Gayle Johnson acaba su viaje

08/07/2020 21:21

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I am in equal parts scared of the unknown and excited to be walking without any concerns of work, family, bills, and social etiquette – with just me. I try a ‘selfie’ on my way out of Lisbon. Clearly selfies were invented for the under 30’s as mine are a dismal fail. I spend most of my time exiting Lisbon thinking I am lost until I finally reach the former Expo grounds on the Tagus Rio Tego – a stunning river with the Ponte Vascoda Gama – a 17 long kilometre bridge the focal point. I spy my first ‘pilgrims’ an American couple Jill and Ernie whose paths I will cross intermittently between here and Santiago but for now I tail them in the hope that they know where they are going. We leave the river to walk together through a valley where it must be nearly 40C. There is no other sign of life aside from a lone mountain biker whose dust cloud we see well before he reaches us. Our paths deviate from one another when I follow my notes to reach my hotel – still another two hours away and with much second guessing. I have not stopped today for a meal aside from a snack of ‘protein balls’ – this is very stupid and I learn a very important lesson. As climbing the hill out of the valley I picture dying of heat and thirst and my bones being located years later under the not so shady lone tree positioned half way up the steep climb. For each step up I slide half a step back in the dry rocky ground. I finally reach the outskirts of a village and following my notes make it to an area with shops, cafes – all closed – it is Sunday and nothing is open. I have run out of my two 500ml bottles of water and I succumb, despondent, thirsty and tired slumping down on a low concrete wall and try and work out my newly downloaded AP – ‘Here we go’ – what a saviour this AP turns out to be again and again.


I discover my hotel a mere 100 metres around the corner! I literally inhale a 1.5 litre of water at reception and then it is into and air-conditioned room and a shower. I learn early on the Camino to ‘shower like an onion’ as you get to your destination quite late in the day and after hours of walking in often extreme heat you and everything you are wearing needs washing. So into the shower I go, fully clothed, peeling off layers and stomping down on them like turning grapes into wine. This will become a nightly ritual that at least means starting each day clean and sweat free. Tonight I will drink the largest beer I have ever seen in record time – even the crowd of German Tourists in the hotel bar give me an admiring thumbs up. I keep a daily journal and often it is after 10pm at night before I have time to record the details of the day just gone. This is an important ritual for me as often the days and the trail can blur – the people you meet however do not and they all, for different reasons made my Camino what it was. On the third day I realise I am now part of this process, no longer an outsider but someone sharing a common goal with people from the very young – a Swiss father walking with his 8-year-old daughter who will turn 9 the day of their arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago to pilgrims walking alone to help them with their grief of losing a loved one.

They say you should not ask a fellow Pilgrim why they are walking – in practice though we all ask each other but whether you chose to give an answer is up to you. Me? I’m not sure why aside from always having the desire to do so – perhaps at the end of the trail once this month is behind me I may be better qualified to know the ‘why’. In the meantime, I’ll share an excerpt from my journal that I have come across while re-reading my experiences that maybe sums it up more fully than anything I could write now:- «The early morning air is still cool but as I walk there is a sweetness in the air and that is the smell of tomatoes – young and sweet and I imagine thick juicy slices sprinkled with sugar and warmed in the midday sun. The air is so full of this ‘tomatoeness’ that I actually find myself sticking out my tongue – who knew that you can actually ‘taste’ a ‘smell’? Unfortunately all of these tomatoes have to get to markets to make the farming families their income and you have to have your wits about you as even though the road is little more than a gravel track there are many big rig truck and trailer units loaded with the bright red balls many of which are bounced onto the road, their squashed redness adding to the sweet smell. I’m constantly wiping away what I think are loose tendrils of hair but in the sun’s rays realise it is actually tiny cobwebs carried on the cool breeze brushing against my face. There is something about this moment (actually it is more like a couple of hours or so) that (looking for the right words here)… I know! – It makes my heart sing and I decide then and there that as life races by far too quickly that I (and we all) must make time to search out those moments and experiences that ‘make our hearts sing’.» I could write about each day and the amazing people I met that in real life I would likely never have crossed paths with. There was Alex, the 22-yearold Hungarian dancer who was looking to add to his impressive tattoo collection at one of the many towns or village’s en-route and who was walking to try and obtain a slower pace of life.

Rosemary from the Yukon who was walking her second Camino in honour of and to reclaim some sense of who she was alone after losing her husband – the second anniversary of his passing I would share with her in one of the happiest towns on earth ‘Agueda’ in Portugal where there were brightly coloured umbrellas overlooking the narrow streets and wonderful bright painted bench seats and lamp posts. Paul and Karen from California and Oregon respectively who like me preferred hotel rooms and the ability to meet up with most of your luggage at the end of the day and who were already talking of their next Camino. An older couple from Belgium who were walking their third Portuguese Camino and knew where the best coffee and churros were to be found – those sugary Spanish donut like sweet treats. Rod from Washington State who always knew when I was approaching as my long ago worn down tramping poles had the metal ends click-clacking on the polished ancient cobblestone roads. I felt the seasoned walker by the time my husband Paul joined me in Porto. As Kiwis being near to the sea was important to us and we enjoyed many days and hours exploring villages and walking alongside the Atlantic. There were times that were not so easy and many challenges encountered and mastered. There were blisters which I named Bert, Ernie and Cookie Monster after a day of walking alone and with nothing else to entertain my mind. Amazing people – both Pilgrims and the people whose restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels relied on those of us walking our Camino for their livelihood and who all went the extra mile to look out for us and make sure we were safe. One day at a low ebb and after over 9 hours walking mostly alone a man checking on his grape vines handed me a huge sweet bunch of grapes with the words ‘Buen Camino’ and a smile – the recognised greeting to all Pilgrims to and from each other and from the local people whose paths we crossed if only for an instant. I had also hand painted a number of scallop shells in yellow (the colour of the arrows) with little black kiwis on them, enough for one a day to be given to someone on my Camino that touched my heart. I will do this again when I next walk another Camino – it will be a while before this can happen in today’s changed world but happen I have no doubt it will. Our ‘wings may have been clipped’ by the coronavirus but all Pilgrims past and future and all of humanity will one day travel again and greet each other with what I know will be a more empathetic understanding of what it is that truly makes us all who we are. Until then Buen Camino!

Microsoft Word - Document1

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