It’s interesting for me to begin to reflect now on what’s different to the last Camino –
This time last year I walked the Camino Frances – 800+kms – and I did it alone.
Now I’m walking the Camino Portuguese – 240+kms – and I’m doing it with a group.
Not only am I doing it with a group, but I’m leading the group. People have paid to come on this tour, and I have certain responsibilities.
Last Camino I had knee pain from Day 1. And it only got worse from there. I did the whole pilgrimage on maximum dosages of pain killers.
This time I’m wearing an elaborate prosthetic knee brace and so far I’ve had no pain at all.
These are the simple superficial differences.
There are deeper differences.
I set off on the first day with a Garmin GPS watch and a chest strap monitor to record distances traveled, speed, heart rate, calories expended, etc…
Part way through that first day I realised that the GPS wasn’t working properly. It needed resetting. So did I.
At the end of the day I took off the watch, I took off the chest strap, I put them in a Ziplock bag, and I haven’t taken them out since. I felt strongly that I didn’t need to know that stuff.
I thought it would be important to me, but I quickly realised that I was trying to quantify something that couldn’t be quantified.
This was the first indication to me that I was wanting to let go.
That I was needing to let go.
On the second day I disappeared.
Yes, I got lost leaving Vila do Conde – horribly lost – and then It took me over four hours to walk 12 kms to Arcos. I was walking alone and suddenly I was no longer a tour leader, I was a pilgrim again.
It was glorious.
The others must have started to get worried about me – wondering where I was. My phone rang and rang, and I couldn’t bring myself to answer it. I needed to be alone.
And then I had a very strong desire to just walk straight past Villa d’Arcos – where Caterina’s mother had prepared a magnificent morning tea for us. I really didn’t want to spend time with anyone.
I was in another place.
But it would have been insulting to Caterina’s mum. And so I dropped in, but I found I was detached. I couldn’t really engage.
After spending a courteous amount of time there, I left and a few kilometres later, I went into the old Roman church in the next town.
I’d been pulled into the church, for some reason. I’d been in it before – I’d already seen it and photographed it – and because I’d started the day getting lost, I had to make up time.
But still I couldn’t walk past that church without stepping inside.
And then I had that transcendent experience where I put on my sunglasses, about to get up and leave, and my body-heat fogged up the glasses – and I was taken to another dimension. I can’t describe it with any greater lucidity than that.
It was ethereal.
This Camino is different. There aren’t nearly so many pilgrims as on the Camino Frances. And all the Portuguese people you meet are incredibly friendly and helpful – not that the Spanish aren’t on the CF – but the Portuguese have a lightness of spirit that is endearing.
They’re quick to laugh – and they will go out of their way to help you.
One of the other things I’m observing is that I am not referring to maps or to the guide book. I’m leaving in the morning and I’m walking outside my hotel and I’m allowing the Way to lead me. I’m allowing the day to unfold as it’s meant to – for me.
Yes I’ve got lost, and yes I’ve had to refer to the map to get me un-lost, but I never read up on what’s ahead the next day. I never know what’s coming up. And so I have no anxiety, I have no fear, and I’m finding the path is full of wonderful surprises.
Also, I never check on the weather. If it’s going to rain, there’s very little I can do to stop it. All I can do is alter my clothing. That’s ok. I’ve got wet weather gear. It’s simple – if it rains, I put on a rain jacket. And I make sure my backpack is covered.
I refuse to fret over what I can’t control.
I can’t control the weather. I can control my reaction to the weather, and so I leave it at that.
I’m not good walking with groups. This is because I can never keep up. I always want to stop and take photos. But yesterday for a period there, I walked with some of the others and we had a blast.
Yes we got a bit tipsy, but in quiet conversations with some of them as we walked, I learnt more about them as people – why they were doing this tour, this pilgrimage – and I began to get a deeper sense of who they were and what mattered to them.
They asked me questions too – and it required me to think about things on a more profound level. And to articulate those thoughts in an honest way.
A good teacher learns from his or her students, I’m learning from the folks on this tour.
There’s more to come – more to learn…