Santiago, April 2017
7am. Pouring rain. I watch documentary about parrots.
In the dining room, Antonio greats me strictly in Spanish. Croissant, or toast? Yogurt fruit, or naturAL? Coffee? No, thank you, tea, please. Green tea, if you have. Tea? Antonio doesn't know what tea is. Or he kind of knows, but wants to be sure. Tea, tea, tea, tea,- we bounce at each other this word like you'd teach a parrot. A man next to my table starts twitching his green colour trousers for a clue, but at this point Antonio looks totally confused. Okay, coffee okay, I show my thumbs up. Antonio walks away, then comes back in a few minutes with a phone in his hand and insists I talk to artificial intelligence. Thanks God, I came across this thing before. So I say 'green tea' as clearly as I can, the artificial girl translates, Antonio slaps his forehead, the man next to my table laughs, I learn two very practical words: Té Verde.
Yogurt naturAL is very same texture as my hair conditioner. I have a croissant with plain olive oil.
In the Museum of Pilgrims, a lady asks me to take off the coat and rest my bag. Hmm. Maybe not a bad idea at all!
Santiago de Compostela is the final stop of El Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage path, and the most popular long distance hiking trail in the world (close to 900km).
Today El Camino de Santiago is a Christian pilgrimage, but Christianity didn't invent the route. To tell the truth, there are many pagan holidays and rituals that Christian Church stole and repackaged and called them Christian. El Camino de Santiago is yet another example of this. No, of course the museum's exposition doesn't suggest that. It's El Camino's dirty little secret.
Long before Jesus was born, pagans were walking across northern Spain in a born-again ritual. They would finish at Fisterra (which means the end of the world), burn their clothes, and watch the sun fall into the infinite sea next to La Costa de Morta (the Coast of Death). This ritual symbolized a pilgrim's death and rebirth.
Eventually, Christians claimed to have brought the remains of St. James to Santiago de Compostela. They encouraged Christians to follow the pilgrimage path that the pagans have created, but this time in the name of Christianity.
El Camino was incredibly popular during the Middle Ages, but it fell out of fashion when the Black Plague, the Protestants, and the Renaissance ruined the pilgrimage party. Not many did the pilgrimage during the mid 20th century. However, about 25 years ago, El Camino started becoming more popular. And after the release of Paulo Coelho's book 'The Pilgrimage' in 1987, this route soared in popularity and hasn't stopped since.
Later in the day I walked to the pilgrims centre (where pilgrims get the certificate of completion) and asked one of the volunteers how many pilgrims a day would pass through this place. 'On one day in August 2009, we processed 1500 pilgrims' said the girl. Imagine. My mouth dropped also.
The old stories tell that the pilgrimage to Santiago was inspired by religious convictions. Interpreted as 'the way to perfection', El Camino was walked out of pious devotion or to ask for the grace of God. For some it was the way of Atonement, the way of doing penance, the way of Purification. From about 15th century driven by Humanist urges and hero-like values, it became way of Knowledge. But there are also cultural, ecological, sporting, esoteric reasons. Others see it as a chance to meditate or as pure escapism.
One way or another, it is a way to find the truth. I believe pilgrim is transformed on some scale along the way.
I sit down on a bench to look at the photographs of captured emotions of pilgrims, thinking pilgrimage is a real phenomenon...
I believe there are many dimensions to making a pilgrimage in both, the real and the imaginary world. I like the concept of the particular route being a journey of purification while in search of perfection, or salvation, if you like. It links to the relationship between a journey to a holy place and human life itself (via the symbolic means of communication - internal and external), as well as the relationship between the earthly and the holy. The physical effort required to reach the pilgrim's goal is interpreted as a metaphor for the human spiritual journey, full of sacrifices, heartache, prayers in the gardens of olives...
Depending on a particular belief system one adheres to, the objective of pilgrimage (conscious or unconscious) is to reach the highest level of knowledge and spiritual renewal.
I want to believe everyone on this path gains some clarity about themselves and about the way they live their life. I hope everyone relates with the sacred in some way. I hope everyone discovers their own bliss.
Experiences of this kind do change you. Because you fire neurons into your brain that you have never fired before, those do transform you and make you a better person. I bet, to watch the evolution of a human thought, is our God's favourite bit.
On the second floor I have a chance to listen to the recordings of music made with lute and oval vielle, and to explore the meaning of pilgrims' amulets. I come up with the idea to get myself a dice. Perhaps even from Azabache (local semi precious stone, Jet, or Black Amber). So beware, I'll be witching around. hehehe
I leave the Museum of Pilgrims knowing I'll come back to walk El Camino de Santiago. I already look forward to assign new experiences to these words:
Path, Passage, Goal, Travel, Favour, Meeting, Pilgrimage, Glory, Threshold, Earth, Energy, Paradise, Benefit, Revelation, Introspection, Sacred, Journey, Help, Solidarity, Salvation, Find, Spirit, Strength.
Sometime soon. Please God.
In a souvenir's shop there is Jesus on a cross, with heavily bleeding knees. Virgin Mary, on some pendants, looks forteen years old.
Despite attracting pilgrims from all over the world, the locals hardly made any effort to learn English, so you may cherish the opportunity to practice your Spanish.
While it snows, I eat gorgeous vegetarian baguette in a café full of carved saints...