The Walking Dead
My camino — day 5
Waking up to day 5, and with now less than 100km to Santiago, it probably should have felt like I was over the hump and I could just cruise it in from here over three relatively short days — but what was that about things not going to plan, and to be ready to expect the unexpected? While I had thought that the condition of my feet had now stabilised and, at worst, I could once again expect an uncomfortable and slower first hour of walking, the powers of the universe had come to the conclusion that on this day it would be the time to pay my full penance. As I put my shoes on that morning, I immediately came to understand that what I had thought was pain over the first half of the pilgrimage was but a minor inconvenience. As I stood in the hostel foyer, I had a kind of out-of-body experience, where I was witnessing myself trying to make non-verbal small talk with the pilgrim mannequin in order to delay my departure by even a few minutes — but with no responses forthcoming from the lifeless form, it was time to get my own empty shell out the door.
I headed out with my compass set to the town of Redondela located at the cul de sac of an inlet on the Atlantic coast. It was just a ridiculously short 16km away, but as I was barely able to move along at a pace of even 20 minutes per kilometer, it would take me over 5 hours to get there if I didn’t take any breaks — and since that was highly unlikely, I was resigned to the very real possibility that I was going to have to spend up to 7–8 hours just to make it to the next hostel. For those few earlybirds I passed in the dimly lit pre-dawn streets of O Porrino, I must have looked like a soulless zombie just risen from the grave, yet I was acutely aware of an excruciating soul stabbing pain, the likes of which I had never experienced before. I felt like a dead man walking. This state was to end up lasting 3 or so hours until, by some grace, it did began to finally easy. During my morning walk of penance, I contemplated so many things about my life, including what has brought me pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. That was all in addition to the thought of calling it a day at every camino marker post. Then it hit me square between the eyes, that this was the whole point of a camino, to give your mind and your faith a real shake-up, and to see how you will come out the other side of the experience. Hopefully that means being more aware of just how amazing the gift of life is, which brings with it the opportunity to consciously experience the world, and to impact on it with your free will and the choices born from it. Perhaps the whole point of experiencing pain is to truly make you appreciate that you are alive, rather than living your life in a state of comfortable numbness, just barely participating in it — kind of like a passive read-through of someone else’s story, in which you have no interest. Well, I certainly felt alive on this day, so I guess a thank you to the gods is in order?
As it turned out, I had made it to Redondela in about 3.5 hours, including the obligatory morning coffee and cake break, just as the weather began to change. In contrast to the bright sunshine of the first 4 days, the clouds were now starting to build, and the temperature was dropping quickly, but fortunately there was no rain. As there was still so much of the day left, I had already decided that I was going to continue on to Pontevedra, even though it was over 20km away. That was certainly not an option I could have contemplated when getting out of bed that morning, but if I’d learned even one thing on the camino thus far, it’s that things always change. The pain never lasts — and, if your will is strong enough, you can even learn to make it obey you. I have found that it’s possible to access energy from our environments to facilitate this. Prior to arriving in Redondela, I stopped to share a moment with two very cute dogs. For some reason, I have always had an affinity for these furry fellas, perhaps as they’re a living, breathing expression of loyalty, innocence and pure, unadulterated joy. They simply present themselves to the world as what they truly are, with absolutely no pretence of any kind. You get exactly what you see. It’s too bad that we intelligent humans can’t seem to learn that this kind of simple, straightforward existence would solve so many of our problems. It can make you wonder who the smart ones on this planet really are? In any case, that random encounter with those two fluffballs certainly shifted my mind away from the bad and towards the goodness in the world.
After stopping for a picnic break on the other side of Redondela, at a nice hilltop spot with nice views of the inlet and the valley leading to it, I felt incredibly re-energized. After maybe 20 minutes of walking on a full belly and a skyrocketing blood sugar level, I was soon entering that most pleasurable, and very welcome, flow state, just like the one I had experienced on day 3. The rest of the day just flew past and all I really noticed as I drifted along was that the clouds had continued to build and threaten. However, I made it all the way to Pontevedra without a single drop falling on me. I was thankful for that, as well as for the cooler temperature, which had made walking so much more enjoyable. At the hostel, and this was a major one with probably close to two dozen pilgrims already on-site getting on with their end of day rituals, I felt an amazing level of communal energy. Apart from sharing half a day’s walk on the second day with another pilgrim, I had spent each and every moment alone. While I have no problem with solitude — in fact I love and need it to get keep centered — it’s quite natural to sometimes feel somewhat (or then incredibly) isolated and disconnected when not in the presence of others. Even though I didn’t actually speak with anyone at the hostel, I felt that I was at home, in a safe place where I was able to relax amongst amongst kindred souls.
That night I slept as well as I had on previous nights, but now with the exception of experiencing one of the most lucid dreams I have ever experienced. The dream brought up, and then dealt with, a number of suppressed feelings associated with the end of my marriage some two years early. It’s as if the walking had acted as a means of tapping away at the multiple layers of my emotional shell to bring out from the darkness the uncomfortable things that needed cleansing in the light of day. So, it seems the camino had also brought me a second gift that day, a major psychological breakthrough in being able to accept the past, and to be ready to begin moving on with my life, to once again be free to continue in my pursuit of happiness — but leaving the past behind does not automatically present to you our future. I am still missing that piece of the bigger puzzle, but my direction and purpose on this pilgrimage was clear — two more days to Santiago.
You can also view a playlist of videos covering the entire 7 day trek here.