I’ve been walking again for the past few days… since O’Cebreiro, which is right over the border into the province of Galecia. The original inhabitants of this area were Celtic. The village of O’Cebreiro was a small cluster of old stone houses and buildings with roofs of either slate or thatch. I’ve never been to Ireland, but that is exactly how I imagine the old Irish villages look.
I am once again in the mountains and while the walking is much more strenuous than it was on the mesita it is SO much more beautiful! It looks very much like the granite mountains of Vermont… cow pastures delineated by stone walls. There are LOTS of cows… and lots of cow patties! The unmistakable smell of fresh cow manure is a constant companion and often the path is shared with the large, dumb creatures, and their by-products. I even helped herd a wayward black cow back onto the right path when she took a wrong turn away from her handler the other day. My own small battle with a horned beast…. probably named Bessie!
Last night I arrived at Sarria… about 112k from Santiago de Compostela. This is pretty much the point of “no cheating allowed”. To get the “Compostella” or certificate of completion at the end of this pilgrimage, you must be able to answer affirmatively that you walked at least the last 100k… and show enough stamps in your pilgrim’s credential (like a passport) to back up your claim. So, lots of people start their journeys here. The route gets much more crowded from here on out.
Last night I caught up with my friend Maria and she cooked me a wonderful dinner at the pilgrim’s refuge where she was staying.
Now… I’ve pretty much given up on refuges. There’s a couple of reasons, but the noise of sleeping with up to 90 other people in the same room was never really the problem. I stuff earplugs into my ears, don a face mask to keep out the light, and I sleep just fine!
No… my biggest complaint was the showers! For some strange reason the showers in the refuges all seem to be built on the same model… small little shower stalls with no space to change and NO PLACE TO HANG UP YOUR CLOTHES! Seriously, very often the only option was to put your clothes and towel on the wet floor of the much-too-small shower stall while you showered! These are often co-ed shower facilities, so it’s not as if you were expected to change outside the stall. Yeah… I don’t get that one!
The other reason is that the path to Santiago de Compostela gets more and more popular each year and there are often not enough bed spaces in the refuges, even this late in the season. Many pilgrims make this journey on very limited budgets and can’t afford even the cheap hotel rooms that I frequent. I believe that since I can afford a hotel room, I do others a favor by freeing up bed space. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Oh, and then there’s the small issue of bed bugs! They are, in fact, quite at home in the refuges. Almost everyone I know who stays in the refuges has been bitten. Now, I know that hotel rooms are not immune to the problem by any stretch of the imagination, but the odds seem to say that your chances of being infected increase with the number of warm bodies that sleep in a room on any given night! And hotels at least have a larger budget with which to combat the problem…. refuges are often run on donations, volunteers and prayer!
So… getting back to the title of today’s blog. While Maria cooked me dinner, another woman was sharing the common room. When she learned that I was staying at a hotel she asked, rather indignantly, “So what kind of a pilgrim does that make you?”
Apparently, not HER kind of pilgrim!
Actually, the question itself is very improper to ask another pilgrim. The manta on the trail is “Everyone walks their own camino”.
There are pilgrims, like this woman, who believe that you must walk every step, in as much pain as possible, and experiencing as much depravation as can be manufactured. Other pilgrims ride from four star hotel to four star hotel in air conditioned chartered busses, never actually carrying their own bags and being dropped off here or there to walk a couple of kilometers of the most beautiful or the most easy trails… if they choose to. The rest of their time is spent touring cathedrals and art museums and eating at four star restaurants.
There are some pilgrims, like this woman, who are on the journey for strictly religious reasons and are hoping to gain some boon or pay penance for some sin with her sacrifice of comfort. The majority on the trail actually don’t claim to be religious, but do expect the camino to be some sort of spiritual quest. And there are others on the trail because it is a cheap way to travel and see Spain!
All are pilgrims. All are following their own path, and each will learn their own lessons from the experience.
I am on this journey to gain a better understanding of Christian beliefs, to see and experience the wealth of amazing Christian art and architecture, to interact with others on this same journey and to have fun! I’m of the belief that enough suffering comes into our lives of it’s own accord… I don’t need to manufacture more just to prove my mettle. I chose to enjoy the good times and learn from the bad times…. a time and a place for everything.
And I work each day to hone my sense of gratitude! I am grateful that I have the time (and money) to do this sort of journey. I am grateful to have a roof over my head and at least some form of bed each day… as I have met more than a few pilgrims that have had to sleep on floors or outside when the refuges have been full. I am grateful for each and every person I have met along the way and each person who has helped me make this journey… and there have been many! I am grateful to be on the path that I am on… The ups and downs and the smooth places too. I wouldn’t change a single step!
Life’s a trip!