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Posts Tagged ‘O Cebreiro’

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What I’ve Learned on the Camino

Today marks my seventh day of walking on the Camino to Santiago Compostela.  I and my companions have walked nearly seventy miles, encountered a ton of people and seen some lovely landscape.  But by now there’s one thing that we’ve known for three days:  we will finish — all of us!  I’m not sure any of us realized what a toll ten to twelve miles a day would really take, but walking relentlessly up and down hills over a week does grind a person down.  But by day four I and my colleagues knew we could do it.  What else have I learned?

A560D901-3EF0-4F3C-A768-56AEF688C158First, there are some things we picked up as kids that can come in handy on the Camino.  For one thing, there are moments of heavy traffic on the Camino, though it’s made easier by the fact that everyone is going the same direction — save for the cows.  That brings up one bit of advice I learned from my parents early on that has come in handy:  don’t step in the cow pies.  Virtually every day the cows share the Camino with the pilgrims, and they tend to leave little tokens of their travel experience.  I’m now convinced that farmers actually bring the cows out to refresh the trails every morning, but I could be wrong on that.  Anyway, it pays to look where you step, and the few people who use cell phones or look at the scenery can pay a smelly price.  What I’ve missed in scenery I’ve more than made up for in peace of mind.  So watching where you step is an important bit of advice.

76194DA9-A356-4024-A35E-67464E672052I’ve also appreciated the total immersion in countryside and animal life.  Most of the Camino that we’ve walked has taken us through forests, pastures and small villages.  I’ve savored the aroma of eucalyptus trees and crunched bushels of acorns and chestnuts.  I’ve also seen lots of cows (see above), dogs, cats and chickens.  The dogs have been a special delight, and their response to the hikers ranges from total indifference to warm friendliness.  There’s no ominous barking or growling.  That explains the sign we saw early on:  “Please do not let the dogs follow you.  They already have homes.  If they follow you, they won’t find their way back.”  What a welcome change from the dog warnings at home.

A third item I’ve picked up is that people have lived along the Camino for ages.  That was evident in the Celtic earthwork fortress that we passed one day.  It also was evident in the stone villages that include lots of buildings that date well back into the Middle Ages.  In fact, a personal highlight of the trip was my concelebration of a Mass in an early 11th-century church built by monks of the French Abbey of Cluny.  They built priories with guest hostels along the way to encourage the pilgrimage, and it was great to see first-hand evidence of that.  The Mass had added significance for me when the local priest drafted me to read the gospel and to recite part of the canon in Spanish.  That afternoon I got to use my Castilian accent and did reasonably well.

823490EA-1BDE-4BEA-B181-7DF4193F5DAAI had anticipated that the Camino would be a cosmopolitan experience, and it did not disappoint.  While I have walked with each member of our group as well as alone, I’ve also had the chance to visit with other pilgrims along the way, and the first encounter surprised me the most.  He was a Lutheran pastor from Norway, and he was doing his second Camino.  On successive days I met all sorts of people, including Australians, Germans, Americans from all over the place, Japanese, Koreans, and so on.  People were there for all sorts of reasons, and it was a refreshing experience.

Finally, I was surprised at how quickly the worries and cares of home melted away as I walked along.  I stopped thinking about work at the office, though I did treasure thoughts of confreres and friends left behind.  I was not surprised to hear from fellow pilgrims that their foremost concern was on the steps we were taking, and that thought gave me comfort.  Our daily trek quickly came to focus on sure footing as we walked along.  The formula for success then boiled down to this:  avoid the cow pies and loose rocks and find the places where you can plant your feet firmly, one after another.  That’s what’s gotten us through each and every day and up and down each hill.  But that also strikes me as a good formula for getting through life.

NOTES

The photos in today’s post all show scenes from the pilgrimage walk through the region of Galicia in northwestern Spain.  At bottom is the 11th-century Cluniac church in the village of O Cebreiro.

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