On May 23rd, while enjoying wine and tapas in a small Santiago bar, I shared some of my thoughts about the Camino with Irish Peregrina, Una Barrett. I likened the pilgrimage to Peter Pan’s “Never Land”, a place where an adult may return to the spirit of youth and childlike wonder.  “Tir na nÓg”, she replied, “It’s Irish for “The Land of Eternal Youth.’”

On May 31st, with cabin lights dimmed, Christine and I were relaxing aboard our west bound flight. We were crossing the Atlantic. We were heading home.

Una’s words came back to me as I gazed out the window at the clouds below. With the benefit of the plane’s Wi-Fi I was able to find passages from J. M. Barrie’s 1911 novel, “Peter Pan and Wendy” that spoke to my heart. I began to type.   

May 31st. “Tir na nÓg” (Gaelic for “The Land of Eternal Youth”)

“”Second to the Right, and Straight on till Morning.’ That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to Neverland.” (From “Peter Pan and Wendy”)

Scarcely could there be better directions to the Camino. Over the last 6 weeks I have learned that it is not so much a place, although it is a place, as it is a Way. It is not something realized through a book or from a video, it is an experience that unfolds within. The things which were important at the start; selection of equipment, route planning, communications, became laughingly insignificant. Destination yields to Journey. Appreciation for the qualities of those dear to you gains sharper focus. One’s “guard” drops, and the door to new friendships opens wide. Expectations give way to Acceptance.

For some the Camino may remain a vacation, an adventure, or an item checked off of a “bucket list”. For me the Camino was a blossoming rebirth of the happiness, innocence, and affection found in childhood. My Camino also included anxiety, discomfort, pain, and illness. However, without the full range of experiences, good and bad, there could not have been growth or appreciation of the Camino’s “gifts”. These included sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which were a sensorial symphony that played every day. Also included were intense spiritual experiences, and friendships which were like a morning Espresso; deep, intense, and rich but fleeting.

At the risk of inadvertent omissions, I acknowledge those friendships at the end of this note; a final “thank you” to the people who gave special dimension to my Camino. We walked the path side-by-side, shared a table, ordered dinner and wine from a Pilgrim’s Menu, enjoyed and endured Albergues, and of course frequently exchanged the sincere declaration, “Buen Camino!”

These were friendships that carried with them the uncertainty of not knowing if a parting would be followed by a separation of a day, a week, or a lifetime. Reunions on the Camino were often unexpected and flowing with simple joy. This was the kind of delight that is more typical of a child’s excitement upon seeing a beloved but long absent grandparent. For an adult, such warmth without reservation was a rare gift.

Is it any wonder that my hesitation may be misunderstood when I am asked, “So, how was the Camino?” What can I possibly say that offers justice to the question, let alone the experience?

I carried my backpack over 800 km on the Camino. Difficult at first, but it soon became second nature. I have wondered what I might carry with me from the Camino into everyday life. During an evening prayer service in Rabanal, a monk urged us to be mindful that Christ walked the Camino disguised as a pilgrim, careful not to reveal his identity. Perhaps a metaphor, but the message worked on me. As I encountered pilgrims, I found myself thinking, “What if she…, or he…?” I became a bit more sincere, a little kinder, less inclined to judge, and more patient. Perhaps that is the best thing for me to carry forth from the Camino, that the Spirit lives within each of us, and that I must act accordingly.

There is more from the Camino that deserves to be preserved in my life: The childlike wonder that we are born with was stirred anew. It should not again be allowed to dim. Each day should be a search for a new joy, and when found it should be shared with others. There is within each of us the capacity to do our best, and in that to do good by others. Happiness has its source in these things, and when found gives the soul wings.

From “Peter Pan and Wendy”:

 (Wendy’s daughter Jane speaking to Wendy) “What do you see now?”

(Wendy) “I don’t think that I see anything tonight.”

“Yes you do, you see when you were a little girl.”

“That is a long time ago, sweetheart.. Ah me, how time flies!”

“Does it fly, the way you flew when you were a little girl?”

“… Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether I ever really did fly.”

“… Why can’t you fly now, mother?”

“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”

May I never forget… “The Way”.
Love to all of you. Have Fun, Do Good, and Be Safe. Buen Camino!
Peter Schloss.

Dedication: To you who I name, and to those who I forget to name, the Camino wove you into the fabric of my life. Do not underestimate your contribution or my gratitude: Kris, Maggie, Bernard, Roberto, John, Lene, Jacobien, Henk, Christine, Gabi, Sabine, Gerri, Paul, Martin, Heika, Ed, Sam, Brent, Michael, Tony, Geraldine, Jenni, Jack, David, Carole, Ramona, Kalina, Regina, Alan, Deb, Dick, Bonnie, John, Patricia, Philip, Alex, Vickie, Kate, Patrick, Karin, Sven, Claudia, Jay, Mark, Chance, Olivia, Stephanie, Marcia, Tess, Lisa, Rose, Mike, Angie, Marianne, Gurtz, Javier, Jessica, Marign, Yosmar, Una, Eric, Andre, Raphael, Begonia, Neus, a Monk, a barber in Vega de Valcarce, a Pilgrim from the 11th Century, and of course my very good wife, Christine.

Some of you I have named will read this, but for others this dedication will be a message in a bottle. If you can pass it on to another who might not otherwise receive it, then the bottle will have reached that shore.

Finally, a special thanks to Albert Hickson. In the earliest days of publishing these posts to my website, Albert began sending me near daily comments, suggestions, and corrections. His contributions were voluntary and unsolicited. Albert is 73, retired, and he has walked the Camino more than once. He and his wife of 43 years, Viv, live near London, England. We had never previously known of or communicated with each other.

Pete

 

May 28-31, 2013. Barcelona.

When did our Camino begin? Was it in 2011 as we exited a movie theater, inspired by the characters in “The Way”? Perhaps the beginning evolved during our discussions over the following year. More concrete: Maybe it was when we began buying our packs, hiking boots, and of course our “sporks”.

When we made airline reservations, was that the start? Or was it at Mass in Kansas City on April 5, 2013 when Father Bill and the congregation of St. Francis Xavier Church bid us farewell and the priest entered the first “sello” in our pilgrim credencials.

Any of these may have been the start of the emotional Camino. I believe that the physical Camino began when we landed in Barcelona, Spain on April 8, 2013.

When did our Camino end? Emotionally, as these hundreds of pages attest, it hasn’t. It could be said that our physical Camino ended with our arrival in Santiago on May 22nd.  However, part of the experience of our Camino was embracing the broader magic of Spain.  That alchemy continued with our return to Barcelona.

May 28th.

 A pre-dawn taxi transported us to Santiago’s international airport. We were checked in and at the gate by 7 a.m..

The two-hour flight made a mockery of the 6 weeks that it took us to transit that distance by foot. Once on the ground we returned to Ana’s hospitality and the comforts of her centrally located Guesthouse. Kris Ashton also secured a room at Ana’s for the day preceding her return to the States.

Our belongings stowed in our rooms, the three of us proceeded the few blocks on foot to the Sagrada Familia. We had learned from our experience in April that reservations to tour the Basilica were prudent and depending upon the day, necessary. It was a Tuesday, yet the park in front of the church was active with tourists, vendors, and entertainers.

A quick walk around the Sagrada Familia disclosed progress in the construction accomplished over the 6 weeks since we first gazed upon its exterior.

The organic stonework of the Nativity Façade on one side of the Basilica and the linear sculptures on Passion Façade still amazed us with their stark contrast.

The first view of the interior was breathtaking.

These images only hint at majesty of the colorful stone columns that transform into an overhead canopy. It is like an otherworldly forest, everything drawing the eye up in wonder.

We had purchased tickets to climb and tour one of the towers. While somewhat physically challenging, Christine also had to suppress her discomfort with heights in order to enjoy the experience.

It was obvious that we were touring an active construction site.

Beneath the Church were the studios of the architects who work with computers and models to execute the transition from inspiration into reality.

There was also homage paid to the genius of Antoni Gaudi. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries Gaudi did not have the benefit of computers to aid him in creating designs that were founded on his favored elements of circles, ovoids, and parabolas. Instead, he tied strings, weighted with small bags of sand, to give vision to his thoughts. Gravity created the non-linear flows which were reflected in a large mirror underneath the “string-cathedral”. It was from this that Gaudi was able to test and draft his concepts.

I could write an entire post (or two) about the Sagrada Familia. In fact, I did during our 2018 visit to Barcelona which was part of our walk on the Portuguese Camino. Rather than recount the narratives and those many images, here are links to those posts and pictures from 2018:

The Sagrada Familia Basilica | Peter M. Schloss, J.D. (mediationkc.com)
The Sagrada Familia. A Supplement. | Peter M. Schloss, J.D. (mediationkc.com)

That evening we joined Brent, his wife Marilynn, and some of their Barcelona friends for dinner. It was a wonderful sharing with a true “Camino brother”. Sadly, Marilynn passed away on New Year’s Eve 2019. May she rest in peace. Before her passing they had returned to the States from the home they made in Barcelona. Brent now lives in “God’s Country”, otherwise known as Idaho.

May 29th.

Christine and I resumed our embrace of Barcelona with a fond reunion.

In the 1990’s we had been volunteer representatives for AFS, the foreign exchange student organization. One of the young adults who we had the honor of knowing was Neus Santacana from Barcelona. Over the years we kept in touch with Neus. She joined us for the day and evening as we toured “her city”.

May 30th.

When we flew back into Barcelona from Santiago we saw mountains near the city that seemed to rise from the surrounding land like shark’s teeth. From the tiny windows of our plane I could also make out buildings that appeared to be built into the cliffs. Upon inquiry we learned that this was the Montserrat (“serrated mountain”) Range, rising over 4,000 feet above sea level.

The buildings were the Santa Maria de Montserrat Benedictine Abbey.

An easily navigated train ride took us 30 miles to the cable car station.

We boarded the 83-year-old conveyance for the dizzying ascent of nearly 4,000 feet to the Monastery.

Founded in the 11th Century, and rebuilt in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Monastery is world renowned. It is home to over 70 monks, and can now be reached by road, train, or cable car.

There is also a cog railway that took us farther up the mountain to the remains of the ancient Chapel of Sant Joan and ruins of hermitages, some believed to have been inhabited by Sant Joan (John) and Sant Onofre.

The precarious stairs and passages were once the only access to these remote habitations.

Hermits are believed to have lived in these mountains as early as the 6th Century. Chapels were known to have been established by the 9th Century, and more formal monastic communities not long after. Monks were held to extremely strict vows beyond those of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Among those requirements were total detachment from the outside world, complete abstinence from meat, arduous regimens of fasting, self-flagellation, and denial of virtually all worldly comforts.

In addition to the grounds, panoramic views, and history, highlights of a visit included witnessing a performance by the Escolania de Montserrat boys’ liturgical choir and seeing the 12th Century La Moreneta sculpture also known as the Virgin of Montserrat.

The choir is a 700-year-old institution consisting of boys who are educated and boarded at the Monastery. These 50+ boys are between the ages of nine and fourteen and perform each Monday thru Saturday at 1 p.m.. On Sundays and Holidays they perform at noon and again at 6:45 p.m..

By some accounts, the 38-inch Virgin of Montserrat dates to early Christianity. Alleged to have been carved in Jerusalem, legend holds that it was discovered in one of the nearby mountain caves where it had been hidden from marauding Saracens.

More likely it dates to the 12th Century. For hundreds of years the statue has been venerated by commoners, royalty, popes and saints. On March 25, 1522, St. Ignatius Loyola laid down his weapons and armor before the statue, thus beginning a period of asceticism before later founding the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).

We returned by train to Barcelona for dinner, packing, and a night spent in sleepless contemplation of tomorrow’s departure for home.

May 31st.

Our packs were secured in duffle bags for the flight home.

Rare for us, we were traveling first class. This was largely due to an accumulation of frequent flyer miles. The perks included access to the private lounge area, stocked with alcohol and snacks at no additional charge.

Thankfully, we were isolated from the airport crowd until it neared time to board our plane.

The real advantages of first-class seating came in the form of large comfortable seats that fully reclined into sleeping position, and of course liberal servings of adult beverages.

We resisted casting aside our pilgrim identities. Onboard the plane we each continued to wear our shells, and I my beret.

Heading into the clouds with the last views of Barcelona below us, I was well into my second glass of white. I gazed out the window and reflexively pulled out my tiny iPod-Touch. One finger-stroke at a time I began to type, “Tir na nÓg”, “The Land of Eternal Youth”…
Peace Everyone, and Buen Camino. Pete
Next: Epilogue, The Final Chapter

 

May 24-27, 2013. Muxia, Finisterre and Return to Santiago.

I had been told,There will come a moment when you realize you are no longer a pilgrim on the Camino.” That moment came on the morning of May 24th when we boarded a bus bound for Muxia. On May 25th we continued on to Finisterre by Taxi. On May 26th we returned to Santiago.

“…you are no longer a pilgrim…” That is not entirely correct. Within each of us there had been change. We would return to the United States retaining the experience of Pilgrimage, and with that experience came a different view of ourselves and the world around us. Once begun, that pilgrimage is lifelong.

May 26th, Return to Santiago.

We were up early, but not as early as these two who were already surveying the neighborhood for an early meal.

Another well-appointed bus provided our return to Santiago. The tinted windows gave a blue-green cast to the view, saving the eyes but converting the vivid seaside colors to a single hue.

Back in Santiago we visited the Cathedral Museum.

The Museum contains an extensive collection of sculpture, paintings, tapestries, and ecclesiastical robes. My images only hint at the wonders.

Its library includes incredibly rare documents, including the 12th Century Codex Calixtinus, the first “guide” to the Camino.

Time for a more comprehensive tour of the Cathedral and grounds was available to us.

We had passed the 16th Century interior Porta Santa or do Perdon (Holy Door or Door of Forgiveness) upon our arrival in the City, but a longer look was in order. The passageway is only open during Jubilee Years, years in which the feast day of St. James (July 25th) falls on a Sunday.

In the cloister were three bells. Cast in the early 1700’s, these Cathedral bells cracked from use and were replaced by copies cast in the 20th Century.

 The oldest existing parts of the Cathedral date to the 11th Century.

A literal and figurative “highlight’ of the day was a visit to the roof of the Cathedral.

Christine, who is not fond of heights, drew on reserves of courage to negotiate the unnatural surface. Her concern of a tumble to the edge and below were not entirely unfounded.

The views of the Cathedral’s towers, and even statuary from behind were very special, as were the views of the old city from above.

We had a clear view of Hospederia San Martin Pinario, where we were again staying.

From the roof we could peer into small windows and gaze upon the interior of the Cathedral from above. Here is a rare view of the statuary above the main altar.

We also gained access to the passages within the Cathedral, near the top of its barrel-vaulted ceiling.

This was a working space, not prepared for typical tourist eyes. Pieces of granite, fallen from the interior and exterior were carefully arranged on shelves. Perhaps they awaited some future restoration.

Huge figures were stored here as well, Gigantes y Cabezudos (Processional “Giants and Big Heads”). Giant wood and paper mâché figures, when mounted by a harness on the shoulders of a person, dance and gyrate in a festival or parade.

The tradition, found in Spain, Portugal, France, and Belgium, dates to at least the 13th Century. In Santiago these figures are featured during parades celebrating the feast day of St. James.

May 27th

Our wanderings continued on May 27th and took in the prison-like Monasterio de Benedictinas San Pelayo de Antealtares. This imposing structure is located across from the Cathedral at the Praza Quintana.

Founded in the 11th Century as a Benedictine monastery, it became a cloister for nuns in 1499. The current structure dates mostly to the 16th and 17th Centuries. The exterior barred windows speak to the seriousness of “cloister” in ages gone by.

Within the building’s chapel were more reminders of the lengths to which separation of the sisters from worldly temptations was maintained.

We were told that this huge building, once teeming with religious, now has fewer than 50 in residence. Is also houses a small museum of sacred objects.

Tourist fatigue had set in for me. There were only a few pictures to preserve the day, including this one of Peregrinos celebrating their arrival.

Santiago had become a vacant, almost sad place for us. Gone were the familiar faces from 6 weeks walking the Camino. We knew inside that it was time to go home.

After the Cathedral had closed to visitors, we joined a group of 11 other pilgrims and a staff priest from the Cathedral for a private 9 p.m. prayer service in one of the side chapels. The Cathedral, dark and tomblike, resonated with echoes of our footsteps, there being no other masking sounds. There are no pictures for me to share of our small gathering. The members of our small group hailed from many countries. The priest asked for a volunteer to read a few short passages from the Bible. I offered and was handed the volume and proceeded to speak, pausing for the translations some required. It was a poignant “bookend” to my reading 6 weeks (and a lifetime) earlier at Mass in Roncesvalles.

After the reading we paused for a silent reflection. The priest then asked each of us, “What has the Camino Pilgrimage meant to you?” The few words that I shared that night with the priest, my wife, and 11 other Peregrinos have grown. Hiking across Spain! What started as an event on a “bucket list” turned into 51 “chapters”, 1,200 images, a telling that has taken more than 5 months, and the experience of a lifetime!
Peace Everyone, and Buen Camino. Pete
PS. Next: Return to Barcelona and Home.

 

           

May 24-27, 2013. Muxia, Finisterre, and return to Santago.

I had been told,There will come a moment when you realize you are no longer a pilgrim on the Camino.” That moment came on the morning of May 24th when we boarded a bus bound for Muxia. On May 25th we continued on to Finisterre by Taxi.

“…you are no longer a pilgrim…” That is not entirely correct. Within each of us there had been change. We would return to the United States retaining the experience of Pilgrimage, and with that experience came a different view of ourselves and the world around us. Once begun, that pilgrimage is lifelong.

May 25th, Finisterre.

 Finisterre (pop. 4,700) is located 90km west of Santiago on that portion of the Atlantic Coast known infamously as the “Costa da Morte” (Coast of Death) due to the many shipwrecks that have occurred over the centuries on its rocky shores.

Like Muxia, Finisterre is a seaside fishing village. Although its population is slightly less than Muxia’s, Finisterre presents more of a commercial and tourist vibe.

Fishing remains prominent in the economy, with boats that are designed for work and not pleasure seen throughout its protected harbor waters.

The history of this peninsula’s roots is ancient and runs deep. At the top of Monte Facho (elev. 781), site of the ruins of San Guillermo’s 11th Century hermitage, and just above the famous Cape Finisterre Light House, are places of pre-Christian Celtic worship. (The following two images are from the Finisterre tourist website)

Massive stones are believed to have been altars used in various rites, including fertility and sun worship. One such stone was mentioned in 1580 by the Polish adventurer, Erich Lassota of Steblovo. “These stones… that could not be dragged by several yokes of oxen, can be easily moved (rocked from side to side) with one finger, and I did this myself.” (These two images are from Google Earth)

It was long believed that Finisterre (“end of the Earth”) was the westernmost point of Europe. In actuality, a peninsula in the Municipality of Muxia is farther west, and Cabo da Roca, located in Portugal, is continental Europe’s most western point, nearly 11 miles beyond Finisterre.

The 1853 Finisterre Lighthouse stands 56 feet tall, already elevated hundreds of feet on clifftops above the sea. It casts a beam of light that can be seen by vessels over 25 miles offshore.

It is also here, just beyond a granite cross and the Pilgrim’s Monument, that many consider the historic Camino de Santiago truly completed.

In town we secured lodging for the night at the 100-year-old, two-star Hostal Mariquito. Our room, one of 16, was clean, comfortable, and a bargain at less than 50€. Late that evening we joined other guests in the bar for drinks, sharing their enthusiasm over a televised soccer match. The hotel underwent extensive renovations in 2020.

Near the town boat docks stands a monument dedicated to those who trace their roots to Galicia, “Our Galician love, scattered around the World”.

While strolling along the piers we encountered a familiar face from the Camino. After a brief visit he invited us to join him and friends for a special seafood dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant.

Seated, the wine began to flow.

Fishermen, still dressed in their work slicks, walked in carrying buckets of fish and shellfish. These they handed to women at a counter who commenced to expertly gut and clean the catch, some fish still showing movement! The spectacle took place mere feet from our table.

Before long a beautifully presented feast of the sea’s bounty was placed before us at table center.

Manners quickly became irrelevant to this meal. We all dug in and devoured, much as locals have done for centuries. Fantastic!

Most of us were unfamiliar with one species in the pile. A knowledgeable German pilgrim proceeded to provide lessons on the proper way to eat a barnacle. They had an armor-like shell. One had to carefully break them open to avoid a high-pressure squirt of saltwater in the eye. The effort was rewarded with a morsel of tasty, crab-like, meat.

As the sun fell, we were once again grateful for a day graced with friendships and good fortune.

Tomorrow we “tourists” return to Santiago de Compostela.
Peace Everyone, and Buen Camino. Pete

 

 

May 24-27, 2013. Muxia, Finisterre, and return to Santiago.

I had been warned. I don’t remember when, I don’t remember by whom, but I had been warned. There will come a moment when you realize you are no longer a pilgrim on the Camino.” That moment came on the morning of May 24th. Had we the time and inclination to continue our journey to Muxia and Finisterre on foot, we would have remained Peregrinos. Had we retained an intention to walk further Camino miles, we would have remained Peregrinos. We had neither the time nor the inclination for either. On the morning of May 24th we boarded a bus bound for Muxia. We were no longer “pilgrims”.

That is not entirely correct. Within each of us there had been change. We would return to the United States retaining the experience of Pilgrimage, and with that experience came a different view of ourselves and the world around us. Once begun, that pilgrimage is lifelong.

May 24th, Muxia.

 Muxia (pop. 5,200) is located 70km west of Santiago on the Atlantic Coast. For less than 10€ each we enjoyed a pleasant one-hour bus ride through the scenic countryside. For Peregrinos it would have taken 3-4 days. However, we were now tourists.

Part of the “Costa da Morte” (Coast of Death), this area was infamous for the many shipwrecks occasioned on its rocky shores.

Muxia is a quiet seaside village that in modern times still clings to its fishing roots.

From town we ascended the 230 foot high Monte do Corpino that provided a panoramic view of the village and coast. 

Legend holds that it was here, near the site of the 17th Century Santuario (“Church”) da Virxe da Barca, originally the place of a pre-Christian Celtic shrine, that St. James grew despondent over his failed attempts to convert the local inhabitants to Christianity. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him and offered encouragement for him to continue.

The church was closed, however an open window in the door provided me with the opportunity for these pictures. On December 25, 2013 the church interior was destroyed by fire started from a lightning strike.

This internet image reveals the extent of damage. The church was restored in 2015.

The 35 foot tall, 400 ton sculpture known as A Ferida (“The Wound”) was erected in memory of the disastrous 2002 Prestige Tanker oil spill which devastated the coasts of Spain and Portugal. The near derelict vessel sank offshore during a storm, releasing over 17 million gallons of heavy crude, an amount greater than was discharged in the Exxon Valdez catastrophe. A Ferida represents the environmental injury suffered from that tragedy.

Here also is one of the rare “Pedras de abalar” (oscillating stones) once used to determine the guilt or innocence of the criminally accused. Over time, the bases of these huge rocks have been naturally eroded, leaving a balance point beneath them. The crash of a wave, or even a strong wind may cause them to rock from one side to the other.

We stayed in the 8 room A de Lolo Hotel, which was clean, pleasant, and featured an excellent restaurant.

Good fortune provided us with late afternoon entertainment in the form of a colorful display of traditional music and dance.

While Finisterre is historically considered the “End of the Earth”, it is Cabo Tourinan in the Municipality of Muxia that extends farther west into the Atlantic. As the sun set we considered that only water separated us from home in North America.

Tomorrow we “tourists” would proceed to Finisterre.
Peace Everyone, and Buen Camino. Pete