Sunday, 17 June 2012

El Camino Day 7 After the finish

El Camino Day 7 After the finish
Santiago is flooded with tourists and Camino pilgrims. There is a great atmosphere of friendship and a lot of greeting for everyone who looks familiar from so many days walking and the evenings spent in hostels and hotels. I too have known a lot of people on the way, and get a lot of smiles and greetings.
We take a walk around Santiago which is full of old monumental buildings. The cathedral and its daily 'fumeiro' is not to be missed. The museum of contemporary art is also worth a visit, notably a Matta Clark installation and an exhibition titled Gravity and Disgrace. The old city is full of life with its shops, bars and restaurants.
In the cathedral area I am greeted by Ceaser, an Indian christian from Bangalore. Later someone comes to tell me that they have seen a Sikh man, and my hopes of meeting Amrit, mentioned in an earlier blog are revived. Indeed I meet the man at the foot of the stairs up to the cathedral entrance. We feel like long lost friends, exchange information, he is also with fellow walkers including a seventy year old lady from San Antonio, Texas. There is more amazement when I reveal that Manjeet lives Close to them in Austin. Amrit and I exchange contact details, Amrit is interested in doing the coastal Camino, which passes through Laredo, and we agree to stay in touch and to meet in Laredo when he comes by.
After a quick bite to eat at one of the many ordinary and disappointing eatries we run to our hotel to collect our packs in pouring rain and to get taxis for the bus station to catch our bus that will take us home.

I have been sending out positive energy everyday from the Camino de Santiago to all my family and friends, and I hope that you all have felt it coming your way..

Buen Camino for the rest of our lives..

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 6 Pedrouzo to Santiago

Camino de Santiago Day 6 Pedrouzo to Santiago 18 kms
Breakfast was interesting. We stayed at a family home and were served in their dining room..just as well since the place was a good distance from the town and saved us time. The man of the house however became unpopular with the girls when he announced that he would suppprt introducing in Spain the old Indian custom of burning the wife in the funeral pyre of a man!
Soon we were on the Camino and evryone excited by the prospect of finishing. One of the group had discovered that when a group reaches the Monte Gozo, about 5 kms from Santiago, they had to race up to the point from which the cathedral spires can be seen. The first to arrive is declared the 'king' of the group!
Once again the camino passed through beautiful countryside, and we met many interesting people along the way, such as Martin the 'Bill Bryson' look alike American who had spent 6 weeks on the Camino, the Korean couple who had learnt Spanish at school and amazingly could converse easily, and the Australian from Cookstown who appeared happy to be approaching the end. 
I had walked quite fast for a while and was amazed to find myself miles ahead of everyone, and it occured to me that the group had conspired to let me arrive first at Mount Gozo. I was mortified and had this urge to share the honours with the group. I stopped at a nice little church and after about fifteen minutes was united with the group. We finished together flushed with happiness.  
A few kilometers later we all arrived at the cathedral, a wonderful piece of architecture, and flopped out in front of it. After a few celebratory photographs, we queued up to get our 'compostela'. When my turn came and I approached the agent at the Pilgrims Office, the young man looked up from his desk and said to me 'I know you'!! It turns out that he had seen me on the Spanish Tv program Destination Spain on which I appeared a few weeks ago. 
After a week full of so much emotion and tears this was quite a treat, needless to say that we all got our certificates and went off to give thanks and celebrate. 
This has been one of my best experiences in Spain.  

Friday, 15 June 2012

El Camino Day 5 Arzua to Pedrouzo - 20 kms

El Camino Day 5 Arzua to Pedrouzo - 20 kms
Once again we head for breakfast at 0730 and am one of the first of our group to appear with my roommate Fonsi, who is the undisputed fastest and fittest of the group. He is an ideal person to share lodgings, clean, flexible, polite and most importantly quiet! He is also experienced walker so is an important member of the group. All the group members came to India in 2008, on my birthday party and thats a bond that unites us in that we are comfortable in the company, even though there are minor irritations as in any large group. There are ten of us, two couples, four women and two men without partnrs. 
Getting back to breakfast, I notice a woman sitting in the corner of the bar, finishing her food. A little later she gets up and as she passes by she stops and says hello to me. This is not unusual, given my appearance, which attracts attention in most parts of the world. 'You are from India, right?' and when I agree she says 'I was not sure because you look so white'. Not a very good opening but it emerged that this Italian woman lived in Switzerland, had spent some time in an ashram in India, had done some pilgrimages around Dehradun and had walked all the way from her home in Switzerland. We exchanged experiences and stories, she had been walking for two months but finding it less spiritual than India. I had the opposite experience even though we have been out for only 5 days. Having lived in Dehradun myself it was a very interesting encounter.
We started walking through a haunting landscape in woods with tall sycamores in howling wind and rain. A blackbird followed me for virtually the whole walk and I began to get into a trance with the sound of the wind. Remembering the writings of Castaneda, I began to let the wind take me flying up through the trees and to my folks. I imagined being with Dad and Mom, Mamaji, Marisol, and Jito. And I would have sworn that I was hearing Beeji (Grandma) and Angel (father in law) who may have been smiling at me walking along the Camino.
Suddenly someone passed me and wished me 'buen camino', looked at me and although I was totally hidden in a rain cape, said 'are you Indian?' Once again I agreed and discovered that he was too. Vikas, a young man of about 30, from Delhi and his Korean friend were like me following a spiritual quest.    He was a bright Management type from an IIT in India headed to Stanford to continue his studies!  Comforting that others like me believe that the Camino is universal, even though all the symbology and themes relating to it are predominantly Christian.
Only 18 more kilometers left and tomorrow we will stand in front of the splendid cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

El Camino Day 4 Melide to Arzua - 14 kms

El Camino Day 4 Melide to Arzua - 14 kms
After a good nights rest recovering from the excesses the evening before we woke up as scheduled and took stock of the injuries. Apparantly people had recovered somewhat and since we had only a small walk today, we did not to visit any medical facilties.
After a good breakfast we took to the Camino in rain with our hoods from the start. Everyone is now so used to the rain capes that its now part of our routine. This stage of the walk came as a surprise in that we walked during long periods through beautiful countryside with absolute silence. All the senses were in full function, and all the natural sounds such as birds, flowing brooks and the blood rushing through the veins were creating a deafening roar in my ears. It was as if the ears were using automatic adjustment of volume in the absence of sound.
I was listening to the sounds of silence. 
At one point I could hear a stream but could not see where it was. I followed the sound and saw a small stream flowing under a head of vegetation with a beautiful meadow and an idyllic place to meditate and forget the world. I wondered how many pilgrims had stood at the very spot and took a few deep breaths to absorb the energy of the spot.
Later we came to a small town and the smallest sounds were deafening to my ears used to the silence. A hedge trimmer was like a chain saw and a car going by was like a plane taking off. It stopped raining, more wonderful nature, a Frenchman with his bags on a donkey, and getting almost runover by a car while I listened to The Byrds' I was so much older then, I am younger than that now with tears rolling down my face...... 
This experiece is infectious and I can see how some people get hooked on doing this for long periods. By 11am we had already reached our destination, and nearly carried on as we could not believe how quickly the walk was over for today. 
We are now 38 kms from the end and two medium walks will see us in Santiago on Saturday!  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

El Camino Day 3 Palas del Rey to Melide

El Camino Day 3 Palas del Rey to Melide 16 kms
Overnight I slept badly but took the opportunity to meditate. It was as if a TV had switched on in my mind! I would like to believe that in my meditative state I saw my guardian angel for the first time. Seeing her (it was a woman) a lot of things in my life begin to make sense.
My senses are now fully alive and I feel the energy of the travellers on the Camino. Its only the third day and already there are problems with legs and feet in the group. A quick trip to a local surgery resolves the urgent cases and we take to the Camino. 
Today we did only half of a long section so it was a relatively easy walk in the most amazingly gorgeous countryside. We started a bit later than usual, and by about 11am we were already half way sitting in a cafe and tucking into food and drink. Later on the outskirts of Melide we came to a very pretty little town called Furelos, where there was a Roman footbridge and a nice little church with a special display to mark the day of San Antonio. I paid my dues from numerous occasions when we have pledged a contribution to find a parking space (Mr Anthony is the patron of finding things!). Then I said a little prayer and lit some candles, got my compostela stamped before continuing.
Soon we were in Melide and relaxing with a few drinks followed by lunch, by which time the group had collectively consumed about ten bottles of local wine! The siesta naturally followed and thoughts moved to the next stage. Along the way today I came across the following written on one of the road signs that we passed
I am on my own but not alone
I truely love you
And I am doing this for the two of us

 I could not have put it better myself...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 2 Camino Portmarin to Palas del Rey

El Camino Day 2 Portomarin to Palas del Rey 25 kms 
Once again we made an 8am start for the 25 km stage. There were a few showers along the route but by now we are used to them and the rain cape and the hood continue to make carrying their weight worthwhile. The terrain was quite hilly and about half the walk today was uphill, and while this makes for a thorough aerobic workout, it did separate the group once again into two sets, the faster set and the rest who were not too far behind. 
The Stage itself was very pretty but less than the previous day, with a few kms going along roads which spoil the experience somewhat. At one point we were treated to a spectacular rainbow, as if nature was compensating the pilgrims for having to walk in rain. At one point we caught up with an Italian group of two couples, one of the men being of my kind of age. After a brief greeting we got talking and I learnt that Mario had retired recently, rather like me and sought some experience on the Camino. He said he was afraid of what lay ahead in his life but could not explain his reasons, and was hoping that he would feel something when he finished in Santiago. We discussed a few ideas among them the possibility that our meeting had some spiritual significance and perhaps important messages for each other without being aware of what these messages were. 
During our talk we realised that our paths had crossed in the early seventies when Mario had visited London and the same locations which I used to frequent during the same period. We were starting to be on the same wavelength and parted by exchanging emails and agreeing to continue the conversation after Sangtiago. 
There were much less to see on this section, and only a handful of cafes to stop at. We made it to Palas del Rey around 3pm just like on the previous day when we walked about the same distance. After checking into our hostel for the night we once again did a little excursion to find a place to have lunch,  followed by a shower, rest, sightseeing, a drink or two and to bed. Palas del Rey had very little to offer the sightseer, but a collection of Camino walkers looking to pass the time and virtually no locals out and about. Sort of eerie! 
All of us are relatively well and beginning to gain confidence that the physical walk is going to be possible. Everyone has some pain or the other but nothing that cannot be fixed. So far so good, the weather forecast for tomorrow is good, but showers for the rest of the week. Luckily tomorrow is a short section, so virtually a rest day! 
Wish us 'Buen Camino'

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 1 Sarria to Portmarin

Day 1 - Sarria to Portomarin 24kms
We assemble for breakfast at the only bar open at 7:30am near our hostel, and we are ready to start our Camino. Everyone is prepared and excited to finally start walking after weeks of preparation. We have to pull out our rain capes straightaway as a shower comes down but we have already practised in our preparation. We get two or three showers during the day but not enough to cause any problems such as soaked shoes.
We walk exquisite countryside, the path is well maintained with excellent markings and many cafes and hostels alomg the way. We have a lot of company as dozens of walkers are going the same way as us. Everyone uses the greeting 'buen camino' with the walkers or buenos dias with the locals. We walk at differnt speeds and soon the group is split into two or three sets. We chat to many walkers from all over the world. One Scottish man tells me he has seen another Sikh man called Amrit, who maybe within twenty kms of where we are and the Scot comments 'his beard is not as spectacular as yours'. I am thrilled and look forward meeting up with Amrit. Later I meet a Japanese lady who has been walking for a month starting from the French border about 600 kms away.
Finally comes a casual meeting with a man, which is destined to kindle my spiritual fires. Its only a fleeting encounter as he is the only one walking in the opposite direction, one amongst hundreds. I can only think of asking his name and where he is going and he has such an air of calm and reminds me of the 'sadhus' of India, who give all earthly belongings and relationships to discover the meaning of life and Nirvana. He is Pedro and walking back to his home in Barcelona, more than a thousand miles away. Without knowing why I am overcome with emotion and we continue our walks in opposite directions.
Later, after getting to Portmarin, checking into our hostel, lunch followed by a shower, I lay down and remember the meeting with Pedro and wonder if it was one of those meetings that was supposed bring me a message. I cant help feeling that I have missed an opportunity and perhaps I should have asked him more searching questions. Questions like what he found on the Camino, what were his objectives, what did he feel when he got to Santiago and stood in front of the cathedral and many more. It occurs to me that the Camino must be full of the energy left behind by millions of walkers, many of them highly spiritual, and that I should try and feel this energy and absorb it for my own develoment. Also I should watch out for more people like Pedro and try and get the messages they may have for me.
I have a new excitement for the days ahead, and I am thankful to have this opportunity, which I owe to a large extent, to someone who may not even be aware of what she has done for me merely by not being able to join me on this walk!!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

El Camino - Day 0

It is day 0 and we catch a train from Bilbao and make our way to Sarria where we will begin our walk tomorrow morning. The group is in a good mood and there is a lot of laughter.We go through stunning countryside as we make our way to Galicia.
After a drink and a few snacks ( including a bagful of pistacios) we have a nap - its a long nine hours on the train. We listen to music and keep an eye on the French open tennis final where Nadal is playing  (rain interrupted continues tomorrow) and the Euro 2012 football match between Spain and Italy (ends 1:1).
Finally we arrive in Sarria, get to our hostel, take a walk around town, have dinner and visit a bar for a nightcap. The barman wants me to try his curry and I dont have the heart to tell him its lousy. Everyone wishes us well and in good spirits we head for our rooms for an 8am start and set our alarms.
Everyone is raring to go!!!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

El Camino - beckons

In a couple of days we, a group of friends and I, will embark on a walk of some 110 Km which forms the last section of the bigger Camino de Santiago. This is the minimum that one needs to do in order to obtain the certificate known as the 'compostela' which needs to be stamped in numerous places on the way to ensure you actually did the walk. This last section consists of five stages which we will try and walk in six days.
Why are we doing this? Each member of the group has his or her reasons, mine are:
  • Discover the psyche of the culture of Christian peregrination
  • Improve my own spiritual karma
  • Learn to be for a long period in a group and also on my own
and confront my destiny..what is the meaning of the rest of my life..

I had read many books on the subject and talked to many people who had done it, and recently also saw the Holywood version, so I guess it was inevitable that one of these days I would get to do some portion of the Camino, and with the support of a large group, it seems possible.

What should we carry? As with any project of this nature the goods you carry with you are as important as the walk itself. Having read Bill Bryson's 'Walk in the woods' about his adventures with the Appalachian Trail on the east coast of the US, where he starts off with a pack of about 50 Kilos and by the third day has thrown most of the contents of his backpack away (including that most essential of items - chocolate!), I decided on the light rucksack.
  • Three pairs of socks
  • equal number of underpants
  • teeshirts - three again
Maybe there is a theme building around the number three here
  • One extra pair of shorts
  • A rain cape (sort of tent that covers you entirely) - the heaviest item at about half kilo
  • slippers
  • one light jacket (for the early morning starts)
  • a few toiletries (all small)
  • Tissues - (this also useful for toilet emergencies on the Camino!)
  • Wallet with CC, cash, and some ID - not forgetting the compostela!
  • Pair of walking sticks - these are still debatably optional - might leave these out..
  • Foot creams and some medicines
  • Plastic bags, safety pins and clips to hang various items from the rucksack or clothes lines or whatever.
It s almost certain that we will have forgotten to take something or the other along, that we will only discover when we need it. A long bus/train journey takes us to Sarria in Galicia where we start. Then follow six days of walking and resting at various hostels along the way which we have reservations for already.
People tend to start early, some as early as 5am, but I have a feeling our group will redefine early to around 8am.

For the last few days the bigger outdoor sport shops have been doing a roaring trade with our group, who have mostly never done anything like this so have to buy all new kit. Hopefully most of the things are a good investment, but I cant help thinking of all those medieval walkers many of whom were convicts doing this as a punishment, and who never had access to the big stores selling all kind of stuff to make their journeys comfortable.

I am sure we will be missing all that hardship..I will report from the walk itself next week..and send out positive energies to all of you as I build my spiritual Karma..

Wish us luck and make a prayer to help us along if you can..