Monthly Archives: July 2016

pilgrimage

Clare Batty, USA

“I was stunned to find my mom and brother both vomiting and fainting with weakness on the bathroom floor. It was day three of our pilgrimage on the Camino, and we had just arrived at an albergue in Frómista after walking 25 km that day from Castrojeriz–the most distance in a day we had attempted so far.

We really thought we could push ourselves, but muscular overexertion had led to lactic acidosis and acute illness for my mom and brother. Not surprisingly, some sympathetic peregrinos stepped up to assist us by providing cold water and hot tea. As the only one still able-bodied in our party, I took responsibility to find a private room in this unfamiliar Spanish town, temporarily leaving my family to be safely cared for at the albergue. With tired muscles, I gingerly walked along the quiet streets to find a nearby casa rural. Luckily, using my advanced Spanish skills, the hospitalera warmed to me (I’m sure she could sense my anxiety) and offered me a good room where I was able to help my family recover. I enlisted some fellow American peregrinos to help transfer our gear and support the invalids across the little town to the serene hostel. One peregrino named Mike even shared a little prayer of healing over my family. It was a small moment of compassion that still moved and consoled us. We never saw Mike or his family again after that encounter, but I will always be grateful for their kindness.

Despite my own exhaustion and anxiety for my family, I embraced my unanticipated role as caretaker. Lying on the floor between the single beds, I was up all night repositioning my mom and brother. In their incredibly weak state, I would hold up their heads to sip cups of tea and even had to transfer them onto the toilet when needed. Seeing them in this incredibly weak state greatly concerned me. I asked myself, ‘Will they recover? Should we continue on this arduous journey? Where do we go from here?’

Ultimately, after two days of rest, we decided to continue on our pilgrimage, and try to persevere. My family and I had to reconsider our strengths and limitations as we continued our journey on the Camino. Even after this difficult speed bump, we remained steadfast with our goal to walk to Santiago.

With lighter packs and shorter distances per day, we were able to continue hiking, and finally reached Santiago de Compostela many days later. As I reflect on that trip, I see that it was both a geographic and an internal journey allowing us to find our own strengths and weaknesses within ourselves and as a family unit. It took teamwork and leadership. The pilgrimage tested our physical strength and mental endurance, and without the support from one another and other pilgrims, it would have been nearly impossible. In a foreign environment, we found it crucial to connect with new people in a respectful and understanding way. I am truly grateful for these encounters I made along ‘the Way’ that continue to inspire me on my personal life journey.”

– Clare Batty, USA

Santiago de Compostela

Katharine Elliott, “The Walking Woman,” USA

“In 2014, I walked the Camino Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I walked after knowing for over two years that I would walk. When people asked why, all I could say was, ‘I am supposed to.’ Their puzzled faces were nothing compared to the confusion in my own mind. Yet I knew deep in my being that this Camino, this 500-mile walk across northern Spain following in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims before me, was mine to walk. It was a deep ‘soul knowing’ which made no logical sense based on my current life commitments or finances. It just was.

This knowing took place in the fall of 2011. It had been a year during which I had spent several months with my mom as she battled the decisions, and inevitably the surgery, she would face in learning she had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It was also the year I realized the inevitable: my marriage was crumbling and would not survive without a new outlook. I needed a new perspective.

In the summer of 2011, I started reading. Our small outdoor garden in Rovinj, Croatia became my sanctuary. Dr. Wayne Dyer, Anita Moorjani, and Gregg Braden became daily companions. My paperback version of The Power of Intention was frayed after three readings, and my poor Sony E-book was locked onto Dying to Be Me and Deep Truths.

What happened was an awakening. In a short time, I understood that there is no then and now, here or there… everything is happening at once and time is not a linear continuum. And I came to believe there are no coincidences. I now understood the saying ‘the teacher appears when the student is ready.’ Often in the most fascinating of ways!

Late in the summer of 2011, my copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, his tale of walking El Camino, appeared. That I happened upon it hidden in the back of a dusty bookshelf intrigued me. Reading his words a second time, this ancient trek called to me.

That summer, I opened my thoughts to the possibilities that life as we see it is simply a fraction of what is taking place in our Universe. I came to understand that messages are sent in many ways if we but watch and listen. Synchronicities such as Coelho’s book no longer surprised me. What also no longer surprised me was the validation and guidance we can receive from our angels.

I had believed since my mother-in-law’s passing, a woman I dearly loved as family and friend, that the energy of our souls continues to cross boundaries after death. Difficult to comprehend, this communication can come to us in a variety of ways. She taught me that Angels exist!

By early 2012, I committed that I would indeed walk the Camino. By that time, my sister Jeannie who had passed away of pancreatic cancer in December of 2007 and my Aunt Mary Jo who died in February of 2012, had made their way to me. Angels surrounded me! And my belief in their abilities to guide, as well as my new-found belief that we can co-conspire with the Universe, were my operating status quo.

And so it was set. Fall of 2014 was the timeframe for my walk. In April of that same year, the faltering, maybe healing, marriage tumbled. Without the specifics which are not important here, my husband and I both knew it was over. How interesting the timing of the Universe! I would be walking the Camino as my marriage was ending… when I likely needed solitude the most!

In September of 2014, I followed my heart – followed my soul’s call – and began the Camino Frances from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The experience of my trek was completely and utterly joyful. It reaffirmed my belief, an unquestioning understanding that the Universe will conspire on my behalf if I just flow with it… if I simply let it. Everything in my life was happening in undeniable precision… nothing in my life was out of order. And my angels were with me, teaching and guiding.

Beyond all else, these last remarkable four years of my life have taught me to listen. Listen to the energies of the Universe. Listen to the knowledge my soul cradles deep within. Listen to the love and guidance of my guardian angels…believe that all I need to know, all I need to understand, is available to me if I simply remain open to the forces of the Universe and listen.

As I write this, well over a year since that magnificent Camino experience, my soul’s knowledge that I am to continue to walk far away trails has taken me to the southern reaches of Patagonian Chile and Argentina. I have traveled to remote reaches of the Scottish Highlands. In the fall of 2015, I walked a 200-mile portion of the famed Via Francigena in Italy, the ancient pilgrimage walk from Canterbury to Rome. And coming up next, the Camino Portuguese in fall 2016!

Guiding messages from my angels, along with the belief and understanding that the Universe truly conspires with us when we allow ourselves to surrender, all led me to the above, which is an excerpt from my book, A Camino of the Soul: Learning to Listen When the Universe Whispers. I hope you’ll also take a look at my blog, where I cover many more of my other travels, and my Facebook pages. And that you never forget to listen. Always listen.”

-Katharine Elliott, “The Walking Woman,” USA

Compostella

Angela Lucas, England

“The Camino de Santiago de Compostella, or the Way of St. James, is an ancient pilgrimage route in the Galician mountains of northern Spain. It is many things to different people. Physically, emotionally and spiritually it is an amazing adventure that tests endurance and faith.

Beginning in the French Pyrenees the route stretches across the mountains to the city of Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain. The total journey can take between 5-7 weeks. My daughter, Sharon, and I chose to do the last 100 kms of the route and originally estimated it would take 13 days. However we completed in 9 days at an average of 10 miles a day.

Our Camino had taken two years of on and off planning. Initially meant as a celebration of my eightieth birthday, family bereavements meant we waited for two years. This gave us, and me in particular, time to research and choose equipment carefully. Having type 2 diabetes taking care of my feet was the priority. It took time, and mistakes, to find suitable walking shoes and, having bought them, for three months I wore them almost continuously, even in the house, until the shoes and I were well adjusted to each other!. Following advice I used the Vaseline and two pairs of socks method. First smothering my feet well with a thick layer of Vaseline I wore a pair of hiking socks liners then traditional marino wool hiking socks. This worked well and I had no blisters

There is a well-developed system of hostels, albergues, catering for the thousands of pilgrims. We walked from Sarria to Santiago and in this stretch albergues were about ten miles apart. They vary in size but commonly are large rooms equipped with bunks. Washing facilities may be very basic and most have showers. We stayed in one small albergue accommodating just eight people. Another had fifty bunks but only one toilet and communal showers. On some days, tired after a long day walking and not managing to find an albergue nearby my daughter and I stayed in a Pension with our own room – and toilet!

To my surprise the average pilgrim was between fifty to seventy years old. Many we met were at a reflective time in life dealing with personal issues. There were people grieving after a death. One man whose wife had recently died, carried a red candle which he would light at each overnight stop. Some pilgrims were dealing with serious illness but did not want that to define them.

There was something surreal about walking the ancient route. Removed from the familiarity of everyday life people sometimes walked alongside others telling their stories and explaining their very personal reasons for doing the pilgrimage.. We heard stories of heartache, loneliness illness and loss.

A group of seventeen year old college students from Ireland were fun to meet. Their neat, tidy looks were soon changed as they had to walk through mud that reached their knees. But they did not moan, not even the girls who had started out with pretty pink trainers that soon got trashed in the mud.

An Australian lady, doing a gap year in Europe, heard about the Camino, thought it was a good idea, bought a pair of boots and the next day started walking. Without sensible preparation it only took four days for her to have palm-sized infected blisters that needed daily antibiotic injections.

We only met two English people, others were from Germany, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Bolivia

Firstly the challenge is physical. Guide books explained the terrain was hilly – it depends on what is meant by hilly! Walking in the mountains meant continually walking steeply uphill. We even walked up the side of a narrow waterfall. Thick black churned up mud took some negotiating. On our first day, trying to hold onto a tree while finding a firm footing I slipped full length in the mud. I broke the straps on my front-pac and redesigned the look of my clothes. The mud soon dried, we bought a new pac and the bruise on my hip is fading.

We heard tales of twisted knees, sprained ankles and infected blisters. Yet people dusted themselves down, bandaged themselves up and just continued.

The journey started long before we left home and at times I was anxious. I am not heroic or athletic and knew that I was taking on something bigger than myself. Just how big that would turn out to be only became obvious when I saw the first steep hill and deep trench of mud. Wanting to keep the backpack weight down my daughter and I had weighed everything on the kitchen scales – even our sox – choosing the options that weighed less.

We were so grateful to have been careful about the weight we would carry. Aiming for four kilos, the actual weight including water was nearer to six kilos. . For three days the temperature reached 80 degrees but we still had to walk carrying our backpacs. I poured water over my head to try and cool down.

We also used small front pacs. It was a convenient way to carry things used all the time. Things like water, paracetamol, tissues, camera and phone.

I could never have done the Camino without the help of my amazing daughter.
I am very independent and don’t like being helped. However I soon learned that to accept a helping hand when the trail was tricky was sensible. It was Sharon, who can speak Spanish, who did the hostel finding and ordered our meals and taught me how to order coffee in the evening cafes. The Camino showed me that I am capable of stretching myself way beyond my own limits. This is a lesson to take into other areas of life.

Would I do this again? I would love to, but won’t. Its an experience that can’t be replicated. However, there is a gentler route starting in Portugal. I would like to meet people who have started their pilgrimage there. It could be a possibility and I have started mentioning the idea to friends.

There were moments that had us helplessly laughing. My daughter was very proud to be taking her ‘old’ mother on the Camino. I would hear her saying to other pilgrims or to Spanish people “Madre mia…” and knew that she was about to say, again, “My mother is eighty two”
Sturdy men, usually American, wanted to have their photograph taken with us. One man, telling his friends he wanted to go home, that it was all too hard, was persuaded to continue when he heard about ‘that lady who is eighty two’.

When we arrived at one coffee stop, two Italian ladies came rushing to meet us. They smothered me with hugs and kisses, saying “We heard you were coming, congratulations, you are very welcome!” Well, Sharon and I laughed so much. I felt like an ancient monument.

The journey’s final steps are taken when walking into the ancient Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. For me this was the culmination of an awesome pilgrimage. It was a sacred time of worship and of sharing in the Pilgrims Mass alongside people who had pushed themselves beyond fear, anxiety, blisters, wounds, and even serious illness and heartache. Nobody is free from pain on the Camino.

In the Christian tradition, a special part of the usual Sunday morning church service is a moment when people greet each other. Usually they will say ‘God bless you’ or ‘The peace of Christ’.

In the amazing Santiago cathedral as the priest announced the moment to share the Peace of Christ, it gave a whole new depth of meaning to the privilege of sharing the meaning of Christ. Pilgrims who were tired, elated and humbled hugged each other and even wept together at the awesome privilege of travelling a unique journey alongside very special people, yet ordinary people, who were true travel companions

Each pilgrim carried a large scallop shell on the back of the rucksac; it represents the changed life experienced on The Way and the realisation that each pilgrim would return home a different person. I came home fitter, slimmer, somehow different and realising that it has been possible to stretch myself beyond anything I thought possible. We did it!”

– Angela Lucas, England

Camino experience

Maria Macri, Australia

“I have dealt with a lot of changes in my life over the past 15 years. I moved out of Sydney years ago, but after my marriage ended, I moved back home. That was a tough transition. I felt stressed, and I really felt like I needed something to help me relax and find myself. So I began thinking about an overseas trip. My cousin Daniela asked if I might be interested in the Camino. At the time, I knew nothing about it. So, she suggested a few books to read, but what hooked me was the Martin Sheen movie, ‘The Way.’ I was sold and ready to go. I needed more of a challenge in my life and I really felt the Camino would provide that for me. With me on board, Daniela, I and two other cousins, Manuela and Barb left for St. Jean Pied de Port, off on our Camino experience.

As it was with anyone who’s started the Camino without much experience, the beginning of the trip was difficult. I had to get used to walking those long distances every day, dealing with the changing terrain, and coping with the snoring (and the lack of sleep as a result). It was hard to get into a groove for a while. Things did change though, in an unexpected way. One of my cousins was unfortunately only able to join for 2 weeks of the journey – it was sad to see her leave midway through the Camino as she really talked me through the tough times at the start. But, in the end, her departure was a good thing. I found my feet without my confidante.

The turnaround in my Camino came from our time at the donativo albergue in Grañon. Housed inside a church, It took in pilgrims on a donations basis. There’s no fee to stay, there’s a big communal meal included, and pilgrims make a donation if they can. My cousin Manuela suggested this place as it would be a different experience from the normal albergues we had stayed at thus far. It was a turning point for me because one of the hospitaleros – the volunteers working at albergues – there said something very significant to me. I hadn’t had a chance to speak to him at all upon our arrival and through much of our evening there, but he must have observed the dynamics of our group during our stay. During our time of reflection in the church after dinner, out of the blue the hospitaliero came over to talk to me, and said, ‘You need to make this Camino your own. It will help you be more strong and affirmative. Just by observing the group, you seemed to be struggling a bit, and if you want to make the most of it, you need to make the move to do so.’

After thinking about this advice, on many days I started to walk ahead of or behind people just to find my own time and space to myself. If that hospitalero didn’t say anything I would have just kept going the same way I’ve gone in the past, and my Camino would’ve been completely different. Around this time, I met Alberto, a Spanish pilgrim who spent 4-5 days with me and my cousins, and was a great help and a godsend at times. In one example, he suggested that we catch a bus into Burgos, both to avoid the more industrial path that led into Burgos, and to give our bodies a little rest. As we arrived into San Juan de Ora the bells are ringing our welcome. Here we are told of a bus you can catch into Burgos, though it was another 5km or so down the road, which we did not want to walk. As we are discussing the next plan of action miraculously a taxi pulls up behind us. Alberto starts to negotiate with the driver to take us into Burgos yeah! What a relief.

The food at shared meals was always great, but more importantly, it really brought us peregrinos together as a community. It’s the way life should be. And over time you meet more and more people, and recognize more and more faces during the weeks-long walk. We reached Santiago in about 5 weeks, and I was so grateful there to run into so many of those people I met along the way that I didn’t expect to see again. I try to remain in contact today with a lot of those great people I met. Talking to my Camino friends is something that brings me back to the experience. I really enjoyed the trip once I found my feet. My only major issue was weight of my bag. I honestly couldn’t tell you how much it weighed, but boy was it heavy. I may have packed a bit too much. Often, people would see that my bag was heavy and would offer to help me by carrying it for a bit… but the bag was my burden to carry.

After Santiago, we wanted to see Finisterre, but sadly, time was not on our side to walk there. We took a cab there so we could see the coast and the ‘end of the world.’ Our driver was a very nice man who took the time to show us around one of the villages before Finisterre. He asked me if I would come back next year and do the Camino with him, and at that point I said ‘No way! I’m done and that’s it.’ After 5 weeks, I was done walking! We enjoyed Finisterre and on leaving Santiago, Manuela and Barb went off to Switzerland and I still had another 6 weeks of travel through Europe. But, after being at home for a week, one day I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing here? I’d rather be walking!’ And now, I’m constantly thinking of when my next walk will be.”

– Maria Macri, Australia