Buen Camino

It is probably the most repeated phrase on the Camino. It literally means “good road,” but has come to mean so much more when spoken by and to those on pilgrimage. “Good journey,” “Have a good journey”, or even “May God bless your journey” are what is meant when someone says to a pilgrim “Buen Camino.”

The intent behind the words is almost more important than the words. There is recognition, by the person speaking and the person being spoken to, that someone is ON A  JOURNEY. This means the person on the journey (referred to as a pilgrim from here on) realizes he is leaving where he is, is headed somewhere else, and has a destination in mind.

Buen Camino.

I think a first step to living life more fully is to recognize you are on a journey. To be willing to leave where you are and to know where you want to go.

Recognize you are on a journey. 

John and I traveled roughly 500 miles. We never got lost once. Amazing. I get lost driving around my home town!

We never got lost because we followed the signs. These usually came in the form of painted yellow arrows or scallop shell images.

If you want your journey to be successful, follow the signs. God gives us so many if we just pay attention to them. Thoughts he places in our minds (that keep coming back), our imaginations, advice from loved ones, role models are but a few. Let me mention two specific ones that have helped me.

You know the feeling when you do something dumb or wrong? No matter how right it seemed before, you now know in your heart it was a mistake. At the same time, you know that feeling when you do something right, no matter how difficult it seemed to be while the doing was taking place? Yes, you feel more. This is called conscience, or moral conscience in Church vernacular. When you pay attention to it, you will be surprised by how clearly the signs you should be following stand out.

My other example involves what Joseph Campbell meant when he said, “Follow your bliss.” We all have gifts. And when we use our gifts in some useful way, we feel good. We feel better. We experience bliss. This is a God given set of signs, meant to help us on our journey to fullness of life.

Follow the signs. 

It very quickly became apparent on our pilgrimage that, if we ever wanted to get to Santiago, we had to keep moving. Breaks that took too long, no matter how much we were enjoying the relaxation,  meant we weren’t making progress. This doesn’t mean rushing. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. It does mean that your natural state is moving from wherever you currently are to where you are trying to go. I think the biggest inhibitor to personal growth is our unwillingness to move out of our comfort zones and experience new life. Vitality depends upon movement. So..

Keep moving. 

“Getting ahead” is a phrase we use to describe our desire to do more with our lives; I want to get ahead so I, or those I love, will have a better life, or more of what matters, or greater respect from others, or all of the above, or… you name it. The point is GETTING AHEAD matters. This is natural. Wanting more of what matters matters.

Unfortunately, this impulse often leads to a less attractive desire; to literally get ahead of others. To be better than, faster than, quicker to get to whatever matters. When getting ahead takes on this meaning, much is lost, without even being aware of the loss.

As well documented on this blog, I walked slowly compared to everyone else on the Camino. I walk so slowly I had  a problem passing someone going in the opposite direction!

For the first day or so, this really bothered me. Why couldn’t I walk as fast as others? How could a certain person or group go by me so quickly?  Was something wrong with me? Would people PLEASE stop asking if I was all right!

I was worrying about why I couldn’t get ahead…literally ahead of others…the wrong but all too often most common way to approach life.

But then a little light went off. It wasn’t a question of how fast I walked. Only that I follow the signs and keep moving.

When I made this mental adjustment, amazing things happened. I had more time to enjoy the environment I was walking through, I made more friends (it’s amazing how helpful fellow pilgrims can be when you are walking so slowly they want to make sure you are all right). And the amazing thing is, sooner or later, I always got where we were going, but with lots of friends to celebrate success with, feeling good about quality prayer time along the way, with cherished memories of what I experienced that day.
The point is this: don’t try to move at someone else’s pace. Don’t worry about “getting ahead.” Follow the signs, keep moving, but do so at your own pace

We are now celebrating success of the journey in Santiago. Not a single person is worried about how quickly or slowly he went. That’s the beauty of the journey.

…at your own pace. 

I think the people who struggled the most on the pilgrimage are the ones who brought too much with them. Almost all of us shed stuff as we went (my backpack is about a third lighter than when I started). The point is this: if you are really going on a journey, bring only what you need for the journey. And then be willing to let go of things when it becomes apparent they no longer add value to the journey.

This applies to resentments and long held beliefs as well as material things.

They just get in the way.

Carry only what you need for the journey. 

The one way “Buen Camino” is not used is as a question, which would mean something like, “Is your journey going all right?”

The reason this true is that fellow pilgrims share recklessly. They share the physical things they have, they share their time, they share themselves. They aren’t afraid to hug, to laugh, to share their secrets. They are always asking, “Are you ok?” “Is there some way I can help?” “How are you doing?”

The priceless gems of this pilgrimage are the incredible fellow pilgrims you meet. Who know they are on a pilgrimage. Together. And they also know that the only way to make the pilgrimage better is to share it with fellow travelers.

When we share recklessly, fellow pilgrims will recognize a kindred spirit and you will both become more.

Share recklessly. 

Finally, as anyone who has read this blog will know I believe, the starting and ending point of this journey is trusting in the goodness of God.

God gave me this dream. God made this dream possible. God carried me when I needed to be carried, helped me see what I needed to see, feel what I needed to feel.

Conscious contact with God is not a matter of God taking some action. Conscious contact is a process of shedding all that prevents me from opening more completely to a God who is already intimately present. And whose only desire is my fullness of life as I find my way home to him. And who, is always saying to me…and you, “Buen Camino.”

Trust the goodness of God. 

1. Recognize you are on a journey. 

2. Follow the signs. 

3. Keep moving

4. …at your own pace

5. Carry only what you need for the journey. 

6. Share recklessly. 

7. Trust the goodness of God. 

One last question, Bill. With all you have experienced, aren’t you sad that it is ending?

No. I loved what I have experienced. I have been changed in ways I do not yet fully understand. But it is time for this pilgrimage to end.

I miss my wife, my  family and my parish family terribly. I am ready to come home.

And so, thank you to all who prayed for us.

Thank you to all who took time to read this blog.

May God bless you.

Buen Camino.
And never forget…it is good to have a dream.

Santiago September 23

I thought we would sleep late but we were both up and ready to go for breakfast by 7:30.

What a treat today having breakfast without rushing to “get on the trail.”  About halfway through our meal, however, I realized I felt exhausted. I had very little energy and felt numb. The words “washed out” came to mind. It was as if Jesus were saying, “I carried  you this far, now you are back on your own.” I don’t think I could have walked 200 yards. How fortunate, I thought, that we had these two days just to relax and let our bodies recover.

After breakfast we headed out to find the Pilgrims Office to get our Compostella (official record of completing the Camino).

This took us by the rear of the Cathedral.

We then continued around to the side entrance, which is what everyone must use now because the front of the Cathedral is going through a major renovation.

Luckily, the Pilgrims Office is just down the street from this entrance.

We were two of the first people there and very quickly went through the process of getting our Compostellas.

When we came out we ran into the couple from Amsterdam who had walked all  the way from there (four and one half months) with their dog. Although we had seen them almost daily for the last three weeks, we never got their names, but I was finally smart enough to get a couple of pictures.

The husband was particularly delighted with the “skip and go naked (it’s actually a form of drink)” button John gave him from  Jake’s Seafood Restaurant in Tamworth, NH.

By the time we had finished talking with this couple, the line to the Pilgrims Office was getting quite long.

Off we went to our next stop: the Cathedral  for the noon Pilgrims Mass. We went last night and there was a large crowd (the Mass, though in Spanish, was wonderful) so we knew we better get there by 11:00 if we wanted good seats.

The experience was well worth the wait.

The Cathedral was over flowing with pilgrims. The sanctuary as imposing as I had imagined.

I don’t know if you can see the censer hanging in front of the altar and about ten feet in front of it. Here’s a view from a different angle.

Once the Mass started, the music was excellent, the Liturgy of the Eucharist spell binding (or so it seemed to me), and then right before the final prayer…

I don’t know why, but I cried. This symbolized the Santiago I had been looking forward to. This was a wonderful way to celebrate our accomplishment, with thousands of other pilgrims, giving thanks to the Lord.

This was the right way to end our pilgrimage.

Day 1 September 22

We arrived around 3:30 PM. Ueventful last day, other than the fact it rained for awhile.

The day was overcast all day long. If you look closely at the picture you can see pilgrims walking from left to right. This picture was taken about 10:00 AM.

Our route was split between walking along roads and the covered paths I like so much.

It was not as crowded as I thought it would but there was very little talking. Everyone sermed focused on getting to Santiago. As we got close to the city, I was filled with thoughts of all I had experienced in the last five weeks. For some reason, the small blue and violet flowers along the road that always reminded me of  God’s presence in his creation came to mind. I came around a bend and guess what was there to say a final “You are cherished.”?

My biggest surprise of the day involved what Santiago looked like. Somehow I thought of Santiago as being similar to Disney’s Magic kingdom. Not sure why, but I think it has to do with pictures shown in books I have read. In fact, Santiago is a large metropolitan area, and when you first see it the “historic old city” (where the cathedral resides) is not even visible.

In fact, it was over a mile’s walk through the city to get to our destination.

Once there, we got a couple of pictures taken…

The second one included a backwoods cigar I had carried the whole Camino.

And, after that, we decided to find our hotel…which ended up taking close to an hour. But, thanks to John, we finally made it.

We plan to go to the Pilgrims Mass in the Cathedral tonight before dinner, and then SLEEP AS LATE AS WE WANT tomorrow.

More to come tomorrow.

Blessings to all.

Day 2 September 21

Since we had a shorter day, John let me sleep until 7:00. Meant we didn’t start walking until 8:15, but the fog made it seem earlier.

Our walk today was relatively light and fairly easy.

Out into the country…

Bars still crowded with ever increasing pilgrims.

But the ever present scallop shell symbol always in view (this was taken in the men’s room!).

Around noon the sun broke through…

and an interesting thing happened. We just kept walking, John fifty yards ahead of me, the two of us slowly moving forward, almost as if we were in a dream. While we did stop by the side of the path a couple of times to chat quietly, we never stopped for lunch or an afternoon break.  It was if we were both trying to totally embrace the experience we have shared for the last five weeks before it comes to an end. And so, let me share images of what I experienced as I walked.

We arrived at our Hotel in Pedrouzo a little before 3:30. Kilometer marker 18.

Right now I am filled with all sorts of emotions. The anticipation of actually SEEING and then arriving in Santiago. My three years of preparation coming to an end (am I happy or sad? Answer: yes). All of what I have learned and how to concisely write it down (don’t worry I am going to try on Wednesday. Already have a name: Buen Camino).  The fact I have just filled out my last backpack transport tag and done (I hope) my last laundry.

I hope I sleep well tonight. Cold still has a head of steam. Other than that, my body feels pretty good.

So good night. May God bless you all.

Day 3 September 20 Photos

Knowing we had a tough day ahead of us, we got a fairly early start (John is letting me sleep a little later because of my cold).

Very soon, we had a little inspiration.

Then out into the country.

The countryside seemed more gentle but still lovely.

I particularly liked the covered pathways we encountered periodically.

At our coffee break mid-morning, we encountered two women from Wales (Adele and Julie) whom we had been talking with almost every day for a week. We had a good chat as they ate their ice cream bars.

They are very nice and are doing the Camino to raise money for charity (people have committed about three thousand Euros if they finish, which I am sure they will).

Fr. Paul showed up just as we were finishing and was excited to show us his latest church bulletin, which includes a column he provides from the Camino. Turns out he mentioned John and me and wanted us to see what he had written

Hope you can read it. John and I are now in print (pardon the Irish exaggeration).

More walking.

More nice covered pathways

One good size town to pass through.

Since we are getting close to Santiago, our pathways often parallel major highways.

More walking… It seemed endless!

At a late afternoon break, guess what I found to cheer me up?

My mother used to love them.

As we approached our destination, we experienced some wonderful scenery in the late afternoon light.

And finally, at a bit after 7:00 PM, we reached our destination, which had this kilometer marker right outside.

That’s right. We covered lots of ground and Santiago is right around the corner.


Day 4 September 19 Photos

Day (not us) started out in a fog

It actually made for wonderful walking weather, other than the fact you couldn’t see much.

Perhaps the most recognizable symbol for the Camino is the scallop shell (if you want to know the legnd(s) behind this, you can google it). Anyone with a scallop shell attached to their backpack (as in the next picture) is announcing to the world he or she is a Camino pilgrim.

The cross on some of the scallop shells is the cross of St. James.

John still has the original scallop he bought in St. Jean. I inadvertently crushed mine the second day out. I bought a replacement but have it safely stored where I cannot hurt it.

About mid-day the weather cleared…

Revealing some beautiful scenery.

The increased number of pilgrims kept the bars busy…

But we still had a relaxed lunch (this is actually John’s second lunch).

We arrived in Palad de Rei in late afternoon. The day was more challenging than we had anticipated.

But here we were at kilometer marker…

Later I took the following picture to remind me to mention Mary is very popular in Spain. I swear half the churches are named for her.

Day 3 September 20

Long day today. Started at 8:15 AM and arrived at our destination at 7:15 PM.  Exhaustion rules. Supposedly flat country but lots of not so little ups and downs. Pictures and commentary to come.

Blessings to all.