Archive for December, 2010


7. Buen Camino: 00.00 km

   Posted by: aman    in Other

E had told me if I have a day I should go to Cape Finisterre. I was to leave the next afternoon for Frankfurt, so I had a whole day. I decided to visit the place which, before America was discovered, the medieval world considered the end of the world and associated with Celtic rituals in pre-Christian times. E had told me that is where pilgrims burnt their shoes. I had only one pair, but I decided to go see. The problem was the previous day I had twisted my ankle.

So I go to the bus station where no one speaks English. I buy a ticket I can’t read. I wait for a bus which I can’t identify. Yet, the bus comes, I hop in and we start. The view starts changing. Hills roll out, the Atlantic begins showing itself. The trees become orange-red. My eyes were stuck to the bus window as the bus moved closer to a full view of the immense Atlantic. We reached Finisterre and I started on my walk to the lighthouse. I hobbled rather, I was in pain from my ankle. As the water shone in the setting sun, as the sheer brilliance of nature overwhelmed me I was singing Kumar Gandharv’s: ‘Udd jayega hans akela, jag darshan ka mela.’ (The swan shall fly alone, this world is a festival of sights.)

At the Cape before the magnificent lighthouse, just after the Cross, I saw the milestone that said: Santiago 00.00 kms. This is where my journey ended, or began. I have no words to describe the view except to say that I got a sense that how, before organized religion started its influence on the world, humans here might have felt this was the beginning or the end of the world, of life on this planet. I kind of knew why I did the journey. For this, for this! To be here! Traditionally pilgrims burn their clothes and shows at this shrine. I had already divested myself of excess baggage, I removed my shoes and touched the water. They waters were cold, but they gave me warmth.

As I waited for the bus, Sam tapped me on my shoulder. ‘I am from Sweden. You?’

‘India. What brings you here?’

‘I am going blind.’ I stayed quiet. ‘I was a coach driver, drove for 35 years across Europe. Then last year I was laid off.’

‘Because of recession?’

‘No. because doctors detected Glaucoma. I am blind in the left eye by 90% and in the right by 60%. I take 10 drops and 5 pills each day.’

‘Then here?’

‘I wanted to do Santiago before I go completely blind. I started from my home, my doorstep. I am going to Portugal.’


‘Yes, three months. Across the Alps. 2400 kms.’

I had nothing to say. The bus came, I patted his back. We came back in silence. On different seats of the bus. That is a Camino, I thought to myself while my foot throbbed. What have I done?

The flight from Santiago to Barcelona to Frankfurt was delayed by three hours. I missed my train to Cologne. Then I discovered my baggage hadn’t arrived. When I finished filing my complaint with Lufthansa it was 11 PM. Though I had no place to go to, and it was night, and I had no friends in town, and I was hungry and tired, the only thing that I was concerned about was Edith’s bag and the Compostella certificate. Less the certificate, more the bag. Else, I had been here many times this week. I knew nothing, but I felt safe.

I came out and started chatting in Punjabi with some brown skin taxi drivers. It took us 5 minutes and a cigarette to discover that they and I, if in soldierly uniform, were supposed to be enemies, from across the border: Pakistani and Indian. But here we were human, just like each other. We talked politics, we talked floods in Pakistan.

A Turkish taxi driver joined us with a bottle of Raki. At oo.30 AM I told them I had no place to go to for the night. It was much colder here than in Spain. They took me to Hotel Ramada where I slept in a suite with 8 pillows in Euro 50.

Luxury! One week from my life. Luxury!

Thank you Santiago! You showed me something in my own heart – faith!

I had not known why my heart had desired to walk. I could give myself no logical reasons. Yet, I had walked and in the walking I had found my reasons to walk. Follow your heart and keep your faith, even in adverse times. Who knows you may find yourself blessed. :)

For Finisterre pics see …



6. Buen Camino: Santiago

   Posted by: aman    in Other

D taught me how to roll and smoke cigarettes. This was the day we would reach Santiago. The walk seemed a little tame. I felt I was just getting warmed up and the walk would end. Then I spotted a big blue dustbin on the side of the path with a yellow arrow on it. The arrow pointed the way. If the dustbin were turned, the arrow would have pointed the other way and would have faced the trees. That was wrong. If the dustbin were placed with its opening on the ground, the arrow would again be in the opposite direction. I mock asked myself: was this my Nirvana moment? Was I learning a lesson from a mere dustbin? But, it did teach me, that to point the way, one needs to be in the right position.

Since were walking through open fields, we had the company of cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, ducks. P came up to us as we gathered for a juice at a cafe. She said, ‘The cows look so happy. Happy Cows!’ Now was this another epiphany? I stopped musing and we took some cow pictures. We walked on. I was surprised that the milestones had vanished. Earlier every half kilometre was marked, now nothing. I lost a sense of how much I had walked, after all the walking today was a mere 16 kms. Yet, it seemed unending.

It became 2 in the noon and we reached a monument. Two curved embracing half S shapes with a tall stand behind them for pilgrims to hang their water bottles. Okay, so that meant we were almost, casi, there. I turned and took the road again, the town spread out below the hill.

Red roofed Santiago. I could not see the spires of the church. After the Gothic churches of Barcelona, I did expect a big Cathedral. Then I thought it might be just hidden from view. Enough had happened on the journey for me to believe in miracles. I even thought maybe the more than a 1000 year old St James Church is small, very small. After all God lives in the heart, the walking had reinstated my faith. As I walked, calculating time I had walked with expected kilometres, adjusting for fatigue and slowness, I reached the outer edge of the town and was completely disheartened. Not here, not again! So many Information Technology companies that increased the walk into town by more than seven kms. That is why the milestones were missing on the last leg. Where is the Cathedral? The material world has come in between the pilgrim and his Mecca.

Walk. walk. Walk a little more. Walk some more. I reach the edge of old town Santiago. That is when the atmosphere changed. It goes back in time, towards a medieval world. Narrow winding streets and even the air. The light changed from white to glowing. I saw the twin spires come up as I turned into Ruis Das Casas Reais. I approached the Cathedral through a path next to which stood a man in kilt playing Scottish tunes on his saxophone. I turned left and was in the presence of the Cathedral Santiago de Compostella. My eyes couldn’t see its top, I backed away, and some more. European people are taller, but by the edge of the courtyard I got a full view of the Church. Wow!

I registered for the Compostella certificate and asked, ‘How many Indians so far?’

The lady at the desk tells me, ‘None from India. Over a hundred thousand people came here this year. No one gave their address as a place in India. Over all seventeen Indians, but from the US or Australia or Europe. Come again!’

I said, ‘I will. and this time the 750 km, 31 day walk.’

I forgot to ask for a statue for myself. The certificate was my statue. That I was here, that my body was exhausted but had held up, that my spirit had soared, was enough for me. Next day at Mass I remembered the last Church I had visited over ten years ago in Vijaywada. I met N, who said she had had wine. I met many fellow walkers. I did not see Jo. Outside, in a souvenir shop I met Michael. He held a toy duck in hand for his child. He smiled ear to ear. I thanked him for showing me the path – for being my Archangel. The Museum behind the Cathedral maps all the pilgrim walks all over the world. It had all that I know from India. The upper stories depict the story of the iconography of St James. Thank you Sir! You walked a long time back what I walked now. But, you created the path. I only followed your St. James Way.

The next day was a strike. As forbidding as it is in India. The TV screens showed fires and violence. The world was in strife, will remain so perhaps, but one can do one’s job and have a peaceful meal. Someone would open a shutter and smile at you. This time it was a Russian matron. P and D had to reach Madrid for a connecting flight. Nothing was moving, but again, in pure faith, and on moving, we found a car service. I hosted dinner that night for us. The bottle of beer had the image a pilgrim with the walking stick. The bottle said: Estrella Galicia Xacobeo. Roughly translated it means: The Jacobean Star of Galicia.

My Camino was not yet over.



5. Buen Camino: Robin

   Posted by: aman    in Other

P told me how after her husband had passed away, for many days, a Robin appeared in her room. It kept coming back, especially when she was struggling with some hindrance in daily living. I asked if it had showed up here, on the walk, around 2000 kms from Milan. She said yes, each day on her walk she had sighted a Robin. Faith, and its physical manifestation.

We walked on, like the Magi Eliot writes about:

the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.
A hard time we had of it …

The villages were not hostile or unfriendly. Eliot is a poet, he writes with intensity. I was just witnessing closure from villagers when they had nothing to offer. D was a riot. Happy, confused, asserting to herself it was ‘my Camino’. We didn’t talk too much, we walked alone, each of us, and together. I found myself receiving chocolate bars. Dark chocolate is sheer energy. We crossed Jo and she said, ‘You need not walk alone. You can also walk for others.’

After that, for a few steps, or for half a kilometre or more, I recounted someone or the other who had crossed my life in the past and I walked along with them. In my head we talked, we went over the happy and sad times we had both encountered together and separately.

I remembered when I had held a hand, when I had left it. I recounted the reasons I had left the hands I had once held. Again and again, the reason came back to ‘faith’ that I or he/she had lacked. A mismatch in faith.

Faith. That is what you need when you have already walked 15 or so kilometres, it is 2 in the afternoon and the signposts to the restaurant in Salceda you have been looking at for the last two or more kilometres leads you to a garden in an opening between trees, with wood benches and a font of water but the doors turn out to be closed. Your stomach does not allow you to take another step. But you sit down, rub your legs, drink some water, and get up and walk again … Chocolate helps as does the knowledge that today the walk is not as long as the previous day.

You get food but for that you take a detour but now you are looking at Arca do Pino. As you reach there you find a Santiago Information Centre. It took me all these days to find it! I wanted one in Sarria. But if I could reach until here without one, I wonder why has this appeared now? They tell us Pino is full.

‘Thank you, f*** you!’ I didn’t say anything. My calves were lead, my feet immobile, my back ached from the weight of my clothes. I had been discarding shirts the past few nights, but they were still too many. I had packed too much.

The lady says, ‘A few kilometres ahead, you will find Pedrouzo.’

I was tired and also getting angry. ‘Promise? If we do not find shelter there, we are coming back right here and sleeping in the office.’ I know I can’t. I can’t walk back that much. The nights are chilly, one has to have a shelter. ‘Take right from next T point.’ No more conversation. No promises made.

We walked, we had no choice. We reached a long unending road through fields and found more people standing. All confused. No one knew where we might find shelter. A woman was coming back from the road ahead. ‘No room. I went a couple of kms, I did not find anything.’ Another man is coming back. ‘No room there. We have to find something in the village Pino we left behind.’

Now it was a choice, a real choice. Pino was behind, we knew it was full. The woman at the Information Centre had not promised anything but said there is something ahead. P was tired. D was weary but smiling. I knew I did not want to go back but had no strength to go ahead. E’s admonition came to mind. ‘Walk! Don’t stop’. We started walking and reached another road cutting in perpendicular the one we were walking on.

Crossroads. Now what? Only one direction could maybe take us home, other three were misleading. We did not have enough strength left in our legs to spread out and converge again. We had done as much walking today as we did in the last few days. The detour for food and moving away from Pino. Must be another 31 kms. We knew the road that crosses ours is the highway to Santiago. Cars whizzed past. They will cover the next 20 kms in 15 mins. We had a night to consider. we could not spend it in a jungle. It was 5 PM. Soon it would be dark. We were alone, the group we met did not restart with us. Others went back to a full village. Now what?

A Robin lands near us. It flies away. P smiles, D and I smile.

We take the path to the left. We can’t see very far on it because the road curves towards us. We step in faith. It was all real, the roads, the shelters, the people, but we were ignorant, we didn’t know what to do and so we stepped in faith.

Lo and behold! We are at Pedrouzo.

I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

I should be glad of another death.



4. Buen Camino: Casa

   Posted by: aman    in Other

Since I had lodged at an Albergue before town, the walk to Ribadiso was longer than the scheduled 25 kms. I had also started late, so by around 5 kms or so I realised that I had not covered much of the distance for the day. I sat down for a cigarette break. Along came N, she did not stop, but waved to me and said, ‘When I reach, I will pop a bottle of champagne.’ That cheered me up and I followed.

Yet, the distance was long, very long. It was almost 11 AM and I had just done one-third of it. I reached Leboreiro and had a brunch of Jamon Ham sandwich and salad, it was my standard fare with hope that the meat would support my pig headedness. Why did I choose to walk? What was the point? I realised my mind was playing games with me. I was onto meta questions about the activity and existence, instead of looking for simple food and counting my steps. This is how it happens, I realised. This is how doubts creep in when the going gets tough. I started the march I had learnt as an adolescent boy in a military school: Left, Right, Left, __. When that took me up to Melide, I looked up and saw an Italian Mother-Daughter who looked like sisters. We smiled at each other, introduced ourselves. The Mother, P, did not know any English and I did not know any Italian. D, the daughter, worked overtime. I was just grateful that I had found someone who was at around the same leg as me.

But I crossed them and weary that I was, I started soaking in the scenery. The lush forests, the green trees, the winding path, the hills and farms spreading out on the side, the brooks I crossed and realised I had shifted to giving myself the count from my own religio-cultural upbringing: Eik Onkar Sat Naam (God is one, truth). It was fuller than the blank I was leaving earlier. It made me feel steadier in my tired steps. A jap can take one places. It became 5 PM when I saw the next ‘Casi’. I stopped at an inn and asked for a room. It was going for Euro 40 for a three-seater. But I was single. Then P and D came over and I asked them if they were interested.

They told me we were still 2 kms from Ribadiso and suggested we walk more to save ourselves the longer walk the next day. We walked in silence. D started telling me about her boyfriend who did music and how they were both interested in India. We stopped for a coffee and when we reached Ribadiso we learnt that no rooms were available. The matron said, ‘Another three kms and you may find something in Arzua.

I buckled and asked P her age. She was more than 15 years older than me and I considered how I had abused my body all these years: loneliness, sadness, drinks, cigarettes. How weak my body was, how steep the walk was. It had to be bloody uphill. The mind, the mind, how it evokes your Achilles Heel when you want to find strength. We reached a pension which was up for Euro 65 for a three-seater. We walked on. Now, we finally reached an Albergue. We didn’t even see how the interior looked like. But when we entered, it was divine. The washroom so clean and the shower and lights did not turn off automatically.

That night my body was exhausted. 31 kms in a day. But now I was 3 or 4 kms ahead of my scheduled stop. Santiago was closer. This is not a race! We talked the little I know about fires: the one that burns us down and the one that makes us leap in faith. I told the story of Shiva playing the dumroo and Parvati burning her palace because she doubted the sound to be one of imminent disaster.

My mind had repeatedly evoked possible failure, my faith had taken me to a warm bed and hot food. At home, Casa.



3. Buen Camino: Casi!

   Posted by: aman    in Other

I walk. I Walk maybe 8 kms and meet Joy, 71 years old, from Scotland. Frail looking Joy, but with strong legs. ‘My husband passed away last year, he wanted to do this walk. I am also walking for him.’ We walked a kilometre or so and reached breakfast at an inn. Her friend, another senior lady, had blisters and was walking slowly.

I resumed my solitary walk; a young girl was walking ahead of me, singing. I followed her for two or more kms, listening to the song, walking to its pace. Then I crossed her, didn’t want to seem like a stalker. She turned to me and asked: how many days? I was a little not so confident because I had been there just a day. E said, it was her 27th day. ‘I got left behind, met a guy. Now plan to catch up with my mates.’

‘If this is your second day, then walk with me. We’ll talk.’ It was already the 15th or so kilometre. After that we walked another 12 kms. E, a born Jew from the US, who speaks seven European languages, told me about herself, she plans to go back to medical school: ‘Surgeons are also artists, they work with human bodies.’ We crossed a blackboard with Buen Camino greetings and E wrote her guy’s name on it and said: ‘Well, this may perhaps be gone by tomorrow.’ I took a picture of the board with the guy’s name on it in bold and recently sent it to her. ‘Second and third days are hardest. No sitting, no breaking for coffee. Just walk!’

We met Jo, sitting on a stone. She waved to me, talked to E. They knew each other – fellow road warriors. As we approach Palas De Reis she shows me written next a yellow arrow: Casi. ‘It means ‘almost’.’ Since the town was taken by pilgrims I took a bed in an Albergue before town. I washed and went in to town. She had left me there and gone in search of her friends. In the town square I heard someone call my name. It was E, she had met her friends. We popped a bottle of wine and sipped from it.

They all said: you might be the only Indian on this walk.

I said before I left for dinner: Then they should make a statue of me. Simple, easy, fresh laughter.

On a walk, you meet a soul, who helps you walk. You may never meet again, but you do 29 kms in a day and it is your journey. ‘Don’t sit, don’t stop!’ E removed her shoes, all her toes were bitten by blisters. She did not care. She walked, I walked, we all walked, and laughed.

Casi! Almost!

In case you missed the Santiago pictures see …

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