Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Camino Entry 56

Entry 56, January 19th, 2012

The hospitalero here is a man named Peter. I think it is fitting, when the camino is really a metaphor life as a whole, that the end of it is guarded by a man named Peter (St. Peter?). He was building a small model of the Titanic when I came in, and we fell to talking about many things.

The Camino Frances is not the original camino, and it didn't always end in Santiago. Peter spoke of a “way of the stars,” where people followed the milky way West to the ocean, probably ending in Muxia. I actually walked part of the original path on the Camino Aragones. The guardians used the medieval pilgrimage to St. James to obscure the path and keep it hidden, but it has existed since perhaps as far back as the last ice age.

Peter expressed disgust at the commercialization of the camino. “The Camino Frances is a joke – you're lucky you went in winter.” He thinks that perhaps one true pilgrim arrives daily. I'm not sure that I agree, because I am fairly certain that an important of being a pilgrim is not judging anyone's camino as more or less relevant than your own, whatever the reason or distance.

But I do agree with what he said next. “People don't realize how important the way home is. They get here, happy in themselves, and then their faces fall and they tell me 'Now I have to go home.' That's why we have camino junkies. They come again and again, but they never go home and so they never have that time to practice and nurture the thing they get by getting here.”

Here am I, at the end of my camino, only to discover that I have so much further to go.

I went to bed troubled last night. What Peter says is true --- I can feel how fragile this true self is. The medieval pilgrim spent some days here, and then picked up his bag again and started the long walk home. Do I need to do the same? Another fifty days on the road? I did not sleep well.

Wan Woo and I walked out to the cape this morning. The sun was rising as we covered the last three kilometers; I felt as thought I had discovered a paradise at the end of the my journey. The shoulders of the road were covered in dewy green grass and lilac wildflowers. A soft spring breeze brought the scent of pine down off the mountain, and golden fingers of sunlight stretched through the clouds to paint the sea below. The only things to be heard were the birds in the trees and the waves smashing against the cliffs below.

We reached the point, and the 0.0km marker. It is a jumble of loose stone, shrubs, and tall grasses, slanting more and more until finally jagged slabs of granite tumble into the ocean below, like the edge of a world still under construction. We sat for a while, thinking our own thoughts. Wan Woo tossed his sticks into the ocean, and then said farewell. The last of my companions to depart! Although Marten is still around here somewhere.

I sat for a while longer. Ate some lunch, and then built a little spot for my gifts. I took the pole Ernesto gave me and drove it, upright, into the Earth, placing a pile of rocks around the base to keep it from falling. Then I hung the compass lanyard from the nice guy in Catalonia who showed me the path when I was lost. From that I hung the wire sculpture that Kwang-sik made for me on Christmas. I think it is a trumpet. From that I hung the tiny pair of porcelain shoes labeled “Holland” that I found in Galicia on the camino. I can only assume that the pilgrim who lost them would have wanted them to come here.

Perhaps this will all be thrown in a dumpster next week. That's not important to me.

Afterward I climbed down the rocks as far as I dared. The thunder of the sea is intense – huge Atlantic rolled smashing into the sheer cliffs, over and over again. Some of the foam is still brown and sticky from a tanker spill ten years ago.

I stared back. “From here on,” I thought, “every step I take is a step towards home.” This thought helped, but I was still troubled.

On the way back, I spotted a bit of color up on the hillside. There was a path; I took it. It was the old municipal pumping station – except every available surface had been painted. Images of Christ, long scrolls of ornate text, huge symbols I didn't understand. A garden had been planted on the roof of one building, and there were wooden structures and stone cairns everywhere. I walked up to the largest structure and knocked four times with my remaining walking stick (the wooden one Cleber found the day after Christmas in Ages).

There was a bit of rustling. A dog came out first, and then a man, blinking in the bright sunlight. He was middle aged, mostly unshaven, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and old boots with one improvised shoelace. We exchanged a few words in Spanish before he realized how inept I am and switched to excellent English.

The man's name is Arno. He is from Normandy (although Peter later said that he was from Belgium) and walked the camino several times before settling here. At first, it was a retreat – he asked the mayor of Finisterra is he could stay there for six months during his vow of silence. In exchange, he would fix the place up. That was five years ago – now he is building a chapel.

We spoke of many things as well. I told him my story, and how now I didn't know the way home. He told me two very important things. First it is normal to feel lost at Finisterra. In fact, this is good. “It is a good place to be lost,” he said. And second, the way to keep the camino alive in your soul is to give. “So many people come and take. Then they leave, but they do not give. This is why the camino leaves their hearts – they do not give it to others.”

He told a story of a Peruvian girl he met in León. She was young, only 17, and from the slums. Every day she walked very fast, and every night she talked about the slum back home where she was from. Finally he asked her, “Why are you in such a hurry?” Why not slow down and enjoy the camino?” She answered, “Because I must get home and give this to the others. To show them that there is something else, something good.”

He also knew of the way of the stars, and was saddened by the corruption of the camino. “Finisterra – the city without laws, they call it. Like all holy places, there are many demons at work here.” he said that the pilgrims in winter are to his liking – slower and more introspective.

On his advice, I climbed the mountain. He gave me some water first, from a big white jar. I asked him, “can I give you anything? Some bread?” I could tell from his eyes that he did not need bread. “Some chocolate?” At this he lit up – it was a most welcome gift. I did not mind giving it at all.

So I still do not know the way back. Arno's girlfriend, a woman from South Korea, stayed two months over her visa and no one cared. Perhaps this is an option. I will at least walk back to Santiago . . . but mine was a strange pilgrimage. I did not start from home, I started from where I was. To walk back to Barcelona would make no sense. I must keep thinking.

Thank you Peter. And thank you, Arno. Best of luck to both of you.

Expenses, Day 56
Pastry: .90
Albergue: 15.00
Dinner + Provisions: 6.50
Total: 22.40

Trip total: 1269.06

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