping on the John Muir trail. Three years later, she repeated the feat. I continue to be amazed by women who, no longer “sweet young things,” leave their husbands behind and go off on adventures. (Note to Ken: there really are a lot of us out here, women whose husbands don’t/can’t walk long distances or are just as happy to stay home. No doubt there are many men with the same story. I talked to a German this morning, age 73, who is on his 6th Camino. His wife says, “Go! Go! Go do your Camino and give me some space!”).

A pleasant evening. Theresa didn’t wait until the actual sunset as she was getting cold and was disappointed not to see the pinks and reds and golds of a “great sunset.” I lingered and walked a bit on the rocks in the opposite direction of town. Then I turned around and arrived back at the albergue by 10:28 with a bit of daylight to spare!

Wise decision to go, right? When will I ever be back? Resolve: try not to pass up opportunities for beauty…. but seek balance as well. One can’t do everything….

Some clarifications

Ok, I got found out! And not by just one of my readers. Yes, the fact of the matter is that I don’t always take the time to find the perfect word when I’m writings these posts. I left the Roget’s at home. (Alright, I could go to the internet, but who has time….). And so I stand guilty, as charged: I did not, in fact, “guzzle” my beer the other day. Some of you know me well. But, I assure you, neither did I “sip” it. Shall we go with saying that I “enjoyed” it, or is there an intermediate word? Like I “drank” it. How boring!

The first person who caught me on the “guzzling” business also made a comment that he wasn’t sure he could bear to spend much time in a place where it rained so much of the time. Rain? Perhaps I talked about the “threats” of rain or the forecasts, but if I have left an inaccurate perception of the weather to which I’ve been subject, let me clear it up once and for all:

During all of my walking, from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean, I had one day of really bad weather. Rain played a part in that day. As did snow. Howling wind. “Nasty” and “memorable” don’t begin to cover it, but they’ll do for this recap. However, that was the day when I (re)discovered the power of song, my song, to lift me above the particular circumstances and thus the rain is memorable not just because of how miserable I was for a while, but for how the day was redeemed by song. Indeed, that discovery accompanied me for the remainder of my walking days.

Otherwise? Sprinkles here, a bit more than sprinkles there. Rain jacket occasionally on for 15 minutes or so. (Meanwhile, I’ve heard from the home front that Bloomington had rain at some point on each of the past 10 week-ends!).

It’s true, when I made the decision to come to the coast on the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxía route, the long-term forecast led me to expect the worst. Call it luck, good fortune, whatever, the rain (then, as well as a few other times on the Camino), when it came, did so after I had arrived at the night’s albergue. There was also a fairly long rain on one of the days when I happened to be stopped in Burgos.

Best decision I made in terms of what I packed? It’s true, it was my winter coat, along with my fleece-like cap, as well as a couple of pairs of mittens. The coat I was prepared to part with, just leave behind, at any point along the way when it became cumbersome. Let me just say: I wore it yesterday morning when I headed out of Lires and again last night when we had dinner at an outside table here in Muxia. Keep this in mind, though: the people who know me well understand that I wear hat and gloves and winter coats long after other people have put them aside. (My two short-sleeved shirts? They were worn for perhaps a total of 5 hours! They’ll be handy in Barcelona and Madrid during my upcoming 5-day stops in each of those cities.)

The temperatures have been near perfect for extended hiking days. Early on: mostly lower 40s at the start of the day, with the occasional challenging 30-something beginnings. Recently: upper 40s to lower or mid-50s for starters. Perfect!

So… that’s all I’m going to say about the weather. My experiences are simply that: my experiences. Spain, like most places, can vary significantly from one year to the next.

The following is not really a clarification, more of a follow-up. I have written about JinHee, the young (30-ish) Korean girl. She and Cristina and I became a bit of a threesome on this last leg of the Camino, not so much during our walking time as while we were in towns or having meals. There were tears in all our eyes (and spilling from hers) when we parted in Finisterre. I received the sweetest email from her yesterday and it is a reminder that we really can make a difference in other people’s lives by even the smaller gestures. JinHee wrote:

You guys are so amazing. I think you guys are very cool. So i told to my friends about i meeting you and walking together. I and my friends if we should be like you guys when i older. You gave me brave and inspiring to me and to my friends too. 

Actually when I walked in Camino I was a little bit tired of my life however I should walked it maybe i meet you guys. Now, i am really good and I love myself. Thank you. ^^

Really sweet, no? If I’m not mistaken, I think she is saying there at the end that she is thinking, now, that there was a reason for her doing the Camino, that it might have been because she needed to meet us at a particular time in her life, that it was somehow part of some design, some bigger plan.

I have had similar thoughts about my Camino. By now you have realized what a joy it has been for me to be able to communicate with people from different countries, via English, of course, but especially with Spanish. Spanish has allowed me to talk not only with people from Spanish-speaking countries, but with pilgrims from Brazil and Portugal, from Italy. Then there was my French, which, weak as it is, opened more doors. It has occurred to me that perhaps all my years of language study were meant to eventually bring me to this experience of the Camino. Perhaps that is exaggerating, but language has been a huge part of this trip for me.

Perhaps the same could be said for my love of the outdoors beginning, really, when I was very young and would so enjoy my trips to the farm in Minnesota, to the “cabin” in Newaygo, Michigan…, continuing with all the camping and biking that Ken and I have done through the years. The foundation they gave me surely enhanced my appreciation of this trek.

Ditto the hiking I did in Indiana in preparation for coming to Spain. And also the blogging that I began last fall to get into a certain mindset. Well, no, not really to “get into” a mindset but to “get the mind’s field” ready, to have it plowed so it would be open to the many seeds that would fall into it a I advanced.

All preparation. All ways of readying myself. Over decades, really. Seven of them!

Details of the day’s trek

How can you not be tired of details by now? I’m mostly going to share “thoughts” here. Not your cup of tea? Skip down to the final section… or call it quits now. You’ve been more than patient!

For the lurkers and hangers-on among you…. I will tell you about a morning hush that was so profound it was sacred. Yes, a hushed reverence. I gave Cristina a head start of 10 or 15 minutes; we both enjoy walking alone. And so it was that I walked for three hours without catching up with a soul or without anyone catching up with me. (Quite a few pilgrims heading in the opposite direction, towards Finisterre, crossed my path. That is the more typical route, many preferring to end at the so-called “end of the world” and, in addition, Finisterre being a more bustling town where it is easier to pull off a celebratory meal, etc. Those of us who opt to go in this direction, to Muxia at the end, are the ones who like a more subtle, subdued atmosphere. At the very end of the peninsula on which Muxia sits is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the “Barca.” It sits dramatically at the very end of the land, just in front of many humongous rocks. (Catholicism adapted some of the sacredness of the pagan traditions and ceremonies that date back to as early as the year 3000 BC. For one thing, as the tradition goes, Santiago was in the area in a “stone boat” and the Virgin appeared to him…. Now, inside the present church–built at the beginning of the 18th century–there are many models of ships hanging from the ceiling or other spots; they represent “thanks” from fishermen or sailors and/or their families for the Virgin’s intercession when they felt they were in trouble while out on the ocean. There is quite a cult to this church and this Virgin. I enjoyed both an afternoon and an evening excursion to the church and the nearby rocks. For me, it was a good place to end my Camino.)

But, permit me to return to the morning: So, yes, hushed. Smoke rising up from the occasional chimney and floating off into the still morning, the “wings” of the wind turbines mostly still, even the birds quiet. An occasional rooster’s wake-up call pierced the morning, off in the distance from time to time the sound of a car, and, oddly enough, from somewhere, a gong. Slow, meditative. Once. Twice. A third time. Mostly, just the crunch of my footsteps.

More magical moments surrounded by tall pines, short oak-like trees, and an abundance of rather spindly eucalyptus, all encased in beds of lush fern, ivy climbing the trees. Mostly gravel underfoot, but a few patches of stone to remind me of past challenges.

I’d learned, a day or two earlier, that what kind of looked to me like wild asparagus was, actually…. well, Cristina didn’t know the word either, but she described it. Turns out I’m not sure of the proper word myself, but it’s what gives us the licorice flavor that goes into the anis licour. Fennel? Fennulgreek? Something like that perhaps? Anyway, when one rubs hands or fingers vigorously on the “tops,” there’s the most delicious of smells. I did just that several times during my walk. I smile just at the memory of that smell!

I’m aware that I’m walking north. I suppose that was the case the day before as well, but I was distracted then and didn’t take it in. The sun has been on my left-hand side for almost all of the Camino. Now, there it is, when it deigns to show itself, on my right. I note to myself: Katy, you’re becoming a bit observant. That’s new for you!

And yet in terms of the scenery, nothing really too “new,” actually; just more of the same beauty I’ve been enjoying for days. (Unless we count this: a couple of columbine flowers. Foxglove, yes, I’d been seeing, but the columbine, just in this one spot? A first! Had to get a photo, of course.)

So it is that I find myself stopping much more than usual to capture the thoughts that run through my head.

There is, as always, the gratitude. Today I focus on how grateful I am to Ken for his willingness to take over on the home front while I chase this dream of mine; how grateful I am to be in a place where I feel totally safe as I walk the countryside alone; how grateful that the village dogs I pass are so absolutely bored that they could care less about me. Perfect!

Mostly, though, my thoughts are of the “lessons-of-the-Camino” sort. I stop again and again to write them down, to add to the list. Nothing earth-shaking. Nothing I didn’t know before. Nothing you don’t know. Yet the frequency and the urgency with which they come calling, nagging and repetitive, gives me hope that they are sinking in more than ever before. For my own sake, with hopes of making them more easily accessible, I’m transferring that list to this post. Maybe you’ll find some of them useful as well. Or… maybe you’ll make or start your own list of lessons. Here are mine:

  • Slow down
  • Look around; observe
  • Turn around to see where you’ve come from
  • Pick up your daily burdens and be glad you have challenges; they’ll keep you from becoming too haughty
  • Find beauty!
  • Give thanks!
  • Listen to nature
  • Listen to the stories others have to share
  • Don’t be too full of yourself
  • Be humble
  • Sing!
  • Count your blessings; take nothing for granted
  • Be kind and generous and forgiving
  • Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart
  • Be your best self each and every day
  • Forgive yourself when you are not [your beset self] and remember to start again
  • Presume goodwill in others and when it is not obvious, assume it is just under the surface trying to emerge; when possibly, gently coax it out
  • KINDNESS is king!!!!!
  • Simplicity: less is (almost) always more

Book-ends

Early on in this Katy’s Camino blog–back in the fall– I wrote quite a long post called “Why?” I asked questions like Why walk? Why now? Why Spain? Why a pilgrimage? Why write about it? I believe it was in that post where I stated that this trip was like setting in place a second book-end. The first book-end was placed in 1967 when I went to Spain for the first time. I was 17 years old. And now I’m less than two months from turning 70.

That book-end idea came to me yesterday as I did my final walk. For one thing, I ended up along the coast observing waves crashing on the rocks. It was a calm day, thus the crashing waves were not dramatic, but still…. I found myself recalling the month in 1967 when I was studying Spanish in Santander (along Spain’s northern coast). Near our residence hall was a place where we would walk to watch the waves splash high on the coast’s jagged rocks. A different coastline, but the same country. The same Katy… but also a very different one! Different, of course, for a myriad of reasons, for experiences I’ve had a chance to reflect on during these weeks of travel. Another set of splashing rocks; the book-end to balance that earlier experience.

In addition, yesterday I walked “among” the wind turbines for a while. It was the first time I wasn’t seeing them on a distant hill but rather only a football field or less away at times. No, they obviously don’t resemble the windmill “enemies” against which Don Quijote tilted his lance, prepared to fight to the death to defend the honor of “his Dulcinea.” And yet I found myself recalling how during my year abroad in 1968-1969 I had traveled around the area of La Mancha, to Campos de Cristana, in search of some of those old windmills and in search of any traces of Cervantes and Don Quijote and Sancho that I might come upon. What 19-year-old doesn’t attach some symbolic meaning to the don’s jousting with the windmills? (Especially one who has seen and loved the play Man of La Mancha and has sung over and over again the song “The Impossible Dream”?

And so I saw those turbines yesterday and thought once again about how many “evils” are out to keep this from being the perfect world in which to live and how we have to keep on doing our part to not let those evils win the battle.

“CooCuu, CooCuu” calls the bird. And we challenge it and proclaim, “No, not crazy at all! Not at all.” We’ll get there, someday, to that better world. We’ll learn to be our better selves and to coax out the better selves of others.

Step by step. Day by day.

Come with me! We have to keep walking our Camino!