Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pilgrims' Quest or Wanderlust

Pilgrims' quest or wanderlust, touristic curiosity or spiritual longing, self-actualization or rehabilitation, every pilgrim has a story. There are as many reasons to walk the camino as there are people walking it. We have met some wonderfully interesting people along this Chemin Le Puy each one or each couple have added something to our experience.

For two lovely ladies from New Caledonia, who describe themselves as 'very Catholic', this is a religious pilgrimage and their intention is to walk the Chemin Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port and then onto Santiago. Two months, 1800kms. Their packs are enormous, over 15 kgs each. Valentine is 70 years of age and sets out each morning before seven a.m., with her headlight on. Her friend Jocelyne starts out later and eventually they meet up later in the morning. The phone calls go back and forth quite often in between. (They obviously have a better phone plan than our Rogers plan.) When Valentine and I had a discussion about our children, I mentioned that my two have recently completed their Masters degrees and were still job searching. Valentine told me to pray to Sainte Rita, the patron saint of desperate causes. Now I don't think of my kids are desperate causes but I did pray to Sainte Rita as I walked along and every time I met up with Valentine she assured me she was praying for them too. Lo and behold, when I got home both had jobs!

The first week we walked we met many pilgrims who were on a short one or two week vacation and walking was just part of their 'holiday'. Our Norwegian couple were sandwiching it in between a week in Paris and a week in St. Tropez. Our Austrian couple were sandwiching walking the camino from Le Puy to Espalion with renting a car and touring the route in between and then finishing up walking from Leon in Spain to Santiago.

In Conques we met an injured pilgrim lady from Montreal. She had wrecked her ankle on the rough path into Conques and had been hold up there, on crutches, several days by the time we met her. Vivienne had been drummed out of her job of sixteen years by two antagonist co-workers and, with the time and money awarded her from winning a court case, Vivienne was seeking some answers about what her next steps in life were to be. She had planned to walk along the Chemin Le Puy and then travel to India to find an Ashram Yogi to teach her Kundalini Yoga and hopefully she would have an epiphany of self awareness, of who she was and what she should do with her life. A lot to ask of a walk don't ask, you don't get.

Another lovely Montreal lady was doing the camino her way - with a suitcase, a backpack transfer service and a bus ticket. Brigitte took her time, took days off to rest, walked when she felt like it and took transportation when she didn't feel like walking.

Vivienne wasn't the only one looking for self awareness and their place in this universe. Gudrun, a painter, perpetual student, free spirit and lost soul was still trying to find her place in this world. Beautifully prematurely grey, Gundrun couldn't tell you what she really did in life. She liked to paint but didn't have a career as an artist, had spent years of university study without ever graduating in any one area and didn't have a job or profession so she had difficulty describing herself - "maybe I'm just a woman". Where one can't find work or an occupation to suit them, others are on the route because they have been over-worked and burnt out. Ann-Marie was a social worker who, through the camino grapevine I learned, worked with delinquent, or disadvantaged (the camino gossip may not be accurate) youths and now was walking the camino with an indefinite deadline or destination and wondering about changing careers at this point. Fleme was a free spirit from Belgium. I'm not sure if he was a bon vivant, gentleman of the world or just unemployed. He had worked in the Gatineaux in Quebec canoeing, had walked in Nepal and other exotic places. He said he tried to keep himself distant from the towns and that it was much better to sleep in his tent on the hills overlooking, to walk only 10 kms a day so that he could take the time to really absorb what he was seeing and experiencing but then - he walked the 24 kms into Cahors at race speed, arrived two hours before we did and he was not sleeping on the hill overlooking the city but was sharing a room with us in the gite. Our friend Julia had undertaken her first camino last year, walking from Milan to Rome. She said she'd always been in a relationship and when she found herself unattached she decided to do something challenging with her new found independence. This year she was using the break from her psychology and medical studies to walk from Le Puy to Pamplona. I have often said how much I admire the women who do this on their own. I don't think I'd ever have the confidence let alone the competence to do this on my own - or the strength to carry ALL my own stuff. There are always quite a few retired people on the camino, people who now have the time and still the fitness to undertake and complete such a physical challenge. Whatever one's reasons, I'm convinced every person who finishes even part of this pilgrimage comes away with a major sense of peace and accomplishment.

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