Dec 27, 2009

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Part of my preparation for the Camino (less than two weeks away now!!) has been reading what others have written about their experiences.  One theme which I've noticed is a nostalgia for the journey, but also the sense that walking along the Way continues even after one has reached Santiago de Compostela. 
This provides a good context for sharing a poem from my favourite work of prose fiction.  (Yeah, the recommendation would seem stronger without the qualifiers, but there you have it.) 

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Earlier I wrote something about the Way of the Pilgrim.  What I didn't include was a discussion about where I hope to wind up after this.  Yes, I've made some plans which may turn into a career, but I've done that before.  "And whither then?  I cannot say."

One of the few things of which I am certain is that the Way will only unfold before me to the extent that I am walking forward.  Pilgrimage is not something which one does once, adds to the list of tasks accomplished, and then forgets about.  Pilgrimage is a way of being in the world.  It is an acknowledgement that no matter how good the present moment is, it is nothing more than a way-station, a temporary stop along the way.  (For the curious amongst my readers, I heartily recommend perusing Leaf by Niggle.  If you aren't able to purchase a copy or borrow one from a library, it is available here.)

Dec 22, 2009

travel dates

I really need to spend more time on the Camino forum. I checked in a few days after my introductory post and saw that several people had replied to me with some very good advice.

Following that advice, I have booked my flight home so that I will have the longest time possible to spend on the Camino. This does mean that I won't be returning to Paris, but especially after reading about Jo's snow adventures I decided it would be prudent to allow for a few non-walking days.

The trade-off (and there is always a trade-off, isn't there?) is that I will not be able to begin Great Lent at home, or even in an Orthodox parish. There aren't many Orthodox in Spain, and I couldn't locate any churches along the Camino Frances.

I have booked a flight from Santiago de Compostela to London Stansted for February 16, and I will be flying home from Gatwick on February 18. That leaves me with two evenings in London. While there are certainly cheaper places for a stopover, it is a fantastic city and I know that I will not be bored. And I'll get to church each evening I'm there, which is a matter of great joy. I'm rather partial to Ennismore Gardens, but perhaps I should find a parish with services in English.

Dec 19, 2009

Ultreia!! Camino de Santiago 2008

Yesterday I posted my itinerary (such as it is) on the Camino de Santiago forum. A few hours later, a fellow Canadian pilgrim contacted me on Flickr and included a link to this video montage he made of photos from his 2008 Camino. If you have eleven minutes and want to see and hear some of what I'll be experiencing shortly, I think you'll enjoy it!

Dec 17, 2009

lessons learned, time to move on

Over a decade ago, I instituted a rule for myself. After several unfortunate and stressful incidents, I resolved to never start any kind of maintenance work on a computer after midnight, whether software or hardware maintenance.

I suspect I ought to do the same for dealing with people on the phone. On Monday, I called the "Senior Travel Consultant" who had booked my return ticket for a month earlier than I actually needed. (My day starts at 12:30 AM, so by 5:00 PM I'm at the level of mental acuity that most people experience at around 11:00 PM.) It didn't go well.

I reached the agent at her extension, and she told me she would call me back as soon as she was off the other line. An hour later I sent an email to her, outlining my problem and asking her to call. Five minutes later, my phone rang.

Although I began by acknowledging I had failed to catch the error when I gave permission to book the ticket, I was also demanding and sarcastic when I spoke to her. After several delays, she eventually told me that it would cost $250 to change the ticket to the dates I need. Since the ticket I paid $800 for was advertised online for $600, the final total would have been 66% higher than the price which initially caught my attention.

I asked what the company could do to help maintain good customer relations. Half an hour later I received a call, in which I was told that the airline would not drop the $250 charge for changing the date and that if I wanted to get the change locked in at the same price (plus the surcharge, of course) I would have to do it today since my departure date is now sold out. I thanked her calmly and hung up.

Shortly after my final conversation with the agent, I received an email from her. Although it was addressed to me, I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to read it.

Client is fine and has been advised of the change fee for his return date . I guess you can say he did do all he could to scare me thats for sure. I did know Janet, l did not book him a wrong date. l am very very careful on air only. I never confirm without having client look at it first always.
Thanks again for being there for support. :)

Based on the address used by the other agent, I guessed at the email address for Janet and forwarded the email to her. I also tried to explain the situation from my perspective. Since the agent had not told me she'd consulted anyone other than the airline, I suspected that Janet was a supervisor. I requested a phone call to discuss the situation.

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. No phone call, no email.

When I looked the company up on the Better Business Bureau website, I learned that I got the email address right. Janet is listed as the "Principal" of the company, and she has decided to completely ignore me.

Instead of naming the company and making a stink, I've decided instead to simply file a complaint with the BBB and warn my friends and colleagues to take the advice of the ancient Romans: Caveat emptor.

This, of course, leaves me with the problem of getting home again. The cheapest option would certainly have been to pay the $250 charge, but the company doesn't seem interested in customer service.

So. Rather than travel back to Paris after I reach Santiago, it looks like I'll hop a cheap flight to London Stansted and then fly directly home to Toronto out of Gatwick. I hope to be in time for Forgiveness Vespers at my home parish.

Dec 13, 2009

Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills..."

This year, our Bible study group is looking at the General Epistles. The title of this post is taken from the epistle of St. James. (No, not the one buried in Santiago -- the other one!) Here is a bit more of the context:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
James 4:13-15

Almost 20 years ago, I was part of a small group of college kids who went downtown every Friday evening and attempted to "witness" to people using a combination of music, mime, and dance to draw a crowd. Once in a while I got into some very interesting conversations with people. One of those conversations had actually been started by one of my friends, who then called me in to participate. The gentleman he was speaking with was a Muslim visiting from Egypt, who told my friend that if he could convince him of the truth of Christianity, he would become a Christian right then and there.

It didn't happen, of course. What did happen is that Ayman and I spoke for almost an hour, and then agreed to meet again to continue our conversation. As we parted I said, "See you next week, insh'Allah." He was amazed to hear a Christian say this, so when we met again the next week I was able to point him to this passage in James. "If the Lord wills" is a very good translation of the Arabic expression that is used by both Christians and Muslims in the Arab-speaking world.

So, why am I posting this on my Camino blog? Well, this evening as I was looking over my flight details in the confirmation email I had received from the online booking agent I noticed that my return date was 16 January, and not 17 February as I had requested. While I could send an email now, I'd rather wait until Monday to call during office hours. I must say that the representative who had "helped" me book my ticket only got my credit card number because they were able to offer me a price that was $40 cheaper than if I'd booked it myself directly with the airline.

Today or tomorrow I will go to such and such a city and spend six weeks there.... or perhaps I should be saying, "If the Lord wills, I shall live and do this or that."

يا رب ارحم -- Lord have mercy!

Dec 12, 2009

the way of a pilgrim

Most of the people who read my blog will be familiar with the text The Way of a Pilgrim. For those who are unfamiliar with it, all I can do is provide a link to more information about it, since the English translation is protected by copyright and doesn't seem to be available online. In fact, even if you've read The Way of a Pilgrim in the past, that article may prove to be a worthwhile read.

Do I expect to gain and articulate great spiritual insight as a result of my pilgrimage? Well, not exactly, and certainly nothing at all like the work from which I have taken the name. The title of my blog is descriptive in that I am viewing my journey along the Camino de Santiago as a pilgrimage rather than a really long walk. Initially, I had thought that "wanderin' phool" would be an apt description, but I am not going to be wandering. I have a specific destination, and while I may dawdle or get lost on the way, I will not be wandering aimlessly.

It is not accurate to describe this as merely a hike, either. Some of the authors I've read in preparation for the Camino have expressed the idea that it is not the destination so much as the journey. While this has a certain element of truth to it, the notion that "getting there is half the fun" misses the point of religious pilgrimage. If all I cared about was a good physical challenge and camaraderie along the way, I could have saved myself the price of a plane ticket to Europe by hiking the Bruce Trail.

From the very beginning of the Biblical tradition, there are stories of people on the move. Cain was a vagabond, Abram was called to leave his country and go to a place which God would show him, the Israelites spent forty years in the desert between captivity and freedom. The descendants of these wandering Arameans wound up in a land of their own, but once they were settled they were still expected to leave their homes and journey to the Temple in Jerusalem for the major feasts. Even those who did not do this still remembered the flight from Egypt and the wandering in the desert every year at Passover. To this very day, the meal concludes with the cry, "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Turning to the Christian era, we find St. Paul hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) Jerusalem has been a destination for pilgrimage for millenia, but there have been other major pilgrimage sites. Some of the earliest ones were associated with the martyrs, whose relics were lovingly preserved by the local believers. Rome and Santiago de Compostela fall into this category.

Although the connection between St. James and Spain seems tenuous to skeptical modern eyes, the tradition of pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in one which dates to the ninth century. In the Prologue from Ohrid, we read of St. James that "his body was translated to Spain, where miraculous healings occurred over his grave and, do so even today." (The author of the Prologue, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, died at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary in 1956.)

Other people go on the Camino for their own reasons, but I am going to Santiago de Compostela to pay my respects to the saint. I expect that the journey will be fruitful and worthwhile, but for me the destination is what makes this pilgrimage what it is.

Dec 9, 2009

counting down

I just realized that I am scheduled to be on my way to Paris in 28 days, minus a few hours.

Dec 8, 2009

easy yokes and light burdens

"Every ounce counts."

This is the most common advice I've found in my research on walking the Camino de Santiago. The accepted wisdom is that your pack should be no more than 10% of your body weight. For the duration of my pilgrimage, I'll have nothing except what I carry with me or buy en route.

As a bare minimum, this means carrying a sleeping bag, a complete change of clothing, a towel, and rain gear. Add to that personal toiletries, a pair of Crocs, flashlight, spare batteries, battery charger and spare battery for my camera, extra memory cards, water bottle (1 litre of water weighs 1 kg), packets of instant oatmeal (48 g per packet), waterproof matches, a candle, first aid supplies, multi-vitamins, gloves, extra-large garbage bag, multi-tool, pocket New Testament and prayer book, small diptych icon, maps and a guide book -- well, it adds up quickly!

Right now, my pack is slightly less than the desired 10%. I'm also kinda chubby, so perhaps I should be packing according to some mythic "ideal body weight." Or should I use my lean body mass, which is actually higher than the standard BMI table recommends for my height? (Right now I'm weighing in at 109 kg, which is almost 2.5 kg less than when the fast began on November 15.)

Anyway, I'm looking for ways to shave weight from the load which I will be carrying on my back for about 800 km. I know that there will be some sort of village or town about every 10 km along the route. Do I really need to carry 480 g of instant oatmeal? Sure, that is a great breakfast at any time and especially while winter hiking, but wouldn't I be better off relying on the network of hostels and refuges which run the length of the Camino?

Let's look at my first aid supplies. I probably won't need anything more than regular sized bandages for blisters, perhaps a small tube of antiseptic ointment. I can buy ibuprofen if I start to ache too badly, and if I actually do run into a situation where I need the abdominal bandage or the 10 cm x 10 cm sterile gauze pads, I'll probably be in such bad shape I won't be able to use them anyway.

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared," and I usually am. But the Camino is different. For one thing, although I'll be doing some hiking through some beautiful country, I'll have hot showers and a clean bed every night. I'm not going on a back-country expedition. If I need something, I can buy it.

"Be Prepared." It's a great slogan, especially for someone with delusions of self-sufficiency. Yet even as a Boy Scout, you are part of a troop. On a pilgrimage, the last thing one ought to do is try to be self-sufficient. That is spiritual cancer.

A common experience related by people who have walked the Camino de Santiago is that "the Camino provides." Whether it is a friendly smile just when a pilgrim is in the throes of despair, or a fellow hiker who appears out of nowhere and sets you on the correct path only to vanish again moments later, part of the lore of the Camino is that no pilgrim is walking alone.

How much do I need to bring with me? Or how much should I rely on Providence? I hope that part of my pilgrimage will entail shedding some of the unnecessary baggage which has been weighing me down for years.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Dec 6, 2009

Why winter?

This will be brief.

Why on earth would I choose to do the Camino de Santiago, already a difficult hike of approximately 800 km, in the first six weeks of the year? Northern Spain is not like northern Canada, but there will certainly be snow en route.

The quickest answer is, this is when I have the time. Perhaps one day I will have a five to six week block of time free to jet off to Europe in the spring or summer, but perhaps not. The time is now. (This is true on an existential level, too. The present is all we have.)

While looking into this, I found a few resources online which explicitly addressed a winter pilgrimage. Winter Pilgrim is written by the author of a booklet by the same name which is published by the Confraternity of Saint James. If it's on their website, it is authoritative.

Amawalker: Walking in Winter had a lot more information and winter-specific tips, but it also pointed out the years in which pilgrims had died crossing the Pyrenees in March and April. It was good for me to read this and realize that my bluster of being a winter-hardy Canadian wouldn't prevent me from freezing to death if I slipped and broke a leg on a pass in the mountains. Hmmmmm.

Then I found the blog of a 17 year-old Australian girl who is doing the Camino at this very moment. (She also has an older companion along with her.) While she's more than a month ahead of me, I am following her blog with great interest. That is also what prompted me to set this one up.

Finally (for now, at least), last evening I came across Ann Sieben's blog. Beginning at this entry, the Winter Pilgrim described her walk from Aachen, Germany to Santiago de Compostela in the winter of 2008-2009. I haven't read her "Best Of" summaries yet -- that is what I'll be doing this afternoon when I get home from church.

Dec 5, 2009

Wayfaring Stranger

In the beginning...

One literary critic has called the opening line of Genesis simply the best sentence ever composed. It is silly of me to start my Camino blog with that, but it's certainly not a line that I can improve on.

I booked my flight to Europe two days ago, so I have now made a major financial investment in my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  For the past few weeks I've been researching online, reading other pilgrim's accounts, gathering gear, and otherwise obsessing on this.   In a sense, I have already begun my pilgrimage.

Why did I decide it would be a good thing to hike 500 miles across northern Spain in January?  Where did this notion come from?  The clarity which the title for this post provides is not matched by my own awareness.

What I have been aware of, for most of my life, is the feeling of being a misfit.  When I began reading the Bible seriously as an adult, the phrase strangers and pilgrims on this earth resonated deeply.  Throughout the Scriptures, we see that God cares for the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and crazy and desperate.  My parents are very remarkable people, and they raised me in that spirit.  I'm sure they've entertained angels unknowingly.  This is more than just "rooting for the underdog."  This is a vision which sees the face of Christ in every person.

So now I am about to leave a comfortable place and become a pilgrim.  This is a matter of choice for me, but for six weeks at the beginning of 2010, I will become radically dependent on other people and the providence of God.  I will be that hungry dirty smelly person tramping through your town.  A cup of cold water in the name of Christ yields great rewards, but perhaps you could provide a cup of hot coffee instead.

More thoughts tomorrow on pilgrimage in general, and much more on the Camino de Santiago in particular will follow.