First reflections…

Mindful of even my own suspicion that this journey, this pilgrimage, that I had allowed myself to undertake, is by no means over – perhaps never will be – one cannot but, at the conclusion of this phase of it, reflect on its meaning and effect.

I remember starting this journey like it was yesterday when friend Philip picked me up to take me to the airport (dankie, Philip, jy’s een van daai vriende waarvoor mens nie dankbaar genoeg kan wees nie!).

Though I’ve always loved travelling, I’ve never walked onto a plane with more reluctance than when I boarded flight AF0995 on 29 July. The trip I had dreamt of for years was ahead of me, but under circumstances I could not imagine in a million years. 

I endured a lot of criticism for my decision to leave, at the specific time, for the Camino.
Running away, some said.
How can you leave your kids for so long? some asked.
He’s got no concern for others, he’s irresponsible, were just some of the gossip that reached my ears.

I failed to understand the ‘running away’ criticism, as it’s always been my modus operandi to not ‘run away’ of anything, but to walk ‘towards’ it – often to my own detriment.

Knowing that I won’t see my kids for near 7 weeks were, leading up to my departure, at times almost intolerable. But today, more so than ever before, I know without a single doubt, that my decision to embark on this journey, will greatly benefit my boys going forward. They too need me to be the best possible version of myself, and I think I’m some way closer to that version than before I left.

In the early stages of the Camino, when missing my boys, at times, were near physically debilitating, I have to thank my friend Theo who, in a message, reminded me that: yes, you miss them, but you know they are okay, so get on with things!

It may have taken Theo’s message to remind me of it, but of course it’s something I knew all along – they were well taken care of (by a mother I had hand-picked for the task!)

My responsibilities? What would anyone ever know about my commitment towards my responsibilities? I have, as I’ve always done (quite possibly also to my own detriment) taken great pride and pleasure in meeting my responsibilities. And I’ve never been bitter about any of them – I have, in fact, always immensely enjoyed fulfiling the responsibilities I had. My personality dictates my commitment to these – I would never have embarked on this journey if I had even the slightest doubt of my ability to meet my responsibilities.

Concern for others?

When deciding to push ahead with my plans to embark on this journey, as is still the case, I strongly believed that it would also be best, for everyone, if I remove myself, temporarily, from a wholy negative (not necessarily intended, but that’s the nature of these things) environment, and allow everyone space and time to start a process of healing.

I hope my decision has had this effect – for me, I think it did. I would possibly have been destructive if I did not take the time out.

The reality is also that there are really only three people who I had to have concern for, and they were provided and cared for. All the others – who for some reason think their opinions matter, or that they are parties to my life, can all just go screw themselves.

What did the Camino teach me?

Firstly, god almighty, that the earth most certainly isn’t flat. I don’t believe it’s round anymore either.
It’s one huge fucking uphill!

As mentioned before, I did not do the Camino to make friends. While I met some awesome and inspiring people, the Camino, for me, wasn’t a holiday.

I just love how the dictionary describes a pilgrimage as an ‘excile’ during which the pilgrim experiences the world, away from his/her known environment and comforts. It was exactly this for me – a period of self-imposed exile.

It was also, physically, bloody tough! At times, fucking excrutiating.

I was recently criticised for ‘always seeing things through’. 

I battled with this criticism as, yes, I do have a way of finishing what I start, but I also know that I only persevere when I believe it’s worth it. I hate giving up before the proverbial fat chick sang. I’ve evaluated the criticism directed at me in this regard, but I’ve decided the keep it up: I don’t ever want to be a ‘quitter’ – not when there’s a reason to keep on keeping on!

The Camino also taught me that the old saying that ‘life’s too short’ is a load of bullshit. Life isn’t too short – we simply don’t do enough with the time we have.

An important, perhaps obvious, lesson I learnt was that the most simple act (or action), in this case putting one foot in front of the other (thousands of bloody times every day), can do a lot to get you to where you need to be – and I don’t mean only to your physical destination. I walked, as in physically walked, myself into a much safer mindset. This may sound a bit ‘new age’, but no psychologist or shrink can get you to where you need to be if you don’t walk the road yourself. Some may opt not to walk the road, rather get off the bus, but they’ll experience the same issues wherever they go. Fix yourself – the other people aren’t the problem, you are!

Forgiveness, for me, is a religious concept, and as I’m not religious, I do not ascribe to the concept of it.

What I have, however, learnt is to let go of the ‘hold’ someone’s actions has over you. In this sense, you do not ‘forgive’ someone else, but you set yourself free – ensuring you do not remain a prisoner (especially emotionally) of someone else’s actions. And then, once you’ve managed to do this (and it’s bloody difficult), the anger, resentment and bitterness, perhaps even hate, will also go. You don’t ‘forgive’ someone else (god, I find this whole concept extremely self-indulgent), you indeed set yourself free from the effect of someone else’s actions. In the process you do, however, make peace, as you will no longer focus on how you’ve been ‘wronged’ – which in itself is a self-indulgent concept, as the other party did what they deemed right for them. Very seldom is anything done to hurt or affect someone else. It may very well be a consequence, but I prefer to believe that is very seldom the intention.
We all like to have the world revolve just around us, but the reality is that it’s not all about you, or me. Sometimes someone takes a decision for themselves. Yes, it may affect, even hurt you or me, but it’s not about us – it’s ALL about the person taking the decision for himself or herself.

I’ve also, through this experience, started to question (again, perhaps, as I’ve kinda always been irked by our materialistic, suburban existence) the complexity of our lives, insofar the ‘necessities’ we’ve come to believe and rely on goes.

We simply don’t need all the kak we accumulate! Happiness, love, peace – none of them comes from a shop. And I dare say nothing coming from a shop can lead you to it either. I’ve had so very little during the past seven weeks, but I got along just fine – though, I’ll admit, I missed my electric toothbrush.

My reflections on the Camino, as evident from this post (and those to come) will probably not be neatly organised. I’ve decided to rather pen/type them as I think of them, or as they present themselves in a sensible fashion (though I fully appreciate that they may not even be all that sensible at times).

I cannot even begin to explain to anyone what this journey has done for me. I can only hope that the people in my life, those who are dear to me, will also benefit from the ‘me’ that has emerged from this magnificent process.

Day 45: Santiago de Compostela – Paris

It’s been an early start to the day. I had no idea how long it would take me to get to the airport, so I got up very early, and took the first available bus. It ended up being only a 20 minute ride, so now I’m very early. Santiago Airport isn’t the biggest of airports. It’s got a single coffee shop, which hasn’t even opened yet.

Travelling on budget airlines, while great on your pocket, often comes at a cost when it comes to convenience.
At a higher price, I could have flown direct between Santiago and Paris – a flight of somewhere just over two hours. My cheap flight, however, first takes me to Madrid (a flight of just over an hour), before an hour lay-over, and then a two and a half hour flight to Paris.

As is often, in Europe, the case with low cost airlines, I also don’t fly into one of Paris’ two major airports. I’ll land at the obscure Paris Chalons-Varty Airport – which is actually not anywhere near freakin’ Paris. From there I’ll take a bus to the town of Chalons en Champagne, where I can get a rail connection to Paris (an hour’s train ride – and that on the TGV!).
To add to this already lengthy trip, the first train to Paris that I’ll be able to catch is at 17:57, which will see me arrive in Paris at 19:02.

I’ve had a look at the Metro map, and from Paris East station, where my train will arrive, it should be an easy 3-station hop to the station closest to my accommodation. I should, therefore, be able to reach my accommodation at around 19:30.

Tomorrow, my flight from Paris (to Jhb) only departs shortly before midnight. So, after checking out of my accommodation (I have to be out at 11:00, and indeed plan to only vacate it just before that time), I’ll have to roam the streets with all my luggage until I go to the airport in the evening.

When I left my accommodation this morning (06:30), the streets were filled with youngsters heading home after a night out – some not that steady on their feet. Santiago is, of course, a university city (the university buildings being most impressive), and the students take over the city in the wee hours of the morning – it should, I think, still be holidays over here?

On my way to the airport I realised that I was taking motorised transport for the first time since 30 July. I’m no longer reliant only on my feet – although, strange enough, even after all the walking, my feet and legs just want to walk. It’ll take some adjusting to change the schedule and rituals I’ve followed for the past near seven weeks.

As it’s still dark outside, during the bus ride I noticed the full moon, and I remembered the full moon when I left Villacázar de Sirga weeks ago. I quickly checked my journal, and saw that it was nearly a month ago, 17 August, the 18th day of my pilgrimage. It feels like yesterday (I remember every detail of that morning – my mood, the sights, everything), and it’s hard to believe that my journey here has come to an end.

As I prepare to leave this beautiful country in a few hours, I feel grateful for the kindness and serenity Spain and her people had extended to me. It really is a very special place.

I have a long day ahead.

Buen Camino!

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