The legacy of the Camino…

At social gatherings, the questions of the many people not having seen me after my return from the Camino pilgrimage walk, are inevitably very similar.

Surprisingly my answers are not. I mean, the basic facts and stereotypes are necessarily repetitive, but I just realize that my introspection is gradually evolving and revealing new aspects I am learning as I hear myself while telling to others. My answers are now more elaborated and more calibrated to the audience.

Surely not dramatic breakthroughs, but an increasing awareness of another brand new experience of mine, which has been completed and is gradually being elaborated to form new vision, reflections and thoughts. Most of the people I am casually meeting over some wine and snacks have no intention whatsoever to do something similar, most are too young or professionals too engaged in their jobs or in raising young kids; some are dubious and defensive for the possible threat to their own life beliefs and endeavors, and quite determined to look for the loopholes of contradiction instead of opening up to what new is out there for them.

My elation and reward is however when I can sense a small seed inspiration creeping through the many layers of self-preserving skepticism and planting itself deeply inside the imagination layer. Passing the message, that’s the legacy of the challenge!

I do not have the skills nor the ambition to become an evangelist of sort, to preach the right against the wrong. As in few past occasions, though, I witnessed the power of experience as opposed to just intellectual or religious theories or dogmas. The simple sharing of my rounded-up experience, it’s the most effective way to pass the message.

Even this blog, in which I have painstakingly entered my daily impressions, thoughs and sometimes a few disoriented remarks, it’s a sharing and a legacy of an experience. A friend commented that I have bared my soul, perhaps too much, and that now I am more vulnerable, as the readers were connected in a somewhat intimate relationship with my feelings and my soul while I still do not know exactly who are all the persons that red one , a few or all the pages of my script, let alone to know their true inner feelings or thoughts.

If all this would be sufficient for at least one person I reached to start his or her own Camino in  goodwill for a true search of the meanings of life, then my soul has not been bared in vain.

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Tying the last strings…..

Dear readers and supporters,

Thanks to your undivided support and encouragement, I managed to meet my goal to reach Finisterre from Lourdes covering the actual distance of 992 km in just 39 days.

Besides the satisfaction of having been able to walk the distance in good health and spirit, in good will of the Lord, and to have experienced total freedom and happiness, another goal was also to raise some funds for an adopted Charity, the Student Advisory Centre of Singapore (SAC)

The SAC social mission is to help  children from financially disadvantaged families meet their basic food needs and help them progress out of poverty through education.

In a few days, on November 30, the fund raising event shall be closed. I am very thankful to the donors that have already contributed either directly or indirectly.

This post is a reminder for whoever still wishes to give a contribution to do so. For the ones that are desperate since they wanted so badly to donate, but lost the link to the donations collecting website, here it is again:
https://www.give.sg/TeamGIVE/Lifepilgrim/walk4change

The amount of each contribution is not relevant as much as the number of donors. So take a few moments from your busy schedule to give a concrete sign of solidariety.

God bless you all.

Epilogue

In a leap that transported me 10,000 kilometers and 1,000 years forward, I am now back to the super comfortable lifestyle of my sunny Singapore and to the usual chores and challenges of the professional life.

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This is certainly true for my physical body. But the mind is still far behind. I find myself staring at the ceiling during my jetlagged sleepless nights, revisiting mentally my trip step by step, stage by stage, face by face, still wondering about what really happened and how it will affect my future from now on.

I have over a thousand pictures to sort out by subject, date, reference before I miss out the important detail that prompted me to take the picture in the first place. I am concentrated in deconstructing the bidimensional and static images in an attempt to add the background sounds, the smells, the color of my mood and overall feelings of these life fragments before becoming just agglomerates of stolen bits and pixels.

I have dozens of emails of people I shared with essential moments of happiness, joy, wonders and discoveries, and also of pain, disappointment, perhaps also of little despair and recovery. These people, once my daily companions of a common project, now are just like me, back to the ‘normal’ occupations in their tespective countries, and it is hard to picture them literally out of their abused walking shoes and outfits. I hope to keep an occasional contact with all these people, to remember how we were and how we could likely be again if we just want to.

Was it worth? No single answer is possible to this question. Most of the time, people from my ‘normal’ circle of friends, colleagues, or just simple acquaintances, set a critical eye on me to spot the big differences ‘before and after’. Most comments only limit the consideration that, yes, I have lost some weight but not as much as they expected.

I know that the answer lies at a much deeper level. In the day to day journey on our inner Camino, the small changes which we are able to commit consistently are the ones that will generate the bigger differences in the longer term. I can sense these small changes happening shapelessly inside me. I am monitoring any new spontaneous approach in response to the life stresses and the small rewards I am collecting from an increased awareness and open attitude towards others and how I relate to them.

But what about the idea that the whole purpose if my trip was designed by the Lord to touch and affect others? In my two-way conception of the deterministic world, there is always the prejudice of being the sole recipient of the effect of my actions. Both good and bad. But what about if instead I was just an instrument to create an opportunity for others to reap a much more needed benefit?

I would probably never know a certain answer to this last question, but I am now more considerate in feeding just my ego and believing I am the key actor for my own wellbeing. In reciprocity, I am now more conscious that the decisions and effort of others will have likely a much deeper impact on me, once I will keep an open mind to allow myself to resonate at the same frequency of the universe.

Stage 39, Oct 15, Muxia to Finisterre and Cap de Finisterre, 39.2km, total time 11:50 hrs

The Ends.

After having seen many of our fellow walkers leaving to head back to their homes in the 4 corners of the world, the motivation to continue is every day harder to find. After having walked for more than 20 hrs in the last three days, new pain due to the insufficient recovery time is hurting the feet and the lower legs. The continuous up and downs also are stressing the knee area and the lower thighs. I am taking 100mg if Aspirine every night trying to get some good sleep, but nonetheless the legs are hurting in any position and often I wake up under acute pain. Last night for instance was one of those nights with poor sleep quality and in the morning I felt like having walked the whole night with no rest. I also was quite cold but could find no other blanket in the dormitory.

Anyway as always I readied myself and by 8am we were on the road again with the soundtrack of the roaring sea waves. It was magnificent yet intimidating.

Having committed to reach the Land’s End and to throw Massimo’s stone in the Ocean there helped to maintain focus in the mind, despite the insistence of the body asking to quit. Soon we left the ocean behind to cross a few hilly ranges in direction SW, facing the challenge of one the longest stages ever.

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At about 4pm, we finally got a glimpse of Finisterre, but it took another hour to reach the city center and the Albergue.

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The municipal Albergue I’m Finisterre was closed due to an infestation of bed bugs, so we settled for a private accommodation, but first we got our  Rua de la Morte certification in addition to the one already received in Muxia.

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Despite I was really tired beyond imagination, Luigi and I moved ahead to reach the lighthouse at the end of Finisterre’s promontory on this very same day. Besides the stones, I intended to leave there my walking shoes and three pair of socks, but I had no clue how.

Along the way to the lighthouse, a procession of people was going to and back, wearing they waking gear to pay homage to the ultimate destination: the so longed km 0 and the End of the Camino. On the road pavements, countless graffiti are cheering up the solitary oncomers still flocking in at almost sunset time.

The km 0 milestone is standing unassumingly on a side, just like thousands of other similar milestones I have been passing by along the road. This one is austere and uncovered by the well wishing messages or graffiti. There is a long moment of commotion and reverence in thinking the way I was when I started, 42 days ago, all the faces I met, the laughter, the determination, the solitude and the pain, the gratitude and happiness, the countless blessings and the few moments of despair that kept me company since. All is deeply buried inside me and only time will tell how much I will be changed by this awesome experience. All has been lived fully spending most of the time outdoors in contact with the nature and other fellow human beings to talk, to compare, to listen and to love.

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In every corner of the vast cliff, small insignificant every day objects of thousands of pilgrims, are left on this immense altar as sacrifice and memento of their existence and effort. Rests of fires are seen everywhere, despite the many signs discouraging the habit. Tiny figures clad in windbreakers are dotting the promontory,  all performing a personal ceremony that has the dimensions of a religious ritual, everyone carrying something to leave behind.

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In committing the stones to the abysses, I truly believe in the magic spell of the moment and from the heart comes a song of abandon and hope for a better world where the importance of being here today after having done what I have done is  overhelming any other joy. I prayed for all the people that I care for, for all that have supported me throughout, for all those that may have been stimulated by my  experience to start their own Camino somehow somewhere.

In our heart we knew this was the end of it, the end of the earthly Camino walk, and as we turned back heading to the so longed rest, we all wandered on the next step. But as the Camino taught us, only the next stage is important. We learned how to live the 24 hours and to appreciate beauty and harmony despite our troubles.

And that was it. I walked for 992km in 39 days over a span of 42 days. I crossed open lands and mountain ranges, rivers and creeks, provinces, regions and countries. I have seen history unfolding under my eyes and in the stones I touched. I spoke many languages including the language of smiles, when the words were at a loss; I saw people of all ages, profession, provenience, all with the same light in their eyes; I have seen big egos and big hearts,small human stories of losses and gains. I have heard the voices of all pilgrims that have walked before me, I have drank the same water and eaten the same bread.

On the road to Santiago, I believe I have recognized Jesus in medicating the massacred feet of Tom, in sharing the last piece of chocolate with Fay, or lending the raincoat to Megs, or inviting Luigi to eat at my table and helping him to take responsibility for his own life. I will have to meditate on all these encounters and on their signification.

For now, I am happy now to see my family again soon.

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Stage 38, Oct 14, Oliveroa to Muxia, 32.5km, total time 8:45 hrs

Oliveiroa is almost a mandatory resting point for any traveller on the Rua de la Morte, i.e. the final part of the Camino de Santiago towards Finisterre and Muxia. The village is almost inconsistent except a couple of hostels and a pension serving a hot meal. Almost all pilgrims going that far, know each other fairly well and the atmosphere is like a reunion of long time friends. I manage to get a picture of Brian, an Englishman, I walked with for part of a stage and to whom I lended 5 Euro to buy his breakfast. With surprise a few stages after, I found him waiting for me on the road to return me the money.

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The morning wake up was under drizzling rain but with an acceptable temperature. Not long after the starting point, we hit the junction between the way to Finisterre on the left and the much less travelled way to Muxia on the right. In actual count we met only 5 pilgrims along the whole road, a just about the same walking the road backwards.

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After so many crossings of rural areas, and of small churches, we were quite eager to reach the sea.

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Being on the road since over three months, Luigi is an expert on how to feed from corn, tomatoes, apples and lemons, all rigorously taken from the many orchards and vegetable gardens along the road.

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The sky finally started opening a bit, and at 3pm, exactly we happened to the first sighting of the coast in the distance.

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We had to go over the crest of a promontory and half hour later we were finally able to reach Muxia and the Sanctuary of the Virxa de Barca and to pay our respect to the mighty ocean. A unexpected sunset is blessing the moment and the fierce strength of the sea and the wind that seems to possess the place, seem to be powerless against the peace and the serenity if the sanctuary.  Huge rocks are amassed on the cliff degrading from the church towards the sea representing the remains of the stone boat carrying the Virgin Mary in support of St James’s apostolic activity in the region.

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Father Xavier was waiting us for dinner in his Albergue which had a very efficient kitchen and dining room where he prepared a salad if scallops and Roquefort served in St. Jacques shells, and seafood pasta.

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After a very moving and emotional farewell hug we left with the promise of going to meet him in his parish in central France, on foot of course!

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Stage 37, Oct 13, Negreira to Oliveroa, 33.1km, total time 8:30 hrs.

…and all of a sudden is late Autumn, almost Winter.

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In the dorm room, the number of “miners”, i.e. the ones that obey to a superior law of nature, whereby the Camino stages must start at seven or earlier, and they go around the dorm like in trance at 6 am wearing their torch lights on their headfront, indeed like miners, well, even these are less and less with most of the others intend to start not earlier than 8:30. At 8:30 is is still pitch dark and whoever lives in the villages where we stop for the night do not seem in the need to go to work until much later.

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Today has been one of the longest stages ever walked. Pretty much endless and quite tiring due to the many ups and downs sometimes for no apparent reason apart from aggravating the progress for us poor pilgrims on the road. Tomorrow we’ll see the ocean, and we pray for the weather to stay as pretty as today with cold air but with a nice and hot sunshine.

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In Muxia, Father Xavier is waiting for us and shall cook something for us. It shall be another quite long stage, but the prospect of a nice evening looking at the sea, even in a cold whether, will give us the wings.

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Stage 36, Oct 12, Santiago de Compostela to Negreira, 22.4km, total time 5:45 hrs

The journey continues but with a lighter spirit.

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Once the destination objective has been reached, I seem to have a better confidence within myself of what I managed to accomplish throughout these last challenging days. On the other hand though, the continuation of the journey to Muxia and Finisterre, looks like now more a sort of vacation than an extension of the Pilgrimage to other sites of  historical and religious relevance.

Nothing wrong in taking a bit of extra time leasurely and certainly the mood is more relaxed once the tension to reach Santiago and the adrenaline in the blood has reduced significantly. Along the road fewer pilgrims can be seen, and while the road signaling system is still very good, there are less hospitality structures on this stretch of road than on the way to Santiago on the Camino Frances. For some unknown reason, the milestones now report distances in kilometers but with three decimal figures!

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From the room of our cell in the monastery, I could take a glimpse to the Santiago city roofs.

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The road to Land’s End is through a land of legends with strong Celtic influence. Gradually, over the centuries, primitive stone construction with the traditional Celtic cross or spiral, have been turned as part of churches and chapels. Some of these churches are in remarkable natural spots.

In Muxia for instance there are rocks on the shore which are supposed to be the remains of a boat made of stone with whom the Holy Mary travelled from Palestine to support the evangelical work of Santiago. Legend has that only a man with no deadly sins will be able to move these rocks with a single finger. I will not even dare to try!

Talking about deadly sins, I have reflected that in the modern world, these 7DS is perhaps better to call them as the Seven Intoxications from Excessive Material Gratification (7IEMG). This will help to focus outside of the religious context and refers to very common addiction patterns typical of the current so-called western lifestyle. The pursue of a material reward, is not necessarily a bad practice, but when the pursue becomes an obsession, then I can see the risk of that intoxication to rule undisturbed.

The alliance with Luigi grows stronger. We can talk for hours about the men’s conditions or we can stay absolutely silent for as many hours totally sucked-in by our own thoughts. Today we started together at 8am crossing an almost deserted Santiago after the street parties that lasted until 4am, to celebrate the Our Lady del Pilar, or some new brand of liqueur or wine.

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