Today being my first writing day in almost 9 days, I’ve been finding it hard to think of anything to write. It’s not that there isn’t anything to say but the opposite. I feel filled to the brim with everything I’ve seen, heard and experienced. Entering the “Spiritual Phase” of the Camino has put me into a state of shock about how close to the end of my journey I really am… well, at least the walking part. And many pilgrims talk about how this phase is almost “the come down” of the Camino. Like the end of a really good summer vacation… we all must go back to “reality” at some point.
I understand now why my old self, the one who made all these plans six to ten months ago, decided I couldn’t come home right away extending my trip till the 17 of September and only then because I want to be home for my son’s birthday. Even back then, I had understood that I wouldn’t want to rush the experience of the Camino. I knew I would need time to absorb everything I’ve learned about myself and the people I’ve met along The Way.
I am in no way ready to come home yet. I can tell the Camino is not done with me and I’m already making plans in my head to return, wanting some how to get my Mom and son back here too. Even if they couldn’t or wouldn’t want to walk the entirety, there are ways to experience the soul of this journey without having to walk every bit of it.
There is also so much I know I’ve missed along the way as it impossible to do everything. There are towns, like Villafranca del Bierzo and Molinaseca that I was privileged enough to walk through but felt locked into my “schedule” and didn’t stay the night even though my soul ached to do so. And there were some towns and albergues I would love to have had more time in and would love to return to as well like Aloha Hostel in Pamplona https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187520-d3373582-Reviews-Aloha_Hostel-Pamplona_Navarra.html and Hostel Leon http://leonhostel.es/. I do feel like this trip has been the reconnaissance mission for more trips to come.
Two days ago I saw a tarot card the XI of Swords that was placed purposefully on a post after a little stream in a small stretch of woods. After googling the explanation, I understood that it signifies leaving the past behind. That as difficult as it is to leave the things that I have loved but no longer serve me or even the things that I don’t like about myself but are just predictably reliable, the picture on the card suggests that there is a chance at a brighter future, suggesting what is lost in the departure will be replaced with a more meaningful future.
Even as I sit here at Casa Lixa, the awesome little albergue in the quaint town of Las Herrerias, I can feel the literal winds of change coming down the mountain I must cross over tomorrow into O’Cebreiro. After walking thru some rather hot days, the forecast for the next week will drop in temperature with occasional thunderstorms which seems to parallel the emotions of pilgrims I’ve talked to, like myself, who are lamenting the near end of such a meaningful journey with people they have come to know so well in what seems at the same time the entirety of a lifetime in a blink of an eye.
It seems fitting that, in what takes most pilgrims three to seven days to complete, I am dragging my feet, stopping nearly every other day for rest and completation before making it into Santiago for a total of 11 days. If you read my last post, you’ll remember me mentioning how the third phase of the Camino, the Spiritual Phase, was to begin in Leon. But I just had it clarified by Darren, a nice Irishman on a bike that stopped to chat on his way up the mountain, that the Spiritual Phase really begins at the Cruz de Ferro, the spot where pilgrims leave a stone for their loved ones, present and past. This seems to be more true with my own experience.
The day I reached the cross (Ferro), I had a stone for my late father that I found on the trip that looked like it had an “H” for Howard scratched into it, I had a stone for my son, Jacob who I hope will be called to make his own pilgrimage someday, and an almond seed I had picked up after Pamplona to symbolize a new beginning for myself. I placed them at the base of the cross and poured some of my dad’s ashes on the spot. I was a little emotional at this point, fighting back tears behind my sunglasses, but something didn’t seem right placing all the ashes there so I held some back.
At first, I thought maybe that I should keep some for Santiago as something didn’t seem complete with the spot I chose. So, retaining half of the ashes, I walked back down the hill, mindful to not step on the thousand other stones and memories intentionally placed by my fellow pilgrims. I guess the experience was leaving me underwhelmed, having thought I was ready to let everything I had been feeling about my father’s passing at the cross. But something wasn’t right. I wandered back and forth around the area nearby, keeping to myself by the picnic table in the shade, having a hard time feeling vulnerable amongst so many people.
Then I saw my Tom, another pilgrim living in Denver and now a new friend I had met first in Los Arcos around the second week of the trip and again the following day at a bar where he helped me with my back and shoulder. He is a gifted healer of sorts who I ran into again for the third time the night before the Cross in Rabinal del Camino where he helped me and a dozen other pilgrims with leg, neck, and back issues.
To understand Tom, you really have to meet him in person but his specialty is linking your pain to your mental and emotional struggles. For me, he nailed it on the head when he said that the pain that I hold and must except forgiveness for is betrayal. It took me a bit to figure out what he meant but I soon realized that the person I have betrayed most throughout my life is myself. Not knowing how to say no to others or even to my own gluttonies has been a repeating pattern that has often left me shamed and feeling powerless.
So when I saw Tom sitting on the other side of this platform that had the numbers of a clock around the edge, something I still need to research for its significance, I walked over to it and stood in the middle trying to figure out this emotional block I was experiencing. That’s when Tom came over to me and put me on the 9. Being a fan of numerology, I immediately thought of integrity and wisdom. What wasn’t I being honest about?? Even though I was feeling rather self-conscious about all the people around, I finally just took off my hat and sunglasses and squatted down over the IX.
That’s when Tom came back over and placed his hand on the base of my neck, applying pressure and then that’s when I stopped thinking and started feeling. Finally the emotion came and Tom wrapped an arm around my shoulders in a much needed embrace and the tears began to flow. We remained there for a few moments, me no longer caring what anyone else saw or thought. Tom then gave me my space and I sat down on the nine facing back towards the Cross.
That’s when I saw it. The “H” I had been following since the start of the trip. On the rock hill at the base, half way up there it was, and I finally knew where Dad was meant to be, feeling as though he had somehow beat me there. So I got the remainder of the ashes back out of my bag and headed back up the rocks. It was there I was lucky enough to see my buddies Mary and Ron who happened to snap some photos of the occasion, sending them to me just when I needed them for this post, as I sure wasn’t in the mood to take my own photos at the time.
Still emotional, I headed back into the woods after Ron’s suggestions to go take my time and find some privacy back behind the shrine. That’s where I saw this rock and it became clear that the forgiveness I needed was not only from myself but from my father as I still held a lot of guilt and regret for not spending more time with when I could…but luckily his sense of humor wasn’t lost on me either….
I don’t know what to expect over the next 11 days to Santiago but I know I will take my time and savor every second that I have left on this journey that is helping me in more ways than I could ever imagine.
….I should note that after taking a few hour break from writing this post, I have surrendered to the fact that I don’t want the walking to end as there are a few other issues I must deal with that I think might need more than eleven days. So I just did the math, and if I alter some original plans, I don’t have to be in Lagos, Portugal until the 3rd of August…and really I don’t have to be anywhere until my locked in reservation in Alicante, Spain on the 20th of August. And honestly, after all the walking so far, I find it hard to think about just sitting in one place for three or four days as I find I’m not that great of a tourist, much more interested in talking with strangers and walking in nature.
But as I don’t want to get carried away, as I won’t know how I feel until I feel it, I have just cleared my schedule after a three day break in Santiago, 10-13 July. The entirety of the walk to Finisterre is 80k (4-5 walking days at my pace) then north to Muxia is another 40k (2 days) https://www.pilgrim.es/en/finisterre-muxia/. If I bus back to Santiago, it is then another 280k to Porto, Portugal (10-18 days) and another 80k to Lisbon (3-4 days). This gives me (19-25) days of walking not including the occasional half-day or day off every 4-6 days. I have to August 1st to cancel my reservations in Lagos and Faro (Booking.com) if I make it to Porto and want to keep on to Lisbon https://www.pilgrim.es/en/portuguese-way/.
And now that I’m in country (in continent?) and feeling braver, I’m considering looking into couch-surfers https://www.couchsurfing.com/ to save on some travel cost after the walk to make up on unexpected Camino expenses (mostly the pharmacy on feet stuff!). Keep you all posted on that! Thanks for reading!
Some More “H”s I’ve Seen Since the Start of the Camino…