So, Scotland Really is Special…

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Okay, I’ll admit it. Cris and I came to Scotland because we didn’t check the whole Europe visa thing until after we bought our tickets. So, when we checked it out, the UK seemed like the most viable option for dealing with the fact that our flights out were about 10 days over the 90-day limit. Fine, we said, we’ll just spend some time getting to know the Scottish side of life. This seemed nice since my grandmother always claimed a direct link to the MacQuarrie clan. Plus, I own a modernized version of a kilt with the MacQuarrie tartan (see: sportkilt.com), so I’m totally Scottish.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that fired up about this part of the trip. I wasn’t going to be able to play golf, we didn’t have a reason to include Scotland other than bad planning, and it was going to be expensive. The good news, however, was that in the spirit of my brilliant wife, we didn’t plan it beyond a couple days. That gave us the flexibility to follow our urge, once we had arrived, to check out the Isles of Mull, Iona, and Ulva.

Several people had mentioned that the Isle of Iona was a special place, or as they say, a “thin” place – in the sense that there is a thin layer separating the material and the spiritual. As for the Isle of Ulva, it was the seat of the MacQuarrie clan. To get to either one you must first take the ferry to the Isle of Mull. So it seemed obvious that we’d go to Mull, spend a night there, and figure out later if we wanted to go to Iona or Ulva first.

In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, Iona did not disappoint. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the place. The best I can suggest is that you imagine watching the sun set over the sea on the western horizon at 9:30pm. Then, while the sun is still setting at 10:30pm, you turn for a moment to the eastern horizon and a bright full moon is rising above the sea on that side. The feeling is something like that. No pictures could really capture this, but here’s our best effort:

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The next day, we drove across to the other side of Mull to the “ferry” that takes you to Ulva. The ferry is just a guy with a little motor boat. He crosses the one-minute distance from Ulva to Mull to pick you up only when you move the white panel to expose the red panel, like so:

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Ulva was another place I’d like to visit again. It’s almost hard to imagine that a whole clan, among other kinds of tribes throughout history, inhabited this tiny island. I can, however, imagine camping here, which is more or less what entire communities did throughout the milennia. Again, it felt like a “thin” place, and I wish I had more time to explore the place that the Vikings who would become the MacQuarries called “Ullfur”, their word for Wolf Island.

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700 Kilometers and Counting

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I am now less than 100 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela, in the town of Portomarin, Galicia. Today I spent some time talking to an American who joined his girlfriend in Leon, about 320 kilometers from Santiago. Talking to him, I could tell that my experience of the Camino has evolved substantially over the course of the last 700 kilometers.

I am currently dealing with blisters on the bottoms of both feet and inflamed tendons in the lower part of my left leg. This is not new. In fact, this is the third or fourth round of these kinds of issues. At earlier stages of the Camino, these problems were a source of discouragement and suffering. In each case, the physical pain eventually went away. But then, a few days later, new problems would arise.

This time, however, there is a difference. While my physical pain is actually the same, if not greater, my reaction to it is different. In the early stages, when physical pain would present itself, I would experience the additional trauma of stress. I was worried about whether I would be able to continue to deal with this pain. And not knowing how long it would last costed me great amounts of emotional energy.

The way I react now is entirely less involved. I would not call it toughness. In fact, I don’t know what to call it other than a sort of lack of appreciation.

While the blisters and the tendons are there every time I take a step, reminding me that they are sore, I just don’t care as much. I don’t dwell on how long the pain will last or whether it will go away. I merely recognize that in the present moment, it’s not unbearable, and so I take another step.

Enough steps like that, and I finally reach a point where that voice in my head that tells me to worry or stress out about my discomfort goes quiet. And with that, the kilometers are not kilometers any more. They are just a series of steps, each of which may or may not be slightly annoyed by some physical ailment. In each case the physical pain is bearable. Whether or not that will be the case for the next step is irrelevant to the present step.

I’m not sure if I’ve conveyed the idea, but for now that’s the best I can explain it. I can attest that it is a liberating feeling.

Here are some pictures of Galicia, a very different part of Spain:

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Pace Yourself

If you’re paying attention, you have not heard from me in a while. After Cris got horribly ill, and then recovered, I caught the same bug. That put me out for a couple days. Then there was a series of events/delays that could fill several of these little posts. We are finally back to full health and back to taking one step after another, one little town after another. That brings me to today’s theme: pace yourself. Or rather, go your own pace.

Along the Camino, there are numerous messages left by pilgrims for other pilgrims, and a surprising number of them speak to you just when you need it. This was one that I passed yesterday:

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This is one of the things that the Camino teaches you: you must go your own pace. If you don’t, you get blisters, tendinitis, and sore all over. On top of that, you don’t get whatever it was you came here looking for.

Up until a couple days ago (in Leon, if you’re keeping track), Cris and I were trying very hard to do this Camino together. But that meant that I was going slower than my pace and she was pushing herself. And we both felt the pressure of having the other person to accomodate, even though neither of us was making any noise about it. Meanwhile, we were watching hundreds and then thousands of other pilgrims walk the Camino in each of their own unique ways. We had both developed an unexpressed frustration with the way it was going, and it became clear that we needed to shake it up.

Thus, after 26 days and about 480 kilometers of doing this together, Cris and I decided we would each just go our own speed. After all, the good speed is your speed. There is no exception.

About a week ago, a delightful Swedish man and I were having a drink after a long day, and he said, “the Camino is like a life in itself.” Well, that theme was rephrased today when I walked with a middle-aged woman for a few minutes. She had seen Cris and me together at a pior point and asked where Cris was. I explained our decision to go differents speeds, and maybe my voice betrayed some insecurity at the prospect of telling her that I had left my wife behind.

She immediately congratulated me. Then she said, “On the camino, you walk your speed, and other people go their speed, and yet you keep running into each other. It’s really wonderful how that works. And that’s how it has to be in a marriage too.” It turns out that she had suggested the Camino to her husband, who rejected it on the spot but encouraged her to do it alone. And now there she was perfectly happy to be walking across Spain having her own adventure.

Cris and I will have our own adventures for the final 300 kilometers, and it is clear that this is the way the Camino must be. My goal is to arrive by May 11. Cris will arrive on May 18. In the interim, I will take a side trip to see our German friends from an earlier stage on the Camino. When Cris arrives in Santiago, I will be there waiting for her with a bottle of the best local wine to congratulate her.

As I was walking alone today, it occurred to me that the lesson is quite clear. At some point you just have to forgive yourself for being yourself and get on with life. It’s that basic, and that’s one of the ways the Camino wraps an entire life into a 5- (or 6-) week journey.

And now, some pictures:

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Onward.

Change of plans…

Well, after just a couple days, our plans have been altered due to circumstances outside of our control. There is a strike of airport controllers in Europe. I don’t have a clear picture of the nature of the strike, but it is clear that air travel in Spain and France is seriously suspended. I figured this was fine as long as we were planning to walk for a couple months. However, based on the original plan, we were going to fly to Biarritz and then take a train to St. Jean Pied de Port.

We didn’t find out about the problem until we arrived at the CDG airport yesterday afternoon. The following six hours was a struggle to find out exactly how our plans would alter. After an interminal wait in a series of unnecessary lines, we were informed that (1) our flight was delayed by 2 days, (2) we would be staying in the airport Hilton, and (3) breakfast was included.

This presents a few concerns. First of all, we are not likely to start walking on April 5, as planned. Second, it means the wew will incur the additional cost of eating and transporting around Paris, which is ridiculously expensive. Other than that, however, it appears to be a blessing in disguise. Cris and a I are uncharacteristically tired, and we slept last night better than we had in as long as I can remember. We could use the time to break ourselves into the time difference and our hiking shoes, which left both of us with sore spots. Ultimately, despite an immense amount of frustration last night, this is precisely the kind of setback we had set out to find. We just didn’t think it would happen so soon! Ah well.

In other news, we had a perfectly relaxing day strolling through the famous areas of Paris yesterday. We dealt with a little bit of time-difference fatigue (and, I think, a substantial amount of life-change fatigue) by first drinking a ton of espresso, and then, after enough of that, by tasting the local ale. Pelforth gives French blonde ale a good name (much to my surprise).

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Of all the spots we walked through, I particularly enjoyed the neighborhood of Saint Germain. It’s not as crowded, but still has the comforting sense of history as the rest of Paris, (including, of course, plenty of friendly cafes). Here are some pictures.

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(For more photos, go to the photo page at the link above.)

Paris

Yesterday morning, we arrived in Paris with no clue about the location of our “hotel” beyond the general neighborhood, the name, and the fact that it was the cheapest thing we could find. So, we took a train into Paris from the airport and then took the most logical connecting metro line based on the advice of the lady at the information desk. We basically picked a random stop on the metro. It worked. We got off the metro, walked in a direction that seemed sensible, asked each little hotel we passed if they were our hotel and, if not, to please point us in the right direction. After receiving 5 or 6 different opinions on the location of our hotel and generally wandering for about 10 minutes, I looked up, and I was standing outside an unassuming door with a tiny sign with the name of our hotel. We checked in.

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You’d think we might have considered taking note of the address of our first night’s lodging. That’s just the kind of thing that seems completely unimportant when you are setting out on a 10-month journey. It’s a good reminder that every day is an important day on the sabwavique.

Here are some cool photos in Paris.

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