Maybe I'm cranky this morning because I drank more than my fair share of red wine last night. At $1.50 a jug, why wouldn't I (over) indulge from time to time? I stop at the first cafe I come to, only 2 kms down the road from where I stayed last night, for my second cup of coffee. The first one doesn't count cos it's from a machine. For the next 6 kms all I can think of is my feet, how much they ache, how sad they feel. It's walking on bitumen that does it; so unyielding. I keep reflecting on the fact I've grown muscle on my arms and legs, but not on my feet. They're working SO hard. Poor tired wasted feet!
So I arrive in the next village, having walked only 8 kms. I need a short day I say to myself, recover a bit, give myself a rest. But it's early, 10.00 am and nothing's open, apart from the cafes. I have my third coffee. I know. Bad! I send a text to a friend who's already reached the end of the camino, have a bit of whinge. I'm heard, and feel a bit better. I give the rose I've collected on the way to the woman behind the bar at the cafe, and feel virtuous!
I summon up the energy to keep walking. There are two options, one by the motorway, slightly shorter, far less mountainous, and one up and over the pass. 13 kms up and over the pass! I remember my note to self, no more bitumen if possible! Before I've even reached the edge of town, however, I get cranky again with a busload of tourists for monopolising the pilgrim statue and taking too long to say cheese to their respective cameras. I try distracting myself by drafting a ditty in my head to my sore feet but it lasts all of a minute. Breathe Catherine!
I begin the climb, my mind a monkey, jumping from one thought to another without the slightest effort! What's with the three married men who've propositioned me so far? How very un-Christian pilgrimage! Am I giving out the wrong signals? (fyi fellas, a woman travelling on her own, whether she's 18 or 60, is NOT an open invitation to have sex, so pull your heads in!) Why haven't I had an epiphany yet? I'm only 150 km from the end! What if I haven't had one before I reach Santiago? What then? What will have been the point of the pilgrimage? Should I continue walking? Another Camino? Will I have enough money? Why are the pilgrims who catch buses from village to village and then walk the last 100 kms entitled to the same 'certificate' at the finish as those who walk the whole 800 km? They're fake! Why are the lycra-clad pilgrim cyclists allowed on the same path as the walkers? Why don't they use their bloody bells? Will I find an albergue with a kitchen tonight to cook the big slab of fresh salmon I've got hanging off the back of my pack (thank God it's a cold day!)? Will there be wifi? Where's my Australian friend? Has she reached the end? Blah, blah, mind is out of control!
I hear the church bell chiming from the valley floor. I stop. Look back down the mountain. It stops.
Walking again, I hear the sound and stop to listen again. Nothing. For the third time I begin walking and hear the sound again. I concentrate on it for a moment, and with a start, realize the sound is coming from my pack. It's my uke. Something is moving against one of the strings inside my pack, producing what sounds like the 'C' note. As soon as it occurs to me I'm making the music by the movement of my body, something shifts in me. In musical terms, or should I say in my simplistic musical knowlege, the note 'C' is what is variously described as the 'home key', the note songs sung in the C major scale often finish in, the comfort key. I'm struck by its significance. Coming home, in the realm of a spiritual practise I've followed for years, is coming home to the present, coming home to right here, right now. In the right here, right now, I begin to practise walking meditation, breathing in, breathing out, one foot in front of the other. It's astonishing how little emotional or physical pain there is when you focus on your breath. I walk on, aware of the birdsong, the wind on my face, the sweetness of the jubes I'm tucking into, the pink clover at my feet, the smell of the wild lavender, and come back to my breath, back to one foot in front of the other.
I look down from the mountain and see the highway snaking its way through the valley. The small dark moving shapes are pilgrims moving along, risking life and limb in the traffic. In three hours I've seen no other pilgrims on the mountain. I made the right decision.
Through the ancient chestnut grove.