Updated: 20 June 2010
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In July 2003 I walked the ancient pilgrims' route across northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago. As thousands have discovered before me, the 'Camino' is a magical experience that has to be walked to be really understood. Below are a few of my observations and insights gained through the experience, as well as some tips.
Camino de Santiago
In July 2003 I spent five weeks walking the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain from Saint John Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, and then on to Finisterre on the Spanish Atlantic coast. It was a magical experience, being part spiritual pilgrimage and cultural discovery. Along the way I met a host of people from many walks of life and in the process formed lifelong friendships.
The 'Camino' means 'road' or 'path' and serves as a metaphor for life - it is all things to all people and as such accurately reflects one's state of being. Like an aircraft simulator session, it is an intensive experience in which the Universe both tests us and teaches us. Many of my preconceived ideas about life were demolished along the way, whilst other basic truths were confirmed.
The Camino taught me that whilst we must have some goals in this life (in this case walking to Santiago was the goal) we should keep those goals fairly loose and not have any preconceived ideas or expectations along the way. Expectations are very destructive because on the rare occasion they are met there is no magic, and in most cases they are not met which results in disappointment. But more importantly, expectations tend to limit the infinite potential that is our birthright and preclude the possibility of miracles occurring. And make no mistake, miracles do happen as I experienced on a daily basis as I walked the Camino.
Another important lesson I learnt was the true meaning of the word 'trust'. If we act in good faith - meaning we don't do anything to deliberately harm another being and recognise the perfection pertaining to whatever the circumstances we may find ourselves in - the Universe nurtures us and looks after us without exception. Thus for example, on the first day I climbed up from St John Pied de Port (in France) across the Pyrenee Mountains down into Roncesvalles in Spain. It was a beautiful cool day and as I descended into Roncesvalles I felt fantastic, still full of energy. A man came out of a bar and pointed down the road towards the next town saying "Zubiri, Zubiri". "How far is it?" I asked, to which he replied in perfect English "Twenty three kilometers." I pointed back over the mountains towards St John and asked "How far was that?" He laughed and said "Oh, that was twenty six kilometers, but it was hard and the way to Zubiri is much easier". And so on the spur of the moment I decided to continue on which was a serious mistake. Ten hours and forty kilometers out from St John the temperature had risen to 37 degrees celsius and I was exhausted, having eaten nothing since breakfast. I admitted to myself that "I have been a fool and I need some help." A couple of minutes later I crossed a road and came across a small packet of biscuits sitting on top of a post. Someone had left the biscuits there for a pilgrim, and clearly that pilgrim was me. The biscuits were delicious and gave me enough energy to walk the last nine kilometers into Zubiri. I arrived in Zubiri chastened, knowing full well that whilst the Universe had given me enough rope to hang myself, it had also provided me with the sustenance to make it the moment my ego surrendered and asked for help. I had walked 49 kilometers in 12 hours.
Just to put my folly of the first day into perspective and deflate my male ego, four days later I met a young German woman who had done exactly the same thing as I had done on the same day, except she had left St John an hour earlier than me and so our paths had not crossed. "I saw those biscuits" she said, to which I asked "then why didn't you eat them?"to which she replied "Because I didn't need them." I asked her how her feet were (mine were in bad shape, blistered and bruised, ruined by my over exuberance of the first day). "No problems" she replied. I took her hand and shook it saying "It has been a pleasure to meet you, but I don't think I'll see you again - you're too fit and fast." And as it turned out, I never saw her again.
Interestingly enough, whilst walking the Camino, Europe experienced one of the worst heat waves in living memory, which reportedly killed over 15,000 people in France alone. (Source: SMH: French Heatwave toll 15000) In the south of Spain the temperature reached 55 degrees Celsius in some places, yet along the route of the Camino de Santiago the temperature remained normal for the time of year and never exceeded 40 degrees - the Camino was somehow 'protected' from the worst of Europe's heat wave.
After an enthralling thirty days of walking, sometimes alone, but more often with my friends, I arrived at the square in front of the Cathedral at Santiago. It was a deeply emotional experience. At midday my friends and I attended the peregrino (pilgrim) Mass in the Cathedral (a first for me) and were treated to some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard carried out by a small choir of ten singers accompanied by two acoustic guitars. The choir's singing was interspersed by the singing of a single nun who sang a series of haunting hymns in a beautiful voice. The beauty of the music was juxtaposed by the scowling demeanor of the senior Catholic priest conducting the Mass. His ill tempered behaviour towards the congregation and his fellow priests confirmed a long held distaste I have for the power politics of the Catholic Church, and was a complete contradiction to the kindness and charity extended towards myself and other peregrinos by the more junior Catholic priests we had met along the 'way'.
Because I liked the music so much I attended Mass the following day, only to discover that the choir was not singing that day - only the ill tempered priest was in attendance. I left after five minutes and chuckled to myself as I walked out of the Cathedral because I realised the incident simply confirmed the truth I had constantly met along the Camino, namely that we should never presume nor expect, because as sure as the sun rises each morning our expectations will almost certainly not be met when they are most 'wanted'.
Note: As a professional pilot, we are trained to always ensure we have an alternative up our sleeve to any operational decision we might make, which is why our expectations for a smooth and uneventful flight are invariably met, but I digress ...
After spending three enthralling days (and nights - we never got to sleep before 3am) partaking of the vibrancy, music and pageantry of Santiago, my friends and I departed for Finisterre located 80 km away on the Atlantic coast. Finisterre means end (finis) of the earth (terre) because, prior to Columbus sailing to America, his contemporaries literally thought that Finisterre was "the end of the earth". Finisterre was a fitting end to my Camino experience - I unexpectedly burst into tears witnessing the sunset at Finisterre knowing my friends and I would soon be parting and returning to 'normal' life. We slept that night on a beach located on the Atlantic ocean side of Finisterre and woke up the next morning to witness a pod of dolphins slowly swimming 50 meters off shore in a dead flat ocean. Miracles do happen.
The Camino also reminded me that we can't really make mistakes in this life - that there is always a positive aspect to every decision we make and that our task is to discover the 'gem' of wisdom hidden within every experience. Thus for example, my over exuberance of the first day may have ruined my feet, (they took over three weeks to recover) but it put me in contact with a group of people I would have never met had I not walked that 49 kilometers on the first day, and those people were to become very important to me over the next month.
Strangely enough, the Camino answered questions about life I was not consciously aware I was asking. And that probably encapsulates the miracle that is the Camino de Santiago. If you have reached a crossroad in your life and want some answers, I whole heartedly recommend you walk the Camino de Santiago.
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St John Pied de Port lies at the foothills of the Pyrenees on the French side of the border with Spain. Its a beautiful little historic village and well worth a visit in its own right. Many people choose to commence their Camino from St John because there is a trice daily train service running up from Bayonne, which is a major French airport on the Atlantic coast. More importantly, the climb out of St John over the Pyrenees into Spain is a spectacular start to the Camino. The village caters for peregrinos with numerous boarding houses and a volunteer Camino support group provides a daily Camino registration and advice service mid afternoon. France is much more expensive than Spain, so the cost of a bed at a boarding house is about 10 euro a night and a decent restaurant meal costs about 15 euro. The train fare from Bayonne to St John costs about 10 euro.
Pamplona lies about 3 days walk west from St John Pied de Port. Many people start their Camino from Pamplona because one can catch a plane, bus or train to there from most major Spanish airports. I walked through Pamplona during the week of the famous "running of the bulls" festival. Being a farm boy, I wasn't stupid enough to run with the bulls myself (I am well aware of what a bull is capable of) but a few days later I met a well educated and 'intelligent' Dutch peregrino who had actually done it. "You did what?" I asked incredulously. He admitted it had been one of stupidest things he had done in his life and then sheepishly told me the story surrounding the event. He said he had carefully walked over the route prior to the running of the bulls and reasoned that he could safely stand in the recess of one of the many doorways fronting onto the street and watch the bulls and young men rushing past him. (few women are stupid enough to run with the bulls) He chose his spot carefully and waited. Soon he heard the shouting of the crowd and the crashing of hoofs rushing down the street towards him. As planned, the crowd of men and bulls rushed past him. However, what he hadn't counted on was that on this particular day a relatively unusual bull was running - one that stopped and turned back on the crowd rushing down the street behind him. This bull gored and seriously injured quite a number of revelers that day and in the course of the run suddenly stopped facing my friend standing in the doorway. My friend found himself looking into the eyes of an enraged bull heaving with anger and full of adrenaline less than three meters away from him. As my friend explained "time stopped and everything went very quiet as the bull looked at me deciding what to do. I closed my eyes and prayed." His prayers were answered because suddenly the flow of time started up again with the noise of young men rushing past, shouting and taunting the bull by hitting him on the flanks. The bull suddenly whirled around and chased the young men down the street, leaving my friend shaken by his miraculous escape. The incident serves to illustrate two things. The first is obvious - the fact that the 'logical' reasoning of our ego mind often lets us down by failing to take into account all the possibilities surrounding an event. The second is a bit more subtle - it is how our prayers are invariably answered when our ego finally surrenders and asks for help. As someone who has had a fair bit of experience with cattle, I can say without any equivocation that had my new friend attempted to flee instead of closing his eyes and praying, he would have undoubtedly been gored and seriously injured.
Eunate is a small, ancient church dating back to Roman times.
It is sited one day's walk west of Pamplona a few kilometers before
Puenta de la Reina. Apart from its cultural significance, the
interesting thing about Eunate is that it is sited on a powerful
Earth 'power point', the energy from which is palpable. One needs to
divert off the Camino a few kilometers to visit it, but it is worth
the extra distance and one should spend at least an hour sitting
within its walls to bask in the warmth of its healing energy.
NOTE: It is clear that some of the early Christian leaders were quite spiritually aware as a great many churches in Europe are sited on ancient power points. As many religious scholars have noted, the Catholic Church usurped many spiritually significant sites from the alleged 'pagan' religions they ruthlessly destroyed and replaced.
Estella is located a couple of days walk west of Pamplona. It is
an interesting town in its own right, with three ancient churches and
fascinating little alleyways. The albergue had a good 'vibe' to it
and I met many people there who were to become good friends over the
next few weeks. I arrived outside the albergue a bit after midday on
a very hot day. Lounging on packs and benches in the street were
about thirty peregrinos waiting for the albergue to open at one
o'clock. I sat down on a bench and turned to the fellow next to me
and asked "is this it?" to which he replied in a broad Australian
accent "well this is far enough isn't it mate?" His name was Andrew
and he and his friend were the only other Australians I met on the
Camino. (about 250 Australians are recorded to have left St John Pied
de Port for Santiago in 2002) Sitting next to me on the other side
was an Irishman named Paddy (being Irish what else could his name be)
who leaned across and said to me in a beautiful Irish lilt "You're
never going to believe this, but up ahead there is a fountain that
dispenses free wine." The absurdity of an Irishman telling an
Australian about free alcohol had us both rolling around in the
street holding our sides with laughter. We were still laughing about
it an hour later. Every time I saw Paddy after that I would start
laughing because he would nearly always start the conversation with
the refrain "You're never going believe this, but ..... " and then
proceed to tell me some unbelievable story which invariably proved to
be true. And yes, there is a fountain a couple of kilometers out of
Estella which dispenses free wine - there is even an internet webcam
which one can watch the peregrinos (and others) decanting free wine
into their bottles. (I can't remember the URL - use Google to find it
if you want to see it) I personally didn't visit the wine fountain
because it meant walking a few hundred extra meters and I wasn't
interested in free wine at five thirty in the morning.
NOTE: Wine is very cheap in Spain - one can buy a very nice bottle of wine for less than 2 euros.
Granon. Every albergue along the Camino is different and most had excellent 'vibes'. However, Granon stands out head and shoulders above all other albergues on the Camino. Granon lies two days walk west of Logrono. The albergue is located in a large village church run by the local catholic priest. The priest welcomes all comers, not just Camino peregrinos, and provides food to be prepared by those who arrive earlier in the day for the ones who come later. The priest displays what I consider to be true Christian charity - he provides shelter and sustenance, both spiritual and physical, for all who arrive at his door. He turns away no-one. He conducts a Mass in the evening for anyone who chooses to attend. (I chose not to attend and regret that decision) Donations from pilgrims who stay at the albergue pays for the food consumed by those who follow and the donation is purely voluntary. The priest does not interfere in the preparation of the food or the day to day living arrangements of pilgrims (he has other pastoral duties to attend to), he simply instructs pilgrims to organise themselves and to "turn away no-one, we will find room for them somewhere". This ethos ensures that a strong sense of 'community' is established between all who stay at Granon and it is clear that many friendships are cemented into place within its walls. The sign on the donation box (which lies open) serves as an excellent metaphor for how we should conduct our lives in this realm. It says (in Spanish) "Give what you can and take what you need". Every pilgrim I spoke to on the Camino who stayed at Granon said that it was without doubt a highlight in their Camino experience, and I concur with that sentiment.
A small church a few miles out of Granon, with thunderstorm activity in near vicinity.
The Meseta is the name given to the high plateau country that lies in sections between Najera and Leon. This type of country is used for the growing of wheat, and being a plateau is relatively flat and featureless. Many people dislike it because of the lack of shade and the apparent lack of features, but I found it very beautiful and enjoyed walking across it. The interesting thing for me as a farm boy was the fact that every farmer I saw seemed to be driving a late model one hundred horse power four wheel drive (4WD) tractor which would have cost somewhere in the order of 50,000 to 100,000 euro to buy, yet they were doing tasks which any old fifty horse power two wheel drive tractor costing a few thousand euro could have done. This inappropriate use of resources serves as a metaphor for what is going on in Spain at the present time. Spain is experiencing a massive renewal of its economy after forty years of being comatose under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. It is clear that under Franco's dictatorship nothing much happened in Spain until he died in the mid 1970s and the Spanish people finally swept the fascist legacy of Franco behind them and embraced parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. Once that happened, the European Community began pouring a massive amount of resources into rebuilding the Spanish economy. Clearly, much of this money is being inappropriately spent, as evidenced by all those farmers on the Meseta driving 100 horse power 4WD tractors, and this distortion will eventually result in a correction in the form of a deep recession. Be that as it may, at the time of my walk (2003) the Spanish economy was booming with new buildings, factories and roads being constructed everywhere.
O'Cebreiro lies on the border of the provinces of Leon and Galicia, six days walk west from the city of Leon. It is situated on the top of a mountain with spectacular views in all directions. The albergue at O'Cebreiro is a large building and most peregrinos elect to spend a night there because of the spectacular views. The little village has quite a number of restaurants to cater for the numerous tourists who travel up the mountain to experience the views and there is a little shop. I had a very unusual experience walking up the mountain to O'Cebreiro. I had been feeling somewhat unwell most of the day and had made my way slowly up the valley from Villafranca to the base of the mountain range, where I rested soaking my feet in a small brook and eating a sandwich I had made for lunch. I felt depleted of energy and very lethargic. Numerous people passed me as I rested. After finishing my sandwich I stood up, refitted my shoes, picked up my pack and started walking with the firm resolve to "get this walk up the mountain over with". A short time later I came across a woman who had fallen and injured her knee. I offered to channel some Reiki healing energy to help heal her injury and she accepted the offer. The flow of healing energy through my hands was unusually strong and was palpable to both of us. ("the heat from your hands is incredibly" she said) Once I had finished the healing session I left her and her partner and continued my climb up the mountain track on my own. As I walked away from the woman I noticed the healing energy continued to flow into my body. The steeper the climb got the more energised I felt and I found myself literally powering up the mountain past all the Peregrinos who had passed me earlier in the day. It was an incredibly exhilarating feeling and by the time I reached the top of the mountain I felt the best I'd felt since leaving St John all those weeks earlier - I was even disappointed the climb had ended. The energy flow stayed with me all that night and to cap it off I met some new people at the albergue who were to become very close friends over the next couple of weeks.
Galicia is the north western province of Spain. Galicia is known as the land of ten thousand rivers and even at the height of summer the countryside is green and fertile associated with its reliable rainfall. As such it is a walker's paradise, with picturesque rural villages, babbling brooks cascading down from the surrounding ranges and beautiful trees shading its countless rural laneways. The interesting thing for me as a Tasmanian were the plantations and self sown stands of Tasmanian Blue Gum trees (i.e. Eucalyptus Globulus) which grow in great numbers in the province of Galicia and Portugal. It was clear to me someone had introduced into the Iberian Peninsula a very good strain of these trees a century or so earlier as most of the tree trunks were devoid of any branches for at least 30 meters and there was very little evidence of the insect damage that so plagues their counterparts in Tasmania. (a good strain of Blue gum naturally self prunes its lower branches) Although most of these trees were being grown as pulp wood for the paper industry, were they left to grow out to 80 years of age they would produce excellent hardwood timber of far greater value than pulp wood. I also noticed Tasmanian Blackwood trees (i.e. Acacia Melanoxylon) and Stringybark Gum trees (i.e. Eucalyptus Obliqua) both of which produce excellent hardwood timber when grown in the right environment and allowed to 'age'. I presume both these tree species had been inadvertently introduced into Galicia with the Eucalyptus Globulus seed. Being Australian by birth I love the smell and harsh ambiance of an Australian eucalyptus forest, but I also recognise that eucalyptus trees are an environmental disaster and should have never been introduced to other parts of the world. Australia is one of the driest continents in the world in a large part due to the presence of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees tend to dry out the ground and poison the soil to suppress the growth of other plant species rendering the landscape devoid of fertility and subject to erosion. More seriously, the eucalyptus oil in the leaves is highly flammable and eucalyptus bush fires are a serious hazard in the southern parts of Australia during the summer months. (500 houses were destroyed by a bush fire around Australia's capital city, Canberra, in 2003) Whilst walking through Galicia in the evening my friends and I witnessed a series of spectacular red sunsets which caused my friends to gush with awe and excitement, but caused me to shudder with apprehension knowing that somewhere to the west of us a huge bush fire was burning out of control. (I was to find out a week later that Portugal experienced some of the worst forest fires in living memory the previous week, hence the red sunsets) Interestingly enough, when walking through these forests I was struck by the absence of bird life that so proliferates in the Australian bush. Europe has very few birds compared to Australia and I am told that one of the main reasons for this is that southern European people tend to hunt and eat birds as a cultural past time.
Galicia from a hilltop near O'Cebreiro
Santiago de Compostela As mentioned earlier, arriving at the steps of the Cathedral in Santiago after walking the Camino for a month is a deeply moving event which needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. For most peregrinos this is the culmination of their Camino experience, but in my case it was to be just another highlight in a continuum of the same, as after three days of partaking of the pageantry of Santiago I elected to walk on to Finisterre (Fisterra) with my friends. As I was walking out past the cathedral on my way to Finisterre I was blessed with yet another magical experience. I stopped in the square to say good-bye to my Irish friend Paddy who was engaged in conversation with a young woman. As the woman turned to face me we both experienced a case of instant soul recognition despite the fact that neither of us had actually physically met in this life. ("I know you" she said. "And I know you" I replied) It was an extraordinary experience. We moved off to one side of the square holding hands, enthralled with the presence of each other and marveling at the fact we 'knew' each other so emphatically. Holding her hand was like holding that of my friend of thousand years - I 'knew' her intimately to the core of my being. In the course of our conversation it became apparent she had left St John Pied de Port just one day ahead of me, and like me had walked all the way through to Zubiri on the first day. However, being so fit and full of life she then proceeded to walk on average 40 kilometers a day, reaching Santiago in just 21 days, whereas I took 30 days. ("You didn't wait for me" I said, to which she replied "I couldn't stop walking it gave me so much joy".) Such was her zest for life that one day she even walked 63 kilometres and then went out on the town for the evening - an extraordinary feat of stamina. Whilst I was still plodding my way towards Santiago, she had walked on to Finisterre, spent 3 days there on the beach and then walked back to Santiago only for us to 'meet' in the square as I was walking out on the start of my own journey to Finisterre. We both recognised the 'magick' surrounding our meeting and sensed we had 'organised' the meeting at another level of existence well beforehand. I felt a deep sense of love and fraternity for this person which had nothing to do with sexual attraction. The bitter sweet aspect of the experience was that whilst both of us desperately wanted to spend more time together ("walk with me" I implored her) we both 'knew' instinctively that we had to part - that I had to walk on to Finisterre ("you must walk on to Finisterre" she told me) and that she could not go back in life and accompany me on that journey. After spending less than an hour together we parted as my travelling companions were urging me to start walking with them towards Finisterre. For some reason our parting was not a sad event for me - I instinctively knew she was one of my soul mates - and that even if I were never to meet her again in this life I would undoubtedly meet her again in the afterlife. I left her standing in the square with a bitter sweet mix of emotions - sadness at our parting juxtaposed with a feeling of elation at our meeting and a deep sense of gratitude towards the Universe for 'facilitating' the experience.
Santiago Cathedral Square
Finisterre (or Fisterra in the Galician language) lies three days walk west of Santiago. Less than a quarter of peregrinos walk on to Finisterre and because of this a close bond of fraternity develops between those who choose to make the effort. This bond is cemented into place by watching the sunset from the lighthouse at Finisterre and camping for a few days on the beach with one's fellow peregrinos. The beach camp at Finisterre is a very special experience because each peregrino instinctively knows that their Camino experience is coming to an end and as such each moment spent with one's companions is precious. For most peregrinos who choose to do it, the walk to Finisterre is a fitting end to their Camino.
Whilst walking towards Finisterre I was joined by a Spanish man named Raul who asked if he could walk with me. We talked in halting English about life in general and it soon became clear that Raul's 'issue' in life at that point in time was his lack of 'trust'. Raul distrusted the Universe and felt "things happened" to him which he had no control over. I explained to him that in actual fact we manifest all the experiences we have in life associated with our beliefs and the choices we make - that our experiences in life are the direct result of our state of Being (i.e. consciousness) and the decisions we make and as such that we are entirely responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in. As I pointed out to him; "everything in this Universe is a product of consciousness. (see note 1 below) As such our beliefs about the nature of reality are central to our experience because they define the limits of our experience. If you believe you are the victim of circumstances outside of your control then that is what your experience of reality will be. If on the other hand you come to realise that you are the author of your life then your experiences in life will reflect that truth and you will experience 'miracles' on a daily basis." This notion of reality was entirely new to him and needless to say he was somewhat incredulous about it all. 1
The following day Raul and I walked through a
remote village which had its usual coterie of dogs lounging around in
the doorways and alleyways. Raul was terrified of dogs and because of
his fear he hated them and the dogs sensed his hatred and barked and
growled at him ferociously. One dog even took off up a bank into the
scrub howling in fear at Raul. Being a farm boy I am not in the least
bit frightened of dogs and the situation caused me much amusement
because I understood why the dogs were barking at Raul. Raul became
very agitated about the presence of the dogs so I suggested he walk
behind me. As we walked on through the village we came across a large
dog laying across our path. I decided to use the presence of the dog
to demonstrate to Raul that our beliefs define our reality and that
if we act in good faith no harm would come to us. As I pointed out to
him "we live in a safe Universe when we understand how it works." As
we walked towards the dog I explained to Raul that once the dog
became aware of my presence it would not only sense that I meant it
no harm, but also 'know' that I intended to pass straight through
where it lay and that it had the choice of either moving out of my
way or allowing me to step over it - but either way the dog would not
harm me. Raul was astonished when the dog calmly stood up and moved
out of my way wagging its tail in acknowledgment of my presence
and position in the 'game'. (i.e. as a human I was top dog in his 'world') The key to why the
dog got up and moved without rancor was because he 'knew' I had no
fear him and therefore meant him no harm.
Note: Animals are much more in touch with the 4th dimension (Astral Plane) and can 'see' our auras and know intuitively whether we mean to harm them or not.
On the last few kilometres towards Finisterre runs a beautiful sandy beach. I left the road and removed my shoes to walk in the sea water in order to sooth my feet. I suggested to Raul he do the same as his feet were very badly blistered and the sea water would help to heal his wounds. He declined, shaking his head saying "people will think that we are strange to walk in the water with packs on our backs" to which I replied "what other people think is their business, not ours". After a few hundred meters Raul noticed that no one was even looking at me and so he removed his sandals and joined me walking in the water. He was overcome by how much relief he got from the water. It would appear that some self imposed constraint within his Being snapped because he suddenly burst out laughing and put his arm over my shoulder saying; "You are my friend. This has been the happiest day of my life. I am beginning to learn to let go and not to care about what other people think about me. And I am beginning to learn about trust."
And that event encapsulated for me the most important lesson I was to learn on the Camino - that we help others by living our truth and setting an example for others to apply to their life if they so choose and not imposing our values on others unless they seek our counsel.
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Saint John Pied de Port to Santiago is nearly 800 kilometers and takes about 30 days to walk averaging 25 kilometers a day. There are hostels (called albergues in Spanish) for pilgrims (peregrinos) to sleep in along the way. The albergues cost between 3 euro and 5 euro a night and usually have a bed with a mattress, sometimes blankets, sometimes pillows, but no sheets. Some have kitchen facilities, whilst others don't. Washing of clothes needs to be done by hand, although in Galicia (near Santiago) some albergues have washing machines and dryers. Below are some tips on how to walk the Camino in relative comfort carrying the minimum of weight. Showers are nearly all cold water only, which is just fine in the summer months.
Footwear. Good footwear is essential. Period. The condition of one's feet has an inordinate affect on how one's Camino experience unfolds. Make no mistake, if you do not have good footwear you will end up with seriously bruised and blistered feet within a day or so and your Camino experience will then become a living hell. I wore light weight synthetic runners which was a serious miscalculation as the soles of my feet became very bruised by the rocks on the walking tracks. Most people whose feet remained in good condition throughout the Camino wore proper leather walking boots and/or good quality walking sandals. The people who experienced serious foot problems along the Camino were like me - they wore light weight synthetic runners or poor quality synthetic boots. Also, make sure you wear proper thick cotton walking socks. Although they can be hot, cotton socks absorb the sweat and serve to cushion the feet. The socks must be firm on the feet otherwise they will rub and cause blisters. Finally, use liberal amounts of athletic foot cream to prevent blisters - the cream definitely works. I used Neutrogena foot cream because that is all I could get hold off in Burgos, but I am sure any of the major brands of foot cream would be just fine. If possible, break in your footwear prior to the Camino by walking in them at least 100 kilometers. You should also try to do a 30 kilometer walk in a single day just to see if your footwear remains comfortable over the distance of a typical Camino 'day'. Discovering your footwear is not up to the job whilst walking the Camino can be a nightmare.
Blister dressings. Most people used 'Compeed' blister dressings, which in my experience were of no use over any extended period of time. They work fine for about a day or so, (which is probably what they were designed for) but they do not allow the skin around the blister to 'breathe' properly and after a couple of days cause more problems than they solve. A better solution is to apply a thin gauze dressing soaked in an antiseptic solution held in place by a good quality elastoplast dressing. The antiseptic solution ensures the blister does not become infected and good quality elastoplast does not come loose and rub, unlike Compeeds. Finally, elastoplast allows the blister to 'breath', whereas the plastic that comprises Compeeds does not.
Backpack. Get a good quality medium sized backpack with a hip belt that feels comfortable and keep its loaded weight (not counting water) under 10 kilograms. Many people I met on the Camino carried far too much weight and regretted it. Remember, you are going to carry your pack for a month walking 800 kilometers. It is suggested you take only the following minimal possessions with you:
Languages. There are only two universal languages spoken on the Camino - Spanish and English. You will meet plenty of people who speak both Spanish and English who can translate for you if you only speak English. Whilst most older Spaniards only speak Spanish, those under twenty nearly all speak English to a certain extent. I intend to learn to speak Spanish before I return to Spain because it is a relatively easy language to learn, is spoken throughout Central and South America (except Brazil) and I wish to conduct conversations with ordinary Spanish people I meet along the way.
Walk on to Finisterre. Most peregrinos finish their Camino at
Santiago, but the walk to Finisterre, which takes three more days, is
very special. Because relatively few peregrinos walk on to Finisterre,
the friendships one forms on the walk tend to be more intimate. Plan
to spend at least three days on the beach at Finisterre - your
friendship with the other peregrinos who accompany you will be welded
into place by the experience. There is an on going peregrino party on
the beach which goes for 11 months of the year. There are at least
four buses a day from Finisterre to Santiago and the fare is about 10
Note: There are a number of refugios along the Camino to Finisterre as well as at Finisterre itself. One is only allowed to spend a single night in the refugio at Finisterre, but most peregrinos elect to camp on the beach at Finisterre instead anyway, after having a shower in the refugio.
Muxia. Consider walking to Muxia from Finisterre. Hardly anyone walks the Camino to Muxia, but its remoteness and beauty is worth the walk. My walk to Muxia was a very special event for me - it was a time of peace and solitude within beautiful remote surroundings which allowed me and my friends to integrate all the experiences we had had over the previous 5 weeks.
Getting home. Catch a plane out of Santiago to go home - the buses take 16 hours just to get to the French border. Buses to France only go on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday - why only on those days I have no idea as all the bus companies go out at the same time. Bizarre. Trains are also somewhat slow, but may be cheaper than the bus across Spain and will almost certainly be more comfortable. (Santiago to Irun on the French border by train takes about 16 hours and costs less than 40 euro) Unfortunately, the trains across France are expensive. Charter flights out of Spain may be the cheapest option, but you need to book well beforehand and having a deadline for departure may detract from your Camino experience. I traveled by bus and had to tell the bus driver on a couple of occasions to "keep the black stuff under the bus mate" just to keep him awake. (his offsider was asleep of course)
Whatever you choose to do, just remember that miracles happen on a daily basis when you walk the Camino de Santiago.
Copyright © Alex Paterson 2003
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1. There is a reason why I use the term "in this
universe" when describing human experience on planet Earth. Few
humans at this point in 'time' are aware that there is a realm of existence beyond the realms of perception (of which the physical
universe we experience as human beings is but just one example) predicated upon a state of
'Oneness' with our Creator. This realm is the 'real' Universe which, for want of a
better name, is 'Heaven'. The
individual identity we experience as human beings in the realms of perception (i.e. ego) is a
delusion associated with the illusion of separation we
all experience as 'individuals' on planet Earth. The separate
individual consciousness we experience as humans called our 'ego' associated
with our perception of separation in this realm is not our Creator's will because the idea of 'separation' is a
negation of the 'Oneness' that defines true reality. (i.e. Truth) As such, the 'ego', and the realm it exists in, does not really
exist, except as a dream in the Mind of a conflicted aspect of the
'Oneness' which decided to explore the "tiny, mad idea" of separation.
I use the term "mad idea" because madness is defined as "a loss
of insight into the true nature of reality" (Source Websters dictionary
1898) and by that definition the idea of separation is 'mad'
because it is a complete negation of the 'Oneness'
that defines True Reality. (i.e. Truth) Not only does the Ego's 'dream
of separation' not really exist, it also serves no real purpose, as many
throughout history have come to realise through the auspices of some sort of personal revelatory experience. As
Shakespeare quite rightly observed in his play Macbeth (Scene 5, Act 5)
"Life is ... a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing." (The person who wrote the Shakespearean plays was clearly an illumined being, but I digress ... )
The assertion made by myself and others that experience in the realms of perception (such as the physical, etheric, astral, causal, mental and other so called spiritual planes of existence) are but just different illusory dream states of a conflicted aspect of the 'Oneness' called the 'Ego' and that dream serves no real purpose, is shocking to most people and as such is vehemently denied by the ego aspect of their mind (including mine I might add), if only because it threatens the very existence of the Ego Gestalt that 'projected' the dream in the first place.
For an explanation of the 'false' and 'real' universe, and the history thereof, I recommend 'A Course in Miracles' (ACIM) Unfortunately, most humans find ACIM very hard to relate to until they have personally experienced the 'Oneness' of God through the auspices of some sort of deep personal revelatory experience such as my childhood Near Death Experience. I therefore recommend 'The Disappearance of the Universe' (TDOTU) by Gary Renard as a precursor to ACIM as it is both a fascinating story in its own right and serves as an excellent introduction to ACIM.
For more on Gary Renard see:
For a 6 minute video of Gary Renard talking about TDOTU I recommend:
ACIM is available online free of charge.
Preface to ACIM
'An Introduction to A Course in Miracles' by Alex Paterson
One final point. The 'false' and 'real' Universe concept is no theory to me personally as I very briefly became 'aware' of the 'Oneness of God' that is REALITY (i.e. the 'real' universe) during my childhood Near Death Experience (NDE). During that event I experienced an indescribable bliss that has no counterpart in this realm and was bathed in waves of unconditional love. I was aware of the absolute (and infinite) nature of Awareness (as opposed to the limited consciousness we all experience in this realm) even though I was not absolutely aware. I was not absolutely aware because I was not yet prepared to give up the illusory identity of my ego self and merge back into the 'Oneness' that is my true state of Being. One would need to experience one's own version of the same to fully understand what I mean by this statement.
Alex Paterson's Near Death Experience
Both ACIM and TDOTU accord entirely with the insights I gained during my NDE which have been validated by a series of personal spiritual experiences since that event. As such, both ACIM and TDOTU represent spiritual Truth as I have come to understand it.
For a good introduction to the Camino with pictures see the following websites:
NOTE: Shirley MacLaine has written an excellent account of her personal experiences on the Camino titled "The Camino" which I thoroughly recommend.
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Alex PATERSON is an Australian citizen by birth. He writes articles and advises on issues pertaining to aviation, politics, sociology, the environment, sustainable farming, history, computers, natural health therapies, esoteric teachings and spirituality.
He can be contacted at:
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The document, 'Camino de Santiago' is the copyright © of the author, Alex Paterson. All rights reserved by the author. Notwithstanding this, the document may be reproduced and disseminated without the express permission of the author so long as reference to the author is made, no alterations are made to the document and no money is charged for it.
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