Monday, May 29, 2017

Camino Reflections

Two years ago today I started my forty-two day journey on the Camino de Santiago. I joined the ancient pilgrimage route in St Jean Pied de Port, in France, and six weeks later I arrived in Finisterre on the Spanish coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

On the Camino

The experience was life-changing in many ways and as I walked through regions and villages that had seemed near-mythical from my extensive research, I wondered if I would ever pass that way again. Over the Pyrenees, through the Basque country, across the beautifully barren Meseta and into the lush green rolling hillsides of Galicia; each day was better than the day before and I marveled at the varied landscapes and cultures of Spain.

Of course that was before I knew that just over a year later I would be moving to Spain. I had dreamt of a life in Europe, but I didn't believe it would ever happen. And so as I walked the 600 miles of my Camino, I wrote in my journal and took endless photos wanting to share it all with Sam, but assuming that he would never see any of it.

And now I live a road-trip away from all of it. In February we visited friends on the Meseta and I was able to share some of the route with Sam, and now we are just home from a trip to Portugal and Galicia where together we walked sections of the trail that I had enjoyed most. 

The Camino consists of numerous routes and it seems that we run into portions frequently. In 2004 we were in France and unknowingly walked parts of the Le Puy Way (Chemin du Puy) before either of us had ever heard of the Camino. 

Conques, France - 2004 before I'd heard of the Camino

The Camino Mozárabe passes through Granada and we have followed yellow arrows around town on several occasions, while running errands. In Seville we walked to a park and I discovered that we were walking on the Viá de la Plata.

Marker in Seville

Our recent trip to Porto, Portugal was to visit a group of five friends from my walk on the Camino. We had known each other for less than 24 hours, two years ago, but we've stayed in touch, and Sam and I were pleased to have a chance to visit with them in their lovely city. 

Re-uniting with Camino friends in Picturesque Porto

I randomly chose an apartment to rent on the edge of Porto, in Foz, where the Douro river meets the Atlantic ocean. I had no idea that the coastal route of the Camino Portugués, the Caminho da Costa, would pass several feet from our apartment window!  Each morning we watched as Pilgrims who began their Camino from the Cathedral in Porto, passed our window about an hour into the first day of their journey. I was delighted by this discovery but resisted calling "Buen Camino" to each one.

In Galicia we based our visit in one of the places I had stayed while walking the Camino de Invierno. The Invierno breaks from the Camino Francés in Ponferrada, and when I walked it I was the only Pilgrim for the (approximately) 230 kilometers of the route. The experience of walking that far alone was tremendously empowering. About half way along I stayed with Penelope and it was a joy to return and to visit with her again.

The Camino just before arriving at Penelope's

I was thrilled to show Sam stretches I had walked on the Invierno. Together we hiked a steep section that descends to the Miño river and we shared the view that took my breath away when the trees parted, giving the first glimpse of the steep hillsides covered with vineyards down to the river's edge.

A view that took my breath away

I drove him over mountains on deserted logging roads where I had walked for hours without seeing another human, and we wound along gorgeous river valleys; as we went he appreciated, even more, what I had done. He also noted that, had he realized I would be in such remote places all alone, he would have suggested I not take this alternate route! I will forever be thankful that I did.

Finally, as we drove back home from Galicia we paralleled much of the Via de la Plata. This Camino route stretches across the west of Spain from Seville following an old Roman road. We saw many Camino markers, and several Pilgrims as we whizzed past on the autovía covering in a day what takes Pilgrims weeks to walk.

It is unimaginable to me that I live where I can take a road trip from home to destinations like Porto, Portugal or to any of the Camino routes. I follow several Camino groups on Facebook and at any time there is someone I am aware of who is walking one of the routes. 

I am certain that I will find myself walking again before long.

The arrows are calling me

Friday, May 5, 2017

I did it! I got off of the Merry-Go-Round and I walked away.

I wrote this post on December 31, 2013. It is amazing to read it now and to see that I made it. When I read the list that I wrote then, of what makes me happy, it describes my daily life here in Spain. 

To those who imagine something different for your life - keep dreaming and keep moving forward. It can happen.

I'm spinning on one of those playground toys that goes around and around.  If it slows someone jumps off and pushes it faster and faster before jumping back on.  Sitting in the middle, the centrifugal force makes my head roll around in slow motion, nodding forward then leaning back and then forward and back.  I'm dizzy, but it is going too fast to jump off.  It slows and I want to make the leap but just then it is pushed again until the scenery is just a blur and I don't dare escape.

The Christmas lights went up just after Halloween this year and now on the last day of December they are being replaced with Valentine's day decorations.  Store shelves that only a week ago held last-minute discounts on Christmas supplies are now draped in red and pink with hearts and chocolates and cardboard cupids.  Next the Easter bunny will rest briefly on those shelves.  Before we know it the stores will be a blast of red, white and blue as we approach that uniquely American July day of celebration.  Then it is back-to-school clothes and supplies, just about the time we are ready to start wearing shorts and swimsuits in the summer sunshine.  And on and on it goes.

My e-mail box was loaded with Black Friday deals, then Cyber-Monday price-slashing followed by discounts that grew deeper and deeper as Christmas approached.  By evening on December 25th, the ads had switched to after-Christmas deals at "rock bottom prices."  Some people shop on the 26th to get cheap gifts they will give a year from now, stocking up on half-priced wrapping paper and Christmas cards that will be stored away and forgotten when it comes time to use it all.   And soon, about three weeks into actual Winter, the spring clothes will be out and it will be a frenzy of winter clearance sales.

My Oprah magazine arrives promising that 2014 is my year to shine - inside I will learn how to "brighten everything from my mood to my style, one easy tweak at a time."  There is a diet quiz that I can take and on page 130 I'll find "Oprah's Foolproof Stress Cure."  There is The secret to a great makeover and an "inspiring, powerful," new novel that Oprah has discovered.  I am worn out just reading the front cover.  Oprah has such high expectations.  Inside I am introduced to a few of her favorite things, a "Gratitude Meter," and a plan for finding joy.  Phew!  In this single issue I might find the power to really get my life together.

I want off.  I want to stop spinning.  Who is pushing this thing anyhow?  Clearly corporate America alone has the strength to make the Merry-Go-Round spin faster and faster without stopping.  And I have realized that every time I buy something that I don't need, I am adding strength to the push.  Each time I see an advertisement and believe that my life will be just a little bit better if only I had one more..., or a newer version....or a smaller or bigger or faster or shinier - whatever, I help the Merry-Go-Round spin.

And so I am going to focus on getting off of this thing.  I am tired of being dizzy and all this head bobbing is clearly not good for the mind in the long-term.  I want to put my foot out and drag it in the dirt to try and slow the rotation enough to jump off.  I won't take advantage of the after-Christmas or winter-clearance offerings.  Even if a shirt is only $10, that is $10 I don't need to spend because I already have too many shirts that I never wear.  I don't need more books on my Kindle - I have enough to keep reading for a year or two and even at $1.99, I don't need to add to my collection.  When I run out of things to read I'm sure I'll find a deal or two that will help me re-load my library.

I am not making any resolutions for 2014 - even that is some idea thought up to make us all feel inadequate so that we spend more money trying to feel better about ourselves.  Joining gyms, buying into diet programs, spending hundreds of dollars on containers so that we'll be more organized - if I want to get fit, lose weight or manage my junk, I can do that in March, or perhaps October - there is nothing powerful about January 1st.

So my effort to slow down the Merry-Go-Round is not a resolution, it is more of a leap towards greater peace.  I know what makes me happy (in no particular order):

Time with Sam
Growing my own herbs and vegetables
Visits from the kids
Time with small groups of friends

None of my truest happiness depends on things.  There is not a discount available that will enrich any of the activities listed above.  I'm letting my Oprah subscription expire- even that I tried to do a year ago but I was sent deal after deal until I finally bit.  She offered me a bag of some sort if I renewed my subscription at the low price of $12 for a year, but I had to hurry because there was a limited number of bags.  I kicked myself when the cheap, and not very attractive, bag arrived and then the monthly dose of what-I-should-be-doing hype.  Not this year Oprah - I'm on to you and I am also done with you.  I'm certain I will find more joy on my own than in the pages of a perfumed periodical.

I suspect this will take time.  If I put my foot out while spinning at a fast speed I might catch it on something and have to climb back on for a few revolutions.  I know that dragging my foot will kick up dust and those on the Merry-Go-Round might yell at me to either get off or get back on.  But I will do it.  I can't shake the image now and I feel empowered at the idea of eventually walking away while most will continue to spin and spin until they can no longer think straight.

No more spinning