REFLECTIONS OF THE CAMINO PORTUGUESE
Welcome to our issue of the PADometer for the Summer of 2018. In past issues we have used our concept of the five trails to shape our five articles. In this issue we wanted to represent the shared experience of four Padakun friends, a Spring pilgrimage walk along the Portuguese Camino. There are dozens of routes across Western Europe that lead to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella in the western region of Spain called Galicia. Two of our group had walked the most famous route, called the Camino Frances previously, and one of us extended this walk with a second route to the pre-Christian pilgrimage to Finisterre (known as “The End of the World”). What we did together was the Coastal route that begins in Porto, Portugal, follows the sandy Atlantic shoreline, crossing into Spain after about 150 km near Pontevedra , then climbs to Santiago, for a total 14 day / 280 km pilgrimage.
We four – Ray, Johanna, Dunja and Lara – walked together and alone at different times. Almost every evening we met up for a catch-up dinner, sharing our day’s adventures. The walk was sometimes deeply satisfying, sometimes comical or weird, sometimes heavily discouraging. Although many pilgrims, including our two veterans valued their solo walks, our companionship was an indispensable component of our experience.
As with our Caminos, each of us takes a different path here in representing our walks. Ray talks about the meaning of being a pilgrim and the feeling of walking where centuries of others have gone. Johanna reflects on how long walks have shaped her life since childhood. Dunja explains how her three Caminos in 18 months marked her own transition to retirement and the lessons it taught her about being present in body and mind. Lara completes the quartet describing how the Camino possibility came by two coincidences and changed her life.
Each of these reflections forms a view of the relationship between walking and contemplation in our lives, the focal concern for Padakun. Since our return, we have been invited to share our Camino experience, in words and pictures in various Valley communities. Watch for our upcoming The Pilgrim Show, a multi-media event performance in a community close to you. This will combine some of these reflections with hundreds of our photos and local music from Portugal and Galicia. Maybe even some surprise snacks! We hope you’ll follow along with us, here, or at one of our shows.
A brief explanatory note: The Camino de Santiago is not one but over 25 possible routes, through eight possible countries, all arriving in the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostella. The most popular is the Northern or Camino Frances which goes from France , across northern Spain to Santiago. Two of our writers travelled this previously. For this piece, our writers travelled the northern half of the Camino Portuguese, which starts in Porto , Portugal. This Camino, in fact, splits in two with a Central route and a Coastal route. Our writers followed the Coastal Camino, which is half in Portugal and half in Spain. To complicate things, there is a shorter, pre-Christian pilgrimage which circles the Western part of the Spanish region of Galicia, from Santiago to Finisterre, “The End of the World”. Two of our pilgrim writers completed this as well.
1. A PILGRIM AMONG PILGRIMS
A pilgrim is a foreigner, someone who voluntarily travels away from their home. They are those who roam, driven by the desire to visit a distant site, usually one associated with religious meaning. They are the foreigner as observed by those whose lands they cross, and they seek to connect with the foreign, that which is unfamiliar to them. They are not nomads who wander with their tribe in search of livestock pasture. They are not tourists, those who seek and collect the experience of the foreign lands they visit. Nor are they marathoners, walkers for whom accumulated distance, speed and time are primary aims.
Similar in some ways to the nomad, pilgrims suspend their domestic settledness, along with the familiar and routine of that life. Unlike nomads they do not pursue pasturelands but rather the cultivation of their inner life. This comes to harvest for the pilgrim in the achievement of the shrine, temple, mountain or whatever marks the spiritual object of their journey.
My own experience on the Camino Portuguese and Camino Finisterre this past May cast me in the role of a pilgrim. I voluntarily travelled from my home and family. I eagerly desired to visit certain religious sites, primarily Catholic places of Spain and Portugal. As a Buddhist and not a Catholic, my spiritual connection was somewhat tangential to the spiritual history of this pilgrimage which meanders along the Iberian coast , from Porto in Portugal, to Santiago in Spain, about 300 km. Nonetheless, the journey included frequent familiar personal religious practice and deepened insights.
Perhaps the most persistent message of meaning that arose for me every day and, at times, with every step, was my participation across time with millions of other pilgrims. The worn steps, the scrawled messages on signposts, the fading yellow arrow markers all wrote the diary of people of all ages, colours and convictions who had planted their boots where I went. There were times when I was in sight of hundreds of others, some of whom I knew and saw repeatedly. Mostly they were strangers, strange except in their clear expression of our shared purpose. Other times, when I would walk for hours, sometimes most of a day, alone and out of contact and sight of any other walker, it was almost as if I could hear the footsteps and clicking staves of nameless companions on the centuries-old cobblestones.
There is a saying that on pilgrimage we are never alone. At the spiritual level, pilgrimage walkers in Japan refer to the presence of Jizo, the Eternal Pilgrim or Kobo Daishi, the founder of the legendary Shikoku route. On the European Caminos, it is St. James/ Sant-Iago, the Christian figure. In both cases, walkers say that the Saint walks along with us and stories abound of inspiring visions which appear just when the walker needs it most.
I cannot affirm any Christian prayers or practices, however, there were many miles where I performed recitative Buddhist practices, silent and aloud, as I walked. Sometimes this was to relieve boredom and loneliness. More often, the consequence of such practices is to establish our attention and energy on the companion figure, Jizo for me, and shift attention to the inner experience. The seascapes, mountain views and villages lanes are still present but they go into softer focus, below the intense awareness of one’s bodily sensations, thought flow and, most of all, a deep connection between walker and landscape. We come to experience a contemplative space, one of fields and forests, animals and sky. Our own presence transforms into a landscape feature, rather than as the centre of everything. One might say there is no walker, only walking.
This silent spiritual presence, contrasted by the cheery conversations with my three walking partners played like silence and melody in a three week-long walking song. And any pilgrim will affirm that the song changes from a joyful one to a silent chant to a pain-coloured dirge at multiple places along the route. Like every pilgrim, I had moments of deep questioning, even regret at my decision. Thankfully, there were many more moments of indescribable awe and beauty. I will never forget the view of the Atlantic rising into view as I approached the descent into Finisterre. Or the sunny sandy beach arrival at Viana de Costello. Nor the nightly clink of four wineglasses as we toasted our respective progress. A nosso, solo e ajunto. (To us, alone and together)
On my return, people ask “how was the Camino?”, as if one word or story could possibly encapsulate nearly a month of the most intense and varied living a person could imagine, or that my experience could stand for the incomprehensible variety of Caminos by countless pilgrims over the centuries. Finally, the question is not even one I could answer for myself after several months. Embedded back in my familiar life I continue to sift through memories and photos, as if, step by step, I am still walking a pilgrimage, not really sure what it will bring today.
Innen Ray Parchelo lives in the Town of Renfrew and is the creative energy behind Padakun, author, photographer and obsessive walker.
2. A SECOND CAMINO – SHARED
I have always been an avid walker. At eleven years old I hiked some twenty five miles to visit a school friend, an episode better known in our family as “when Johanna ran away from home”. In teenage rebellious years, I hitchhiked on our quiet rural roads, which often involved as many miles on foot as in a passenger seat. Not surprising then that as an adult when I arrived figuratively at a dark wood, I took the road less traveled, the Camino Frances. Or so I thought, before I learned that almost three hundred thousand pilgrims had walked the Camino Santiago that same year.
Despite the crowds on the Camino Frances across the top of Spain, I walked alone. I wanted to reflect, on how I had suddenly become a single sixty year old woman without any of the anchors to my former life. I walked through vineyards, across the vast central meseta, (plateau lands) along rivers and up mountains, taking my first steps toward reinventing myself as a solitary traveller, not just on this journey but in my life.
My second Camino de Santiago, in May of 2018, on the the less traveled Portuguese Coastal Route began also with things undone, unsettled, uncertain, unresolved. I was leaving a brother with advanced pancreatic cancer, a ninety-four year old mother and a large worried family. This trip would be different also, as I was meeting up with two fellow pilgrims from the Ottawa Valley. We each had individual itineraries and different levels of stamina, stride and strength. On the flight from Canada, I wondered how we three would function as a unit of companionship and support. I was used to traveling alone, not at all sure that I would want to match my steps or my stops to anyone else. Walking alone was power.
On the ancient Porto waterfront that first evening, over a bottle of good vinho branco (Portuguese white wine), we plotted strategy. As we preferred, we could walk on our own, leaving at whatever time we wished in the morning, taking breaks as wanted or needed, aiming for the same town or village for the night as the others but finding our own accommodations. It was a perfect arrangement, providing solitude but also the promise of companionship for dinner.
The Coastal Camino is a mix of spectacular ocean-front paths, leafy wooded trails and the cobblestone streets of villages and towns. The repetitive rhythm of walking calms the busy mind. Thoughts float by as effortlessly as the little puffy white clouds against the bluest of Portuguese blue skies. There is only the present moment until the smell of espresso and pasteis de nata (warm pastry) speaks of earthly joys in the cafes along the way. All is well.
Then a week into the journey, halfway to our destination of Santiago, a sprained ankle put a painful slow, swollen end to my walk. I felt weak and ashamed, as if this failure was my fault. If I were stronger and more determined, surely I could make myself walk through the pain. After all, wasn’t that what pilgrimage was all about; accepting suffering and rising above it. I thought of my active younger brother, struggling with a terminal diagnosis and the reality that his life’s path wasn’t unfolding as he had planned. Perhaps there was innate value in accepting my limitations rather than forcing my will upon the situation. Was this part of the Camino’s spiritual lesson… learning to accept what is, not what I would like it to be?
Thus I arrived via Portuguese train at the fabled Santiago Cathedral plaza and entered through the arched gateway where a Celtic piper welcomes pilgrims. It felt very different than my first arrival four years previously. This arrival had less intensity, less anticipation, less disillusionment. On my first visit I had found the area around the Cathedral overwhelmingly touristy and fled Santiago right after getting my compostela (pilgrim certificate). After weeks of solitary introspective walking I couldn’t relate to the joyous reunions of “Camino Families”—fellow pilgrims who had formed bonds of companionship throughout the long journey.
This time I had a Camino Family of my own in my Renfrew County companions. Meeting up in the plaza, taking the obligatory selfies with the Cathedral as back-drop, finding a cafe to celebrate was entirely the opposite of my previous silent and solitary arrival. I realized that I wasn’t the same person who had defiantly arrived in Santiago in 2014, newly detached from my life and work of more than twenty years. I had survived and I didn’t have to prove myself. I could simply enjoy the experience and my companions regardless of my “failure’ to do the entire route on foot. There will be more Camino routes in my future, each doubtlessly bringing their own joys, challenges and life lessons.
Johanna Antonia Zomers is a Renfrew County writer and veteran of farming and hospitality – and frequent resident of Spain.
3. IN THE PRESENCE OF MY LIFE
Reva Seth, founder of The Optimal Living Lab, speaks to how “pro-athletes, celebrities, Fortune 100 CEOs, and Silicon Valley billionaires have rhapsodized on how meditation and mindfulness are the most effective tools for health, personal performance, and well-being.” While none of these occupations describe me, a public health nurse, reading on I thought, yes, of course, meditation and mindfulness for mental health – and this is for everyone! While I continued reading her it came as no surprise (I’m sure to you too, dear reader) given “popular apps like Headspace ” all receiving millions of downloads to relieve the hunger and search for happiness and well being in these anxiety and stress filled times. There is no one I know that doesn’t struggle with something. Some then crave or search or opine for a sense of understanding or peace that emerges and arises from those struggles. I am no different.
Enter three Camino’s into my life : the Frances twice – 2 times 800 km and this spring the Portuguese, 280 km. With these the gift arrives, more fully understanding, arriving at that place of meditation and mindfulness and calm.
I’m one of those predictable humans who describes being “called” to the trek. I’m predictable too in being newly retired and like a teenager searching for the “what next” and the “who am I now.” The Camino, was a quest, to consider and reflect on my next steps as I reach the downward arc of an already good life. It seems therefore ironic to put into words the experience that is in those three Camino’s – covering well over 2,000 kilometers by foot in 18 months; for ultimately, to this walker, it is about languishing in and sustaining that space between thoughts and words. To be released, even if momentarily, from rumination and judgment, and instead, living in the moment. Being in the presence of my self, my essence, all initiated by the rhythm of walking and daily predictability. Walk, eat, wash, sleep – repeat times 40 odd days. In so doing, I was establishing a rhythm in building that “personal infrastructure of mental and emotional wellness and awareness” that Seth praises.
Of course, the Camino was also about intriguing and enriching Medieval history – Spain, Portugal, the Moors – resulting in spectacular Cathedral architecture. Charted by millions before, millenniums ago, the connections with spirit, soul and pilgrim journeys, and quests, first by Celts and then millions of latecomer Christians before reaching its peak in the Middle Ages informed and intrigued me. Then and now, it is about meeting and maintaining extraordinary connections with other world trekkers. It is about having intense and inspiring discussions, sometimes brief and often profound. The Camino is definitely about the kindness of strangers. Of even watching romance unfold and bloom. Yes, occasional disappointments with people too.
Immersion into the Spanish and Portuguese culture. Drinking: Vino Tinto! (red wine) Vino Blanco! (white wine), Cerveca con Limon (beer with lemonade). Cafe con leche (Latte). Eating: Torte Santiago. Frittatas (egg dishes). Chorizo (amazing hot spicy sausage). Fish. Tasting pulpo (squid). White beans.
Sweet sleep and snorers. Weather: Scorching heat and pouring rain. Blisters – only a few! Assortments of rotating muscle aches.
Being in naturally beautiful (and sometimes very ugly) environments while traipsing 800 km westward over Northern Spain or most recently coming south from Porto, Portugal along the beautiful Atlantic coast.
Both routes journey toward Santiago de Compostela to land under a “field of stars” ( the meaning of Compo-stella) and the supposed remains of St. James. The Camino was also about being driven by the 21st-century desire and need for physical activity and movement averaging 25 kilometers/day – over a six week period. Twice in 6 months.
Yes, it is all of this, and more, but, if I had to distill the Camino into a single most important thing, it was, about being in the moment, created by a state of rhythmic flow. As Seth states, “mindfulness and meditation are about regularly exercising the ability to be, deliberately and calmly, fully in the moment. This requires an individual to still his or her mind, control emotions and breathe regularly and deeply.” With the luxury of 6 weeks of constant practice during my first two rounds, this sums up precisely what the Camino was for me and why it is so addictive.
Now, as is often said, the pilgrim’s journey of the Camino begins not only along “the way,” but the real adventure starts after you arrive home. And while I don’t have the luxury of 6 weeks all to myself, I have greater access, like a crazy key, to knowing and understanding that state of awareness and happiness – bliss some might say.
The Seth article mentioned by Dunja is: Mindfulness and meditation need to be part of Canada’s mental-health strategy can be seen here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/mindfulness-and-meditation-need-to-be-part-of-canadas-mental-health-strategy/article35500635/
Dunja Kreznaric lives in Toronto and is a retired public health educator. She has completed three Caminos.
4. CAMINO: THE GIFT OF GROWTH IN THREE STEPS
Through simple acts of intention and attention, you can transform even a sleepwalking trip into a soulful journey. The first step is to slow down. The next one is to treat everything that comes your way as part of the sacred time that envelops your pilgrimage.
The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred, Phil Cousineau.
In part, this quote forms part of my answer to one of the first questions you hear upon meeting other pilgrims on the Camino – “what motivated your journey here?” I didn’t set out with any specific expectations or with the specific intention for my journey to be an expression of a religious belief. On reflection, my simple answer to what inspired me to become a pilgrim was to slow down, take the next step to attend to my experience along the journey and to pay homage. In the moment, I wasn’t able to articulate as clear a response for myself or to any others asking. I understand now that part of the journey continues to be in reflecting and processing the experience after the return home. My Camino could be said to have three steps.
STEP 1: PREPARE
When a close friend said to me “I’m thinking about doing the Camino Portuguese, would you like to come?” He may as well have asked me in Japanese how to make a flying bicycle. I had no idea what Camino meant or why I would be interested. But I know my friend to be keenly interested in new experiences related to walking, a passion we share, and I got drawn in by his enthusiasm in pursuing the details. Fast forward to departure day on May 13 following 10 months of planning, researching, purchasing and packing and my dear friend and I arrived in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto, leaving my hamster-wheel life behind for a chance to slow down.
STEP 2: EAT, WALK SLEEP, REPEAT
Arriving, having done just enough preparation to be comfortable, it was freeing to begin each day with one purpose – to walk and then be open to whatever came my way. The daily and what came to be comforting and familiar routine included – packing, reviewing the day’s planned route, breakfast, departure, walking [15-30+km/day], arrival, celebration, meal, sleep – repeat all of it 15 times. This pattern was anything but monotonous and uninteresting -though many days breakfast was with the consistent pattern of white bread, sliced processed meat, sliced processed cheese, yogurt and maybe, on a good day, fresh fruit. Thankfully, the fantastic coffee, seafood, pastries, Galician Cider, Port and wine redeemed the bland morning meals!
Every day was a fresh start to enjoy grand, stunning architecture, fantastic coastal views and beaches, beautiful, warm sunny days with little rain, friendly local people in each small town or city and most memorably, the incredible experience to meet and learn from other pilgrims on the path. The main element to form the sacred time which enveloped my pilgrimage was the deepening of cherished friendships and the joy of meeting and making new friends – Australian, Spanish, English, Columbian, Canadan, American, South African, Portuguese, German, Czech, Maltese, Italian, French and yes, even from Eganville, Renfrew County.
STEP 3: USING TWO GIFTS
Friendship blessed me with both the dream and the resources to fulfill the dream of my first visit to Europe and to walk the Camino. When I was offered the opportunity by one cherished friend, it was clear almost immediately that this was also an opportunity to pay homage to another cherished and life long friend, Linda. Linda was present at my birth and the birth of my three children, sons Jacob and Alex who live nearby and my cherished Rosebud Jordan who died too young. Linda and I joined our family Thanksgivings together for as long as I can remember. Linda’s lovely home in the Toronto “Beaches” neighbourhood was always a refuge and second “home in the city.” Linda was an experienced traveller and talented artist. It was an easy decision to say “yes” to one friend to join him on this trip called the Camino, using the gift to me from another cherished friend “to follow a dream and a wish”, as described in Linda’s will.
If someone were to ask if I would recommend the experience to others, I could just say:
- Breathtaking ocean views
- Food, food, food – Pollo and seafood
- Tarta Santiago
- Kite surfing
Or, I could just say…
Absolutamente. Isso irá mudar sua vida.
(Absolutely, this will change your life!)
Lara Mylly is a community health activist and devoted walker in Renfrew County.