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How Far? - How long?

#1
As readers of the amazing account of my brave suffering (joke!) on my last Camino will recall I walked, or was it limped, earlier this year through Portugal. Because I had loved both the Portuguese people and countryside I decided to return, with my wife, for a holiday. And so we spent last week touring the length of that lovely land, from Faro in the south to Coimbra in the north.

The north was as I remembered it, good walking countryside, hilly and covered with forests that include the ubiquitous eucalyptus tree. That is, it was almost as I remembered it. The difference was the huge areas of forest devastated by fire. Sadly a local told us that they believe many of the fires are deliberately started. Whatever, having seen that devastation it was easier to understand why firemen had died. Thankfully I am not aware of any pilgrim having been caught up in any fire.

At the shrine of 'Our Lady of the Remedies' at Lamego I spied, resting in a corner of the courtyard, a man with a rucksack. On moving closer I spotted not only his pilgrim staff and shell but also a caption on his rucksack, ‘Peregrino Italiano’.

Soon we were in conversation. Yes, he was Italian and on the Camino. He had started in Prague and had walked a route that had finally taken him down the east side of Spain and then, with much twisting turning and wanderings backward, a route that combined parts of both the Camino Portuguese and the ‘Via de la Plata‘.

The map he showed me was covered with a black line that twisted and turned like a snake. Then out came numerous Credencia - the four he spread out for my admiring gaze were full of ‘sellos’, I recognised, for example, the red cross set in an oval that is the stamp of the new hostel at Teo, a few kilometres from Santiago on the Portuguese route. So my pilgrim was genuine, his gaunt wiry look and blackened, bony feet, exposed to the sun to rest them, also spoke of his genuineness, as did his refusal of the euro note I offered him.

I stress all that for it leads me to believe the most telling part of his story. “How long have you been on the Camino?” I asked. “Two years!” he replied. Lack of mutual language skills precluded me asking all those other questions that have tantalised me ever since - why?, when will you stop?, how do you survive? Though maybe the answer is through the grace of God! Pilgrimage is, after all, about a seeking for the spiritual.
 

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