Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Road Goes On

One of the things that I remember most clearly about the Camino, which I think applies very much to life is how much subjective advice people would give you. For example, a veteran hiker would say, "Make sure you avoid the northern route through the mountains between such and such two cities; it's rocky and difficult and can be damp because of the higher altitude. Most of all it will take you hours longer than the route through the valley." Well, of course, you think that the best road must be the straightforward obvious one through the warm, green valley. But I remember that I got lost, not the first time :), and sure enough, ended up on the mountain track. It did take far longer and it was damp, but I remember feeling that I was walking in the clouds, the valley stretched out below, acres of sweet pink heather surrounding the path, and thin mists swirling around me. There were no pilgrims in this deserted place, so I was able to bellow out Irish songs for hours. Then as I descended back to Earth, the path threaded its way through a glistening beech wood, which was also filled with eerie mists. It was one of the most incredible days on the Camino.

Some pilgrims told me to make sure that I stayed in such and such a town, and oftentimes I was very glad of their advice. But other times, I would overshoot or undershoot and end up in some little place--all of which I would have missed if I'd been trying to replay other people's own travels. I heard horror stories about the rain and mountain gales, but in the middle of these storms, battling through snow and trudging through rain and steaming fields, I experienced some of the most interesting days on the trail. There didn't seem to be any "right" way to do the trail, except perhaps to avoid blisters at all costs and drink lots of water. Rather the trail just becomes right for the pilgrim as he or she walks. Even the ickiest spots, like being stuck with 500 snoring Frenchmen in very small bunks or trudging through 40 kms of industrial factory wasteland, all become the right way. Even losing people you really liked or never seeing pilgrims who you hoped to see every day on the trail (they either fell behind or sprinted ahead)--it all became right when you reached Santiago and then soaked up the peace of the Lighthouse at the Coast of Death in Finisterrre.

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