Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 80 - Navigating the Camino...

Navigating has always been one of my stronger points. That is, if I'm equipped with a good map and speak the language of the country that I'm travelling in. Reading what Tony Kevin has to say on the topic of navigating the Camino in his book, 'Walking the Camino - a modern pilgrimage to Santiago' I've realised that my skills are going to be put to the test in this department!

I suspect that my two biggest challenges are going to be, firstly, yo no hablo español and secondly - the trusty yellow arrows and waymakers aren't exactly around every single corner on the route, especially out in the countryside...  

This is how Tony, in his delightful manner, puts it:

' This might be a good moment to pull together some thoughts about navigation. This is an important practical question for non-Spanish speaking pilgrims. If you do not have enough confidence in Spanish to ask directions and understand the answers, how do you avoid getting seriously lost? Asking directions can be a problem even for good Spanish speakers: quite often, a local will say 'a la izquierda' (to the left) while waving to the right with his right hand, or 'a la derecha' (to the right) while his left hand points to the left. It is hard to decide whether to believe the words or the hands!'

'The camino, like a Roman or medieval road,tries to avoid serious detours from the most direct, shortest line of walk. So it goes straight up and over the top of hills that are in the way, rather than curving around them as do motor roads. Sometimes, in rough terrain with sheep or goat tracks meandering aimlessly around, it can be hard to stay on the right path. You have to put all your trust in the directions indicated by the yellow waymarks. They are a metaphor for spiritual guidance in life,in that they are always correct (they never misdirect) and sometimes easily visible, but at other times quite hard to see. On the camino that I walked, they were painted in the oddest and most obscure places - mostly on wayside rocks or trees, but also on fence posts or lamp posts, at the corner of buildings, on street signs, even in treeless wheatfields on drain culverts at one's feet. Sometimes there are too few of them - in some places the local Friends seem to have decided to not make it too easy for pilgrims, to make them work at finding the next arrow, which may be several kilometres ahead. In other areas there are yellow arrows everywhere. But that is all part of the fun of navigation - and there is the delight and relief when you spy the next yellow arrow and realise you haven't lost the track. Sometimes there are yellow crosses, warning not to take a particular road. Sometimes there are puzzlingly bent arrows pointing upwards and then off to the right or left - what do they mean?'

I keep reminding myself that I'm not going to be the only one walking the route and if I do get lost, surely there will always be someone to steer me in the right direction again. Perhaps part of the fun is going to be exactly that - losing the way (or should I say 'plot'...) every now and again!

When I lived in Portugal for a few months a couple of years ago, losing my way, be it direction or language related, sometimes led me to the best of friends! The fact that one is prepared to try, even if it means making a complete fool of oneself, somehow seems to bring out the positive in  most people. Some of the mistakes I made still make me smile today. The Portuguese language is a complicated one and filled with words that sound so similar but yet have meanings that are totally unrelated.

A good example: mordamos = to bite; moramos = to live. So imagine the looks I got when I answered: 'I bite in Villamoura' when asked where I live. And trust me, I did this a couple of times!

As for navigating - the only time I've really been off the mark was when certain roads actually catered for one way traffic only and this was not indicated on my map. In heavy city traffic in places like Paris or London this can be a costly mistake! We once drove in Amsterdam with our hired camper van (great fun touring that way!) and I didn't realise that the roads become too narrow in certain parts of the city for such large vehicles. So needless to say, with my luck, we ended up (quite unintentionally, I assure you!) in the red light district, trapped in a narrow little side street with our huge bus! Traffic officers (who were kind enough not to issue us a ticket because they felt so sorry for us - what a sight for sore eyes we must have been - a bunch of red-faced foreigners out on a sightseeing trip in a camper van in the red light district!) diverted traffic so that we could back up and then led us out of the disaster zone in one piece.

I remember almost being able to touch the ladies sitting in the display windows alongside the road. I know you can place a take-away order from your car at the MacDonald's drive-thru, but I don't think that's quite the way it worked  in the red light district... :)

I started this post by proclaiming the fact that I regard myself as a good navigator. By sharing the above (and I'm not sure how or why that all poured out, but somehow one admission just led to the next!) you've probably lost all confidence in my ability to successfully navigate my way on a 780km walk with only a map, a guidebook, three Spanish words and a backpack.

Can't say I blame you!

All of the above said, I think I'll be OK. One of my other good attributes is that I always stay extremely calm when disaster strikes. But before I prove that statement to be yet another figment of my imagination, I'd better refrain from spilling too many of my beans...

Just to prove that I'm not alone - I thought I'd share this little gem I found on a fellow blogger's site. She has kindly allowed me to share the following with you. Thanks Anna-Marie!

My friend and I were really curious about this sign that we found along the river after Villafranca del Bierzo. All I could make out was something about freedom without death. I asked a Spanish friend about it later. It turned out to be about releasing fish after catching them! 

I found this just as charming:

'It’s possible to survive walking the Chemin de Saint-Jacques from Le Puy-en-Velay if you speak next to no French. I met two Austrian students who walked part of the route, and gleefully got by snorting like pigs to order pork in a restaurant, and miming their ailments in a pharmacy. I also walked for a day with a Korean woman who spoke no French apart from the tiny amount she’d picked up while walking. She made it all the way to Santiago.'

I think there might be hope for me!

(Anna-Marie walked the Camino de Santiago two years ago - her blog is filled with wonderful stories and facts on the Camino - Thank you also to Tony Kevin, author of 'Walking the Camino', for allowing me to quote from his wonderful book. Lastly - a big thank you to my friend Rodney for sending me the photograph of the curved sign at the beginning of this post.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 78 - A world without bees...

Walking 780km without all the worldly luxuries that most of us have become accustomed to, is going to be quite a challenge. I know my walk is months away but I am already thinking about what I'm going to miss most. 

I know certain things are going to be pretty non-negotiable for me. I LOVE coffee. I suspect Spaniards love their caffeine fix as much as I do, so I'm hoping there will be a regular and quality supply of my one basic must-have! 

I do love an afternoon siesta when I can squeeze it in. Again, I suspect, if I arrive early enough after an early morning start, I might be obliged in that department as well.... 

I might as well accept that I will have to do without my hairdryer, my car keys, my laptop, my call-for-free between 7pm and 7am phone deal, the guarantee of a delicious three course meal every day, laundry service, cable TV, a private en-suite bedroom every night, a soft (bed bug free) mattress, late wake-up calls and breakfast in bed.

Well, believe it or not - I actually can't wait! Imagine being in a space where your main purpose is to get from point A to point B at your own pace, with just a bag on your back and ALL the freedom in the world to let your thoughts go to a place of peace where the deadlines and demands of daily 'normal' living is non-existent!

A spiritual journey of discovery. What a gift.

My mind is already wandering as today I really wanted to tell you about something that neither you or I, whether on a camino or not, would be able to do without. A tiny little creature that we take for granted and in fact don't really want near us most of the time.

The honeybee. Take a minute to ponder this thought...

No bees
No pollination
No plants
No animals
No people

Here are some of the bees, plants, animals and people as seen through my lens the last couple of months. Looking at these photos really brought the gravity of the above statement home to me! Just imagine. A world without bees. Unthinkable.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 76 - Scallops on the Camino...

The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. I have been browsing the Internet to try and understand why this beautifully shaped shell is of such importance and how it came to be associated with the Camino. The following is a medley of what I have discovered.

Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance is actually due to pilgrims wishing to take home a souvenir!

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol concern the death of Saint James, who was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother, John. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula.

Version 1:  After James' death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

Version 2:  After James' death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God's hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago.

In art James appears as three distinct types; one of them is the pilgrim: He wears the pilgrim's broad-brimmed hat and cloak. From his staff or shoulder hangs the wallet or water-gourd of the pilgrim. His special attribute, the scallop shell, appears on his hat or cloak, or on the wallet.

The scallop design symbolizes the many European starting points from which medieval pilgrims began their journey, all drawn to a single point at the base of the shell, Santiago de Compostela. Today in Spain cement scallop shell markers along the Camino reassure participants that they have not taken a wrong turn and local residents decorate their gardens and houses with shells in solidarity with the pilgrims. A recent pilgrim recalled that the shells “came in various forms: ceramic shells fitted onto road markers, government-issue traffic signs marked with an abstract shell, shining brass shells embedded in sidewalks. Some were broken, some had been stolen as souvenirs leaving only a trace of their presence, some were beautiful, some so simply sketched as to provide the mere suggestion of a shell. In all their variations, they marked the route for hundreds of miles. They reminded all of us pilgrims that in the midst of a world both beautiful and broken there are signs to help lead us forward, sometimes right under our feet.”

Practical observers argue that the shell was adopted merely as a device for sipping water from streams along the way. If this is so, it quickly took on greater meaning even to the earliest pilgrims.

The scallop shell has thus become the main symbol of the Camino.  Another explanation is that scallops are native to the Galician coast, and pilgrims would bring back a scallop shell to prove that they had been there, and completed their pilgrimage. Pilgrims could have their sins forgiven, and criminals were able to get out of prison if they completed the Camino. Many people did it in hopes of miraculous recovery from disease.

The scallop shell is also the symbol of Baptism, and is found frequently on Baptismal fonts. The dish used by priests to pour water over the heads of a catechumen (a person under instruction in the rudiments of Christianity, as in the early church) in Baptism is often scallop-shaped.

To add to this angle - scallop shells symbolize birth (think of Botticelli's Venus) and the Camino for many is connected with rebirth or the beginning of a new life. 

On a practical note...

Scallop - 'An edible bivalve mollusc with a ribbed fan-shaped shell.' - Oxford dictionary

Scallops, like clams and oysters, are mollusks having two shells. They differ, however, from those shellfish in that they are active free swimmers. The scallop swims freely through the waters and over the ocean floor by snapping its shell together. This action results in the development of an oversized muscle called the "eye" and this sweet flavored muscle is the only part of the scallop eaten by Americans.  Europeans, in contrast, eat the entire scallop meat.

A scallop (pronounced /ˈskɒləp/ or /ˈskæləp/) is a marine bivalve mollusc of the family Pectinidae. Scallops are a cosmopolitan family, found in all of the world's oceans. Many scallops are highly prized as a food source. The brightly colored, fan-shaped shells of some scallops, with their radiating fluted pattern, are valued by shell collectors.

The name "scallop" is derived from the Old French escalope, which means "shell".

And...did you know?

Winston Churchill's family coat of arms includes a scallop, as does John Wesley's (and as a result the scallop shell is used as an emblem of Methodism!).

If that hasn't wet your appetite for more knowledge - maybe this will!

Scallops taste divine and if you've never tried it, here's a link with an easy to prepare recipe!

Finally, I'd like to leave you with a lovely poem I found.

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;

My staff of faith to walk upon;

My scrip of joy, immortal diet;

My bottle of salvation;

My gown of glory (hope's true gage)

And then I'll take my pilgrimage.

-      Sir Walter Raleigh

I can't wait to hang my own scallop shell around my neck!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 75 - A Merry Christmas to you!

May this day be filled with abundant love, peace and happiness!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 72 - Winter walking...

Europe is experiencing the coldest Christmas in years and I've really been thinking of the pilgrims out there, walking the Camino de Santiago in this ice cold weather. I know of one young man who started his walk on the 15th of December and I'm hoping to get some first hand feedback from him soon to share with you.

The Camino has truly cast it's spell over me as I am seriously considering doing a winter walk as well sometime in future - something I never thought I would contemplate in a million years!

I did a bit of research on the internet and found this wonderful video, posted by a veteran walker/pilgrim. He has the most informative blog and when I started my journey he was one of the very first people I contacted - he immediately responded with good wishes and the offer to answer any questions I might have.

You can read more about his travels at:

As you can see, the video was taken at the beginning of 2010, almost a year ago! Seems almost surreal to think that we've had all the other seasons inbetween and here we are again - the pathways once more covered with rain and snow.

The following photographs were taken earlier this month in Spain - what a winter wonderland! Looking at this I can't help but think that if I survived the ice cold conditions at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with diminished oxygen levels, surely I should be able to manage a winter camino as well...

As tempted as I am right now to pack my bag, I think it probably is a good idea to get at least one summer walk under the belt first...

'Patience...' - I hear whispered in my ear...