Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Shame of Santiago de Compostela

 After 22 days of walking, we arrived on Pentecost, May 23rd, at 2.46 pm at the front of the Cathedral where it is said the Tomb of St James the Greater is kept.

We’d started off from Logroño, in the Rioja area of Spain, well known for its wines and festive spirit. We’d suffered 12 days of cloudy, rainy and unfriendly weather. Even suffered under a hail storm in the beginning of May. We’d put up with sore feet, sore shoulders, snoring people of all ages (don’t be fooled into thinking snorers are just old men), and finally arrived to the resting place of Saint James.

When we first arrived into the city, we noticed a stench rising up from the streets. Other pilgrims told us that the garbage collectors had gone on strike and the city stank.  There were piles of rubbish on every second corner and sudden shifts of rotting smells.

The pilgrim’s hostels were double the price of anywhere else we had been to, and the souvenir shops were abundant. Suddenly from dedicated pilgrim, we’d turned into dirty and unkempt tourists who were gently laughed at by the ‘clean’ and ‘fashionable’.

It was uncommonly hot for May. The square was littered with tourists and day trippers, and the only shade to be found, to rest under, was on the opposite side of the square. It was polluted with empty water bottles. We sat there, the wind taken out of our sails, and I gently tended my blisters.

We watched the constant arrival of pilgrims and then their confusion and dispersion.  What was there to do, but follow the next sign to the pilgrim’s office? Receive your Compostela with your name in Latin, and head to the nearest bar?

It came upon me, again, that the arrival meant nothing. I wasn’t convinced that St James was buried in the church, and I certainly didn’t walk about 600 kilometers to see a cathedral. It was the journey that counted, as we are so often told. The destination seems trivial in these moments.

We decided to immediately leave for Fisterra, and shake the dust from our feet. But we returned again in 24 hours, and finally received our piece of paper to prove we’d walked the last 100 kilometers of the Camino, and we entered into the cathedral.

As I said, I have no idea if its true that St James is laid to rest here, but I do know, that when we walked into the cathedral, it came upon me we were indeed on sacred ground. The earth shook beneath my feet, and the spirit rose strong in the body.  I couldn’t see details, only shapes.

And after a moment, I became aware of the buzz of the people. The talking, the noise, the photos, the curiosity – people pushing past me to get a better look, the swish of hair, the click click of cameras, the absolute irreverence. And it was ok.

But what was not ok, in that moment, was the hypocrisy of the Church leaders allowing such nonsense in the ‘House of God’, in the sacred space, where they are suppose to be guiding their flock with love and kindness.

Do you know what the tourists come to see? A huge ‘urn’(botafumeiro) filled with burning incense, that is swung from side to side. Do you know what that was for? Because when the pilgrims of old came to the church, they were so filthy, so dirty, and they smelt so much, that they used the incense to overpower the smell of the dirty pilgrims. And today, tourists come in with their cameras (Albert and I included) and take photos of our Holy men trying to take the stench away from the pilgrims. Ohh, click click click, look how stinky we are… click click click – it was madness.

Holy, sacred, reverent – these are lost words. Words dug under the hypocrisy, lies and abasement of the Church through all the years that their people believed. Now the people take photos of their stink and marvel at their rottenness.

But the whole city stank.  It was not just the pilgrims.

My friend said to me ‘but what do you expect?’ And he’s right. With a history like ours, of constant lies and corruption of power, what is there to expect?

But you know what – ‘Like dust, I rise.’

(This is a personal account of my experience of Santiago, and in no way represents what all pilgrims feel/felt. I met several people who arrived early in the morning, after sleeping at the Mount of Joy, and they greeted their fellow pilgrims, and enjoyed the pilgrims mass.  Some said it was the perfect ending to their pilgrimage, and I’m gladdened to hear it. )

Post script 

I wrote this yesterday. On re-reading it, I can see how the reader might think I am over reacting. That, yes, that's life. Who really expects Churches/Cathedrals to be holy places anyway, right? 

But remember, apart from the preparation time, all of the signs, all of the talk, all of the direction is towards 'Santiago' - to Saint James. Its a constant movement forward to 'something', that as it approaches through our daily trudging, and small problems, and blisters, as a moment in time, that is going to be 'special' in some unfathomable way. 

I don't know what I was looking for. I don't know if I wanted a pat on the back. I don't know if I wanted someone to say 'you did it' - but what I didn't expect, was the foul smell of poor communication between local government and their workers, and the reminder that politics and human systems have replaced all that is kind and good and sweet smelling. In that moment, it felt as if I'd reached the pit of stink, not a sacred destination at all. And my pilgrimage was and could only ever be my internal movement towards trusting the inner Self, rather than the designs of power hungry stubborn old men. 


Monday, May 24, 2010

The cross under my window.

On our last night in santigo, we are sleeping in an old school for priests. In the court yard, beneath my room, is this garden. We're at home tomorrow. Love to all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The blisters!

Well, 2 days ago i got my first blisters. Everyone seems to have them. In this picture you can see swollen achilles and two of my 5 blisters. Sorry if its a bit disgusting. The tops of my toes are bruised, and one little toe is split from the blister popping and ripping open. So, i'm resting again today. Hopefully i'll be up and ready for the last two days. As they say, buen camino.

The great obstacle to modern pilgrims

The beer truck. We have 3 days of walking left. Its albert's birthday today! 31! A fellow pilgrim have him a huge block of chocolate. Soon we'll be in santigo de compostela. Hugs to all

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Our 40 k day

We're almost at the 100 kilometer mark to santigo. Today we walked our 1st 40 kilometers. It was tough on the feet! The weather has been perfect for three days and the forecast looks great. Beautiful scenery here. All good. Thanks for all your good thoughts. Hugs

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Welcome to Galicia

5 days of walking to go. The weather is perfect. The people friendly. The legs tired, the spirit strong. All good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Villafranca del Bierzo

Or as i like to call it, the nice place with sun and beer. Today, because i have pain in my knees and achilles heels, i decided to take the bus 20 k's. Albert is walking. Its a beautiful day, and this area, after Astorga, is trully a beautiful part of spain. Dominated by the knights templar about 1000 years ago. Roses, chalices, virgins and castles. All well in the world. Love to all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And at the end, there is barςa

We celebrate today for the 1st day of full sun. It was a gorgeous part of the walk. Met a templar knight and all. We have the final two beds in the town, and we're even in time to watch barςa win. Molinaseca is a gorgeous place. The whole area is magical. Fields of flowers and surrounded by snow capped mountains. . . Hugs all

Friday, May 14, 2010


Well, after pizza and buying cakes, we're very satisfied. Also, we've heard that from tomorrow, its sun for 4 or 5 days!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


We arrived to more rain. I must admit, all the pilgrims are fed up with the bad weather. Apart from aches and pains, the only conversation is about the weather. And its 4 degrees here. In may, in spring, in spain . . . Can someone talk to the weather god for us? Thanks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the road to leon.

Albert is totally recovered. We walked 22 k's, a short day. Tomorrow we'll take the train to leon, to catch up our lost time. Today was the 1st day it was warm enough to sit outside for 30 minutes. It was foggy this morning. We've had rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind, fog, but still, we're waiting for the sun. Wish us luck.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Food poison!

We walked 17 k's today. But suddenly albert came down with food poisoning. He's in bed, resting. We think he'll be fine by tomorrow, but we'll have to take it easy. Looks like we'll have to take a bus for some part of the stage to catch up time. Wish us luck and albert healthy spirits.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Only 20 k's today!

All well. Happy the rain has stopped. Its all green fields here. Flat. Windy. Lots of pilgrims!

Friday, May 7, 2010

In the middle of no where.

Today we must admit there are aspects of this walking business that is not so funny. I've reached a new level of pain, where my face twitches up on one side, similar to the expression of old war victims. We thought to stay in a smaller refuge. . But that means smaller rooms and closer proximity to sweaty socks. . Hmm. . Oh, and it rained the last hour and the mud caked to our feet. But still, we love it. . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010


We've made a 5th of the journey. Its much colder than anyone has been prepared for. However, we've been met by lovely people everywhere, and it makes up for the cold. Well. . . Not really, but it was a nice thought. Albert is very well. Happy to look at the cathedral. I'm happy to wash our clothes and lay on the bed. Later, wine and tapas. Hugs all!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday morning, and more rain.

There are beautiful fields and lots of puddles. I love walking. 5 kilometers til breakfast. No problems with the feet as yet. Hugs

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Logrono to Najera - 30 kilometers

So we made it to the refuge in Najera. Its 4.30 and some people are asleep, some rubbing their feet, some in the shower. We've mostly walked through vineyards and soft hills. Its overcast and threatening rain, but so far, so good. These first few days are a test of our packing skills, and getting used to the cheap, communal life of a pilgrim. Our feet are sensitive, our shoulders a bit sore, but mostly we're happy we made our first stage. We love the green every where, the sounds of birds and our 1st coffee of today was lovely.