I was not a religious person before I started walking, and I haven’t found it here. But the older I get, the more spiritual I get, and spirituality to me is believing, sensing something that we can’t see, can’t explain. I have found this on the Camino.
Ever since I began in Le Puy, I’ve seen a power that ebbs and flows on this trail, building to great heights in Le Puy and Conques with many people beginning and ending, resting at lower levels in the smaller towns. You notice it more in key places, but it’s still there at all the other times. The Way has a life of it’s own, a power, an energy, like magic. I hope you don’t laugh as I say this, I wouldn’t have thought this something possible before I left, but every day you see it, an energy built up over a thousand years and made corporeal by the belief of hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, pouring their collective intentions, desires, hopes, needs, all their physical and mental outputs for purposes personal, religious, selfish and selfless.
You see the power in the crosses dotting the landscape that have intermittently existed for hundreds of years, bearing witness to pilgrims past, and in the churches that have sprung up throughout time. You see it in the people, in the random words of inspiration that protrude from the most unseeming nook possible, in the selflessness of their giving to each other. But you also see it in the people that still have greed and desires for excess in their hearts, the people that haven’t taken in the Camino Spirit but who hopefully will soon.
More than anywhere, though, you see in the everyday reality epitomized by the truth many pilgrims seem to know by now: The Way provides what you need, right when you need it. A farmer and his wife sing a song that is a travel blessing when the spirit begins to flag, an impromptu donation-based coffee station in small village with cake to go with it boosts your energy for the last 5 km when your body wants to stop, strangers you hardly know give gifts tangible and ethereal, sometimes small, always meaningful, which you take on the path whether in your heart or your pocket. It’s a special walk, with constant surprises and which teaches you things about yourself and other you didn’t necessarily set out with the intention to learn in the beginning.
France is Soon Coming to an End
In only a few days I’ll arrive in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a place where I suspect this energy will build to a crescendo that won’t let up until Santiago, with far more people setting out to begin their own Camino than at any point thus far. The arrival happened quicker than I could have imagined, it just came up on me partially unawares.
Over the last week, 10 days, I started having the thought about changing my plans for the Camino. The Camino Frances is still a heavily trafficked way this time of year, and in the interest of still having some measure of solitude combined with plenty of people to meet, just fewer, the Camino del Norte came to my mind and hasn’t left. It’s a route which follows the northern coast of Spain from the border of France and Spain and goes all the way to Santiago mostly along the ocean until it veers inland. I found that getting there from Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port is very doable walking, it’s merely a 5 day walk along the ups and downs of the French Pyrenees through the heart of French Basque Country.
All of this has led me to choose to take this path. It’s funny, in making the decision I’m instantly another 90 miles from Santiago than I was before, an extra 60 through the Pyrenees and 30 on the del Norte, but 90 miles seems like such a small matter at this point. To think, the longest walking trip I’d taken before this one was a hair under 80 miles!
Anyhow, the experience will be a new one in many ways, a Camino with less infrastructure, more wild nature, opportunities to break during the day for a swim along the beach, with fewer people to meet as well. The Camino is an intensely personal experience, you make it your own, however you want, and this is my less conventional route that I’m taking to get to Santiago.
The last couple days have been filled with clouds, rain, and more clouds. The landscapes are fewer in my pictures, but for some reason I’ve run into at least 20 churches in just these two days, churches dotting the landscape randomly and churches in the numerous small towns the road goes through. Here are the outsides and inside of some of them.
Here are couple landscapes when the rain clouds were a little less.
Finally, here is an example of the random messages you can find periodically, sometimes written on something with more permanence like this, sometimes just random graffiti.
It translates to “The Way is beautiful because you do it.”
My path has gone from the village of Miramont Sensacq to where I am now, a place with a house or two and an old abandoned abbey, Souvalade. Soon it will enter Basque Country, where I’ll spend the next 12-15 days across both France and Spain.