- July 01st, 2010
- Walking the Camino
Just after 8am I sat in a café near the albergue with a soothing hot chocolate, waiting for the pharmacy to open. My body was shaking and I felt teary with emotion. I hadn’t expected a problem with my wellbeing that might stop me from completing the walk.
My feet had been hot and throbbing the night before, jerking up in the air of their own accord like a jumping jack. I tried using pressure points to soothe the pain and resorted to nurofen instead.
A Change of Plan
Alex, the Spanish pilgrim I’d met yesterday, had slept in a bunk near mine and looked at my feet as I was getting ready that morning. He gave me a bandage and said, “That’s bad, you need to go to the pharmacy.” My left heel was a mass of weeping skin that needed dressing and protection and made it difficult to put my boots on.
I’d thought my boots were ok for the walk and didn’t know whether to continue with the walk that day. I really wanted to reach Santiago and felt deep in my soul I could do it, it was important that I reached my goal. I wasn’t exactly sure why, I just couldn’t give up the symbolism of the pilgrimage.
The day before I’d walked for six hours and Milo had covered the same distance in three! My natural walking speed had been humbled to a slower pace. I struggled to find the deeper meaning in this and pondered the words of the American mythologist, Joseph Campbell;
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we have planned
So as to have the life that is waiting for us
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
Advice from the Farmacia
I was all packed and ready to hit the road early but decided to ask the pharmacist for advice first. I wanted to keep going and didn’t know how quickly my feet would heal if I stopped anyway. I was determined not to be one of the pilgrims who had to pull out.
I entered the farmacia and asked the lady hopefully, “Habla usted inglés?”
She shook her head, called her companion to help and I explained my probably familiar predicament.
She listened attentively and then asked, “Where did you begin walking?”
“St. Jean,” I replied.
“Ah, That’s a lot of climbing.”
I nodded in agreement as I looked through the extra first aid items she recommended.
“When you walk downhill the skin rubs on the boot,” she explained. “It will heal in a few days.”
I felt reassured and thanked her for the advice as I made my purchase, stepping back into the streets of Pamplona with renewed optimism. I would reach Santiago!
Music and Light
I sat on the steps of the cathedral, feeling much brighter and heard the sound of the organ playing inside. I felt drawn to the music and sat on a wooden pew at the back.
Although I hadn’t been in a church for a long time it somehow felt safe and almost familiar. A few older people sat in the front rows. The cathedral was lit warmly with enormous chandeliers lowered from the high ceiling. The vast space filled with song during the short weekday service and tears of emotion streamed down my face.
The red and blue stained glass windows were vivid in colour and I gazed on the morning light streaming through brightly. As I got up to leave I decided to light a candle. One euro for a single light bulb representing a traditional candle, lined up in rows, a modern day version of an ancient ritual.
An elderly gentleman indicated he was locking the door and I nodded, “Si.” Unsure of the next words he spoke, I looked at him quizzically. He made a stamp-like motion and I understood that to mean the credential, the pilgrim’s passport for the walk. He led me into a small side room where an old lady stamped my passport and offered me a holy card with a simple blessing. I tucked it carefully inside my guide book.
The Hemingway Connection
I decided to stay in Pamplona for the day and changed out of my rigid boots into softer shoes that gave my feet instant relief. Realising that I didn’t need to keep to the schedule in the guidebook gave me a great sense of freedom and I surrendered to the unexpected delay. It felt good to rest and I felt blessed to be in Pamplona with time to explore instead of continuing my walk through the city with barely a glance. There is so much history and culture to experience throughout Spain, it hadn’t occured to me stop so early on in the walk. There is definitely a greater intelligence in play than mine!
I traced the route of the Running of the Bulls, Encierro, which takes place during the San Fermin Festival each July. At one stage along the narrow, cobbled streets of the city it overlaps with the route of the Camino. Ernest Hemingway, the American writer, made the festival famous through his book, “The Sun also Rises” and I sat quietly in the Café Iruna where a life sized statue of Hemingway props up the bar. I wrote notes in my little moleskine, ‘the legendary notebook of Hemingway and Chatwin’ and enjoyed a few plates of tapas and a glass of rioja.
Nearby, in the Information Centre on the Plaza del San Francisco there is a topographical map of Navarre displayed on the wall, which shows the peaks of the Pyrenees and the route of the Camino.
I wanted to reach up and trace my finger along the contours of Roncesvalles through to Zubiri, Larrosoana and Pamplona, the way I watched my father’s elderly aunt gently trace her finger across lines of Braille as a child, gaining her understanding of the world through touch rather than sight. It gave me a new appreciation of the route so far and I felt gentle and tender within myself.
There is a catholic aspect to the pilgrimage of course yet it transcends that, just as perhaps the ritual transcends the church service. The Camino is so much more than a long walk. It still feels beyond words. Is it the power of belief in something greater than myself? It felt too early for me to understand the significance, yet I could feel it more deeply than any other journey I’d undertaken.
The cathedral was simply a beautiful place of stillness that allowed me to connect more deeply with myself. I was in Spain, walking the Camino, and I felt determined to to be fully present for the whole experience. Nature, for me, provides an even greater place of stillness and today living in Findhorn there are constant reminders living within a spiritual community that the inner place of peace and stillness is ever accessible. Sometimes it’s just as simple as letting go and surrendering to what is.
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