I'm back from my long hiatus, ready to begin blogging again. After a whirlwind of traveling and a brief visit home, I'm back aboard ship again, playing trumpet on the Crystal Symphony.
So what have I been doing all this time? Most of it was spent walking the Camino de Santiago. For those of you who don't know, the Camino de Santiago is one of three important pilgrimage paths in Europe. Although it has many starting points, all of the paths lead to Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of Saint James are kept. The trail has seen a resurgence in popularity since the end of the 20th century, due in part to a series of influential new books about the Camino, including Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage.
Regular readers of my blog know that I had been considering this trip for some time. I was motivated not by a specific interest in Christianity, but rather a more general urge to go in search of the self. As I found in one of my early journal entries on the road:
“I am here to grapple with myself, to wrestle myself to the ground and refuse to yield until I know the secret. I am here to fight until I realize there is no enemy, and until in every action I am one with who I actually am. So that never again do I have to worry about “just being myself.” To do this, I need solitude – I need to be locked in the arena until one of us proves the victor. That's why I am here.”
The Camino was many things. It was a trip to the fringes of society, where the normal rules are relaxed and something much older takes their place. It introduced me to drunks, doctors, bikers, beggars, businesspeople, movie makers, bartenders, farmers, hermits, and holy men, all with their own stories to tell. The path took me to the tops of mountains, along river valleys, across the endless meseta, and even to the depths of a cave. It was slow, repetitive, stressful, uncomfortable, slightly dangerous and even occasionally terrifying, yet it was also one of the happiest, healthiest, most productive stages of my life.
So now (as I go through my notebooks) I will be posting entries from the road. There will also be the occasional entry about ship life here on the Symphony – it is a very different ship from the others I have worked, and we are headed for Brazil during Carnival season so I am sure there will be stories to tell. I may even include some bits of writing and short stories that I finished while on the Camino, although they will take some polishing up first.
Today I’m posting the first two entries from my journal, Day 0 and Day 1. Welcome back, and enjoy!
Day 0, November 24th, 2011
This was my original start date, but things didn't work out that way. I left too many things to the last moment – storing my stuff, in particular. I could have left at 3pm, but that would only have left three hours of sunlight. Not enough.
So, another night in Sant Jordi Arago (the hostel in Barcelona). Not a bad thing, and only 15 euro. Sitting listening to someone play the blues on a guitar. A quiet night in the hostel.
This is the first time that I can remember when I've been out of reach of my horn. I have to keep reminding myself of Coelho's question, “What would you do if your personal history suddenly ceased to matter?” That's what I'm doing now.
These Spanish maps are going to be a pain to translate every night.
Day 1, November 25th, 2011
Expenses, Day 1
It is amazing how far you can walk in a day.
I started this morning at the cathedral. My first credential stamp came at 10am when the sacristry opened. Sitting in the cathedral I tried to meditate or pray a little, but it was difficult with so many tourists always coming in and out. What I did finally feel was a strong yellow energy blasting up from the ground beneath the building. Human energy – and not just the holy feelings, either. The cathedral has been the focus point for emotions of all kinds, and although now it is sort of a hollow reminder I think it retains the residue of those emotions. It was energizing.
The nun who gave me my stamp was very nice, although I understood very little of what she said. Something about a winter pilgrimage being cold, and Santiago being very beautiful. I wish I could have said more in return – my small talk is bad enough in English, let alone Catalan.
The guidebook translation got me most of the way out of Barcelona – kind of a twisting path but through some nice neighborhoods – but as soon as I crossed the ring freeway it failed utterly. I followed a road from the map that parallels the impossible-to-find GR6, although there was a wrong turn that lost me an hour in there as well. The road seemed to meet the trail at one point on the map, so when I saw a trail on a bridge over the road I took a gamble and it paid off. Immediately the red stripe/white stripe markers of the GR6 showed up. By this time my right ankle was pretty sore, though. I've made it to an old fire tower on a ridge and that will be my camp tonight. Barcelona is laid out to my left and I can just see Montserrat looming to the right. Far away, and that's only the start. Beautiful, beautiful sunset.
This Gencat (Generalitat de Catalunya) guide is pretty useless. I walked seven hours today and made it about half the distance that it said I would. I'll be glad to be rid of it at Montserrat. Did not expect to be sleeping outside tonight . . . at least it isn't raining. Yet. Time to make a fire.