My Life as a Traveler

Practicing Lovingkindness

June 22, 2012

This is the last full day of walking before we reach Santiago. Excitement should be high, but instead our room of women in the albergue is sleeping in, not waking til 6:30am. It’s light outside and Mary and I go downstairs and have some breakfast. Normally, I don’t like to have breakfast before walking, but we bought some yogurt yesterday and it’s a short day on flat terrain, less than 20km to Pedrouzo, the last major stop before Santiago, so we can take our time, and don’t leave til 7:30am.

We weren’t 100 meters from our albergue, though, when I remembered why I do not like to leave so late. First thing, we have to walk through the haze of the four people ahead of us… walking and smoking! Probably there have been more people smoking and walking, but I just haven’t seen them. I’ve seen lots of smoking while sitting, but not walking, and I can’t see the trail in front of this bunch through the cigarette smoke. Ugh.

I receive Mary’s blessing to go ahead at Julie Speed and promise to wait for her at the first cafe. However, there’s no more having the road to myself anymore. There are sooo many people walking. At the cafe, there’s a crowd. All of the tables are full. I have to wait until some people leave to get an empty table. There’s a line for the bathroom. A line!

In fact, in these last 100km from Sarria, the number of pilgrims has exponentially increased and it’s a challenge for us who have been on the road for the last few weeks to have patience with them.

To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy – You Might Be A New Pilgrim If….

  • You are walking in tennis shoes, sandals, or (the worst) flip flops!
  • You are wearing jeans and cotton t-shirts (which means you will not be doing laundry all week – they take too long to dry)
  • Your backpack has no frame and is carrying less than the backpack of your average high school student (means they’re having their luggage transported ahead to your next albergue by one of the many services available)
  • Your sleeping bag in it’s sack is hanging haphazardly off some part of your pack (balance is key for long walks)
  • You are smoking and walking!!!
  • You are walking with more than one person – it’s not unusual the last few days to see groups of four to seven people, but at the cafe this morning, there are at least a dozen all sitting together with the same paper in hand reading something together. I have to clear my throat or make a noise to walk through these pilgrim-barriers on the trail.
  • You are stopped on the trail digging through your backpack while your three companions watch you or nervously look at the other pilgrims passing by (ok, I’ve been here, but it seems so long ago).
  • You have the TAXI number on your speed-dial (I’ve seen lots of signs advertising taxis – and I’ve noticed that the taxis on this part of the Camino have their windows tinted black for client anonymity.) Yes, I’ve taken a taxi, but not in the last 100kms, that’s unforgiveable cheating. To be fair, however, this might be necessary when your flip flops give out!
  • You are talking loud or singing (yes, I mean you, French people) after 9pm in the albergue.

Now, dear readers, before you start wondering how judgmental I’ve become on my spritual walk, please note that the above descriptions are meant to be dispassionate; just observations (albeit some with exclamation points). Actually, it is difficult to not have a little resentment toward these “intrusions” on my Camino. And I know it’s not just me. The last time I saw Ricky, my Italian friend, I told him he reminded me of a revolutionary. He replied, “Yes! I am rebelling against all these new pilgrims!” I can relate.

However, when I started to realize that I was getting annoyed, I determined that this was a great opportunity to practice lovingkindness. This type of meditation felt a lot better than being irritated all day. First I start with myself:

May I be happy.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be free of suffering.

May I be able to live in this world peacefully, joyfully, and with ease.

Then to each jeans-clad, tiny-backpack wearing, loud, slow, trail-blocking pilgrim or group I passed:

Dear Pilgrim,

May you be happy and enjoy your time here in beautiful Galicia.

May you be healthy and strong and have enough energy at the end of the day to have some fun with your fellow pilgrims (because on some days, that was the best part).

May you be free of suffering and blisters.

May you walk on this Camino peacefully, joyfully, and with ease and be open to the full experience that comes to you.

After breakfast with Mary, I leave her in the bathroom line (I would rather pee off the side of the road than wait for that smelly toilet) and forge on. I see my friend Father Augustine having coffee at the next bar and stop to say hi, but decline the offer to stay and chat. I greet each pilgrim I walk by with a “Buen Camino” and I really mean it. In fact, it feels really good to send out so many good wishes.

However, all that good wish-sending takes a toll and I’m tired when I reach Pedrouzo, a large, busy city. I text Lyn and Kathy, who are ahead, and see if they have found somewhere nice to stay (they should be travel agents, they are so good at finding nice albergues), and sure enough, they are in Pension Edreira, so that’s where I’m headed. I buy a bed for Mary so she’ll have a lower like me (she did the same for me last night) and text her where to come.

After shower and laundry and charging electronics, we go up the hill for a bocadillo and a beer. Lyn and Kathy tell me they have a hotel reserved in Santiago and this does not sound like a bad idea. Back at the albergue, I get online and find Roots and Boots, a hostel that has a four-bed room available for 18euros/bed/night. After a cursory look at some hotel options, I find that to buy all four beds (we’ll need all four when Morgan comes back) for all three nights is the best deal. I love the albergues, but it seems better to have a room just for us that locks for our last three nights on Camino in Santiago. It’s booked before we go to dinner.

In the courtyard of the albergue, we see our Italian juggler friend, Fabricio, who we last saw broken down on the road to Logrono. He recovered and will be in Santiago tomorrow with us. So will Andy and Jeffrey, Judith, Christiana, Father Augustine, Amedeo, Irish Mark, Rolande, and Susie to name a few. It will be a grand reunion. Morgan’s latest text informs me he’ll be in Finisterre tomorrow night.

We celebrate our last night on the road with Lyn and Kathy. White wine and potato chips to start, then dinner of salad, risotto, tiramisu, and lots of great wine.

Tomorrow, Santiago!

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