Thursday, March 13, 2008

the rhythms of the camino

What are the rhythms of the Camino?

When I tried to prepare an answer to this question on the ferry to Victoria, the first thing that came to mind was the rhythm of a pilgrim's day, the waking and walking and eating and sleeping and waking and walking and.... Though, thinking back, I had to admit that I never established much in the way of daily rhythms for myself. This was not for lack of trying, I was always saying "Today I'll do this and tomorrow I'll do that." It was just the Camino always tripped me up.

Take the waking as an example. There were mornings, a very few, when I woke all by myself at the hour of my body's choosing, days when I "took my waking slow." But most mornings I had help waking up. Sometimes it was from the hospitalero: the old "inspirational music at 6:30" routine. Sometimes it was from roosters or church bells. But mostly it was from some fellow pilgrim up long before dawn's first light to prepare his or her pack.

The early riser (and I'm talking 4:30 or 5 o'clock) invariably possesses a vast number of items, each wrapped in its own crinkly plastic bag. He wears a headband with a little miner's torch clipped to the front, which keeps flashing in my swollen eyes. As I lie paralyzed, he removes each of his items e v e r s o s l o w l y from its crinkly plastic and lays it on the bed. When they are all spread out before him, he examines them by torch light (I imagine him whispering "My precioussss.") Then he wraps each one up again s l o w l y s l o w l y and puts them all back in his pack.

Why does he do this? I don't know why he does this. But he does. And the rhythm of waking is shot.

Or what about that morning when I was wakened by a flashlight in my face. A man was standing beside my bunk, whispering, "Cinq, cinq," while he flashed the number five with his fingers. I went through some pretty lurid scenarios before I figured out that he had simply mistaken me for a member of his group and was telling me it was five o'clock and time to get up. There was no getting back to sleep after that.

When I think of my other attempts to establish daily rhythms - walking a certain distance in the mornings, arriving by a certain time, drinking only half that bottle of wine that came with supper, etc. - I reach the same conclusion. That, for me at least, trying to dictate terms to the Camino was largely a waste of time. I got more out of the Camino when I let it have its way with me.

So what "rhythms" was I going to talk about?

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