So What About the Pagans? – 1 Day to Takeoff!!!

When it comes to history, who did what, when, and why leaves much room for debate and depends largely upon the culture who best protected its recorded history. Such is the case with El Camino and the origins of its first pilgrimages. The Way of St. James (Camino Frances), has remained the most popular route mainly because documented stories of this mystical trail have centered around the remains of St. James the Elder, Jesus’ apostle. Legend has it that in the early 9th century his remains were unearthed based on the vision of a hermit who had seen the image of St. James in a field illuminated by a millions of stars, hence the name Santiago de Compostela (St. James of the field of stars).

You can read more about the Christian history in my post: “77 Days to El Camino: Time for a History Lesson” https://mycaminojones.com/2018/03/06/77-days-to-the-el-camino-time-for-a-history-lesson/.

Pagans and the Milky Way

But today, I would like to delve into what little history is known about the Camino prior to Christianity, as “it is a proven fact that there was a pre-Christian necropolis on the site and also that the Path followed by the Camino existed long before the finding of St. James’ remains in the 9th century”http://www.iberianadventures.com/web_new/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/A-HISTORY-OF-THE-Camino-JOSI-Y-JER-Pagan+Trad-for-PDF.pdf.

“Some of the best examples of the mega stone structures aligned to the winter sun solstice can be found in Galicia [northwestern region of Spain] along with the remains of ancient Celtic villages”http://www.caminodesantiago.com.au/history/.

Campus Stellae

And frankly, we can start with the debate over the definition of the word Compostela. Some believe that “field of stars” is incorrect saying that the word most likely derived from the “Latin compositum, local Vulgar Latin Composita Tella, meaning “burial ground”, or simply from Latin compositella, meaning “the well-composed one” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela.

However, I prefer the definition of “field of stars,” derived from the Latin campus stellae, as it coincides with the Celtic Pagan history that believes that prior to being dubbed The Way of St. James, the route was originally mapped out by following the stars above. The only difference being that the town we now know as Santiago wasn’t the final destination. The original ending of this pagan version of the pilgrimage had been another 80 kilometers to “the end of the known world” in the coastal town of Finisterre:

“Via Finisterre (from Latin, the Way to Land’s End) and archaeological sites along it show that Celtic peoples travelled it 1,000 years before Christ in search of Land’s End and the Sun’s resting place, celebrating all sorts of ceremonies, … pagans travelling across northern Spain in a born-again ritual on a Megalithic path following the Milky Way.http://www.iberianadventures.com/a-pagan-history-of-the-camino/.

You’ll notice the similarities of the two stories already lining up. And like me, you will have most likely heard of Catholic tendencies to adopt Pagan beliefs in an attempt to… well, I don’t know if recruit is the right word, but essentially, by using familiar oral stories that Pagans identified with, more believers were ushered into the Catholic Church.

And Finisterre wasn’t left out in this as the legend of St. James’s remains were said to have been transported by boat after his beheading in Jerusalem and delivered to this same Iberian coastal town before being forgotten about until the year 813 A.D. And many pilgrims continue their trek to Finisterre after making their way to Santiago Compostela as depicted in the film The Way, where Martin Sheen’s character ends his journey by throwing his boots into the ocean.

The Two Faced God

Along the Camino, much evidence of Roman artifacts can still be found and it appears that St. James wasn’t the lone tribute being celebrated along this path. Many of the Camino trails shows proof that Pagans had once walked to Finisterre in honor of the Ancient Greek and Roman god Janus:

“Some scholars believe that another clear antecedent to the Camino is the old “Callis Ianus” or “Via Janus” named after the god Janus, who occupied the highest rank among Etruscan-Latin divinities and represented the “Earth’s Axis”, the initiation to the Mysteries, the protection of life on Earth. Janus was the God of gods – the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, passages, endings and time; the god of motion that caused the starting of action and change; and master of the four seasons and transformation. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past, to the sun and the moon, and holding a key that opened gates of the invisible world”http://www.iberianadventures.com/a-pagan-history-of-the-camino/.

The physical proof of this theory lies in the known emblem of the god Janus which still be found along the current Camino trails.

The physical proof of this theory lies in the known emblem of the god Janus which still be found along the current Camino trails.

“The tetragram… Arkho Jano Quirico, is the most frequently repeated stone symbol across Europe’s paths – and can be found in several sites along the Camino. We need to take into consideration that the magnetic pole has changed and in the old days Finisterre was the most western point in mainland Europe. For those knowledgeable about the mysteries of the cult to Janus, the Camino has specific characteristics left by the Masonic masters, by the toponimy of the places and by the old shrines that have protected pilgrims for centurieshttp://www.iberianadventures.com/a-pagan-history-of-the-camino/.

And while the ending point of the journey remains pretty consistent at Finisterre, its only the starting point of the journey that changes in this depiction of the trail’s history:

“According to this belief, the Path follows the direction established by the terrestrial magnetic field in the Iberian Peninsula going East- West from the Temple of Venus Pyrinea (where the Pyrenees mountains drop into the Mediterranean Sea) to Ara Solis (Unconquered Sun) or Finisterre (Land’s End)”http://www.iberianadventures.com/a-pagan-history-of-the-camino/

The Scallop Shell

Another similarity between pagan and Christian beliefs that comes to light about the history of the trail involves the history of the Camino’s “most iconic symbol,” the scallop shell. These shells are still used by today’s modern pilgrims, often seen tied to backpacks and used on markers lining the trail.

“Medieval Christians would collect a scallop shell while at Compostela as evidence of having made the journey. The association of Saint James with the scallop can most likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternative version of the legend holds that while St. James’ remains were being transported to Galicia (Spain) from Jerusalem, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scallop#Shell_of_Saint_James.

But again, the scallop has Pagan connections with the Camino as well:

Like many Christian symbols and practices, the association of the scallop shell with the Camino predates the arrival of St James and Christianity in modern-day Galicia. In Roman Hispania, there was a route known as the Janus Path used by pagans as a born-again ritual and ending in Finisterre. Its starting point? The Temple of Venus, Roman goddess of love. Venus is said to have risen from the sea on a scallop shell, as depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and is associated with fertility rituals practiced along the route”https://www.followthecamino.com/blog/scallop-shell-camino-de-santiago.

My Opinion…

Both versions are meaningful to me, as I wouldn’t be taking this trip if it weren’t for the hard work of the Christians who have kept their history so well documented as well as the many brave Templars who swore their lives protecting the pilgrams from thieves and murderers. But my own reasons for making the journey align more with legend of the god Janus:

“Ideas and themes associated with the cult of Janus are echoed by the concept of transformation on the Camino de Santiago. The Roman god Janus, … is the god of beginnings and endings, transition and transformation – all ideas shared by pilgrimages and discovered on the Camino today, a constant source of renewal and rediscovery”https://www.followthecamino.com/blog/scallop-shell-camino-de-santiago.

Fly, Fly Away…

As I’m am leaving for Paris tomorrow, this will be my last blog post stateside and I just want to thank those of you who have followed along to this point. My hopes for the trip are simply to keep an open mind and an open heart, to have the courage to seize any opportunity that comes along. Just as pilgrims of yore journeyed to the end of their known world, I feel as though I am journeying to the end of mine. Here’s to the next adventure! Stay tuned 🙂

Travel: 14 Days to El Camino!

The Camino has been the backdrop for many books and films inluding The Way with Martin Sheen, the movie that first sparked my interest in walking Camino Frances. However, it wasn’t until after I had made my decision that I learned that one of my favorite authors had made this same pilgrimage before writing his very first novel. Paulo Coelho, known for his mysticism and training in the arts of”black magic,” is credited for the romanticism and resurgence of what he calls “The Strange Road to Santiago” described in historic detail in the novel, The Pilgrimage, released in 1987.

The Pilgrimage is considered the companion text to The Alchemist, Coelho’s second novel and most popular international best seller. While The Alchemist is a fictional account of a young man’s journey in search of his fortune, The Pilgrimage is a reflection of Coelho’s own search for a mystical sword as part of his initiation into an ancient order of RAM (Rigor, Adoration, Mercy). The story begins as Coelho is just about to be awarded this new sword when instead, his master regales him, saying:

“Take away your hand; it has deceived you. The road of the Tradition is not for the chosen few. It is everyone’s road. And the power you think you have is worthless, because it is a power that is shared by all…But just as I feared, at the supreme moment you stumbled and fell. Because of your avidity, you will now have to seek again for your sword. And because of your pride, you will have to seek it among simple people (3).”

Coelho is sent on the Camino Frances with his guide, Petrus, a successful, middle-aged Italian man. Petrus was once in Coelho’s shoes, having made his own journey of discovery on the Camino in return for agreeing to guide to another when the time came. With the aid of Petrus’ insight, Coelho sets out to “find his own path” by learning about “the simplicity of life” and how the “extraordinary things… are found in the ordinary and simple ways of everyday people.” Petrus teaches him a set of practices that “are so simple that people like [Coelho… and me], who are used to making life too complicated, ascribe little value to them (p 27).”

Throughout their walk on “The Strange Road,” Petrus utilizes examples from the events and people they encounter to instruct Coelho on the topic of Wisdom:

“The true path to wisdom can be identified by three things…First, it must involve agape (all-consuming love, i.e. Enthusiasm); second, it has to have practical application in your life (otherwise, wisdom becomes a useless thing and deteriorates); and finally, it has to be a path that can be followed by anyone. Like the road you are walking now, the Road to Santiago (27-28).”

The Pilgrimage is full of thought provoking ideas relating to the journeys we all take to become who we were destined to be, fulfilling our oldest dreams once forgotten. And while I would like to discuss each and every line of Coelho’s work that has made an impact on me, today, I’ll leave you with this; what I think is a brilliant summation of the power and impact of travel:

“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends upon them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life (35).”

Expectations: Countdown to Camino in 22 Days!

Having been around for over 1000 years, the Camino has undergone many peaks and valleys in popularity but has been on an upswing the last few decades. Having snuck back on to many a “bucket list,” El Camino tourism has taken off and many entrepreneurial businesses have swooped in, providing pilgrims everything from guided tours to baggage service, transporting luggage from town to town. And suddenly a spiritual pilgrimage comes with valet service…and possibly bed bugs.

And because of this surge in popularity, I finally ran into my first negative review of Camino Frances. Not that I didn’t expect to find one eventually, after all, it’s the internet, so only finding one so far could be the real story. But this particular review bothered me because I found it to be well written, discussing things that I could see myself being disappointed by as well. And for the first time since I began planning for this trip, telling myself I didn’t have any expectations… that I wasn’t going to have expectations … it turns out that I’m full of… expectations.

In the article that first caught my attention with it’s “click bait” title, 10 Reasons Why El Camino Sucks, Francis Tapon laments that, while he admires anyone who completes the entirety of the journey:

“El Camino has become a big business,” and “with endless bars, restaurants, hotels, vending machines, tour groups, you’re hardly removed from the “real world.” This defeats much of the purpose of living primitively in a search for a deeper meaning or understanding of life.”

http://francistapon.com/Travels/Spain-Trails/10-Reasons-Why-El-Camino-Santiago-Sucks

I’ll admit reading Tapon’s description of the very DisneyLand feel to a spiritual pilgrimage made me want to take his advice and cash in my original plans for the more challenging northern route that takes pilgrims through more rugged terrain with fewer amenities along the way. I could already hear my own inner critic, “Things aren’t as good as they used to be,” and here I have yet to step foot on the trail.

What I consider to be one of my biggest flaws is the ease in which I let my expectations sway my perspective of reality to the “dark side”. That is, I’m easily persuaded to see all the negatives of a situation, allowing others’ opinions, and frankly, my own opinion, to ruin an experience even before it gets going. I have let Nay-Sayers and criticism burrow into my heart, deflating it like a balloon, only to fill it back up with doubt, judgement, and disappointment, rendering me unable to focus on all the good that’s still to be had, seen or felt.

And in turn, these thoughts eventually turn me into a bit of a control freak, always trying to keep myself in the perfect bubble of comfort with plenty of entertainment on demand. I avoid busy places like concerts and sporting events because “everything is too this or too that. There’s not enough of this, too much of that.” Instead of looking forward to going out and socializing, I can become overly concerned with “how many bathrooms, how long we would be stuck in line, traffic, is there a convenient Starbucks on the way?”

Writing about this now really gives me a clear understanding of why we say someone can grow up “spoiled”. Having everything handed to you really can “spoil” your perspective. Things, people and events never live up to those “perfect” illusions of time past and all you’re left holding in the end are unmet expectations. The only thrill you get is bragging about what you’re about to do or the fact that you’ve already done it. Suddenly, your happiness relies on other people’s reactions of what you did or didn’t do and the actual experience itself is completely minimized.

Continue reading “Expectations: Countdown to Camino in 22 Days!”

The Art of Packing: 34 Days ’til the Camino

Packing is an art form. And like art, and there are almost as many styles as people packing. There is the “make-a-list” kind of packer, there is the “what do you mean ‘make a list,’ my list has been made for years…look, it’s laminated!” kind of packer and there is the “What’s a list?” kind of packer. And amongst them are those who start packing the night before, those who who pack 20 minutes before and those who start packing a month before.

Simply typing “how to pack” in my search engine resulted in 52,600,000 hits including video demonstrations. “How to pack for a pilgrimage” resulted in 27,600,000 hits while, more the most specific search “How to pack for the El Camino” resulted in 1,690,000 hits. While there is no shortage of references on how to pack for whatever your intentions may be, the fact that there are so many hits gives us a peak into the often over-complicated approach we take in simply fitting some essentials into a bag.

So while resources on how to pack aren’t a problem, packing can still be emotionally draining. Anytime we leave our nests for an extensive period of time, it can be a struggle to leave behind our “creature comforts,” all the things that hold us to one spot on this big round earth. A lot of times we don’t even know how connected we are to these things until we’re forced to leave them behind, desperately longing to be reunited if only for a few seconds. I often have this experience with a good pillow. It seems that no matter where you are in the world, good pillows are always hard to find.

But unfortunately for me, good pillows are not on the pilgrimage packing list. Contemplating how far I should dig into the millions of archives related to how to pack, I lucked out with the very first article entitled How to Pack for a Pilgramage, (Go figure!) by Lisa Deam http://lisadeam.com/packing-for-a-pilgrimage/. Deam contemplates how to go light for her upcoming Thanksgiving trip back in 2015. Until reading her article, I had never considered Thanksgiving and the various winter solstice celebrations we head out on the road for every year as pilgrimages. Okay, duh, who do I think we are celebrating at Thanksgiving – yes, I get it, they were called Pilgrims.

But, in modern times, many of us do our ‘due dilligence,’ spending a lot of time, energy and money to make our mini-pilgrimages to see “loved ones”. And while planes, trains, and automobiles have shortened travel time, it has also shortened patience. And simply spending a long weekend with our in-laws can make us feel like we’ve gone to hell and back.

That’s probably why Lisa Deam took an historic approach in her article, maybe in an attempt to give her readers some perspective before heading out with the millions of other travelers into the great unknown where hopes and expectations go head to head with the reality that some things are out of our control.

Refrencing ‘old-timey’ pilgrimages like the one Pietro Casola took to Jerusalem in 1494, Deam reminds her readers that, ‘Hey, it could be worse!’ At least we don’t have to travel thousands of miles by foot or by camel through lands where “our kind” isn’t exactly welcomed…then again, some people still are making those kind of pilgrimages. Just look at thousands of people coming up from South and Central America as just one example https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/04/14/americas/central-america-migrant-caravan-train/index.html?__twitter_impression=true.

CNN reporter Leyla Santiago https://mobile.twitter.com/leylasantiago has been documenting the current journeys of many pilgrims who have left their homes with whatever they could fit on their backs knowing full well they could be turned around at any moment. It appears Pietro Casola’s packing advice still rings true for these pilgrims of mostly Christian descent when he said:

Each one who goes on the Sepulchre of our Lord has need of three sacks, a sack of patience, a sack of money, and a sack of faith…During our pilgrimage, we will dip into our sacks liberally. We will spend everything in them and arrive at our destination depleted. But we shouldn’t worry too much about that. When we kneel at the foot of the cross, Jesus will fill our sacks again.

I think this idea of depletion is what leads people like me to the Camino. To many, it is seen as a walk of redemption and a way to rid yourself of unwanted baggage so that we may be filled back up again with something stronger. I’ve been told that it is not too uncommon to see a few pilgrims approach the trail in manners of yore, even so far as carrying giant wooden crosses. Other “traditionalists,” like my roommate’s brother, a now retired priest, proceed on the trail with nothing outside of what they are wearing, without a dime in their pocket, simply relying on their faith in God and the kindness of strangers to “fill [their] sacks again”.

In his guidebook Camino de Santiago, A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim, John Brierley touches on packing so briefly if you blink you could miss it. His essential list includes a proper pair of boots, already broken in, a poncho, as it can rain at anytime in Spain, a hat, because “sunstroke is painful and can be dangerous” and if you’re bag weighs more than 10 kilos (22lbs), “look again”. With a passion for keeping things simple on the trail, John challenges his readers to “deepen the experience” by leaving behind cameras, watches and mobile phones (9thed, p10).

Jenna Fisher, author of the College Avenue article, Buen Camino: El Camino de Santiago followed the guidelines of only carrying 10% of your total body weight which meant for her only taking 10 pounds. Her essentials included two outfits that she alternated each day and washed each night, toiletries, and “some luxuries” like her journal and a GoPro (CAM, Spring 2018, p17).

And then of course, everyone’s essential list is different. Take the documentary entitled I’ll Push You https://www.illpushyou.com/ about two friends, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray. Skeesuck, in a wheelchair, and Gray, pushing, completed their own Camino in 2014. Throwing a wheelchair in the mix, along with everything you need to manage a neurological disease that confines you to that chair, exemplifies just how individual the packing experience can be.

Personally, what I know about packing up to this point I’ve picked up from my own traveling miscues. I’ve learned over the years that most things I thought were essential when put into my bag were never taken out of my bag until returning home. Thankfully, having to travel on the cheap, I put myself in a position where I can only take a carry-on even though I will be continuing my journey after the Camino before returning home in September. So that’s four and half months away from home with:

One carry-on bag, with maximum dimensions of 55 by 40 by 23 centimeters, or approximately 22 by 16 by 9 inches

One small personal item, with maximum dimensions of 25 by 33 by 20 centimeters, or approximately 10 by 13 by 8 inches

The maximum combined weight (for both) is 10 kilograms or about 22 pounds

Rules specified by my outbound airline carrier, Norwegian Air https://www.tripsavvy.com/luggage-policies-at-norwegian-air-shuttle-asa-1625890.

My “essentials” include two pair of worn-in walking shoes…yes, that’s right two! For when it comes to walking, it is “essential” for me to make sure my hips are even which requires right shoes with a 10 milimeter lift glued on at The Denver Cobbler https://www.bing.com/search?q=the+Denver+Cobbler&form=APIPA1&PC=APPD. Frankly, I don’t want to find myself in a Cheryl Strayed Wild moment losing or damaging my modified shoe with no way to replace it http://www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm. Then again, I’m probably just being cheap and paranoid…wasn’t cobbling invented in Spain? (Don’t quote me on that.) Anyway, thanks to a car-accident that left me with a longer leg, the extra shoes will just have to be my cross to bear, so to speak.

Along with excessive shoe choices including a pair of flip flops (also lifted), that will serve as shower shoes as well as a way to relax tired feet around the hostels and such, I’ve included: two pair of leggings; one pair of pants that convert to shorts; one pair of capri sweats; one pair of regular shorts; one long sleeve shirt; two shirts; one tank top; and four pairs of ‘under’ type things, including socks. And then of course, I am planning some beach time after the Camino and so I’ve included a bikini top and a handy-dandy sarong. Did you know there are more than 100 uses for a sarong? https://bumblebeetrails.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/101-uses-for-a-sarong/

Rounding off the clothes will be: toiletries; water bottle; tin cup, tablet and keyboard, itinerary; Scrubba wash bag https://www.thescrubba.com that a friend got me after I told her I might try and camp when I can; and clothes pins because I was told by another friend who did the Camino last year that they can be scarce and they might also be handy to air dry extra socks pinned to my bag while I walk.

As for the things I’ve been told I won’t need on the Camino but I hope to use after or in case of emergency, I’ve included:a 12 ounce, wick away “security” blanket; an 18 ounce “hang-anywhere” hammock; and a blow up pillow. I should mention I have this secret fantasy to be able to travel like a gypsy and go when and wherever the road takes me but in reality I’ve pre-booked hostel stays via Booking.Com (though I can cancel if I do in fact find me some gypsies).

But even if I do end up utilizing hostels for the most part, having lived in a college town these past seven months, I’ve been inspired by students who carry hammocks with them to enjoy the outdoors in comfort between classes. I imagine this idea might serve me well when in need of an affordable hide away from the hottest part of the summer during “siesta” hours, when many places close for a few hours in Spain and Portugal. I can see myself having daily picnics in the local parks over a book or a blog session….I think its worth the extra weight… don’t quote me on that either.

So no wonder there are so many articles on how to pack as there will always be more than one person’s agenda. I will say that packing for the Camino, the “O.G.” of long walks, leaves a lot of wiggle room as compared to “younger” trails like The Appalachian or the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). Having been walked for over 1000 years, towns and infrastructure have literally sprung up around the Camino and so, unless a pilgrim particularly wants to, they don’t have to worry about camping gear, packing food and extra water or sending packages ahead, as there are plenty of places to eat, drink and sleep along the way. Kind of makes me wonder what will become of the PCT in 700 years…hmm?

Of course, having written all this makes me want to revisit some of my packing essentials again as I do still have over a month to make my final decisions. And Lisa Deam reminded me of the old adage to pack everything and take out half, and after shoving everything in my bag for its debut photo op as seen below, I realize, while it’s under weight by two pounds, it still needs to lose 4 inches somewhere.

Fortunately, no matter what I end up bringing in the end, there will always be plenty of room for sacks of “faith and patience” and thank God money is “virtual” these days…that’s a whole other story!

“Best Laid Plans” : 44 Days to Departure.

They say ignorance is bliss, and frankly I tend to live my life that way, more of a big picture person, not getting too mired in the details. Whenever I head out into this big world of ours, I tend to rely on my traveling companions to figure out the minutia.

But that’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided to do this El Camino trip solo. Even starting this blog has caused me to dig way deeper into the details of the trip than I normally would have and just in time too, as I might not have been prepared for the “rolling” rail-worker’s strike that has swept France, affecting public transportation that may leave me stranded in Paris an extra night (woe is me).

But one thing I’ve learned so far is that just deciding to do the Camino trip leads you to all the people and advice you might need to make your “plan” a reality, as long as you are willing to listen. So, thanks to one friend, I had already planned a couple of nights of leeway before the start of the walk. And, thanks to another friend, I was able to find out that my day of train travel out of Paris may very well be affected by the train strike and so I’ve gone ahead and made arrangements for an exchangeable, refundable ticket for the following day in case the strike isn’t resolved by my date of departure.

I’ve also learned through my research that there are options when choosing a Camino route, including one that leaves from Paris and so, if all else fails, I can just start walking. So I guess what I’m learning is to stay flexible, keep your ears open and be prepared with backup plans.

And even though I was immediately griping at the potential expense of adjusting my itinerary, the world doesn’t revolve around my schedule and the biggest lesson life can ever teach you is how to adjust and overcome. Having said that, today’s entry is an attempt to get back to some of the facts of trip itself and what you can expect if you ever decide to make your own plans for El Camino.

As seen above, a pilgrim wanting to take on the Camino has a variety of routes to choose from regardless of motivation. These routes range from 100 kilometers (62 miles), the minimum length to qualify for a compostela (certificate of completion) to 1000 kilometers (621 miles) and can be completed in one to six weeks depending on how hard and fast a pilgrim is determined to travel.

All routes aim for the town of Santiago de Compostela where it is believed the remains of Jesus’ disciple, St. James the Elder, are entombed in the town’s historic cathedral. Some pilgrims will venture even further, over another 87km (54mi) to the coastal town of Finisterre where it is believed St. James’ remains were delivered by two of his followers to the shores of what we now know as northwestern Spain before being taken on to his final resting place in the town that would eventually adopt his name, Santiago (Saint James).

I will be following A Pilgrim’s Guide to Camino de Santiago: St.Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago by John Brierley who has also published eleven other guidebooks covering a majority of the trails seen above. My path, the most popular, known as the Camino Frances, begins in the French town of St. Jean de Pied which can be (God-willing) reached by train from Paris which is generally the most affordable flight option from the States.

St. Jean rests around 500ft above sea level and the route immediately sets forth on an ascent, known as route de Napoleon, over the Pyrenees, peaking at col de Lepoeder around 4750ft. Mr. Brierley has broken up the trek into 33 stages, ranging from 11.5 miles on the shortest stage from Mansilla to Leon to just over 19 miles on the longest stage from Mazarife to Astorga. At the end of each stage, Mr. Brierley provides a detailed list of all the available lodging a long your way as well as pricing and available amenities.

According to Mr. Brierley, the average time of completion of the Camino Frances is around four weeks which means completing 28km (17.4mi) a day on average. However, I have given myself a ton of wiggle room and so my current itinerary has me leaving St. Jean de Pied, walking four to five hours a day, averaging 9 to 17 miles and reaching Santiago in about six and half weeks.

Mr. Brierley’s 1st stage ends in a “steep descent” into the town of Roncevalles for a total of 25.1km (15.5 miles) but it has been strongly suggested to me to split this stage in two. So I’ll be stopping short of the French and Spanish border with pre-booked accommodations at the picturesque Refuge de Orisson http://www.refuge-orisson.com/en/. While this albergue is located only five miles from the starting point in St. Jean, it is at the end of a 1700ft ascent added on to what I have heard described as an already emotionally tough first day.

Apparently, it is all too common for pilgrims like me, who begin this journey without a ton of hiking miles under their belt, to suffer all types of injuries ranging from blisters to shin-splints to sprains and broken ankles from pushing themselves too hard right out of the gate. The risk inherent in the 1st stage, one of the toughest, is heightened by the fact that accommodations are scarce before reaching Roncevalles and it’s not too uncommon for there to be more pilgrims than beds for this leg of the trip.

I should note that I was warned that getting reservations at Refuge de Orisson is essential before departure. I sent three emails, one in French, one in Spanish, but it wasn’t until I sent the third in English (go figure) with my credit card info attached that I finally received a response and secured my reservation via PayPal.

Many pilgrims without reservations are known to backtrack to St. Jean rather than continue on to Roncevalles if they don’t happen upon a bed for the night in one of the few hostels located around Orisson. But don’t let me stop you from wanting to power on to Roncevalles if you find yourself planning your own trip, as pilgrims come to El Camino for all sorts of reasons and testing physical limits is one of the biggest.

I recently read an article in College Avenue, a Colorado State University/Rocky Mountain Collegian Publication (Vol 13/Issue 3), entitled Buen Camino: El Camino de Santiago, written by Jenna Fisher. The article details the author’s recent trek on the Camino as well as discussing how CSU students can receive college credit for all or part of the journey. Talk about a cool study abroad program!

Jessica completed her variation of Camino Frances as well as the additional trek to Finisterre, totaling 566 miles, in just four weeks, averaging 15-18 miles a day with her longest day peaking around 25 miles. So, way to go Jessica! And if you are a college student, I would definitely encourage you to find her article and/or see if such a study abroad program exists at your school and if not, check out CSU here in Fort Collins which also happens to be my alma mater.

But if you are still not impressed with Jessica’s story, Mr. Brierley mentions an encounter he had with another “manic pilgrim” in Finisterre who had just completed the entirety of one of the longest routes, Via de la Plata. Beginning in the historic town of Seville in the south of Spain, this route caps out around 1000km (621mi). Apparently this gentleman had completed the entire trip in 19 days, averaging over 50km (31mi) a day with his “credencial” or compostela to prove it (9th ed, p 13)!

This credencial, compostela or pilgrim’s passport is acquired at the onset of your journey. It is advised to take an extra day at your chosen starting point to locate the pilgrim office (and fit in unplanned worker strikes) to secure your “passport” where officials will ask if you are walking, biking, or riding horseback and whether or not you are doing it for physical or spiritual reasons.

Assuming you have 30 days before your planned departure, you can even obtain your credential online. After learning about the rail-worker strike, I went ahead and ordered mine just yesterday via American Pilgrims on the Camino http://www.americanpilgrims.org/ in case I can’t make it to St. Jean in time to go by the “passport” office where queues can be quite long.

This document, though not essential to making the journey, is used to track your progress throughout the walk, and is stamped at various locales including cathedrals, churches, town halls, hostels, and even bars. The credential also grants you affordable stay at “pilgrim hostels” for as little as $8-9 dollars/night. The stamps are proof of mileage and are turned in at the end of your journey in order to receive a final certificate of completion in Santiago.

While mostly planning to stay in “pilgrim hostels,” I have made my own alterations to Mr. Brierley’s guidance, having loosely booked a few hostels, or albergues, through Booking.com https://www.booking.com/ in places where I hope to spend a couple nights of rest and recuperation every three to five days, taking time to see some of the bigger towns and cities I’ll be passing through, such as Pamplona and Leon.

Booking.com allows you to cancel or make adjustments to your itinerary with relatively short notice depending on where you book. Although, I was warned that you may be at the mercy of the hostel owner regarding whether or not you’ll actually be refunded your money if you pay ahead. So buyer beware and read all the fine print.

The entirety of my “planned” walk covers a total of 789 kilometers, roughly 490 miles getting me to Santiago around mid July where I hope to spend some time to fully absorb the journey before heading south to Portugal for the remainder of my post-camino adventure.

I currently do not have plans to continue on to Finisterre by foot although I have definitely left enough time in my itinerary to add on the additional mileage if the calling arises. And of course, I write all this knowing that the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.

So, I guess I can only say that these have been a few of my intentions for the trip thus far but what actually happens when and if I get there, remains “a mystery to be lived”. And though I have every intention of sharing the actual journey with you, utilizing my “planned” leisure time to write and reflect upon my journey, I have to remind myself it is all hearsay at this point, having yet to step foot on the physical Camino itself.

However, I will do my best to keep the momentum going and forge ahead, allowing the writing process to direct me as it sees fit, knowing full well there is plenty more to cover. For instance, I haven’t even mentioned travel budget or what to pack! So, stay tuned and thanks for reading :-).

Walking Away… 53 Days to El Camino

The years I spent living in Denver from March 2011 until moving back to Fort Collins in August 2017, I will always fondly refer to as my football years. Having ‘come out‘ in 2009, I attended my first Denver Pride the following summer. It was there that I found a booth for the Denver Gay and Lesbian Flag Football League http://www.dglffl.com, signing up immediately even though I didn’t even live in Denver at the time. The league was exactly what I was looking for: sports and community. Plus football was always my favorite sport, though, as a woman growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I never had much of an opportunity to play, outside of elementary recess and high school powder puff.

I commuted from Fort Collins to every practice and game possible for the next year and a half until relocating to Denver completely. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to participate on the league’s newly formed, female traveling team, the Mile High Club https://www.facebook.com/MileHighClub2012#, racking up frequent flyers miles enroute to various tournaments all over the country until late 2016. During this time, I had considered myself a ‘football bum with a day job,’ cutting any unnecessary expenses (like a car) from my budget and only taking jobs that wouldn’t interfere with practices and games (and fun) just so I could make it to as many football events as possible.

In 2013, when my father died and life as I had known it started to slowly crumble around me, football switched from being my fun, fun, ‘let’s party‘ time, to ‘I need to escape….let’s party‘ time, to ‘I need to forget,‘ sanctuary time. But the league was always there, still happy to see me even when it became apparent that I would rather just disappear, having fallen into a pretty deep depression, doing everything possible to erase the old me and numb myself to the guilt and shame of the choices and behaviors of my past.

Just when I thought things were starting to turn around, I lost my job as the newly appointed manager of a marijuana dispensary I had worked at for nearly two years. Through my own neglect and consistent history of never taking things like rules very seriously, I missed a simple I.D. check in what turned out to be a police sting that had targeted multiple shops in the area, subsequently getting myself fired just days after I had signed up for my 401k. It was another crushing blow to my over-blown ego that I had unknowingly rebuilt, once again, on false premises. Having thought I had been through the worst of it, I found myself finally at rock bottom not knowing which way to turn. But once again football would come to my rescue, having received an invitation from one of my flag teammates to tryout for the upcoming 2016 season for the semi-pro women’s tackle team, the Mile High Blaze http://milehighblaze.com.

I was so close to not even showing up to tryouts, coming up with excuses left and right about why I shouldn’t go until my (now 14 year old) son intervened. Having had remained in Fort Collins with his more financially stable father after our separation, unwillingly giving up a lot of quality time with me so I could attempt to recapture a youth I never had the first time around, it was Jacob who finally broke through all my whining, selflessly reminding me how I would only regret it if I didn’t at least try. After all, it had been a secret childhood dream of mine which, up until that point, I had been too scared to pursue prior to the invite for fear of not being as good as my ego imagined I should be.

And so I went to the tryouts and I made the team. And though it was a struggle to get myself out of the house and make it to practice, still wallowing in the dark waters of self-pity, it was just the bandaid I needed to release me from my own personal drama even for just a couple hours, a few nights a week. The dedication and energy of my teammates who, unlike me at the time, were so full of life, unapologetic for any sacrifice they made to be there, proud to be a part of something bigger than themselves while still managing to maintain their own uniqueness, that inspired me to at least keep showing up. I craved their passion and their ability to just be themselves.

I had potential for the sport, seeking as much knowledge as I could about my position and how the game worked in all of its intricacies, but unlike these women, I couldn’t seem to get out of my head and into my heart, unable to tap into my personal power, still over-thinking everything and not enough letting go and ‘just doing‘. And while I will always be grateful for the open invitation to truly be apart of a great team, on and off the field, I’m sorry now that I couldn’t be more vulnerable with them, giving more of my real self. Instead, I remained aloof, much like I had with my flag team, like an outsider peering in, wanting to get closer but never understanding how to let down my defenses and truly be authentic. But merely being around authentic people has a way of rubbing off, and just hanging around these women allowed me to go home feeling a little better than when I arrived and I can see now how it was a start to my healing process.

By the second season with the Blaze however, something, again, had shifted. I had began thinking about life after football as my body just wasn’t cooperating the way I needed it to and fear had crept it’s way into my mind. Right about that time all the concussion talk had been sweeping the NFL, I too was unable to ignore the long-term risks I was taking by playing such a violent sport, having suffered my own concussion early on in the season. I questioned every move I made, becoming obsessed with every little ache and pain, knowing full well that I wasn’t getting any younger. This fear,coupled with the guilt about all the time I had spent away from my son playing a game that kept most of weekends and vacation time filled to capacity, had made it harder and harder for me to fully commit to the sport. And if I learned anything about tackle football in my short stint is that if you aren’t fully committed, tapping into that killer instinct, sacrificing all your extra time and energy to prepare your body for the continual beatings the sport entails, one way or another, you’re going to get yourself hurt.

And sure enough, I did. In what would be my last game of a very short season, I heard a little pop after my leg was rolled up on from behind. After my hopes for a high-ankle sprain had diminished after waiting the usual six weeks with no improvement, the V.A. Hospital’s podiatry department granted me an MRI. On the bus ride over to my appointment, I remember worrying about all the possible outcomes, the worst being that it was all in my head. And again, I went back to the thoughts of life after football. The sport had become a part of my identity, my excuse for not pursuing any other goal I might have once had. “After I’m done with football,” I would say to my family and friends who bore witness to everything I was continually putting off. It occurred to me that, one way or other, soon I was going to have to make a decision, that waiting around for the universe to decide for me could be risky business.

When I got off the bus I found myself in one of those rare “aware” moments, maybe because I finally realized that whatever the MRI results would be, the choice about my future was in my hands. And so walking up to the sliding door, even though I had gone through that entrance at least twenty times over the last six years, I noticed a book drop. One of those little wooden boxes attached to a post in the ground where you are encouraged to ‘take one, leave one‘. When I opened the little door and peered inside, the first thing I noticed was the box was pretty scant of materials, much like my own soul at the time. But, leaning on one side, there was a tattered copy of Pro Football from 1979 (my birth year) and leaning on the other side was an unused copy of John Bierley’s Camino de Santiago. I paused, feeling a sense of of foreshadowing. I proceeded to grab both books, ignoring the request to leave something behind, and headed in to my appointment.

When I got home that night, remembering the books in my bag, I pulled them both out and set them on the bed. I sat down and stared back and forth between the two books. The covers seemed to say it all. On the right, there lay the football book, the cover worn thin, much like my illusions about myself and my current life path. And on the left, a shiny, never been used, glossy picture of a ‘pilgrim‘ walking away with no apparent destination in sight.

I was transported back to my vague memories of the Martin Sheen movie, The Way http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441912/ I had seen in early 2014, just months after my Dad had died, and remembered how the story had tugged at my heart strings, calling me to a new type of adventure that I had quickly shoved down with my usual “After I’m done with football“. I realized that as much as I loved playing football and everything it had taught me about myself, I craved a new challenge, something that would force me out of my element, and I was done waiting.

So when the MRI results came back indicating a torn tendon in my ankle, I’ll admit I was relieved. First, it wasn’t in my head, second, it wasn’t bad enough to require surgery, and third, while it could take up to a year to heal to be completely football ready, I could still walk. That night, I went home and threw the Pro Football book in the donation bag and began reading up on El Camino.

Even though, I still haven’t officially retired from football in my mind, still finding it hard to walk away from it completely, I know I will eventually be required to leave something behind. And while I don’t expect the trip itself to show me “The Answer,” solving all my problems in once fail swoop, I do know, if only symbolically, it’s a starting point for taking charge of my own life and the future choices and sacrifices I will have to make to become the complete and whole-hearted person that I want to be.

Running Home to Mommy: 61 Days to El Camino

When life lead me to uproot myself from Denver back in August, 2017, all I knew for sure is that I wanted to do this El Camino trip. However, money was an issue. So, as hard as it was for my ego to take, I ran ‘back home to mommy‘ in Fort Collins and have been sleeping in her office ever since. She took me in without question and continues to pay me to do the cleaning and yard work around the house even though she lets me live with her rent free. Not to mention she buys me groceries and takes me out with her friends for lunch and dinner just because she loves spending time with me. This too, can be especially hard on my ego, thinking that she is only enabling my questionable life choices.

You can imagine that a 38 year old living with her 70 year old mother is not always easy and patience can run thin for both of us. The biggest difference between living 60 miles a away and living in her house is that I can no longer ignore that the physical work I do without much thought is an increasing struggle for her. Pain has become her everyday acquaintance an wreaks havoc on her mood, sometimes leading us to bicker over inconsequential things. The pain has been unrelenting and simple activities such as walking to and from the car or up the stairs to her room has become overwhelming. And now, having had her second hip replaced just days ago, my Mom is dealing with the pain of healing, and the medications they prescribe her at the hospital only seem to leave her feeling tired and nauseous, without much relief.

I have a tendency to withdraw from all her woes, pretending I don’t notice her griping or complaints about everything that hurts, locking my eyes on whatever is in front of me, appearing lost in thought, not knowing what to say and avoiding her when she is in the thick of it. I know this makes me seem indifferent, the worst expression you can ever demonstrate to a loved one, but it’s a bad habit I picked up as a kid in the public school system. No one can hurt you if they don’t think you care. A sometimes useful survival skill that got me through high school and basic training but not so great when used on family or significant others. Being vulnerable is painful too.

But of course I CARE and I AM affected by her pain, seeing that there may never be any relief for her no matter how many surgeries she endures, that getting older is just plain hard. And it makes me question everything I do or don’t do that could affect my own health down the line. I find myself feeling guilty for allowing myself to use any kind of ‘bandaid‘ even though I know its what we humans resort to, one way or another, to cope with the pain of everyday life. And my guilt leads to blame and I find myself judging my Mom and myself for all the choices we’ve ever made. I nag at her to eat better, exercise more, all the while feeling like a hypocrite for not making more of these “healthy” choices either.

But I know my frustrations with my Mom are just fear-based, that I’m mad at her for getting old, as ridiculous as that sounds, but that, deep down, I just really want her to be okay! I want her to be able to do something like El camino if she wanted to, like her friend, her contemporary and my mentor for the trip, did last summer. I want to travel with her and take her on long walks in far off places or even just for coffee here in town. I don’t want her to have to worry about finding close parking spaces and whether there’s ice on the sidewalks.

I know she getting more and more fragile and that’s just an ever growing reality in the cycle of life. But she’s always been a fighter, already having survived two bouts of cancer. And she has really begun to thrive in other areas of her life after all these years, having just discovered a latent talent in her ‘golden years‘. It turns out my Mom’s an amazing painter. An accidental discovery at a couple of random wine and paint nights. And thanks to her aforementioned friend’s invitation to a painting class, she has been able to hone this skill over the last three years, watching YouTube videos on the side, and has improved dramatically in such a short time. It leads us both to wonder just how good she could be if she had figured this out earlier.

But painting (a word I just noticed starts with PAIN) has lead her to branch out in other areas of her life too, joining a book club, a Mah Jong group, and a travel club that has taken her to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Paris, and even a tour of the Holy Lands where she hobbled along at her own pace as best she could. Having moved away from Fort Collins in 2011, I have come home to Mom’s only to find her life changed for the better, surrounded by good people who care about what happens to her, and who are willing to share her pain, having had endured their own versions. I guess the pain of growing older seems to subside the most when you have people that empathize instead of blame and shame and I suppose this has been the biggest lesson I’ve received since being forced to really see what getting older looks like up close.

And though my ego can only see it as enabling, maybe my heart can finally see now why my Mom has been so supportive of me making this journey on the Camino. Maybe it’s because she knows just how fast life can pass before your eyes and that she desperately wants me to figure out my sh*t now and not wait till I’m 70. That dreams not pursued, especially physically challenging ones like El Camino, sometimes can be missed completely if you wait too long. I know my Dad would agree.

So, yes, I do want to ‘grow up‘ and stand on my own two feet and provide for myself and my family, doing my equal share in this world, giving back instead of just take, take, taking. But I think the first step is to truly learn how to be grateful for all the good people I find myself surrounded by, especially my Mom, who has always believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. And I know when I go off to do this solo trip, this ‘mid-life spirit quest,’ I won’t have made it there on my own, that I will have only gotten to do it because of the love others have shown me along the way, especially my Mom, who I’ll never be able to thank enough.

I love you, Mom.

“Me and Mr. Jones,” Part One: 71 Days to the Camino…

When the movie The Secret https://www.thesecret.tv went viral in the early 2000’s, there was a sudden surge of awareness around the idea of the Law of Attraction and manifestation. I, being the ‘woo-woo’ person I am, was all about it! Of course, when I didn’t get that million dollars I kept visualizing, forgetting the part about “taking action,” I eventually stopped talking about it to others… stopped practicing it in secret…just stopped. But in hindsight, I can see now how this “Law” has worked throughout my life whether I intended it to or not. Whether it was positive or negative, whatever I wished for or worried about, has all come about…though rarely on my schedule or in the ways I imagined.

What The Secret doesn’t mention, however, is another “Universal Law,” the one about Balance. Whenever you finally do get what you have asked for, you are asked for something in return. A sacrifice must be made. It may not be obvious at first and it may take years for it to occur or even dawn on you that there is a connection, but nonetheless, something or someone will have to be given up. Where there is apparent gain, there will be loss, where there is a windfall, a downfall will follow. Fortunately, the inverse is true as well. When you think nothing could be any worse, something beautiful will emerge.

I could go on and on about the things that seemed so great when they came about initially but ended up leaving me hollow inside, shamed, and feeling like a complete outsider. But the intention behind this blog is to stick to El Camino, what it’s all about and why people from all over the world have flocked there annually for over a thousand years. Having said that, to give some perspective of how El Camino has come about for me, there is no way to not talk about the act of Penance, which, historically, is the main reason for the why behind a ‘long walk‘ that can take around six weeks to complete (on average and depending on the route taken). And there is no way of explaining this without introducing you to my father, Mr. Jones, whose death in 2013 shook the very the foundations of everything I thought about myself and the world around me.

When my Dad died it was the beginning of the most challenging four years of my life. All my guilt, shame, and countless insecurities seemed to bubble up all at once leaving me feeling emotionally paralyzed. ‘What the hell had become of my life, who the hell was I really, and where the hell was I going??’ It was like I had fallen into a vat of my own sh*t and had to take a long hard look at everything I had ever did and, even worse, everything I had never ‘gotten around to.’ I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a sledgehammer but instead of a lot of blood and guts, I was merely a shell, shattered, with nothing but empty space surrounding a shrunken little heart, beating away furiously, fueled by fear and anxiety.

Even writing about this now, after a lot of therapy and hard work, this is admittedly still the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do because its forcing me to digest a lot about my past actions and behaviors that is not all that easy to look at. And because I want to refrain from making this blog end up just another self-pity party for me, me, me, I find myself having to chop up what I know and feel about my Dad’s life and its affects on me into manageable chunks, stripping it down from everything I could say to what needs to be said and when and how to say it in a way that stays on topic; the Camino.

As self-centered as this may sound, I’m attempting to explain how my Dad’s death was a sacrifice he made so that I could learn a hard and powerful lesson about what living is meant to be. That the suffering he endured, what anyone would consider ‘a long and painful death,’ was in fact the most invaluable teaching he ever gave me. And it’s through this writing process that I’ve come to think about his final years of life as his own journey of penance and regardless of the final diagnosis of terminal cancer that had spread through his bones, I feel he really died of a heavy heart, having led a life of constant searching for something he could never find in himself until it was too late.

The final conversation I had with my father, I had asked him what, if anything, he needed me to know. His response was simply LOVE. And so its with love as my underlying focus for my own act of penance that I embark in the footsteps of countless others searching for redemption. No, I’m not talking about hair shirts and self-pity, I’ve done enough of that and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I’m talking about learning to love myself, my mistakes, everything that has made me who I am today so that I may use this knowledge to further my evolvement as far as I can take it. And though I falter from time to time, still trying to hold onto to old ways and bad habits that don’t serve me, I am learning to love the struggle of what it means to change and am finally willing to do the necessary work. I won’t pretend to know what that even really means yet and I have given up on the illusion of perfection (thank God!) but I am determined to not let my Dad’s death be in vain, to balance his sacrifice by learning to live my life to its fullest for the sake of what remains of my family and friends who still have it in their hearts to love me after all the crap I’ve put them through.

And so I’ll let it hang there for now but rest assured there will be more to come concerning ‘Me and Mr. Jones’. But before I sign off for the night, I’ll leave you with my own definition of the word Penance, modified only because I am not a Christian (though, I’ll reiterate, ‘Jesus is alright with me‘) and I don’t want to confuse my version of sins with the Ten Commandments. And while I know I read it somewhere, its my belief that my biggest sin that I must atone is not living the life I know I am capable of, letting fear and Ego stop me from using my God-given gifts to the betterment of me and everyone I come in contact with. And so it is my hope that whoever is willing to join me along my journey, that they take what they need, and leave the rest as it is; simply one soul’s experience of what it means to ‘grow up‘.

Penance: An act of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to demonstrate sorrow and regret for past actions and behaviors.

 

77 Days to El Camino: Time for a History Lesson

So I thought I should share a little more info on El Camino, it’s history, why it attracts over 100,000 “pilgrims” each year to trod it’s beaten path. I should first clarify that there are multiple paths of the El Camino and that I am embarking on the ‘Real Camino Frances,’ starting in St. Jean de Pied, France, crossing south-west over the Pyrenees towards Pamplona, Spain before heading due west at the city of Logrono to its final stopping point in Santiago de Compostela near the northwestern coast of Spain.

How I chose this particular route is, well…. a blog for another day.

Before I get into some of the background of this historic pilgrimage, I have to give credit to John Bierley, who has dedicated a better portion to his life documenting and updating current information on the Camino through his various travel guides which he refers to as “practical and mystical’ manuals for the “modern day pilgrim.” John has walked El Camino countless times, taking various if not all routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela where all Camino pilgrimages end regardless of their starting points. I’ll be referring to John’s guidebook here and there and if it so happens you are considering making the trek yourself, more likely than not, you will encounter one of his books. I’ll be following the 9th edition of Mr. Bierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, St. Jean – Roncevalles – Santiago.

So now for some history, and since this is meant to be a ‘mystical journey,‘ let’s get to the ‘legend has it’ part of story. I’ll keep it brief, but if you find yourself needing more detail, please check out The American Pilgrim’s page http://www.americanpilgrims.org/history from which I’ll be gratefully referencing now.

As legend has it, St. James the elder, apostle to Jesus, was sent as a missionary to the Iberian region we now recognize as northwestern Spain. James would spend a few years in the region before returning to Jerusalem where he would be put to death by Herod Agrippa I. Now that part does have historical documentation to back it up. The ‘mystical’ part claims that followers of St. James the elder:

“carried his body to the coast and put it into a stone boat, which was guided by angels and carried by the wind beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) to land near Finisterre, at Padrón, in northern Spain. The local Queen, Lupa, provided the team of oxen used to draw the body from Padrón to the site of a marble tomb which she had also provided. Saint James was believed to have been buried there with two of his disciples. And there the body lay, forgotten until the 9th century.”

 

Centuries after St. James the elder’s beheading in Jerusalem, a hermit by the name of Pelagius”

 

“had a vision in which he saw a star or a field of stars that led him to what proved to be an ancient tomb containing three bodies. He immediately reported this to the local bishop, Theodomir, who declared the remains to be those of Santiago (St. James) and two of his followers and who in turn reported the find to the King of Asturias, Alphonso II, who forthwith declared Santiago to be the patron saint of Spain, or of what would eventually be Spain. That would come later. A small village named Campus de Ia Stella (Field of Stars) and a monastery were established on the site. (Or possibly the Roman word for cemetery, “componere”: to bury, is the source.) In any event, news of the discovery spread like wildfire and a trickle of pilgrims began to arrive. Miracles came to be attributed to the site, and the miracles encouraged pilgrimage and pilgrimage elicited more miracles.”

 

Skeptics might claim that the whole story was just a publicity stunt to promote a sort of religious tourism to the area and the fact remains that towns and cities on the way benefited from faithful followers making their way to pay their respects. The interesting thing that the American Pilgrims website references briefly, is that, as impressive as it is that people have been making this pilgrimage for over a thousand years, there is even evidence of a pre-Christian route as well (a subject worthy of its own blog, I’m sure).

I should mention that I am not a Christian, although, just like the song goes, “Jesus is alright with me.” And yes, while even today, the majority of “pilgrims” are primarily Catholic, the route has caught on with non-believers who, much like those that set out to walk the Appalachian or Pacific Coast Trail here in the States, have an overwhelming desire to escape from their day-to-day lives to take a deep look within. I hear a nice long walk is good for that but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

I think that does it for tonight but please if you have and questions or ideas for further blog posts on Camino de Santiago and or my upcoming trip, don’t hesitate to leave your comments and I’ll do my best to come up with something worthwhile.

Countdown to the El Camino…78 Days and Quaking in my Boots!

Welcome to my travel blog! Thanks for being with me on my mid-life “spirit quest.” The Journey begins in less than three months! I’m so excited….and nervous, and a slew of other emotions. I’ve been talking about doing this trip for over four years and now that it is finally upon me it seems almost surreal to think about. My motivation for this adventure came shortly after my father died, on 21 December 2013 when I saw The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. I can’t even remember most of the movie now but I know it left an impression about the El Camino, that I had to do it, that Dad would love if I did it. You see, my father was an avid traveler throughout his life and this type of adventure that ties a traveler, or ‘pilgrim’ in this case, to other ‘pilgrims,’ in search of whatever it is they are looking for, would have been right in his wheel house. For me, its a chance to learn and practice self-reliance, trusting my intuition, leaving the comforts of the familiar in search of what I am truly capable of… to see what’s beyond all the limiting beliefs of who I think I am.

“As in any journey, its not what you take with you, but what you leave behind.”— from the movie, Tracks