Not tourism, not backpacking, not blisters

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Sitting here in another no-name place watching the World Cup, after eating a meal of morcilla and eggs. The picture of the labyrinth in the oak landscape expresses for me the puzzle at the heart of the Camino. Some of you have asked for more of an inner-process report. I’ll try. I’m at the exact middle of my Camino, and will need to skip ahead to finish and get my Compostela. This will be introspective, with a bit of navel-searching, so you can feel free skip on to the photos if you like.
The Camino Intensifies

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The Camino intensifies life, your relationship to your body, your desires and fears. By assigning the meaning of pilgrimage to your trek, you travel with a metaphor. It gives you time to be introspective. Every decision resonates with contemplation, because the Camino gives you time to think about things for hours.
For example, why have I chosen to travel so slowly? In my life, I’ve been an achiever. I am fairly certain I could work my way up to the 20-30 kilometers a day many pilgrims walk. But I don’t want to.

I am traveling half as far as everyone else, except a few people, who I see again and again. I’ll tell you about them in a minute. But back to slow travel. I think in my life that I have crammed two lives into one for a while, my work and my art life. I’ve been so fortunate in both, and am grateful. But I’m tired. So my whole body says, go slowly, and if I push, I am immediately brought down with blisters and exhaustion. If I stay within my limits, I am happy and productive.

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My Camino Pod
I never developed a Camino family, because I travel too slowly and too erratically. The Camino Family myth was fostered by the movie The Way, where a troubled Martin Sheen meets exactly the right group of affable characters to help him grieve. It also helps if you follow the guidebook exactly, because then you will be with a common group over many kilometers. But I do see the same people over and over, and that has a meaning too.
Apparently my Camino Pod is composed of elderly hikers, both alone and in couples, all happy and healthy. One of the reasons I wanted to do this walk was so that I could continue to hike well into my seventies, which, at this point, is right around the corner. And so I see Ana, and the Italian couple, all over 70 and hiking the whole Camino. And that has its meaning, even if it’s not the way my ego pictured it.

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Hey, there she is now, at the counter. I just snuck this photo. She’s so adorable. Her whole pack (not the one on her back) must weigh about 12 pounds. She is so organized! What an inspiration. Okay, get this: the 70 year olds leave me in the dust while hiking. The only people who hike more slowly than me, with my writing in notebooks, photos, frequent breaks, are young dreaming men, the Siddharthas. They walk really slowly, thinking of God, the meaning of life, and the girl who broke their hearts. I constantly have to try to explain to other Caminantes (great word– a word for those who walk the Camino) why I am walking so slowly. I am just not in the same groove as others. This is nothing new.

Decisions on the Way
Every decision resonates. I had originally thought I would break the Camino about now to fly up and try to go to the caves of Altamira and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It’s a seductive concept: The entire span of Western Art from the Paleolith to the 21st century contrasted in a few days. But that has a few disadvantages. It re-identifies me with my artist life, and I don’t want that right now. I want to get some space from it. And it puts me back into multi-tasking and a sort of frenetic changing of identities, which I experience too many times in my daily life. I don’t want to change from pilgrim to culture tourist, like Superman changing in a phone booth.
What does the Camino say? It’s so simple. Just keep walking. Solvitur ambulando– it is resolved by walking.

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I’ll be taking the train to Ponferrada tomorrow to resume walking the next day through Galicia. I’ll be finishing the Camino from here. This feels like a turning point in my Camino, and I feel a bit sad. For three glorious weeks I could do exactly what I wanted to do, drifting along in a sweet little eddy in the river of time. Now I really have a goal, Santiago, and a time frame, a couple of weeks.
I’ve been so lucky all along. I’ve really had almost uninterrupted beauty and help from others. I haven’t even had to walk in the rain, though that will change in Galicia, Gaelic Spain. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Stay tuned! From your Slow Camino, Suzanne
P.S. 16km today.

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6 comments

  1. Solvitur ambulando. Perfect. You cannot know, Suzanne, how much I need/want to hear what you’re saying. I am so grateful for this chance to walk with you, to see through your eyes, to hear your thoughts. You are a great comfort to me as you slowly walk the Camino.

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  2. to walk and hike is perfect for the mind. but now that I know what geocaching is (where have I been for the last 14 years)..i’d be tempted to look for em…but only if they were on the trail and not out of the way……I can’t wait to get a GPS device…. now that I’ve looked for and found a few caches with the help of my cousins and uncle…… there’s a goal, a destination, and a search for some unknown hidden gem…..if you look hard enough there’s a reward…and if you don’t find it…you can still enjoy the walk. http://www.geocaching.com

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  3. Tears fill my eyes as I read your posting…………..my heart aches to feel what you so eloquently put into words. I love that you are doing this Suzanne………for yourself……..and for us!

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  4. Did you walk that labyrinth in the grassy field…..Ask Ana how she got her pack to be so light (very impressive) (And I know about going slow as my fit elders breeze past.) 16 km! Wow! that in itself is a triumph and accomplishment — hard to see how that might be considered slow. Now I see the great nest of the stork on top of the church bell tower…What is that thing surrounded by the white horses….

    I think that you are in your ‘artist life’ on your camino — unfixed itinerary, private pacing, multi-textural timetable.

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