Everybody loves a good Manifesto. Manifestos make you think of burning barricades, tragic youths facing down The Man, overthrows and uproar with a righteous tinge. I helped to write a Manifesto last weekend, at a meeting of camino people in Villafranca de Bierzo. There were precious few barricades to be seen, burning or otherwise. There was a lot of really good local Mencia wine, though, and a lot of back-slapping and old-friends hugging, a lot of opinions. These were not young firebrands out to change the world. These were old hands of the trail: Tomas the Templar of Manjarin, Jesus Jato from Ave Fenix (looking very frail). The original old bearded dude who walks the trail dressed in a brown robe. The little saint who runs the bare-bones albergue in Tosantos. Don Blas, the high-energy priest of Fuenterroble who brought the Via de la Plata to the fore. Jose Antonio de la Reira, a bagpipe-blowing Gallego who helped paint the first yellow arrows, and Luis, the TV reporter who broadcast the renewal to the rest of Spain. They are heavy hitters, these guys. I have a lot of respect for most of them. When they asked me to step up and be the token North American on the board of the Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago,” their new “camino action group,” I said “sure!” I was honored, even. Even though I’ve kinda had it with camino groups. Even though it’s hard for me to keep up with them, language-wise. Even though I don’t always make myself clear. I am dedicated to the same principals they are, and I have some things to offer. They listen carefully when I talk, and they don’t interrupt and overrun my efforts with their own ideas. I am treated with respect in this group… I do not find that in some other gatherings I have attended. We did most of the work in a splendid old theater in the Villafranca town hall, where a hundred important people from eight or nine countries bashed and hashed out a list of proposals for later clarification and action. Lots of people brought their favorite hobbyhorses and axes to grind, but everyone was reasonably polite and orderly. Here is the document, translated to English by Yours Truly. (click on the second one.) There were reporters at the Villafranca gathering, but the ship didn’t hit the sand til mid-week, when the word spread out across the camino Ways. Board members appeared on TV and radio shows, explaining that yes, there are some problems on the magic path, that yes, there are some rip-offs going on, that yes, the public administrations charged with overseeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site are asleep at the switch. Yes, the Caminos are in danger of becoming victims of their own success. And we the people who love the caminos need to band together and do something, before complete Disneyfication sets in, and the old values of hospitality, simplicity, and kindness are drowned in a wave of Euro notes, souvenir stands, and Ye Olde 4-star Albergues. Yeah, we live in a Capitalist society. Yeah, the camino is a tourism product now, like it or not. We can’t put that genie back inside the bottle. Or maybe it’s a hydra. It has several heads. It’s no surprise the developers and builders and people selling things impinge on the old road. It’s an old road. It follows the geographical line of least resistance, it’s got highway access, it’s got lots of potential customers passing by every day. And “the authorities” are a notoriously corrupt and lazy bunch of rascals. Nobody’s held their feet to the fire. Yet. No one’s really defined what kind of protections are afforded places along a “Heritage of Mankind” highway, so it’s kinda hard to defend the sagging old monastery from benign neglect, or the little Roman bridge from the bulldozer. In Fromista, right here in my neighborhood, the Romanesque church of San Martin, a national treasure, has an apartment block going up a few yards from the back door. It’s perfectly legal, according to local zoning laws. The fact that it’s a crime against good taste doesn’t enter into it. We want to change this. Other things have changed all on their own, out of control – on the ground, where the old “poor pilgrim on a holy journey to the sacred shrine” has morphed into “well-heeled cultural tourist on a hard-but-really cool hike to an awesome church where you get a Latin certificate at the end that says you don’t have to go to Purgatory! Ha!” The certificate is called a Compostela. It is issued by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to anyone who can prove he’s walked the last 100 kilometers into town (or biked or rode a horse the last 200.) These certificates have a long history. They used to certify (and they still do, in writing) the bearer came to Santiago on a journey of Christian faith, with a prayerful purpose – that he was, in truth, a pilgrim. But when the pilgrimage started picking up steam again a couple of decades ago, the cathedral came up with a plan meant to filter out the bus-tours and shameless cheaters. They created the 100 kilometer rule. Instead of an identifying letter each pilgrim once carried from their priest or bishop, the cathedral issued its own “credential,” a fold-out booklet issued at the start of the trip to each pilgrim. Each day, the pilgrim’s host rubber-stamps the credential, creating a colorful collector’s item and blessed assurance the pilgrim get his Compostela at the end of the road. The cathedral and a lot of other people soon woke up to the money-making potential of these documents. Nowadays, boxloads of credentials are sold to tour companies and tourist offices, to be sold at inflated prices to whomever wants one. Pilgrims enjoy picking and choosing which stamps to have in their “passports” according to which is most pretty, which fits best, or which are “weirdest.” (One pilgrim burst into tears when I accidentally put our stamp on her credential upside-down.)And the Compostela, oh my. The idolatry that goes on at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela just boggles the mind at times – the long lines, the drama, the tears, the vapors… all for a piece of paper that certifies the bearer is something he would probably never admit to being – a repentant sinner, saved by God’s grace. But I preach. The 100 kilometer requirement for the Compostela, combined with the ruthless logic of Unintended Outcomes, has created 100 kilometers of overdevelopment, overcrowding, litter, price-gouging, and disillusion, from the little boom town of Sarria right to Santiago itself. One out of every three hikers applying for a Compostela has walked the minimum mileage possible. People who make the whole long-distance voyage step out of a relatively quiet countryside into a clatter that carries them all the way to the end. We would like to deal with that. We want to give the camino back to the people on a spiritual journey to a holy place. We want the pilgrim to know he is a holy person, on a sacred mission. We want to see him treated with respect and dignity, and we want him to behave with respect and dignity. This part of the manifesto has drawn all kinds of indignant denial from just about everyone with a monetary interest in the camino. I was told, personally, that I am naïve, “thinking like a little child.” “That it’s all very nice that you care so much, but who will enforce this?” “Who will push it through, who can change anything that’s already in progress?” We can. If we want to enough, we can. It will take a long time, and not everything we propose will work. All we can do is try. We have time. We are on the side of the angels. The Camino’s been here for a thousand years, through wars and plagues and reformations, it’s been pimped and sold and betrayed a thousand times, probably in worse ways than these. We could sit back and just let it go, let the “market forces” take over and drive this camino into the ground, too. But we don’t have to. We love this place. It is our home. It’s a holy path. And homes, ideals, holy things — they are worth fighting for, no?
For whatever reason, I feel that the Camino de Santiago is calling me. I answered by booking a ticket to Madrid for May 13, 2015. I will spend 42 days journeying along my favorite path. Just like any other adventure, I am trying to depart…
Plans are shaping up nicely!We have the following riders:Jo (pictured on the left below), Hash House Harrier from Devonport Hash will be coming along for the entire bicycle ride, and fellow Devonport Hasher Cindy (right) for some of the ride. Cindy has joined me on various other Cystic Fibrosis Fundraisers (Vietnam to Singapore, Paris to Istanbul, Sydney to Melbourne, Mount Kinabalu,…)Marilyn (pictured below), Hash House Harrier from Burnie Hash was the first person to commit to the entire adventure, both ride and hike. Marilyn is hoping to bring her main-man along for some sections but has volunteered their vehicle and caravan to be our support vehicle!Karina from Adelaide (pictured below standing next to me) is a veteran adventurer herself, having joined me on the El Camino in Spain, and cycled with us from Vietnam to Singapore. She is not 100% committed yet, but we are all confident she will come.If you are interested in coming along and help ride and drive with us, or interested in helping out or walking along the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We plan to start the ride 8 March 2015 and arrive around Easter in Albany, WA. The hike along the Bibbulmun Track will start after a few good rest days in Albany, and will go from mid April to early June 2015. www.proelectricbikes.com.au has kindly come on board again to supply us with the popular Aseako Electric Bicycles. Proelectricbikes have sponsored me in the past with Zoco Rossa Electric Bikes for the 5000km+ ride from Hanoi to Singapore in the past. We have great faith in these bicycles and hope to make the distance across the Nullarbor to spread inspiration and awareness about Cystic Fibrosis and the importance of becoming an Organ Donor.WE ARE URGENTLY LOOKING FOR A FEATURE SPONSOR WHO WOULD LIKE TO HELP US WITH TEAM EXPENSES ALONG THE WAY!Contact email@example.com if you think you can help!
Although, I had only known my walking companions for a day, it felt much longer. Since we had met on the seaside trail above San Sebastián, we shared our own little adventure which included a few good laughs on and off the Camino del Norte. This day was enjoyable as we walked, had lunch in Orio, […]
The great green valley of San Martin opened up before us. The dogs flowed over the ridge and down into doggie heaven. Something moved in the far distance, a fox.Definitely a fox, a gray one. He saw us coming. He took off running.Lulu saw. Lulu the huntress, the greyhound. A fox is pretty large prey, and it had a good head start. But Lulu lives for chasing things that run away.Mist rolled down the valley. The fox ran hard. The greyhound stretched out her legs. The other dogs followed her. It was a medieval tapestry, a hunt scene in faded black and grey.I lost them in the fog, but I knew where they were. They fox had gone to ground.A mile later I stepped across the frozen field to collar the yapping, baying curs. From deep in a brambly ditch came the skunky stink of musk and an extraordinary noise, a low mechanical burr with a coloratura yowl. Teeth, claws, rabies. Varmint panic.I really wanted to see the critter, but I really did not want to get too close. Everyone but Lulu came away with me. Everyone but Lu knows you don’t get too near anything that makes a noise like that.Lulu ended up bloodied, but not badly hurt. She caught up to us later. I do not know what became of the fox. I wasn’t about to go looking for it. Today again I walked the dogs in fog — it’s normal this time of year. (It disappears again in January, when winter sits down hard.) We walked on the camino, watching the ditches for litter. In a bush I saw a plastic box. I reached inside the branches and pulled it out.The label on the lid was ruined, but I knew straightaway what it was: a Geocache.Inside were some flyers explaining what a Geocache is. There was a very nice leatherbound notebook, a rubber stamp, pencils, and some lanyards. Judging from the promotional nature of all the above, the geocache was a project of the Tourist Office of Castilla y Leon, who in their wisdom decided to spice up the lives of tourists and pilgrims with a high-tech “camino treasure hunt.”Geocachers are given a scorecard and an initial set of map coordinates, and use GPS units, compasses, and maps to locate these little boxes of goodies. They use the rubber stamp to mark their card, and they leave their name and a comment in the notebook. They can take a Castilla y Leon lanyard, but they’ll leave some other little item behind for the next guy — a candy bar, keychain, or similar swag.The next set of coordinates is printed on the lid of the box. Or it was, once, before the rain got it.I wrote in the notebook. I was the first and only person to have done so. I put it all back the way I found it, but more out of sight. (There are millions of geocaches hidden all over the world; this is the third one I have found by accident.) I wondered how long it has been there.It made me think about geocaches, and geocachers.They are the people who love maps, obviously. People who love knowing just where they are, just what time it is, They benefit from our passion for measurement and quantifying. We’ve assigned a numbers for every corner of the world, brought it under control, tamed it, made it ours.Savage tribes are settled on reservations. Venomous spiders and highway robbers are all gassed and passed away into history. Exploring the world is a breeze, especially when you have all the coordinates in your hand-held worldwide GPS unit — you can travel all over a foreign country, but you can’t even get lost!And with geocaching, all that safety hasn’t drained all the wild blood out of orienteering. Play your coordinates right, and you can track plastic boxes full of Maple Leaf key fobs, cigarette rolling papers, granola bars… and the numbers to follow to find the next one. It’s hunter-gatherer behavior, Hiawatha the Scout, without the bushwacking and chilblains and food poisoning. It’s harmless fun for people with leisure time and expendable income. Obviously the Junta de Castilla y Leon spent a nice chunk of money on plastic boxes and flyers, notebooks, pencils and satellite bandwidth. Which evidently nobody has bothered to find. It’s hard not to think of a few better uses for public funds. Most pilgrims are too busy shlepping themselves to the next albergue to involve themselves in treasure hunts.Geocachers have their own community websites, and they set up their own caches — I don’t think they go looking for tourist-office inventions. Geocaching is already here, without any government involvement. Two summers ago I helped a Canadian volunteer hide three plastic caches in the neighborhood, saw her upload the coordinates to a satellite somewhere overhead. An international community of geocachers occasionally ply their hobbies in Moratinos, but somehow they missed the cache that I found, almost in plain sight, looking an awful lot like trash.Which is kinda nice, really. We should let some things stay mysteries. We should just walk sometimes, without a map or a guide. We should know the delight of finding the box in the bushes, without a map or machine to send us there.Sometimes the ditch gives up a box. And sometimes it’s a fox.We only think we are safe, poking around in the bushes.
One of the many great things about taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago was finding deep life lessons at the most unexpected moments. Each day began with a ritual of packing all of my belongs into a backpack. I quickly came to…
Ditch Pigs of 2014: Bas, Reb, Kathy, and BrunoIn keeping with my daft ideals, each year I hold the Palencia Camino Cleanup. I raise some funds and round up volunteers and gas up the car and we walk all 80+ kilometers of Camino de Santiago in Palencia province, picking up the litter along the way. The air is clear and fresh and cold, the weeds have died back in the ditches. We all get a great, gentle workout while we Do the Right Thing. This year there were four of us. Bas is from a fishing village on the coast of England — he’s from a tinker family, and tells some interesting tales. Kathy is my best bud from San Francisco. It took her two long days of broken airplanes to finally get here, but now we’re making hemp muscle-rub and wreaths of rosemary, cruising the Roman villas. And Bruno, our Italian neighbor and hospitalero at Albergue San Bruno, did a big share on the long stretches — he and I are the only ones who can drive the car, so when he’s along, I only need to walk half the distance,And he brings KitKat bars.It is useful and fun, even. Just when you start feeling bored with walking along the road, you find someone’s underpants. It’s been stressful old year, 2014, and I will be glad to bid it goodbye. I left behind a bad tooth, a beloved cat, and two canaries. Or maybe they left me.I climbed some mountains with a good friend and walked across a big plain on my own, until the sun stopped me cold. Not all stress is bad: I celebrated my son’s marriage, his law school graduation, his swearing-in to the New Hampshire bar; I got a fine new daughter in law called Raheela. I got to know my son in law Dave a bit better in September, when he and Libby joined me for a holiday in the French Pyrenees. Libby landed a very competitive scholarship, paid-for by her employer, to earn her Masters in Public Administration at George Mason University.My children made me mighty proud this year. I am still working on the book, still dreaming big dreams, talking big daft ideas, still a big bleeding-heart liberal. Still doin’ the Christian thing with a Buddhist zing. Paddy and I are getting older. Parts are beginning to fall off here and there. He is dealing with his end-of-year annual sciatica, but it didn’t keep him from going to London this week to visit the Dear Aulds. I learned the doctors wielding the terrifying tests detailed in the last blog succeeded in finding exactly nothing wrong. They say they want to stick needles in me for a biopsy anyway, but nobody’s scheduled that yet.I’d put some big things on “hold” until I learned if I was OK. I think it’s time to get on with life now. Or let life get on with me.
Taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago changed my life. I realize that everyone cannot take 45 days and fly to Spain for a pilgrimage walk. A “Camino” is really about putting yourself in any situation that is outside of your comfort zones….
The twelfth day of the hike began with some bittersweet goodbyes. Michael and his wife Donna began the trip with the intention of splitting off and completing the Snowman Trek. Our hike included five large mountain passes. Snowman, which is considered to be the most…
Thank you Archbishop John VlaznyIt is our tradition to spend the month of November (from All Saints day) turned inward remembering those family members, and friends, who have left this life. It is a season that Robin and I find both healing, and spiritually nourishing, as we allow sadness and grieving the freedom to move to the joyful recognition of lives gifted to all, and cherished for their being. The Thanksgiving holiday is now just two days away, and shortly thereafter we will move into the advent season, and Christmas. A busy time of the year to be sure, and one that often conflicts with lessons learned from our time spent walking the Camino (got to work on that). The emotional path from All Saints Day to Christmas is always journey of discovery and joy. Beyond the usual call to table, and Christmas gifts, there stirs a quiet and joyful anticipation. We await a birth, a new hope, that will forever change those who choose to “harden not their hearts.” It is with this blessing of renewed faith that Robin and I will, once again, set out to walk the Camino. We will be leaving in early January, and will be walking, not towards Santiago, but towards Manresa (close to Barcelona) along the Camino Ignaciano.Camino IgnacianoThe route we will be following is one that was walked by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1522. Manresa is where St. Ignatius spent several months in a cave gathering his thoughts into what would later lead to the very well known, and still followed today, Spiritual Exercises. We will fly into Bilbao and then make our way into the mountains of the Basque Country and to the Sanctuary of Loyola (in the town of Azpeitia, where St. Ignatius was born). The 400 hundred mile journey will take us generally southward from the Basque mountains down into the vineyards of Rioja where we will swing slightly south of east to parallel the Pyrenees. On the way, after Rioja, we will also pass through the provinces of Navarra, Aragón, and Catalunya. This is a challenging walk with varied terrain (mountains, hills, plains, desert). It is also a route that is not heavily traveled, especially in the winter. Robin and I do not expect to meet a single other pilgrim, but we will see. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. A little company would always be appreciated. Weather wise, the Basque mountains can be very wet in winter (or ladened with snow). We will have to see where we can pass through and where we might have to deviate (this is not a snowshoe trek). As we move further along the desert area east of Zaragoza can be very cold and windy. Overall, the weather in this part of Spain is probably best characterized as unpredictable. We will just have to take it as it comes. We will be carrying the bare minimum (12.5 pounds for me), but will still be well prepared for the wet and cold. As I recall St. Ignatius set out for Manresa at this same time of year (Jan-Feb). I sort of like that. My packing list is here. I’ll post Robin’s once she gets it fine tuned.Pilgrimage is a call of the Spirit and I am always drawn to a scripture quote from the Book of John that just seems to capture what that means for me.”The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8