Ability to travel is a gift!

As I sat waiting for the train to take me to Madrid, I was approached by a woman who was trying to figure out what she had to do to get to the Atocha station.

She had a German accent and spoke very little English or Spanish. The station attendant only spoke Spanish (this is a local station) so I tried to help her out.

I remember being in a similar situation in China, with very few speaking English. I somehow figured things out but bot without challenges and lots of unnecessary walking.

Over the years I have learned through all my travels with work how to be prepared for travel, especially in foreign countries.

With the advent of the Internet it has become so much easier to plan things ahead of time. Things as fundamental as knowing the schedule of trains, planes and other mode of transportation goes a long way. Knowing if there are more than one airport or station is also critical.

I really appreciate all I have learned during my years in the corporate world and now, rather feeling lost, confused and frustrated as this woman was today, I can sir back and enjoy the adventure!

Minorities come in many forms

I had the opportunity to visit a rather quaint and subtle museum that covered the history of the gypsy people.

I was unaware that their people originally came from Pujab in India. They entered Spain many as part of the pilgrims of Santiago but for years were persecuted and chased out of many countries. They numbered even more of those we knew perished violently to the Hitler regime and those who survived fled to many European countries. In the early 80s, Spain declared that the gypsy people would hold equal rights and then began the recognition of their rights as individuals and as a community.

I have been blessed to be friends with Spanish gypsies from the late 70’s, in fact when we spent our summers in Spain we learned a lot about their music, their customs and their lives.

Today I spent most of my day with my gypsy friends and remembered fondly mostly the incredible music that comes from the heart. It was a great day!

A close community

I’ve been spending my day walking around Cuenca and one thing I noticed were the hundreds of benches all around town.

“To rest?” you may ask, which given the sudden steep roads of this city and long series of steps, would warrant such a question. However this is not the case.

The benches are constantly filled with mostly elderly folks who simply enjoy talking to each other and anyone else around. Many conversations have started with “why are your legs dark in only some spots” (a great observation of my pilgrim uneven tan) or “did you just finish the Camino?” as a question to my tshirt…

Many of the folks are as couple, holding hands or locking arms as they walk along. It’s almost a game of musical benches as folks move along to the next bench and spend ten or fifteen. minutes there and again move to the next one.

The conversations are light – and most people know each other well. It’s actually very refreshing to see – I can’t really remember a time where I actually saw this in any of the cities I called home. This is something I greatly appreciate and wish was still the norm…

A lesson from the Camino…

I have had many lessons from the Camino, likely many others I have yet to realize. One of the things I used to do is live a lot in the past. Not so much stangnating in the past, but the past meant a lot. I found it difficult to let go of the smallest thing such as a metro ticket from Madrid, a napkin from an old club, a quick note jotted down by folks etc.

I also spent some amount of time remembering things – and there is nothing wrong with that, but it does come into question when there is much time spent there. Cuenca is the perfect example of this. Along with two wonderful friends, I spent 3 summers in Cuenca. This was the first time I was out of the country, and the first time I was somewhat on my own (well, on my own with 500 other students!). It is also the first time I had a real romance with someone. Luis was my ¨boyfriend¨for the time we were in Spain, and all the time we spent, as a team of six with our respective friends, we ended up traveling to many wonderful places, and having great fun summers.

To me, and in my mind, Cuenca itself held this mysterious aura. As the years passed, I vowed to return knowing that it would likely be very different. I didn´t know really what I expected but I can tell you that returning to Cuenca was on my bucket list, for sure.

During the journey on the Camino, many many hours of thoughts and re-evaluations were spent. There were times when I did not know if my thoughts were of my own, of my subconscious or of others (whoever others could be). I do know that at any point in time, along with spontaneous moments of shere joy, of tears and of inspirations came and went like the wind.
At first, these ¨moments¨would worry me. Why? Because I wasn´t in control of them. They came and left without any involvement of my own (at least, not conscious). They would catch me by surprise and I would spend some time following these moments trying to figure things out. If you recall, I mentioned that after the Cruz de Ferro, where one is to leave something of one´s home along with one´s worries and concerns, there was a message spelled out in rocks:

Leave it behind

This was a truly powerful message, at a power time. At the Cruz de Ferro, there was a lot going on, and I was busy focusing on the items I was leaving behind. Even after I had placed them and gave them a proper goodbye, I still hadn´t really let my emotions come out. It when I left the cross, and started to walk away that the flood came on and then I came upon this message.

That moment was a defining moment for me during my Camino. I thought about it a lot, and realized that the items we hold onto are in fact items, not the actual people or places. If we honor those items in their proper places, then that can work, but with some limitation of how many… I think with this in mind, going back to Cuenca was something I felt I absolutely wanted to do.., as well as remet the old friends. When I approached the city in the train, I realized it was totally different than what I remembered. In fact, Cuenca has almost 5 times the amount of people and many of the old places although still standing are now located away from the ¨downtown¨. Even the Casas Colgadas location used to be hard to reach and now they have built roads and walkways were the river used to flow.

What I did realize is that although I am happy to have made the trip here, it really no longer holds anything special other than being a city I lived in. My reaction to the locations was the same as those I saw in all the other cities or towns I walked through during my journey. I have come to realize that what held Cuenca in my mind was the experiences we had during our 3 summers. That was then, this is NOW!

And if there is one thing I know my mind sees differently, is the wanting to live in the NOW. The past is good for reference and to avoid making the same wrong moves, or to confirm making the right moves, but it´s not a place to live. the future is ahead – if we spend too much time there, we will miss the opportunities and wonders of today, of NOW!

Cuenca will always have a special place in my heart – or the experiences and memories we have will…
For now, I am still trying to manage the ¨post camino¨ challenges… and I look forward to enjoying Cuenca for a few more days, heading to Madrid and then home.

The day after…

This was the first morning in 29 days that I slept in (8 am) and did NOT head out for a day”s walk. It felt strange…

Even stranger to head out to the Cathedral to visit more of it, and to see the new pilgrims arriving with such big smiles!

That was me just yesterday! That was me 24 hours ago! That was me looking up at the cathedral with unbridled joy and excitement!

Yesterday we attended the daily mass with some 1000 other people. We sat on the side rather than in front of the alter since I knew that the unbelievable show of the swinging of the massive incense holder ( botafumeiro ) would be spectacular from the side.

We were not disappointed – in fact, we were moved beyond expectation… Many of us to tears. I posted a few video on my facebook.

We had a great dinner together (team Nestor) and 3 other pilgrims, and we celebrated our accomplishments. I think that for most of us, it hasn’t quite sunk in that we are truly here.

Tomorrow we are spending the day in Finnistere where I will spread some of Marjorie’s ashes – a tribute to her commitment and love that she gave to us all.
Life is truly grand!

Mixed feelings

Here we are only 23 km from our destination, Santiago. Many have asked me how I feel about this journey coming to an end.

I see this more of a beginning than an end. Reaching Santiago is one physical end of this journey, there is still the travel to Finnistere, the “end of the world” as it used to be called in the times when the earth was thought to be flat. There is also my short visit to Cuenca to see where I spent three of my summers.

As for the Camino the tough part is about to be completed,however what I have experienced and lived on this Camino has only begun to be part of my life.

In the past four weeks I have walked through vineyards, very small villages, cities, fields of dancing in the wind wheat, ancient Roman paths, red dirt narrow roads, enchanting forests, misty paths, Eucalyptus forests and “ankle-breaking” small pathways.

I have walked hundreds of hours on my own, hundreds with new friends and acquaintances. I have been alone but never lonely.

I have connected with my past, present and thought about my future I have laughed with others and appreciated the differences each encounter brought to my Camino experience.

I have cried often; at times at the sheer beauty of the surroundings, at times during mass or visits to old churches, at times from strong memories and at times for no apparent reasons.

I have prayed often; for those who have left us and those who are still part of my life. I have reviewed parts of my life and tried to make peace with my mistakes and learning opportunities.

I have overcome blisters, sore legs and cramping feet. I have felt frustration with the times I lost my way, and joy after each day’s progress.

I have been overwhelmed by the concern and care from so many whom I have met. I have shared much with others who sought their own quest through this Camino journey.

Arriving in Santiago, and even simply seeing it’s cathedral outline from miles away will be quite the experience. I see this journey as a new chapter in mi life.

I expect it will be a difficult day- emotionally both for finally reaching this milestone but also the challenging task of saying goodbye to very special people (and even Nestor the donkey) who have blessed my journey.

All I can say right now is that I hope everyone gets to experience their own “Camino”….

Ups and Downs

A few days have gone by since my last update. I didn’t expect limited communication options up in the mountains, but I should have known.

So this was what many have said as a close second hardest climb of the Camino. We (team Nestor) had planned on having our packs sent ahead to ease the climb however it turned out we couldn’t get this settled with the public albergue.

The climb would have to be done with all our things. As a group we supported each other during the climb. We often asked each other how we were doing, stopping often and taking breaks as well as giving each other encouraging words.

This really made a huge difference and I see how the support we have for each other is very positive.

Would I have been able to do this on my own? Of course but it would have been a lot harder and less fun! This was one of those “one foot in front of each other” type climb.

Isn’t life like that as well? There are times we must manage our difficulties and challenges on our own, but when others help us in whatever way they can, this can really help ease the situation.

To ALL of you who have helped me through various challenges I say a heartfelt Thank You”. I hope that I have been there for you when you needed me, through the ups and the downs…