Meditation at Lost Creek

There are spots along the creekside path — if you can tune out
the highways’ hum, and overlook the pipe from the storm drain
spilling its effluent into the stream, and the plastic bag
caught in a tangle of tree branch reaching down into the water,
between the graffitied bridge supports and the signposts warning
against littering — where you can almost imagine what this place
would have seemed like a hundred, or more, years ago. The anglers
on the banks with their lines trailing in the current, the moss
hanging down from sagging trunks, the way that rock jutting up
from the creek bed snags the surface of the water and roils it
briefly before letting it pass. Walking here gives the mind space
to open, to branch out, drift in the current, allows time
for the mind to breathe in between the buds on the young branches,
a place for memory to grow in the shade beneath the trees.
Step. Step. Each one slightly different in measure, in tempo,
in pitch. The off-key deleted, like the drain pipe and the traffic
noise, the screeching of rails from above, leaving only
the whispered echo of the twenty-three Japanese rail workers
who died here, a little over a hundred years ago, according
to the plaque embedded in a stone along the creekside path.

 

 

© Mark Milner, Burnaby, 2020

The Way – post script

We got up early, and after a light breakfast we walked down through steady rain to the Oficina to get our credenciales recognized and obtain our Compostela certificates.we queued up and got our numbers: 484 and 485. They were just processing number 60, so we left to do some shopping and have coffee, returning a couple of hours later.

Eventually we received our certificates. One to say we did it, and the other recording the distance. Interestingly, they recorded Adele as having walked 20 km further than me. Maybe they make an adjustment for shorter legs.

Afterwards we went for lunch in one of the many cafes that populate the streets and alleys that surround the cathedral. Adele had an enchilada, and I had huevos. If you can’t get them at breakfast, you may as well order them for lunch.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped and bought a bottle of Mencia, a red wine local to this region of Spain, to bring home with us. It’s a fantastic wine, very soft and round, but we’d never had it before this trip.

Before I sign off for a siesta, a few last observations about the Camino:

  • Spain is great, as too are the people of Galicia, but Portugal has captured my heart more deeply. The people, the language, the food & wine, the art and architecture…. I have rarely felt more at home anywhere, and that’s without speaking more than handful of words in Portuguese.
  • Walking is an excellent way to travel, especially if you don’t have to cart all your stuff from place to place. If you choose to do a Camino, here someone to transfer your bags and book your accommodations. It’s well worth the expense.
  • If you do any kind of walking trip, make sure you have good shoes that fit well and are worn in before you start. I saw so many people limping, so many blown shoes left behind as miniature monuments. I got through it without a blister. Tired feet, but no blisters. Winning.
  • You don’t need to spend a lot to eat well.
  • Pack as few things as possible. You can always do laundry, or buy new stuff if needed.
  • If I were packing again, I wouldn’t bother bringing a camera in addition to my phone.
  • Don’t think too far ahead. Live in the moment. Absorb what’s going on here, now. Always.
  • Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona. I won’t be blogging that, just enjoying it. I hope you, whoever you are, and whatever your reason for following along, have enjoyed tagging along with us on our Camino.
  • Ciao.
  • Markus
  • The Way – part 15: Padron to Santiago de Compostela

    You lift your foot and move a little ways in front of you, and you put it back down, lifting your other foot as you do so, and placing it a little ahead of the first foot. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And eventually you reach your destination for the day. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult.

    Each day you get up. You get dressed. You rearrange what you’re bringing in your day pack. You make sure you’ll have enough water. You have breakfast. You start walking. Every day until you are done.

    We are done.

    We set off from the beautiful Pazo de Lestrove before sunrise, in the cool dark of morning. Breakfast, for a change, had not been as baffling as in recent days. There was tortilla da batata and Serrano ham, as well as the usual dessert items. And the coffee was good. We were in good spirits.

    We walked quietly through the mostly deserted streets lost in thought. We passed through commercial areas, with butchers and fishmongers and green grocers still setting up theirs stalls. Disused factories loomed over the way, casting long shadows even without the sunlight.

    Eventually, outside an old church, we bumped into a Brazilian couple we’d seen intermittently throughout our journey. We stopped briefly and chatted before we all moved on at our different paces. We would encounter them on and off throughout the day, but more about that later.

    We spoke with some Irish perigrinos who were part of a larger group of 30 who were travelling together. We talked about Dublin, which I mentioned is one of my favourite cities.

    “Yes, well. I can see that if ye don’t have to live there,” said one of them. I said that likely goes for everywhere. If you have to go to work each morning, and fight through traffic, it’ll take the shine off quickly.

    There were cats everywhere. A couple of times we were able to coax one over to be petted. At one point we found a group of them in a carport, looking like members of a gang having a meeting.

    “The old woman in number 5 has been putting out sour milk.”

    “It’s time we sent her a message.”

    During one of our walks with our Brazilian friends, we finally learned the answer to a mystery that had been confusing us since we began the Spanish portion of our Camino.

    All through Spain we have seen small buildings, which looked like crypts or chapels, up on plinths. The buildings are almost always adorned with a cross. We couldn’t figure out if they were places to keep dead relatives, large shrines, fancy sheds – nothing really made any sense.

    It turns out they’re for storing food, traditionally grain. The capitals on the plinths make it impossible for rats to get at the food, since even if the climb the plinths, they can’t walk upside down on the capitals. (I guess they don’t have squirrels in Spain.)

    Getting back to the walk, though, there was a long, but thankfully gradual incline over the last half or so. Thankfully, the weather stayed relatively cool and overcast, which made walking easier.

    Not easy, though.

    There is nothing you can do to make 27 km easy. Unless it was all downhill and paved with Nerf. But that is not the case on the Camino.

    We were thrilled each time a kilometre went by on the way markers. Twenty, seventeen, eleven, six. Single digits was the biggest thrill in that regard.

    As we entered the city, we crossed paths again with the Brazilian couple, whose names I regret I don’t know. They were celebrating her 50th birthday, although as we told her she didn’t look more than 35. Together we navigated the streets to the cathedral.

    As we entered the plaza, it was hard to believe we were done. More than 240 km of walking in twelve stages. We’d seen so much, walked so far. It was hard to process being done.

    We walked to the accreditation office, where we were informed we’d have to come back the next day and take a number. A bit of a letdown, but there’s nothing much we could do.

    We found our hotel – up a hill, of course! – and checked in. I admit, when I first looked at it from outside I felt let down, but that soon went away. It’s an incredibly modern, well-appointed boutique hotel. We have no complaints.

    After showering, we did as much sightseeing as our tired feet would allow, and then went for tapas, before returning to our hotel.

    And the best part is that our original Brazilian friends are here until tomorrow. It’s so good to see them again!

    Tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll go get our credenciales accredited, and get our certificates. Then we’ll hang out watching the world turn from a cafe. Or two. Or… well, we’ll see. The forecast is calling for rain but I don’t care. We’ve got no place particular to go.

    The Way – part 14: Caldas de Reis to Padron – penultimatum

    Before I begin with today’s walk, there are a few more observations from Caldas de Reis:

    • Our hotel had a “thermal mineral pool”, which we spent over half an hour in before deciding we needed dinner. Apparently the town is famous for such pools and spas, although it seems economically depressed.
    • As a result of said economic depression, many of the local restaurants and bars appear to have been shuttered. Those that remained open were quickly packed with pilgrims. Getting a table anywhere proved challenging.
    • Two of Google’s recommendations for restaurants were a complete bust, one of them apparently no longer open, and another clearly not an establishment worth visiting. A third was not a restaurant at all, but a cool bar with great music, fantastic wine, and a very pleasant proprietor.
    • The Spanish clearly do not care for breakfast. Or they don’t understand it. I believe it is the former. They want you to eat dessert for breakfast, with cakes and sweet pastries in abundance. There is cereal, but you will have to search, sometimes in vain, for cold milk. What I (and, in my opinion, all sensible people) want is something savoury, ideally a form of protein, even more ideally not square-cut ham. An egg. An egg would be fantastic. Bacon would be an excellent accompaniment. Or good, Spanish ham – Serrano, say. Keep the sweet nothings for the lunatics who want them, but please, allow me an egg.

    Now that’s out of the way, we can begin. Today, of course, was the penultimate day of our Camino. Tomorrow, we will arrive in Santiago. But that is tomorrow. I shouldn’t begin with an ending – and not even today’s ending at that!

    After a desultorily sweet breakfast, we set off into the cool, grey morning. Mist hung over the river, and muted the sounds of our footsteps on the quiet streets. We followed the yellow arrows out of town, and into the countryside.

    We moved almost silently, among other almost silent perigrinos, through woods, following a pathway that itself followed a stream. Then the woods thinned out, and we moved through villages, the low clouds snagged on roof tiles, or caught in the tree tops, not willing to tear itself free.

    We spoke with other travelers. A pair of women from Ireland. A young woman from Ukraine. A couple from Austria. Some had done Caminos before. Others, like us, were doing this for the first time. Some had taken the coastal route. Some had started in Tui, or later. Everyone has their own journey. No one can take it away from them.

    Eventually we arrived in Padron, home of exquisite grilled peppers that we’ve grown to love over the past few days. Our hotel is just outside the town proper, in the bordering community of Lestrove. It is exquisite, inside and out. The closest thing to a drawback is that pool is frightfully cold. I can forgive that.

    Tomorrow, as I mentioned, we’ll begin the final stage of our journey. We’ve already walked more than 200 km. There are roughly 25 to go.

    But all endings are beginnings of something else.

    The Way – part 13: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

    After a day off in Pontevedra, it was time to be back on the Way today. We got up early, had our bags in the hotel lobby and were having breakfast by 7:30, and we set out a little after 8 a.m.

    It was a cool start to the day, with a light mist suspended in the air, just grazing the rooftops as we made our way through the old part of town in a vaguely northward direction. Most of the shops and cafes were still closed, and the city was quiet in the morning twilight. At one point a lone fisherman cast his line into the river as the morning commuters slipped slowly by.

    We walked alongside the river in the cool of the morning, enjoying being in motion again. It was peaceful, although there were many more perigrinos than had been the case even two days ago. A number of different pilgrim routes have converged now, and the paths – and the cafes – are often crowded now.

    We opted to have a picnic lunch today, picking up a bocadillo of Serrano ham, queso and tomatoes, which we ate in the shade near some grape vines.

    We encountered a number of cats, some of whom were keen to be picked up and held, purring like little motors.

    We chatted with other pilgrims along the way, from Brazil, Ireland, Denmark, Australia and the U.S.

    There were no big hills, and the temperatures remained manageable throughout the day. The threatened thunderstorms never materialized.

    The hotel in Caldas de Reis seems grand from the reception area, but the room is plain, with little in the way of conveniences. It will be fine, though, for the night. Tomorrow we are on our way again: the penultimate day of walking. We’ll arrive in Santiago on Friday.

    But if there’s one thing I’ve learned not to do on this trip, it’s to think to far ahead. It’s best to just stay in the moment. And at this moment, it’s time to go find a drink before dinner.

    The Way – part 12: hitting pause in Pontevedra

    When we booked our Camino, back in the spring, we took the advice of a friend who had done this route the years before. ‘I wish I’d had an extra day in Pontevedra,’ she said, so I had Portugal Green Walks arrange it so we had that. I’m glad we did.

    Having walked for nine straight days, covering roughly 170 km, a rest was a good thing before tackling the final 70ish km. And Pontevedra, with its superfluity of cafes, bars and restaurants, is a good place to do that.

    We’ve found an excellent place just a couple dozen metres from our hotel, called Lola. We had an excellent meal of tapas there last night, and excellent coffee there this morning.

    Cafe lifestyle is all too rare in North America, and nearly entirely absent in Vancouver. Even in those rare neighbourhoods where you find something resembling it, the experience is sadly not all that similar. It’s something I wish more urban planners considered when designing neighbourhoods.

    Today we explored some of the historic centre of town, and did some looking in shops. The key site was the Convento San Francisco de Pontevedra, a beautiful old church occupying one corner of a large plaza.

    Aside from that, it’s been the quiet sort of day we’d hoped for. Tomorrow, when it comes, will be another 22 km walk, this time to Caldas de Reis, an old spa town, with natural hot springs. In the meantime, there is still to rest, and to watch the world pass by from a table outside a cafe.

    The Way – part 11: Arcade to Pontevedra

    We are in a city now, not a village. The sounds of dogs and roosters have been replaced with motorcycles, cars and trucks, raised voices and an occasional siren. Pontevedra is the modern, bustling capital of Galicia. Although only a few hours walk from Arcade, the two places couldn’t be more different.

    When we arrived in Arcade yesterday, I was a sweaty mess. We showered, spent time in the hotel’s outdoor bar with some friends we’ve made among our fellow perigrinos, and had a quick nap before dinner, which we ate in the outdoor bar. The food was delicious, the night was cool and quiet. The sun set as I drank my after dinner espresso.

    If you’re ever in Arcade, dinner at the Restaurante Duarte is a safe bet. We had lagostina prawns, a caprese salad, and grilled pork, plus wine, dessert and coffee. It was delicious, and cost us under €40.

    I slept like dead until 4 a.m., then woke and could not regain unconsciousness. Thank god the coffee was good at breakfast! Two americanos had me ready to face the day.

    Me before coffee

    Of course, it was a thankfully short walk today. More like a saunter, really, for most of it, once the 250 m incline at the start was out of the way. We walked through village lanes and along rural roads, past ubiquitous cornfields, until we reached the outskirts of Pontevedra.

    Here, on the edge of town, we had a choice between the traditional, more direct route, through increasingly urban streets, or a detour along a dirt path through a forested area. Since we had lots of time, and since the cool shade and soft, unpaved track through the trees was more inviting, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

    We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 p.m., ahead of our luggage. We cleaned up a little and then went downstairs to the cafe for lunch, and to await the arrival of our bags.

    We seem, once again, to be in a different hotel from some of our walking companions. This would likely have been our last night together in Spain, as we’ve arranged an extra day here in Pontevedra. Tuesday we’ll have a day off from our pilgrimage, and Wednesday we’ll set out again, this time for Caldas des Reis.

    The Way – part 10: O Porriño to Arcade

    I didn’t expect bagpipes in Spain. But I’ll get to that later.

    We woke up in Portugal, having spent most of yesterday in Spain. From the sound of it, we dodged a bullet being transferred back to Valença from O Porriño. I’ll elaborate on that in due course, too.

    After another unsatisfactory breakfast at the otherwise satisfactory hotel, we were driven to a roundabout in the middle O Porriño. (Our driver had been given coordinates in advance, so there was no need for me to try to mumble something half way intelligible in Spanish.) and from there we began our 22ish km hike through this section of Galicia.

    Spain is pretty, although O Porriño is not – it seems like the Red Deer of this region: utilitarian, industrial, and mostly plain, if not quite ugly. Happily, the way soon led us away from the blandness of warehouses and depots, and into forested areas and along lanes through small villages.

    The coffee had been so terrible at the hotel in Valença, that all I could think about was finding a cafe to restore my faith in humanity, or at least Europeans’ ability to make coffee. Eventually, after much taunting by signs promising a cafe would appear eventually, we came to one beside a chapel in the village of Mos.

    After a more than adequate Americano (and con leche, for Adele), we popped into the chapel to get our credenciales stamped. It was a relatively small, and from the outside unassuming church, but elaborately ornamented inside.

    We continued on, past fields with scarecrows, walking from village to village, feeling increasingly like peregrinos. It’s become one of our favourite words: perigrino/-a.

    ‘Perigrinations of a dangerous mind,’ I said to Adele.

    ‘Well, I definitely know one perigrino with a dangerous mind.’ (I took that as a compliment.)

    After another few hours of walking, we were starting to feel both hot and hungry, and we stopped at a chiarrusqeria along the way and had an amazing calamari sandwich. It will sound strange to anyone who hasn’t encountered it on a menu, but it was amazing.

    Refreshed, we got back to walking, with more than two hours left to cover. It was past one o’clock (Spain is an hour ahead of Portugal, so we lost time without delaying), and the temperature would only continue to climb as the afternoon wore on.

    Climb it did, and so did we, although not before a brief reprieve in a wooded park, where I swore I could hear bagpipes, of all things.

    ‘It’s probably church bells,’ Adele said, but as we walked on it became clearer that it was , in fact, bagpipes that I was hearing. Ahead of us, getting closer with each step, someone was playing bagpipes. In Spain. It was completely unexpected.

    We emerged into a clearing where a young woman was standing, straight as a ramrod, squeezing and fingering her pipes with a big smile on her face. We stopped and chatted, as best we could, and bought a card from her, and let her stamp our credenciales with her homemade, unsanctioned stamp.

    After emerging from the trees, we descended into a suburb, only to have to climb again a few kilometres later. I had been led to believe, from all my reading in preparation for this trip, that temperatures would have moderated at this time of year. Apparently I was misled. And the heat – again reaching into the 30s Celsius – does not make hills any easier. Neither do Adele’s blisters, or the toe she fractured three weeks before the trip.

    Still, eventually we put the hills and heat behind us, and reached the hotel in Arcade, where we rejoined our Brazilian friends. They had spent the previous night at a hotel on the outskirts of O Porriño. It had no air conditioning, and one of them said she’d taken five showers trying to cool down. Bad coffee or not, I guess we dodged a bullet there.

    Tomorrow will be a short walk to Pontevedra, where we will stay an extra day, saying goodbye, hopefully not forever, to our friends from Rio.

    The Way – part 6: Balugães to Ponte de Lima

    Walking is a very civilized way to travel. So much of our uncivilized, everyday lives is hurried, rushed, squeezed into ever-shrinking packets of time. So much is mechanized, digitized, quantized down to fractions of seconds; so much is performed at speed, on the go, ad hoc, toute suite. The idea of doing something slowly seems to run counter to everything society tells us we must do, must be, must achieve. Faster is better, even if it means skimming over the surface of things without absorbing much of it.

    Walking is different. Walking is all about taking time, absorbing as much as our senses can manage, ignoring clocks and schedules to the greatest degree possible. The human is defiantly not mechanical in any sense that isn’t metaphorical – and even then, the metaphor is limited and imperfect.

    Walking eschews skimming in favour of immersion. It happens at a speed that allows us – encourages us – to absorb the world around us.

    We rose to the countryside sounds of dogs barking, cocks crowing, and a church tower announcing the arrival of dawn. We dressed and packed our things, ate a light breakfast, and then set out from the peaceful village of Balugães. Cobbled roads and tarmac gave way to dirt lanes between vineyard and cornfield, and beneath arching tree branches. The air was cool and the sky was bright and clear. It would be a longer walk ahead of us, but only by a fifth.

    We walked, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence. We stopped when we wanted to rest, or to sit and drink limonada in a cafe. We didn’t hurry.

    We met others on the Way. There were greetings of bom Caminho and bon dia. We met fellow perigrinos from Canada, South Africa, and Germany. We ate sandwiches at the roadside, and bought bottled water that someone had put out in a cooler for €1. We tried to coax birds and cats to come closer, and generally had the opposite effect.

    About five hours after we first set out we arrived at our hotel in Ponte de Lima. It is near the entrance to the city, close to restaurants and bars. There is a market and a fair being set up nearby.

    Tomorrow, when it comes, will be the most challenging day of our journey, with an approximately 400 m hill early in the 22 km walk. We may even have to use our trekking poles. I expect we’ll arrive a little later, as a result.

    But we’ll deal with that in due course. In the meantime, we have more pressing matters to deal with. Soon we will go in search of dinner, and a bottle of vinho verde.

    Pilgrimage

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in gods or spirits that are disconnected from bodies, or souls that survive after a person dies. I believe we are physical beings, with an all too finite span of existence, and that what many people call a soul is really just a part of mind or personality. Of course, I could easily be wrong about this, as is the case with any belief, but I haven’t seen any evidence or argument that has convinced me that I’m in error.

    And so it may seem strange that I will be making a pilgrimage this year. Not just a journey that has personal meaning, but an actual pilgrimage. Later this year my wife and I will walk one of the several official pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela – known at one time as a ‘way of St. James’, as people once believed (and some may still) that the remains of St. James were located in Santiago. Leaving aside the vast amount of historical fraud associated with so-called relics, pilgrimages of this sort have been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, and many people of more religious bent still embark on such journeys – and the Camino, in particular – for religious or ‘spiritual’ reasons. For me, however, this will be a very long walk through places I have yet to visit, where I hope to meet many people, encounter new foods and wines, new music and art, expand slightly my meagre linguistic capabilities, and learn more about myself.

    I have long been of the opinion that walking has benefits that other forms of mobility do not. The physical benefits are obvious and well known – and something I can use more of in my far too sedentary lifestyle. In addition to those, walking (if done right) helps to clear the mind and improve our ability to attend to the world around us, in a manner that other, faster forms of travel preclude. The faster you move, the less you take in, and the less time you have to think about and absorb the information around you. If you really want to know a place, you need to walk it.

    Before we travel to the start of our journey, we’ll spend more time walking in our own, more familiar environment. We need to get used to walking more than 10 km – usually 15 to 20 – every day, if we expect to be able to walk the 240 km route we have planned in two weeks. So, over the course of the spring and summer, we’ll begin walking more, building up to the distances we need to able to cover. In doing so, not only will our physical health likely improve (did I mention I spend far too much time sitting?), but I expect we will come to know our home town, and ourselves, in new ways.

    If anyone has done a similar journey, please let me know about it in the comments. And if you’ve blogged about it, send me link.