A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 26 February 2010

All By Myself

I've leaned so much
On conchas and flechas amarillas,
I fear I may be lost
Without them.

So now
(Guided by no maps or marker stones,
Pricking no shelled and arrowed way,
No trail angel appearing mysteriously
At a crossroads in the middle of a prairie
To point the right path)
I'll try contact
Some benign spirit deep within
For comfort and counsel;

Though along the Way I learned,
All by myself, with sweat and tears,
That the more I'm lost, the more I'm found,
And that all roads lead to somewhere and to nowhere.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

In Santiago Cathedral

a rush of incense
the botafumeiro

the old world ends
we'll see

what a new world
if angels

have feet of clay
then i
have wings

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Thoughts On The Camino

It's not the Catholic, guide book destination of the Camino (ie Santiago) that actually matters. The real destination is the place you yourself are destined to reach (ie in my case A Gudiña). Or the destination may not be a physical one at all - it may be a symbolic or a metaphysical one.

You can never finish the Camino anyway. It goes on for ever.

The Camino is not about winning or conquering, mastering or accomplishing, gaining or completing anything, in the sense of struggling to achieve a goal (ie reaching Santiago) and then feeling good about it. Well, not necessarily.

The Camino is about each day, hour and minute being your destination. Only if you believe this with all your heart and soul will you truly understand the essence of the Camino.

The Camino is not at its core about the French Way, the English Way, the Ruta de la Plata, the Ruta del Norte. It's not even about walking. (Just as this blog isn't really about walking.)

The Camino is about exploring and experiencing the heart's truth.

Do I sound convincing?

Sweet Surrender

In a bar, in the rain,
In the north-west of Spain,
I was trying to drown all my sorrows;
As the rain hammered down
On that dreary old town,
I reflected upon my tomorrows.

The going is bad,
There's more rain to be had,
And some hail, and a downfall of snow,
And some thunder and lightning,
And what's even more frightening
Is the gale that's beginning to blow.

Today was not good
For a stream was in flood,
I was bloody well near swept away;
And also (he rants)
My new rain-proof pants
Let in water for most of the day.

My pack's inundated,
My boots saturated,
(So much for that wonder stuff, Goretex);
And what's more the rain's
Trickled into my brain
Liquefying my cerebral cortex.

So I felt some relief
(As I struggled beneath
That Galician torrent of rain)
That it isn't a sin
Or a crime to give in:
In the morning I'm taking a train.

I've walked 800 K,
(That's four-fifths of the way),
But I know my Camino is done;
So it's no Compostela,
I'm off to Marbella
For some sweet R & R in the sun.

Only joking about the Marbella bit...

'Rain' appears 6 times in this poem by kind permission of the Galician Xunta, which has near-exclusive rights in the word.

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Misery's My Passion

sometimes I fear I've had
my ration of passion
my measure of pleasure
my fill of goodwill
my full amount
of blessings beyond count
my senses cloy
at the very thought of joy

so today I think
i'll just be bloody miserable

With thanks to Rachel for inspiring this poem...

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Rain Poem

Rain again.
More rain.

The rain

In Spain
Falls mainly
On the insane.

To take a train.

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Inside My Head

I went inside my head today.
It was a funny place.
I came across all kinds of junk.
It was a real disgrace.

Some half-digested theories
Were lying all around,
With long-forgotten queries,
The answers never found.

And lots of lovely words were there
Though most had not been said,
And heaps of intellectual books
But most of them unread.

Some much-distorted memories,
Some photos from the past,
Some childhood fears and hang-ups
Which were never meant to last.

Some poems learnt by heart at school
Were written on the wall,
But all the stuff I did at work
I couldn't see at all.

An empty pack of Number Six,
A bottle of cheap wine,
A little piece of dope, unsmoked,
From nineteen sixty-nine.

Poor Jimmy H, and Jerry G,
And Janis Joplin too,
Were jostling for the centre stage
Until they fell right through.

An effigy of Buddha
And a wise koan of Zen
Were stacked neatly in the corner
Should I visit them again.

One day I'll get a card index
And classify the lot,
But on the other hand I might
Just let them all go rot.

I went inside my head today.
It was a funny place.
I found so many things but
Of myself there was no trace.

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)


Today I travelled deep inside my head
Where thoughts cavort and play:
Mind-creatures, you might say.

The enigmatic cat
Kept her thoughts to herself,
But the servile dog,
Ever eager to please,
Pretended my thoughts were his thoughts.

The zebra thought in black and white
And the hippopotamus
In different shades of grey.

The ostrich tried to bury her thoughts in the sand,
While the flamingo meditated on one leg like a yogi.

The sloth and slug had sluggish thoughts,
The moth and bug had buggish thoughts,
And the rottweiler and pit bull terrier had, well, thuggish thoughts.

The cow's thoughts always ruminative,
The glow-worm's quite illuminative.

The giraffe's thoughts high and elevated,
The chimpanzee's sophisticated.

The eagle's thoughts were bold and soaring,
But the wild boar's thoughts were, frankly, boring.

The owl had very wise thoughts,
The chameleon disguised thoughts.

The rabbit had only one thing on his mind,
And that was to replicate more of his kind.

The March hare had mad thoughts,
And the wolf big, bad thoughts.

The elephant pondered a life of longevity,
But the mayfly one of brevity.

The raven had thoughts of death and dying,
While the lemming went over the edge without even trying.

Later I herded up my thoughts
And caged the whole menagerie,
But they escaped into the vortex
Of the cerebral cortex.

And now I have no thoughts at all.

So tomorrow I will explore the heart.
A dangerous terrain. I have no chart.
A place where great white sharks patrol an ocean
Of submerged feelings and drowned emotion.

I must admit, I'm quite pleased how this one has turned out. Am I allowed to say that?

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Santiago Dreaming

Remember California Dreaming, that fine song by The Mamas and The Papas from the late nineteen-sixties? This is my Camino version of it...

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day
You'll find me somewhere
On the Pilgrims' Way
I'm Santiago dreaming
On such a winter's day

I stepped into a church
And I began to pray
I got down on my knees
Didn't know what to say
But I knew it didn't
Really matter anyway
I'm Santiago dreaming
On such a winter's day

The river's deep
And the river's wide
Don't know if I'll ever
Reach the other side
But God only knows
I really have tried
I'm Santiago dreaming
This wintertide

The Way is hard
And the Way is long
Sometimes it's not easy
To tell right from wrong
But I scrape by
Somehow get along
I'm Santiago dreaming
All winter long

I'm not very sure
I'll make that place in time
I'm beyond the pale
And past my prime
But I'll carry on
In rhythm and rhyme
I'm Santiago dreaming
This wintertime

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day
You'll find me somewhere
On the Pilgrims' Way
I'm Santiago dreaming
On such a winter's day

(Posted from A Gudiña, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Friday, 19 February 2010

Carlos And Anita

I caught up with them on the way to the next refugio. Let's call them Carlos and Anita. We all paused for a rest by some rocks on the bleak, saturated grassland above the pueblo. Carlos rolled a cigarette. Anita looked tired. She was limping - the result of some knock with a car just north of Seville. She had a persistent cough. Their packs were much too heavy, for they carried a tent, and had sometimes slept in it.

We met up again later in the refugio. We talked in broken Spanish and broken English. They were Spanish pilgrims from Alicante. They'd begun the Camino in Seville on 1st January and were walking slowly, poco a poco, from one albergue to the next. They were two of a growing band of the working-class Spanish unemployed. Why sit around waiting for a job that doesn't exist? So they'd set off on the Camino.

The refugio was small and spartan, with no kitchen. It was cold. Very cold. There were several bunk beds with mattresses, but precious few blankets. There was a shower with hot water, and a radiator, but it gave out little heat.

We shared what meagre food we had. They insisted I took some of the huge bocadillo they'd prepared from tinned fish, lettuce and mayonnaise - the cheapest ingredients. Carlos had flattened and warmed the bread on the radiator. It was delicious. We were ravenously hungry.

They had little money, and stayed only in the free or donation-only albergues, always buying their own food, never able to afford to eat out. Sometimes they ate no hot food for days. They were poor, but they were happy. They loved the whole of the Camino, all its landscapes and all its aspects, despite the hardships - the cold, the damp, the heavy backpacks.

Later they snuggled up together in their clothes under a blanket on a single mattress, and talked and giggled quietly, until their voices became softer and softer, and we all fell asleep in the icy darkness.

They were proud, spontaneous, child-like, happy. For me, that night, they were the very heart and soul of the Camino. I was only playing at the vagabond life. They were living it for real.

They were some of the sweetest, kindest, most generous people I have ever met.

(Posted from Puebla de Sanabria, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Camino Sonnet

It's too late now. There is no turning back.
I am no saint. But sinner's near the mark,
Counting my errors on this endless track,
Counting my failures in this endless dark.
The world is too much with us, someone said,
Nasty, brutish and short, it's been portrayed,
A daily grind to earn our daily bread,
A pitiable, heartless, sad parade.
Surely there's something more than grief and strife?
Some gleam of grace, some glimmer of shook foil,
Some chink of light, a glimpse of some bright life,
Before we shuffle off this mortal coil?
There's no success like failure. Through the hail
And rain I quest, the better for to fail.

The italicized quotes in my sonnet come from William Wordsworth, Thomas Hobbes, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Shakespeare and Bob Dylan respectively. The last line refers to Samuel Beckett's famous remark: Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Though at first glance this sonnet may seem despairing, it's really about searching and questing; and I think there's some redemptive hope in the last two lines.

(Posted from Puebla de Sanabria, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Three Limericks

A winter Camino pilgrim
Abandoned the trail on a whim.
He boarded a train
And was not seen again...
So his chance of redemption is slim.

A winter Camino pilgrim
Had eyesight so terribly dim
That he read the map wrong...
Ended up in Hong Kong!
Which deeply offended Saint Jim.

A thirsty, footsore peregrino
Was drinking so much of the vino,
He was calling Saint James
All kinds of rude names
As he staggered along the Camino!

Bet you wish I hadn't rediscovered my sense of humour after these..!

(Posted from Puebla de Sanabria, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)

Friday, 12 February 2010

North From Salamanca

A dark-green, dirt-brown landscape - so flat I feel, weirdly, I'm falling into the sky. Strip after strip of maize, long-harvested, stalks dry and decayed; the bright green shoots of other cereals pushing through; small plots of black, twisted vines; empty hectares where sunflowers bloomed in the summer.

The Camino: a long, straight track, sandy and puddled, stretching from horizon to horizon. Wheeled, tubular irrigators, abandoned for the winter, span the fields like giant metal insects, or like lines of aeroplanes parked wing-tip to wing-tip. A light aircraft buzzes across, then flies back even lower. I feel like Cary Grant in the crop-sprayer scene from Hitchcock's North By Northwest.

The only verticals are electricity pylons, church bell towers and me, a tiny speck of pilgrim, battling northwards against the wind and hail. The morning snow's been left behind on the hills beyond El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino. I press on harder, keen to escape black clouds rolling in from the west. But the rain tips down. The track becomes yet muddier. I slip and slide. Over the weeks I feel I've had half the earth of Spain sticking to my boots. There are few trees here, few birds - just a solitary kite which spirals up, then glides off silently into nothingness.

Leaving one village, I see the next one crouch between earth and sky ten kilometres in the future. These are ordinary, back-country pueblos of concrete-surfaced streets and low houses of plaster, brick and stone. At the village boundaries half-built houses gape forlornly. Scrappy little trees grow in containers improvised from car tyres and plastic fertilizer tubs. The recession has hit Spain hard.

They call it Spain's bread basket here. I call it Kansas - but with shrines and saints. Or Lincolnshire - but with decent wine and olives.

(Posted from Zamora, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Onward, Peregrino!

Onward, peregrino,
Marching from the bar,
On to the next pueblo,
Can't be all that far.
There's a yellow arrow,
There's a scallop shell,
Follow them to the next bar
Then all things shall be well!

Dreaming of Bird's custard,
Marmite, Brooke Bond tea,
Heinz tomato sauce,
Cream cakes from Sainsbury.
Meanwhile I'll put up with
Menu of the Day,
Fried patata, flan con nata,
(But no more lomo, pray!)

Onward with the journey,
The restaurant's in sight,
A big bowl of paella's
Bound to put me right,
Noodle soup with hard-boiled eggs,
A dish that's hard to knock,
But what's that notice in the window?
Closed till 9 o'clock!

Onward, peregrino,
Through the wind and rain,
The temperature is freezing,
But no dolor, no gain;
Legs are near collapsing,
Hands can't feel to grip,
But let's toast with vino this Camino,
What a long, strange trip!

Sing to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers and repeat endlessly through the day to help cope with dolor and sufrimiento on the Camino.

The last line refers to a line in the song Truckin' from the Grateful Dead's album American Beauty.

By the way, I hope you think I've recovered my sense of humour!

(Posted from Zamora, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Salamanca Blues

I'd spent the weekend in the fine old city of Salamanca. I'd been there once before, when I was 18, on an Inter-Rail ticket round Europe. I found the stone bench next to the New Cathedral - where I'd slept early one morning 37 years ago - was still there.

On this visit, however, I was very down. Some personal reasons aside, I think my depressed mood had something to do with being in a big city for a few days. It felt odd after the isolation, and the peace and quiet, of the countryside. I felt like a stranger on the outside looking in. Which, of course, is what I was. A pilgrim feels much more at home in the smaller towns and villages, I believe. I'd persuaded myself my pilgrimage had ended there and then. That it was perfectly OK to finish half-way. After all, if I hadn't been lucky enough to have such a long period of free time at my disposal, I'd have had to have ended it short of Santiago anyway. Wouldn't I?

I lingered in Salamanca until the Monday. I'd been blogging on and off all that day - making the most of easy Internet access - and decided to check my blog one last time before I turned in for the night. There I found an encouraging comment from Andy (Pilgrimpace), which quoted part of my poem Camino Fever: How dark the soul in the dead of night! But how bright the morning sun! Incredibly, and in an instant, my depression lifted, and my whole mood and attitude changed. I'd bought a train ticket to Hendaya (on the Spanish/French border) in the morning, intending a slow train ride home via Bordeaux and Paris. I tore up the ticket on the spot. I would continue the pilgrimage. Of course I would. What on earth were my minor discomforts - the cold, the wet, the odd pang of loneliness - compared, say, with Winter Pilgrim's challenges as she trekked through the Ukraine winter from Kyiv to Patras in Greece? The way she coped with any difficulties - with good humour and light-heartedness - was a shining example when faced with my own wimpish behaviour.

The next day, light of heart, I pressed on northwards towards Zamora.

(Posted from Zamora, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

50 Objects

A list of 50 objects I found discarded near the roadside between Seville and Salamanca:

Tin cans, a saucepan, plastic drinks' bottles, glass beer bottles, cigarette butts, cigarette packets, crisp packets, yoghurt pots, newspapers, magazines, a traffic cone, an oil drum, tin foil, car tyres, car wheel trims, plastic bags, broken glass, sweet wrappers, local election posters, condoms, women's tights, a sandal, assorted articles of clothing, tissues, waste building materials such as bricks, tiles and concrete, broken crockery, cardboard cartons, olive oil containers, lottery tickets, rubber hosing, wire fencing, CDs, a girl's doll, a length of rope, a car seat, a microwave, a metal sign saying 'Coto Privado de Caza', a mattress, a bird cage, a plastic bucket, paint tins, a briefcase, a sun lounger, a kitchen chair, an electric lamp and shade, a plastic lunch box, a cash register, a lavatory bowl, a dead dog, a dead goat.

The most numerous items were Coca Cola cans and bottles. So congratulations to the USA for winning this one!

(Posted from Zamora, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Monday, 8 February 2010

Red Earth Road

Red earth road, red earth road,
Where are you leading? I don't know.

Red earth track, red earth track,
I followed you once, but I'm not coming back.

Red earth trail, red earth trail,
Dead-end street or Holy Grail?

River's flooded, stream's in spate,
Taking my chance in the hands of fate.

Stream's in spate and river's in flood,
Water's full of chicken's blood.

Pig's been slaughtered, hung to dry,
Don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Boar's been shot and bull's been stuck,
Its cock and balls in the freezer truck.

Santa María, ven aquí,
Blood's still dripping from the tree.

If you find out who's still the boss,
Mark the place with a wooden cross.

Priest's in the bar or else in jail,
Hammer the truth with an iron nail.

Shoulders hurting, feet are sore,
But the pain in my heart I'm feeling more.

Full moon rising, sun is down,
Five hundred miles to Jimmy's town.

Red earth road, red earth road,
Where are you leading? I don't know.

Red earth track, red earth track,
I followed you once, but I'm not coming back.

Hope this (controversial?) poem may stimulate a litle debate..?

(Posted from Salamanca, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Three Haiku

Mist all day
Middle of the Way


Lost in the darkness
The moon's my lamp light


I come and I go
Where am I?
Outside looking in


Fuenterroble de Salvatierra is home to the priest, Don Blas, who has done so much to promote the Camino. He's a priest of five parishes. Last Thursday I stayed a night in his Casa Parroquial. I was the only pilgrim. The village of Fuenterroble lies almost middle distance between Seville and Santiago on the Vía de la Plata. The last line is also meant to suggest Buddhism's Middle Way.


On the way to Cañaveral just over a week ago, I walked the last few kilometres after the sun had set. But I did not need my head torch. I walked on a high path, through vast, empty spaces, by the light of a full moon.


Entering Salamanca yesterday, after the isolation of the countryside with only cattle and sheep for company, it was a shock to find streets full of well-dressed people, women in furs and scarves, girls in fashionable jeans and boots. They were walking the evening paseo, keeping to the right like traffic on the carretera. This haiku reflects the sense of alienation I felt as a ragged pilgrim just passing through.

(Posted from Salamanca, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Slowing Down

I slowed right down today,
Just slowed right down.
How little we see most of the time!
So I slowed right down.

And saw a fork-tailed kite circle then drift
On a blue highway, until it was no more.

I cracked a sunflower shell between my teeth
And curled the seed out with my tongue,
The taste intense and bitter-sweet.
It hit my palate like a burst of sun.

Today I listened to a stream
Trickle then rush from Extremadura
Into Castilla y León.
I heard the hollow clunk of cow bells
Jangle like Tibetan wind chimes.

I smelled a cistus bush today.
It reeked of incense. And I sniffed
The fragrant, bitter scent of thyme,
The aromatic tang of eucalyptus.

Today I felt a mat
Of soft, green moss under my hand,
And, underfoot, crunched oak leaves, crisp and brown,
And spiky chestnut husks, like tiny hedgehogs.
I fingered the jagged edge of stones,
Felt the smooth roundedness of rock.

I slowed right down today.
I slowed right down.
How blind we are to what is happening!
How quickly we walk on!

But for today
I slowed, I slowed right down.
I slowed.
I slowed.
I slowed time down.

I slowed... my self...



(Written four days ago between Baños de Montemajor and La Calzada de Béjar. Posted from Salamanca, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Distinct Odour

I know it's silly, but I'm being amused by constantly hearing the Spanish words pongo ('I put' or 'I place') and Wi-Fi (pronounced 'whiffy'). It may just be my imagination, but I'm sure I detect a distinct odour of unwashed peregrino round here...

(Posted from Baños de Montemayor, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)

It's A Long Way To Santiago

It's a long way to Santiago, it's a long way to go,
It's a long way to Santiago, to the sweetest place I know!
Farewell Extremadura, no volver volver,
It's a long, long way to Santiago, but my heart's right there!

Sing to the tune of It's A Long Way To Tipperary and repeat endlessly through the day to help cope with dolor and sufrimiento on the Camino.

I'm finding this Camino hard. It's lonely. It's cold. The path is flooded in parts because of torrential rain in December and early January. Two rivers have been impassable, which meant long detours via roads. There's more tarmac pounding than I would like. And I seem to be quite tired, as there are often big walking distances between places of accommodation - sometimes over 30 km.

Tomorrow I leave the region of Extremadura and enter the region of Castilla y León.

(Posted from Baños de Montemayor, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)