Tuesday 8 November 2011

Reflections on the Camino by Jan (Pilgrim 4)

The experience of walking El Camino with three friends was simply amazing.  It was by far the most difficult thing I have tackled in my life, certainly much harder than I had anticipated.  We were continually faced with challenges - steep climbs, then extreme descents, rocky paths,  lack of  good food (particularly in the morning), hot temperatures, bugs, wind, illness but mostly foot issues. The interesting thing about my own experience is that I never felt stressed and that surprised me.  We got up every morning and simply walked.  In the beginning we were absolutely exhausted at the end of every day but as time went on we became stronger and were not quite as tired.  We all have a wealth of special memories that will last a lifetime. I will remember the people most, those we met along the route, both fellow pilgrims and the local villagers, but more importantly the three remarkable women with whom I travelled.

When I began this journey I was not certain why I had undergone such an experience.  After much reflection, and believe me there is lots of time to reflect when you walk, the answers still are not obvious to me but I am sure in time they will become clearer.  When I reached the cathedral in Santiago it seemed almost anticlimatic to me.  I had been emotional all day thinking about the end of this journey and I thought it would be a very emotional ending for me.  It isn't like crossing the finish line in a race and you feel euphoric.  At first I felt disappointment as I guess my expectations of the end of the walk were not met.  It wasn't until I returned to Vancouver airport (along with my husband Chris) and was met by our entire family.....our grandson, four sons, a daughter, a girfriend of one son and a dear friend that I realized my journey was complete.  I was once again home with those I treasure most!

Love Jan (Pilgrim 4)

Camino Reflections by Muriel (Pilgrim 3)

It is said that the Camino never leaves you.
Since finishing my Camino I have had many thoughts as I come to grips with the immensity of the undertaking, the emotions felt, the people I met, why I did it and what revelations came to me

We met many interesting and friendly pilgrims along the way, some were doing the Camino for the third time; the fifth time, some were doing it in parts; 1 or 2 weeks per year until they completed it, most like us, were walking from start to finish.  I often thought as I put one foot in front of the other that I could never do this twice, although I had no doubts that I was going to finish, even though at times I wondered HOW!  I felt a real sense of wonder when I walked into the cathedral in Santiago and knew I was done.  The immensity of the cathedral and the realization that I was actually there was for me, overwhelming.  Arriving on Thanksgiving Day, October 10th, seemed particularly fitting.

As I walked I thought of many things; the people in my life, how lucky I am to have such an incredible loving family; friends  who are here and those who are gone from this life; those who are not well, those who are fortunate and less so; those I need to forgive.  I said a lot of prayers in a lot of churches and felt better for them.

When I was walking I was alone, even with my 3 dear fellow pilgrims in front or behind me,but always nearby.  There were no phones ringing, cars or traffic, mail, meetings, schedules, newspapers; no demands except the physical demands on my body  There is an absence of stress and a real feeling of peaceful simplicity which is not fully appreciated or realized until one returns to daily life at home.  Since arriving home I have been having some clarity on what the Camino has given me; I think it will continue to unfold and I will learn lessons about myself and life because of this journey in the days, weeks and even years ahead.
I will be forever grateful for the support of family and friends and the bonding I experience with my three amazing "sisters" Joanie, Sandy and Jan, and knowing they will be there for me forever.
Lastly, I think it is true; the Camino will never leave me, it has already taught me many things.

Love Pilgrim 3 (Muriel

Personal Reflections by Sandy, Pilgrim 2

Three weeks ago, we walked into Santiago.  It feels incredible that it is over.  The Camino has been such a focus over the last few months that I feel a tremendous void at this time.  Joanie led the group with preparations but we all had so much fun determining what we would need and how to obtain the lightest pack.  We were successful, our packs were great.
The walk was an amazing experience.  I loved the simplicity.  Nothing on our agenda except walking.  Our lives are so busy and complicated but it is a joy to simplify life.  Our days consisted of walking, talking, thinking, drinking and eating.  Our only jobs were to buy a bit of food and to wash a few items of clothing.  As life gets busy again, I hope I can remember the joy of simplicity.
I loved spending time with the other pilgrims.  We met people from all over the world but we were all equal.  Conversations never evolved around jobs, money or hectic schedules.  We discussed our Camino experiences and of course, feet, came up fairly often.
Walking for so long gave us time to reflect on life.  A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey and we were able to reflect on our priorities in life and our beliefs and feelings about our place in the world and our own spiritual journey.  It was wonderful to share these feelings.
It was a hard moment for me when we decided to take a bus and miss a section of the walk.  The saying goes, The Camino, will show you the way and I learned that walking every kilometer was not the most important aspect of the Camino.  The Camino is much more than just a walk.  As a group, we were stronger and enriched as we pulled together.  Being able to share this experience with three fantastic and strong women was the highlight of this journey.  Although life was simple, it was also hard to walk so far every day, to be in physical pain, to be away from family and friends and to sleep in a different bed every night but the strength we gave each other encouraged us to continue.  All the family and friends following the blog and sending us supportive messages also was a tremendous help.
I am glad I have had this experience and I am glad I have been part of pilgrims 4.  A huge thank-you to pilgrim 1 (joanie), 3 (Muriel) and 4 (jan).

Love Pilgrim 2 (Sandy)

Camino Personal Reflections by Pilgrim 1 Joanie

"Camino Fall 2011 Inspiration, Challenges and Adventure" was my dream.  For many years I had been thinking about doing the Camino and planned to do it in the spring of 2012.  Suddenly I could wait no longer.  I had been advised to go by myself but it felt better if I could find a friend to go with.  Sandy asked to come along, then Muriel and Jan.  The pilgrims four set a departure date and we were off three months later!  Thank you husbands for not talking us out of it!

The Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port is a 790 Km walk.  Why go to Spain for a long walk?  Could there be special spiritual inspiration when for over 1000 years millions of people have walked in the same direction east to west to one destination?  Reported miracles have happened along the way; trails, roads, towns, churches and hospitals have been built. I anticipated that the long days spent walking were only going to be a minor challenge because I'm fit and love walking.  I choose the Camino for more, I wanted to "feel the breath of god" or at least find out if I have room for God in my life.  On the Camino I was open for the Holy Spirit to find me and IF it did I would be receptive.  I felt ready to find the mysteries and learn the lessons of the Camino and I was very grateful to have the opportunity, time and money.  I planned and dedicated each walking day to a special person in my life the only exception being for our late dog Hauser.

Walking 6-7 hours a day was a lot harder than I thought, one can't really train enough for it.  I don't know which difficulty is the worse; blisters, sun and heat, lack of sleep, lack of good food, rocky terrain, carrying ones possessions on the back etc. Perhaps it's just over use of the feet and the body with little recovery time.  The best part of the Camino is the pilgrims; I will never forget the pleasure of meeting such terrific friendly people.  To be a pilgrim is to be in an exclusive club or family and although right now I can't imagine doing any pilgrimage again I can understand why many return.  On the trail pilgrims are all the same; exhausted, in pain and raw with emotion.  Pilgrims don't talk about normal things; basically we are mindlessly following the yellow arrows and all going in the same direction!  On the trail "the pilgrims four" were known as the four Canadian Pilgrims and also as the sisters  from Canada.  Many Europeans didn't understand the term sorority sisters or sisters by choice and just remembered us as the sisters. We intrigued many pilgrims because we travelled four together; most pilgrims travel alone even if they had started with others.  I know we surprised many by finishing together and by not ever splitting up as many had warned.

We arrived in Santiago on Thanksgiving Day October 10th.  It was a long uninteresting walk into the city.  I didn't like fighting my way past bus and day pilgrims to go into the cathedral; I prefer small quiet churches.  This church was very grand but I wasn't awe struck by the church or our achievement, until I realized the four of us were standing together on one side of the church.  Hugs and tears came then.  We had made it together.  The pain of limping on the trail for the last twelve days with an ankle that really needed rest was over.  The sweet simple life of walking the Camino was over too.  I treasured the moments of quiet prayer in cool Spanish churches also the grande beers at the end of the day.  Mornings hiking in the dark and the beautiful sun rises.  The feeling that one is not alone as there is a pilgrim ahead and behind you, the "buen Camino" or "hola" greetings to other pilgrims.  Sharing emails from home, laughter, prayers, poems, quotes, spiritual inspirations, food, water and lodging with my thres amigas.  It was an easy comfortable friendship and I will always remember it as one of the best times of my life.  I know that walking the Camino alone can be good for some but not for me, walking and sharing it with Sandy, Muriel and Jan made the journey a success.  My Camino lesson was to have more patience and trust.  To give and share with your friends because that is one strength that really matters.  Sandy thank you for the nursing of "de feet" and for forgiving us for the use of the 3 letter word "bus".  Jan thank you for your special intuition, amazing home fan club and Spanish language skills.  Muriel thank you for your dedication to detail photographing the trip also creating and keeping up with the blog (even in the times you were too tired and it was hard to find internet), so many people at home followed us along the way and enjoyed it.  Thank you home fan club for all the encouraging emails and Graeme for your wise guidance and internet hotel booking services, you helped make us feel special, loved and that made the long days easier.
Love Joanie.