Saturday 31 July 2010

2010: A Camino Odyssey

"She knows not where she's going
For the Camino will decide
because it was not the destination
But the glory of the ride"

And glory it was!

These comments from the pilgrims' guest book at Bar O Xardin in Muxia from "Joyce, Holland, 9th October 2008" are the best way I can sum up these past three weeks.

From having written optimistically "More tomorrow", more than two full weeks have passed. Two weeks in which I drove 4,789 kilometers (point 5), had five radio interviews- one of which was conducted by telephone while parked a bus stop - , was on TV three times (terrifying), and 20 newspaper write-ups, and in which I met many friends I didn't even know I had. I have spoken with scores of pilgrims, hospitaleros/as, people in churches, museums and tourist offices. I have screamed with joy with the owners of my favourite Pension in Santiago when Iniesta scored that oh so anticipated goal. I have been to a romeria in a tiny pueblo where I was treated like visiting royalty; I have shared several very expensive glasses of wine with a Canadian author and fellow pilgrim at the Parador Cafe with the "Million Dollar View"; I have almost learned a lesson about roads one should not go down (or up) in a two-wheel drive car. I have sat at the back of a church and listened to black-robed Benedictine monks sing at 7 in the morning as the mist rose up through the valley - and no-one even knew I was there. I have slept in the car in the middle of one of the most dramatic thunderstorms I have ever seen. I have been a resident heretic in the house of Christian journalists and their animals in a tiny pueblo and eaten some of the best burritos in my life. I have had my feet washed in a pilgrim ceremony and visited the mountain spring of an abbot who disappeared one day while meditating on the psalms only to reappear a hundred years later! I have been a guest at the house of a friend of Paolo Coelho,and who never takes off his trademark black baseball cap. I have met a Spanish lady in a dusty village who gave me her book and I found my favourite poet quoted on the back. And I have attended mass in Toledo two days running but still haven't heard that Mozarabic Rite because of ecclestical jealousy and red tape.

And I have stood in the wind and morning chill on top of the mountains in Somport to celebrate 10 years since I last walked downhill from there with the Camino to the west.

It was quite the ride! For the next couple of weeks I hope you will join me on it.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Camino Odyssey Part 1...

Well, here I am in Santiago otra vez and what a week it has been. I should really have been blogging as things have happened but that hasn't been possible so here is a condensed version.

I couldn't shake off that nervous feeling when I left Marbella on the 6th, but as I moved north (and west) all that seemed to change despite the horrendous accident I witnessed involving a drunk driver (at 11:30 in the morning!) only a few kms inside the Portuguese "border". It served to remind me to drive very carefully.

I arrived late at Fernanda's pilgrim refuge on the Camino Portuguese, but that didn't matter. Within minutes I had a plate of good home cooked food in front of me and I was back with my Portuguese family once again. It was as though I had never left.

I have written extensively about Fernanda, Jacinto and their daughter Mariana, but it bears repeating: this woman opens her doors to all pilgrims and for every single one she treats them as though they are not only the first pilgrims to climb her steps but the most important guests ever to grace her table. This time I met also with Dominique from Belgium and the next day, Julianne from Australia arrived and between us all we shared pilgrim stories.

Soon we were joined by Benny from Denmark, and shy Horst from Germany. At dinner, Benny was aggressively cornering Dominque (rather dogmatically in my opinion) about her inability to speak Flemish. Dominique defended herself as best she could, and I added that perhaps for her it was less important than for Benny who felt that one should consider oneself a failure if one didn't speak five languages as he claimed to do. I would have traded her smile for his smugness any day.

It was the night of the football match between Germany and Spain, and to everyone's surprise, the Spanish "selecion" won the game. Horst who was sitting beside me throughout was most gracious in defeat. Perhaps for a pilgrim who had walked from his house it was not so important after all. I who hadn't walked here was, however, absolutely thrilled for Spain. Next day, I was reluctant to leave but I know that I always have a place in the heart of mi familia Portuguese.

The following day I drove directly (finally breaking down and using the toll roads) to Galicia. Along the way I stopped at several pilgrim albergues that would not open until five o'clock, leaving many tired pilgrims outside the doors in the 35 degree heat. I cannot figure this out. In Galicia these albergues are run by "paid workers" unlike most others elsewhere which invite volunteer hospitaleros from all over the world. The latter are open at reasonable hours: that is the sort of time one would expect to arrive when one has woken up before the sun rises and arrived after 25 - 35 kilometers in the Spanish heat hoping for a shower of any temperature and a bunk to bunk in. I don't understand the pedantic nature of the Gallego system.

In Tui I again met Maria Teresa who runs the hospice there. She repeated (as last year) that she had to be the most unpopular hospitalera in all of Galicia because she sticks by the rules: Foot pilgrims first, bicycle pilgrims later, and if you have arrived by bus intending to start the Camino Portuguese at the border of Galicia and Portugal, well, you are gonna have to wait. She said that she appears to be on the hit list of a German Forum and one pilgrim arived to find out if she was really as bad as she was painted! Left bookmarks, my sympathies and good wishes and continued on...

to Muxia. I had intended to walk from Santiago to Finisterre, finishing my Camino in Muxia this year - the last stages of 10 years of journey - but two cracked ribs this year have made that impossible. I stopped at a little shop to ask about rooms for rent and was subsequenjtly met by Begona (there appear to be a lot of Begonas in my life right now. My editor is one, and my publicist is another).

The room was small with shared bath but homely (so many little ornaments and lace tablecloths that I had no room to put anything down on tables!)and had a traditional glassed-in balcony overlooking the street, though not the sea unfortunately as we were one street in. Never mind. After 1200 kilometers I slept like a baby.

More tomorrow.

Monday 12 July 2010

Where Has Tracy Gone...?

A very good question and not one I can answer easily tonight! I am in Santiago and Spain has just won the World Cup and it seems that Spain has stopped - a little pause in time - while we enjoy something that this country needs a great deal at this time in her history. Unemployment is at a high of 20% and many people, especially the young, and those in their middle age who have lost work because of the economic downturn in the real estate industry, needed something to put a little happiness back into their lives. For this moment this is it. This country is on fire with joy.

Paul el Pulpo, we love you!

Of course, we are not alone in our "crisis economico". But I live in Espana and that is where my heart and my loyalties lie.

I am "on the Camino". Not walking this year, but if you like you can check out last year's Portuguese Diary from July and August. Though I intended to walk to Finisterre and Muxia, this year I have two cracked ribs and a dodgy hip but not much keeps me away from Galicia for long so I have driven here instead (from Marbella to Santiago as I write). I have a diary of the last few days lost somewhere in the depths of the detritus of Simone, my car, and I am sure I will find it soon. I am planning to visit and talk with as many hospitaleros and pilgrims at as many albergues as I can over the next two weeks after I leave Santiago (I have a book signing at Follas Novas on the 22nd, then east towards Jaca I go), and I hope to report some of my adventures here. So, if you have found me and are wondering what this blog is all about, please do come back!

In the meantime, Viva Espana! I watched the game with the family who run my favourite hostal in Santiago, the Alameda, which is on the Rua San Clemente very close to the Cathedral. They treat me as if this were my second home everytime I come and it was wonderful to be able to experience Spain's triumph with Antonio, Rosa, and their family. And also with fellow Canadian Sue Kenney, the author of "My Camino", whom I met last night and feel as though I have known forever!

I'll try to catch up the next few days with comments on the Camino Portuguese and Santiago today.As we go into the end of the week I'll be reporting what the Camino Frances is like today as I drive towards Aragon.

Stay posted!

By the way, I have just noticed that this is my 100th blog post! What better way to mark my anniversary than with a win tan importante by our equipo de futbol!