“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.”– Paulo Coehlo
Facing my demons…
It was Day 4 of Camino Portuguese, I stood at the top of uneven dirt and rock woodland path, which quickly dropped 135 meters and faced my demons.
I had fallen three times in my life. As a child, I fell down a cliff at Orere Point thankfully missing a pile of rubble, broken bricks and shards of glass, when I landed on my two feet. On the Camino Frances, Day 2, as we descended down the treacherous waterfall-like slope of the Alto Mezquiriz. Lastly, training for the Camino Portuguese I tripped on an uneven paving stone, assisted by the weight of my backpack I was propelled into the air, landing semi-gracefully on my left hand and thigh. Ironically this occurred outside the Auckland Hospital.
FYI (Compendium readers )– I do not count flying into blackberry bushes as falling.
Looking out at the beautiful countryside that stretches either side of the Rio Tejo I took a deep breath, made my way slowly down an uneven pathway covered in damp autumn leaves. It was the only pilgrim route out of Santarém. With my resolve not to fall on this trip, both mind and body were on high alert.
At the bottom of the track, I paused, opened my mouth and screamed. As my voice reverberated through the trees I felt the fear leave my body.
By Day 7 when we ascended the five-kilometre mountain range out of Alviazere, those taunting thoughts about the way down never appeared. Hence the walk down to Ansião, a 270 meters descent of undulating terrain on tracks of, asphalt, earth and woodlands interspersed with cobblestone pathways was more enjoyable than the pathway out of Santarém. Vigilance though was still the mantra of the day.
Eight days later, we were walking down our dimly lit hotel stairs on the way to dinner, laughing and joking, when the unexpected happened.
My sandal slid on the highly polished stairwell, I reached out to the wall, but there was no handrail for support. The strap on my shoe was anchored on the step, twisting my foot to the right. Instantly, Michael freed me from the tangled mess. I drew my knees under my chin, shaking and fighting off tears. At that moment my heart knew it was over, my mind, however, said fight-on.
Never give up…
“Never give up. When your heart becomes tired, just walk with your legs – but move on” – Paulo Coehlo – The Pilgrimage
Michael springs into action, I’m off the floor, downstairs in a side restaurant room, my feet in a bucket of ice, which numbs the pain in my foot and stops the merry-go-round playing inside my mind.
My foot is later wrapped in a compression bandage. Propped up on pillows, my mind dulled by a cocktail of painkillers; somehow, I sleep. In the morning, my cousin Chrissy using K-tape follows Youtube instructions and wraps my foot; our self-diagnosis is a sprained ankle. My mind is buying this, as it feels good to put pressure on the foot. I walk slowly into town to join Mike and Chrissy for café con leche and pastries. Lisa has a migraine, which has kept her in bed. After a Camino family consultation and a few more hours in our hotel rooms, the infirm and the fit take a taxi across the border into Spain.
Given the current state of our little group, it seemed fated that our Pensión in Tui was up a steep hill, which did not allow taxies to enter. The two staircases to reception resembled a fireman’s ladder. Chrissy and I then had to walk up another two smaller staircases to get to our room with a view.
I made my way up and down several times throughout the afternoon, slowly without mishap using one of my walking poles. I didn’t really need support, I did though require a talisman.
The next morning the swelling in my leg had subsided, as I put my weight on the foot, my intuition kicked in; the sprain diagnosis was no longer credible.
After breakfast, Chrissy and I make the long slow walk across town to the local hospital Doctors in Tui whereupon presenting a Credencial De Peregrino I was treated like visiting royalty.
An hour later, we sat in a tiny consulting room in the A&E section of the hospital. One of the Doctor’s propped himself in the doorway and loudly declared – “Camino Santiago finito.”
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” – Paulo Coehlo
I wanted to keep my promise to Michael that we would all finish the Camino Portuguese together. In an ideal world, we would have walked into the square at Santiago de Compostela together.
Under instructions from the Orthopaedic Consultant at the second hospital of the day in the nearby city of Vigo, Spain Chrissy and I moved a day later to Santiago de Compostela. Here we found a hotel where I could recuperate. Once ensconced in the Parador Chrissy rejoined Lisa and Michael on the track.
On a cold Monday morning, six days post-accident, I sat outside the Parador in my wheelchair and watched Lisa, Chrissy and Michael walk across the finish line. Even if I’d got there by “Camino de Wheels” I felt I had honoured my promise.
Later on in the morning, Michael wheeled me in the Parador’s less than robust wheelchair down the slope beside the hotel. We were all on our way to get our Compostela’s.
To get the “Compostela”, you must:
- Make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, or at least an attitude of search.
- Do the last 100 km on foot or horseback or the last 200 km by bicycle. It is understood that the pilgrimage starts at one point and from there you come to visit the Tomb of St. James.
- You must collect the stamps on the “Credencial del Peregrino” from the places you pass through to certify that you have been there. Stamps from churches, hostels, monasteries, cathedrals and other places related to the Way are preferred, but if not they can also be stamped in other institutions: town halls, cafés, etc. You have to stamp the Credencial twice a day at least on the last 100 km (for pilgrims on foot or on horseback) or on the last 200 km (for cyclists pilgrims).
I ticked two out of three of the “must” haves, so it was with some relief when the Pilgrim’s Office awarded me with my Compostela.
Been awarded La Compostela has played on my mind. I found the explanation as to “why” on the https://oficinadelperegrino.com …Therefore other forms of travel to access the Compostela are excluded, except in the case of the disabled…and so ends my angst.