I received an email the other day from Toronto friend, Sergio (aka Serge) Vazquez, who is making his second attempt at walking the Camino in his native Spain. I find his account inspiring and beautifully written. I pass it along for those who will be joining me on the Camino in mid-October and to all who have an active or arm chair interest in post-modern pilgrims and what makes us tick. I wish I had a photo of Serge, but I do have some of the abbey at Samos, where he is taking his respite and where I spent several peaceful hours in 2010.
Buen Descanso e Buen Camino, Serge!
Subject: Camino de Santiago Halfway Record of my Experiences
When I walked the Camino de Santiago two years ago, I caught the Camino ‘virus’, which tends to affects most pilgrims. Although my previous experience had been sour sweet, I knew I had to come back more than once. On my 80th birthday last March, I decided this was the perfect time for it.
I started my walk August 23, three days after I landed in Spain. So far I have covered over half of the 300-kilometre trek from Leon to Santiago de Compostela. Today I am lodged in the Abbey of Samos for a five-day respite (www.abadiadesamos.com). Samos is a small village on the ancient pilgrim route leading to Santiago de Compostela. The Benedictine abbey itself dates back, I believe, to the 6th century and used to be one of the most important pilgrim hospitals in the middle ages. It is housed in a magnificent stone building with beautiful cloisters, gardens, fruit-tree orchards by the River Sarria, which flows right by the abbey, and even a medicinal herbs garden for the monks’ pharmacy and liqueur production. Life in the abbey is tranquil and serene. We speak almost in whispers. There are just 12 mostly-old monks in this huge place, three of whom are sick in bed and two are away in Leon. When I walk leisurely in the two cloisters or along the endless hallways, I seldom come across anybody. It’s as if the whole abbey belonged to me. I share three meals in the refectory with the monks, another guest and two hospitaleros in the most absolute silence.
On the trail, I’ve been required on occasion to make extraordinary efforts walking up- or downhill, loaded with my heavy backpack and stepping on loose stones. Another unpleasant experience has been sometimes sleeping in large dormitories because of loud snoring and of those retiring late without the slightest consideration for their fellow pilgrims who have to rise early. However, despite these and other minor annoyances, I am delighted with everything the Camino has generously given me so far.
Camino de Santiago is a magic place, a concentration of positive and negative energies accumulated over millennia. Next to its fascinating history and art, its ancient monuments, its breathtaking landscapes and its cute hamlets, what make the Camino memorable are the pilgrims themselves from every nation in the world, ranging from magistrates to beggars, from babies to octogenarians, on foot, on horseback, on bicycles, by taxi, bus or car. The Camino, not unlike life itself, is like a mirror that reflects the pilgrims’ attitude and rewards them according to the spirit with which they undertake this adventure. If one undertakes it embittered, full of mistrust and with a feeling of rejection towards one’s fellow pilgrims, one will get out of it mostly negative experiences in consonance with his/her feelings.
I have noticed that most pilgrims walk the Camino to resolve some emotional conflict or when they find themselves confused or at a crossroads, in need of a major change in their lives. On the surface, all pilgrims look much the same, but the moment I become intimate with some, their problems resurface, and most of them are quite eager to discuss them openly with me, perhaps because they know we’ll never meet again beyond the Camino. It is a fact that, once you have walked the Camino, you feel compulsively drawn to it as if it were a magnet. Very many pilgrims come back again and again, and some even settle down here. Finally, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Camino are the ‘coincidences’ or ‘minor miracles’ that most pilgrims experience at one time or another. Psychologist Carl Jung, who studied this phenomenon in depth, coined the term ‘synchronicity’.