Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
San Francisco, California – March 28, 2014
Today is the big day. I leave for Lisbon from SFO (by way of London Heathrow) in just a few hours. I’ll arrive there about 4:00 pm tomorrow local time and then make my way to the small pension not far from the Cathedral from which I will begin my Camino three days later. (35 euros per night gets me my own room with a bathroom and shower! Does it get any better than that?)
And so it begins.
The question arises for all peregrinos, “When did you actually begin your Camino?” In my case, the practical answer is that I will begin the Camino when I get the first stamp in my Credencial del Peregrino (the pilgrim’s passport) at the Lisboa Cathedral Se and take the first step on the 613 kilometer Way to Santiago. [I am training myself to think in kilometers rather than miles.]
But as our daughter who has walked the Camino wisely observed, you begin your Camino when you form the intention to do so. That is when the spiritual journey begins.
Thus, my Camino begins Tuesday next, but also began about one year ago.
I had mulled the idea of walking the Camino ever since we met Elizabeth in Santiago at the conclusion of her Camino in 2010. We heard the many stories of her experiences. I was intrigued, but could not imagine breaking away from my duties as a member and president of the California Board of Pilot Commissioners to take a lengthy hike. But, on March 1, 2013 I was termed out and by statute could not be reappointed. That freed me to consider undertakings of greater duration than had been possible for the previous eight years. Shortly after that, I determined to walk the Camino.
Preparing for the Camino has been a journey in itself. Part physical, part intellectual, part practical.
I have done a fair amount of walking, with my pack and in proper hiking shoes. I have kept up my aerobics regimen. Not as much as I had intended, though.
I read a history of Portugal and surfed the web a lot. And I enrolled in a beginning Spanish class at San Francisco City College. I was not able to finish the semester, of course, the Camino holding sway. But the weeks I spent in that class will prove invaluable on my Camino. Muchas, muchas gracias, Profesora Babylon.
And I have collected all the stuff that I think I will need. A trip to REI is great fun!
The scallop shell – la concha – is the best known symbol of El Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James. The striations on the surface of the shell begin at various points on the periphery but converge at a single point – as do the several Camino ways. Some begin at multiple origins in Spain and Portugal. Others begin in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. But all the Caminos end in exactly the same place – the plaza before the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
There are other symbols of the Camino. The yellow arrow as a way marker along the chosen route. The Cross of Santiago which can be traced to the time of the Crusades. And thebotafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago. At a pilgrim mass held on Friday evenings at 7:30, the botafumeiro is swung across the transept, high above the congregants and dispenses incense that permeates the Cathedral. For the peregrinos who have just completed their Camino, the incense wafts around them, signifying an embrace, welcome, and blessings.
In 2011, Ginna and I traveled to France, Norway, and Russia. While taking a hike from Viriville in France (about half way between Lyon and Grenoble), I came upon the way marker below. Apparently the Camino in question led down the stone steps out of the picture to the left. The way marker instructs peregrinos to continue to the right up the country lane. At the crest of the hill is a church and an alberque.
I am encouraged to find that a Camino runs through that part of the world because certain old salts of my acquaintance, when engaged in ship handling training at a nearby lake, might consider jumping ship and setting out on a Camino of their own. From Viriville, it is only 1400 kilometers to Santiago. It can be walked in 291 hours. . . if you don’t stop.
So now, as I embark on a wholly new experience, I think about how best to relate to a new challenge, a physical, endurance challenge. This won’t be a sprint. I don’t do sprints. I don’t have the explosiveness to do sprints. This is an endurance challenge. And, I’m fine with that.
But, how to relate to the physical challenge? To the mental challenge? And the spiritual overlay?
Jim is with me. I recall his training me for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championships (PIRC) several years ago (a 2000 meter rowing time trial). On the last day of the training, three days before the event, I asked him, “when I am sitting on the erg, waiting for the starting horn, what should I be thinking about?”
“Gratitude,” he responded.
Yes. Gratitude. It worked for me at the PIRC. I didn’t bring home any metal, and didn’t expect to. What I did bring home was a new PR – a new personal record. And memories of the experience.
So now, as I ready my pack, and prepare to leave for SFO and the adventures that will follow, I think about gratitude. Gratitude that I am strong enough to undertake this journey. Gratitude for family and so many friends who have supported me in this quest. Gratitude to have the opportunity to walk the Camino.
With that, I’m off.