Tag Archives: Experiences

Walking Revelations—Or Not

[Celena and Glory]

My sister Celena, who for some unfathomable reason would rather ride horses than walk. But there may be hope for her yet.

My sister Celena didn’t used to be interested in walking pilgrimages.

I once called her from a phone booth from somewhere on the Chemin du Puy—I think it was St-Côme d’Olt. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it must have been about the gîte d’étape accommodations or how far I’d walked that day.

“I’m so glad it’s you there and not me,” Celena said.

“Me, too.” The sincerity in my voice must have impressed her, because she still tells that story today. But it didn’t make her any more interested in pilgrimage.

For the past few months, though, Celena has been proof-reading the majority of my blog posts, and even allowing me to interrogate her afterwards. (“Does it really make sense?” “Are you sure it’s not too long?” “Are you absolutely completely positive I don’t sound whiny?”)

And finally, after reading my interview with Brandon Wilson, she announced that she would like to go on a pilgrimage with me someday.

The blog posts must have got to her. I hardly had to proselytize at all.

Last week, Celena told me I should write about pilgrim revelations. She wanted to know what walking pilgrims learn along along the way.

“It isn’t really like that,” I said. “I didn’t meet anyone who’d discovered the meaning of life, anyway.”

“I know that, ya hoser.” (She really talks like this.) “Write about the small revelations.”

I gave her my best don’t-you-ya-hoser-me glare. But I thought about what she’d said.

“I don’t know if I had any revelations, exactly. It was more experiences that really mattered, but I’m not sure exactly why.”

“But you must have learned something that could help other people in all that eternity you’ve been writing about.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, in some ways that’s what my blog is about—trying to figure out why the Camino was so important to me. But I can’t just wrap up ‘my Camino lessons’ in a tidy box and hand them over. It’s something you have to experience.”

But Celena wanted to know more about those experiences—not just mine, but pilgrims’ in general.

I directed her to All the Good Pilgrims. Robert Ward does an amazing job of describing those little moments that are somehow important, I told her.

“Is there an audiobook?”

“Not as far as I know.” And that was the end of that. Celena is raising a two-year-old and running a horse training business. She doesn’t have time to read books these days: she listens to them while doing other things.

“You should talk to your blog readers,” Celena said. “Ask them what they learned while they were walking.”

So, what say you, gentle readers? Do you have any answers for Celena? What revelations, large or small, did you have while walking, or on some other adventure? What experiences mattered?

(If you’re reading this in your e-mail or a feed reader, please click through to the post to answer and/or see other responses.)

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:38 pm
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Music and Life, the Road and Photography: Oliver Schroer and Peter Coffman on the Camino

[Camino cover image]

The Pyrenees from the Route Napoleón.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

  this album is the record of an intersection,
the story of a line…

un Carrefour entre la musique et la vie,
le chemin et la photographie…

es la combinación de música e imagines que
nacieron de un paisaje y tiempo especiales…

…music born of a particular landscape and time.

—From the liner notes of the album Camino

The story begins, fittingly, with a pilgrim musician in a French church.

Architectural historian Peter Coffman was on vacation in Moissac with his wife, Diane, when he walked into a church, and found a man playing a flute wandering the aisles. The man, it turned out, was a musician walking an ancient route to Santiago de Compostela, stopping at churches to play and sing along the way.

That brief encounter stayed in Peter’s mind, and after he and Diane returned home to Toronto, Canada, he mentioned it to his longtime friend, fiddler and composer Oliver Schroer.

I said, “Isn’t that a great idea, doing a musical pilgrimage, where you stop in these places which are so acoustically amazing, and you make music?” And I said, “We should do this sometime.”

And Oliver said, “Yeah, let’s do this sometime.”

“So naturally,” Peter says, “nothing happened for several years.”

Five years later, in 2003, the two friends were living on opposite sides of the country, but they met up at Oliver’s family home for his father’s wake.

As they sat on the couch talking, the idea of a pilgrimage—something they hadn’t discussed in years—resurfaced.

But now, Peter says, the timing was right.

We decided at that moment, “Let’s do it next year. Let’s book off May and June. And we’ll promise to each other now that we won’t make other commitments.”

And that’s what they did.

Full Backpacks

[Backpacks on the Camino]

At a rest stop in O Cebreiro.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

Oliver and Peter didn’t see each other again until May 2004, when four of them met up in the small French town of Entraygues-sur-Truyere to begin walking: Peter, his wife Diane, Oliver and his wife Elena. They didn’t have time to walk the entire Chemin du Puy and Camino Francés, but they planned to walk a significant portion of each: more than a thousand kilometers altogether, from Entraygues-sur-Truyere to Pamplona, and then from León to Santiago.

The contents of the two men’s backpacks differed from the more usual pilgrim gear.

Oliver described his extra burden in the liner notes of the album that was to emerge from the journey:

                 in my backpack,

I carried my violin like a wooden chalice,
like my own precious relic,

carefully packed in its reliquary of socks and underwear and
waiting to work a miracle.

my pack also contained a portable recording studio.

But Peter’s pack was heaviest. When the four pilgrims met up in France, he says, Oliver wanted to see what he was carrying.

“That’s not a backpack,” Peter remembers Oliver saying, after he’d looked inside. “That’s a camera bag with a little bit of clothing in it.”

[Peter Coffman with his backpack]

Peter (and his pack).
Photo by Diane Laundy.

The pack held Peter’s Nikon F3 (a brass-bodied camera), three heavy lenses, a bag full of film, and a tripod. Socks and underwear were crammed into a few small compartments. As near as Peter can remember, the whole thing weighed 13.5 kilograms (30 lbs).

Peter had thought long and hard over his decision to bring the camera gear.

Lugging it around wasn’t, as he points out, the most practical thing to do. And besides, he had burned out in the past working as a professional photographer. Since then, he’d done a bit of architectural photography for his job, but no more than that.

In the end, though, he decided to bring the equipment, and to shoot black-and-white film.

I did it black-and-white because in some way that seemed to suit this sort of romantic notion I had of the pilgrimage being an opportunity to shed all extraneous things, and just focus on essentials.

Before doing the Camino, he’d noticed there weren’t any books that fully documented the route photographically.

“And of course,” he says, “once I started walking along carrying this backpack with camera gear, I realized why.”

Art on the Camino

[Eglise de Sensacq]

Eglise de Sensacq.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

While they were walking, neither Oliver nor Peter knew they were creating music and photography they would end up sharing with others.

In the on-line journal Oliver kept for his family, friends and fans, he wrote that “the main plan is really to walk a huge amount and to concentrate on that. I may do some playing or some recording of things along the way, but the focus is most definitely the walk.”

Peter says he felt the same way about his photography.

The trip itself is challenging enough, both physically and psychologically in some ways, that I found it had to be my main focus. I couldn’t put anything other than the actual experience of walking … at the centre of things.

He brought his camera gear hoping to get some good shots, but because he was shooting film rather than digital, he didn’t know how the photos had turned out until he got home.

I didn’t know what I was capturing. I didn’t know whether or not I could do anything with it afterwards. I just thought, I’m going to go out, I’m going to shoot whatever I can—as much as I have energy for and so on—and I’m just going to gather raw material. And I’ll worry about what, if anything, all this stuff amounts to later.

Asked if he ever considered sending the camera gear home, Peter responds immediately in the negative. He didn’t enjoy carrying the gear, but he was having too much fun using it to send it home, he says.

Photographing the Camino brought back his love of photography, “this joy of going out and experiencing the world and responding to it by making these images of it.

It’s something I had always loved, and kind of lost touched with. But I was reconnecting with that, and it was great.

As Peter rediscovered photography, Oliver was fiddling in churches and cathedrals.

When the pilgrims walked into a building, Peter says, the first factor that would determine if Oliver would play was whether or not he had the energy. If he did, he’d walk around clapping his hands and making noises to test the acoustics.

And if both the energy and the acoustics were there, he’d take his fiddle out of its backpack cocoon—removing everything else in the process (“I was prone to strewing underwear or socks in the general area if I was not careful,” Oliver remarked in his journal)—and play.

Oliver described the experience in the liner notes:

in some churches I played for many people, in others for a single listener.

j’ai joué quelques unes de mes vieilles
pièces fractales et spirituelles…

improvisé mucho.
a través de semanas andando,

new pieces came

– one hill, one valley at a time.

Peter is a longtime fan of Oliver’s fiddling and would have loved to hear it anywhere, but the old buildings added another dimension to the music.

They were unlike anything Oliver was acoustically accustomed to, Peter says.

[As Oliver played in churches,] he started to understand his own music as something, in a sense, that exists in three dimensions—something that has to travel through space as well as extending through time. I could see him playing and listening to himself at the same time, and thinking, okay, what happens if I do this? What happens if I change my timing here?


[Fiddling in Conques Cathedral]

Oliver playing in the Cathedrale Ste-Foy de Conques.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

The four pilgrims reached the medieval valley town of Conques a few days into the journey.

Oliver, Peter says, had not had a good day. He hadn’t broken in his walking boots ahead of time, and was suffering because of it. The steep, rocky descent into the town was particularly tough on his feet.

But then they reached Conques, and he—like so many pilgrims—was entranced.

Peter had been there already. “But when you emerge in that town, it’s so staggeringly beautiful,” he says.

“It’s an amazing feeling.”

They settled in, and soon headed for the cathedral, where Peter so much wanted to hear Oliver play.

But there was a musical event on, involving the cathedral organist and some school children. The pilgrims waited around for a while, but the event dragged on, and there was no chance for Oliver to play.

“We began to think, is this actually going to work?” Peter says.

But he knew the cathedral doors were often open well into the evening. Much later, the group return to the cathedral, and found it empty. So Oliver gave a private concert to his three companions—his first time playing on the trip.

It was an evening to remember, as Peter describes it in the liner notes:

may 6, 2004.    a lanky figure in muddy boots enters through the west door of conques. out of his backpack he pulls a violin, gently disentangling it from the socks, underwear, and yards of sleeping bag that have protected it from the wear and tear of the road. it is hopelessly small in his large hands, in this huge building.

l’homme commence à jouer.
les notes et l’espace s’embrasent
comme s’ils avaient attend cet instant depuis toujours.

“I was not just playing my violin in this church; I was playing the church itself with my violin,” Oliver wrote.

It felt like the largest instrument I had ever played. Playing a note was like sounding a gong. The sound bloomed out of the first attack, and then subsided only slowly.

In the morning, Oliver had a chance to improvise with the cathedral organist—another amazing experience.

“We were in Conques less than 24 hours,” Peter says, “but it was a very, very rich part of the pilgrimage.”

The Journey

[Peter Coffman and Oliver Schroer]

Peter and Oliver (with cow) in France.
Photo by Diane Laundy.

And so as pilgrims do, they walked, and walked some more.

Peter, asked if there are any stories he wants to tell, says, “For me to pick any particular story seems almost arbitrary in a sense. Because there are just so many. Where would I begin?”

Oliver’s journal relates some of these stories: the first day, when they started out walking nine kilometers in the wrong direction; the time the shops were all closed and they were out of food, but a local man befriended them and offered them a feast; the day Oliver lugged a bag full of cooked pasta—soon dubbed Fred’s brain—around in his backpack; an impromptu concert for a large group in a church in the woods; the evening Oliver and Peter scared local cult members away from the town hall where they were spending the night; an improvised, very moving ceremony at the Cruz de Ferro; the accidental eating of pigs’ ears; the joy of being able to dash over mountains once they’d were finally in good walking shape (“Mountains. HA! I laugh out loud at those puny hills!”); and tales of all the pilgrims and others they met along the way.

Oliver didn’t downplay the physical effort, either.

“I thought that somebody could make a tourist attraction called CAMINO!” he wrote from France.

It would be a theme ride in the tradition of Disney. On the ride you would be on a treadmill, with a 360° movie of beautiful landscape playing all around you. Fans would blow the most amazing medley of smells in your direction, while somebody repeatedly hit your feet with a 2×4. You would be under heat lamps the whole time, but every once in a while, someone would throw a bucket of cold water on you. CAMINO! EXPERIENCE THE WONDER! FEEL THE PAIN!

Peter said the other day, “Actually, the Camino is really easy, apart from the walking and carrying your pack!” That about sums it up.

When Oliver fiddled in churches, he didn’t always know if he’d be allowed to stay—he might be kicked out after half a minute, or have a chance to play for over an hour.

He couldn’t take the time to warm up, since he might only have time for a single song. So he would launch straight into the music he wanted to play.

“And I’d have to just put heart and soul into it,” he said in Silence at the Heart of Things, a documentary about his life.

The frustrating times when Oliver got kicked out of churches brought home to him how much his music meant to him.

“At home I can play any time,” he wrote. “But when I can’t [play] it bottles up inside me and I become very sad … it is a deep hunger that needs to be fed.”

Santiago de Compostela

[In front of the Santiago Cathedral]

Peter, Diane, Oliver and Elena in front of the Santiago Cathedral.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

After seven weeks’ walking, the pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela, where Oliver was asked to play his violin at the pilgrims’ mass.

At first, he just wanted to say no. Peter never did figure out exactly why.

I think he was perhaps afraid of the responsibility of being an integral part of this event at which he’d expected just to be a spectator, in a sense. Although having said that, it was never like him to shy away from the stage, or the spotlight. I sensed that for some reason it was an emotionally complicated thing for him. He was very resistant to it.

But the sacristan at the Santiago cathedral had given Oliver permission to play at the cathedral whenever he wanted, so fiddling at the mass seemed like the right thing to do, Peter says.

He just realized that it wasn’t about what he wanted. It was about other things that needed to take priority.

And so Oliver played at the mass, and “of course it sounded fantastic and was such a great thing.”

Peter wrote in the liner notes about the pilgrims’ mass at the cathedral, and the point when he heard the words “cuatro de Canadá.” Four from Canada.

there was a time in our lives before the camino, and there is a time after it.

those three words mark the transition.

at the climax of the mass a giant censer roars past us,

a massive arc, leaving a sweet trail of smoke.

it is joyful, celebratory, and incredibly exciting.

The botafumeiro had a big impact on Oliver, too, which he described in his journal.

The effect of this HUGE object hurtling directly overhead was astounding. At the apex of its swing, it almost touched the ceiling of this very large cathedral on either side. When it came overhead, it barely missed us. It was dramatically cathartic, releasing all of this kinetic energy along with the incense. It was like a joyful leap into the air, the end of the journey.

Camino: The Album

[Camino: the album]

The cover of Camino. Peter Coffman won the 2007 Independent Music Award (Album Photography) for his Camino photos.

Peter started developing his film immediately after returning to Canada, and began scanning and printing the photographs soon after—”just because it was exciting to see this stuff,” he says.

At the same time, Oliver was going through his recordings. As the two sent photos and music flying back and forth across the Internet, Peter says, they realized they had a potential album on their hands.

[Oliver] had all this music that sounded great. I had all these images that in certain ways, in their sensibility, seemed to fit the music—partly because they were black and white. There was this sparseness to the images that seemed to work with the sparseness of the music. That’s when we began to realize, we’ve got some interesting stuff here. People might like this stuff.

Two years after walking, Oliver released the album Camino. On it, his playing mixes with the sound of bells, of children playing, of pilgrim footsteps. The cover and liner notes are full of Peter’s photos, and writings by both men about their Camino experience.

In the documentary, Oliver described Camino as “an album of duets between violins and buildings.”

And the liner notes are another duet, this one between images and words.



\’On June 5, 2008,\’ Peter writes, \’Oliver played what he knew would be his final concert to an absolutely packed house at Trinity-St. Paul\’s Church in Toronto. It was a sweltering, intense, beautiful, and unforgettable night.\’
Photo by Peter Coffman.

Oliver Schroer was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, about two and a half years after walking the Camino. He passed away in July 2008.

A month before his death, he threw a concert, Oliver’s Last Concert on his Tour of this Planet. At one point during that evening, he spoke about the Camino, and played one of the pieces he composed along the way. It’s obvious, watching the footage, that the walk was important to him.

Peter was at the concert, of course, and recorded parts of it with his camera.

He’s kept up a connection to the Camino since the walk, through an exhibition and talks about his own photography, and by attending Camino-related events.

The Camino never really ended for him, he says, while he was working on his photographs and listening to Oliver’s music.

In a way, it kept us on the road; it kept the road with us. And that’s been the case ever since.

Every year, Peter says, he meets people “who connect to this [Camino] story in one way or another.

It’s one of those things that, for me anyway, once you’ve done it, once you’ve got it … you carry with you everywhere.

* * *

To hear some of Oliver’s music on-line, try a YouTube search. It’s bound to leave you wanting a copy of Camino, which you can purchase through Borealis Records (where you can hear parts of every Camino track) or Amazon.ca.

For more about Oliver Schroer, his music, and his experiences on the Camino visit his website, read his Camino journal, and/or check out my previous post on Camino (which has an excerpt from the documentary Silence at the Heart of Things embedded into it).

To learn more about Peter Coffman and his photography, visit his website. He has three wonderful galleries: the Camino de Santiago, Oliver Schroer, and historical architecture. (Use the bar at the bottom to slide sideways through the galleries.)

2017 update: Peter Coffman just published Camino, a book of his gorgeous photos.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:29 am
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Walking Time


In the church at St-Alban-sur-Limagnole, along the Chemin du Puy.

A little while ago, I described two months on the Camino as “an eternity.” It made so much sense to me at the time that I didn’t consider the words. But a little later, I started thinking about them.

In non-Camino life, two months fly by the way cars speed past walkers.

But when I was walking, two months felt like forever.

I’m not talking about the dragging, glance-at-the-clock-ever-few-seconds time that’s so familiar to students in a dull class or employees in an endless meeting. Some might associate that sort of boredom with long walks—but those are rarely, I suspect, the people who’ve gone out walking.

A few years ago, I spent a fair bit of a summer reading about time. Not scientific time—that Stephen Hawking stuff goes over my head—but the human experience of time.

And one of the things I read was that when you experience the same things over and over each day, time feels like it’s moving more quickly. The science behind this idea had something to do with the circuits in our brain. If we use the same ones all the time, our brains stop really paying attention.

So in a weird way, we live shorter lives if we never break out of our routines. Because when it comes right down to it, it’s our experiences that count, not the readings on our clocks and calendars.

* * *

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

One of the reasons children experience time as moving more slowly is because they’re always encountering new things.

I heard an interview with psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik on one of my favourite radio shows the other day. Gopnik said young children are much more conscious and aware of what’s going on around them than we adults tend to be.

Adults’ attention, Gopnik explained, is like a spotlight: we look at what we think is important and tune out everything else. Young children don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so they notice everything.

It is, in many respects, a wonderful way to be in the world, but it’s not efficient. Young children spend a lot of time sleeping and crying as they try to process all they experience. They’re not so good at getting important things done.

But, Gopnik said, adults can recapture some of that feeling through travel. When everything is new and different, we notice so much more. We become more alive. Travel isn’t the only way to reach that state, of course, but it can really help.

And I suspect that’s a big part of why time slows down on the Camino.

But it’s not only that, at least for me. I’ve done a fair bit of non-Camino travel, and time, then, didn’t slow to the same extent. I think the speed of Camino time also has something to do with the slower pace, the way life shrinks when you’re rarely thinking more than 30 kilometres ahead.

Maybe that’s part of the reason some of us get addicted to walking pilgrimages. We’re more awake when we’re walking. We live more deeply. And time stretches out toward eternity.

* * *

What do you think? Did you experience time differently while you were walking, or at any other time in your life?

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:31 pm
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The Well-Equipped Pilgrim

[Team Wombat]

A well-equipped Australian family on the Camino Francés in Galicia. Go Team Wombat!

“Just pick one and get on with it.”

I have to admit that’s been my reaction recently when I’ve read about people obsessing over what kind of equipment to take on the Camino or any kind of hike.

But now … I don’t actually have a plane ticket yet, but I did make my first Vía de la Plata purchases earlier this week, when I bought some blister pads and a travel toothbrush at the pharmacy. And it hit me: I’m really going. In less than three months, I’ll be in Spain.

So I dug through boxes to find my old equipment, and considered it.

Some things I obviously needed. Others—like the clothes for seriously cold weather—I could just as clearly leave behind. And it was relatively easy to create a list of replacement items, for things that I lost or wore out more than two years ago on the Camino de Santiago.

And then there are the things I can’t quite decide about, beginning with Big Item #1: the sleeping bag.

I picture my inner dialogue on this subject as one of those angel/demon cartoon situations, with each on one of my shoulders, whispering into my ear.

Demon of Doubt: You have a perfectly good lightweight sleeping bag already.

Ultralite-ish Angel: But it’s rated to -10 Celsius, which is totally redundant. You could get a lighter, smaller 7 Celsius sleeping bag for $40.

Demon: Those heat ratings are designed for men, who tend to be warmer, while you are possibly the coldest person on the face of the planet. You sleep with five blankets at home, so you’ll freeze in the lighter sleeping bag. And the weight difference is well under a pound. Do you want to be a dead peregrina?

(I should interrupt here to point out that I’m Canadian, and thus allowed to talk about degrees centigrade and pounds at the same time. We’re weird that way.)

Angel: So you’re not worried about being alone and female on route without pilgrim throngs. You’re not particularly concerned about traffic, which has been known to kill pilgrims. But you really think that, wearing all your layers, in your lightweight sleeping bag, inside a building, you could die of cold?

Demon: You never know.

Angel: And every ounce matters. Who was it that added an extra ten minutes to her walk the other day and went up a substantial hill with her backpack—and felt like dying? And that wasn’t even a serious climbing-out-of-Conques sort of hill.

Demon: I’m not convinced shaving off a few ounces would have affected that.

Angel: And the -10 sleeping bag is just too big.

Demon: Right. So there’s a reason for using the backpack you already have.

And thus we segue into Big Item #2: the backpack. The problem being that my only functional backpack holds 75 litres, which is of course too big. But it’s so comfortable! And so affordable! And….

Well, you see what I mean.

I remind myself that gear choices aren’t absolute. Spain is not a barren shop-less wasteland. When I was walking to Santiago from Le Puy, I discarded some items and picked up others as I moved from summer heat to autumn chill.

But it doesn’t help—much. My angel and demon keep on arguing.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:57 am
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Refusing the Adventure

[The moon and the cathedral]

I took this photo of a cathedral detail just before the pilgrims' blessing, the day I walked out of Le Puy.

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the journey alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (and quoted in The Power of Myth)

I’ve written before about the end of my Camino, and the post-Camino blues that followed.

Now, as I get ready to walk the Vía de la Plata, I’m thinking of beginnings rather than endings. And I’m hoping not to duplicate the beginning of my last Camino.

Here’s the thing: I wish I were more like Rob from SlowCamino. I really do.

But while I am a relatively slow walker, and I can be laid back about some aspects of life, I am also a first-class worrier.

So here’s me, the night I reach Le Puy-en-Velay at the end of August 2008.

I’m pacing up and down a hill that seems more vertical than horizontal. I’m trying to convince myself that my boots fit, but can’t escape the reality that they’re rubbing against my heels: a blister just waiting to happen.

My head itches. Part of me is sure this is psychosomatic—in my head rather than on it. The other part, the louder one, is convinced it’s fleas or lice or something worse, which I must have picked up in the hostel in Chartres and am now going to spread around the Camino.

Then there are my pants (that’s trousers for you British folks), which I suddenly realize I should have worn for more than three minutes back home. A piece of plastic-covered fabric scratches constantly against my leg as I walk. Later, I’ll find that my leg is bleeding.

And I don’t have a sleeping bag liner. I hadn’t considered this item before, but it suddenly seems a necessity on the Chemin du Puy. It’s hot out and my sleeping bag is too warm, but a gîte d’étape blanket with a sleeping bag liner, like the one the pilgrim in the next bunk has, would be perfect.

Then there’s the sheer fact of the hills. I’d walked around with my backpack a little at home, but I’m not really in great shape. I’d seen pictures of the hills around Le Puy before leaving home, but I didn’t understand, then, how steep they really are.

I am a complete fool, I decide, walking up and down that hill in the darkness, still trying to convince myself that my boots fit.

There are a lot of kilometres between me and Santiago de Compostela. My plan to walk them all, which seemed so reasonable at home, suddenly seems the height of hubris.

* * *

[The Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe]

The Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, in Le Puy-en-Velay. The Chemin du Puy, I must admit, didn't ascend quite that vertically, though it sometimes felt like it.

The late mythologist Joseph Campbell outlined the “hero’s journey,” which shows patterns that he said are found in many stories from a variety of cultures around the world.

After showing the hero in her normal world, the story really takes off with a call to adventure—something that warns the hero she’s in for a journey, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.

The next stage of the journey (and not all stages are found in all stories, but this one is quite common), is the refusal of the call. It can range from a flicker of doubt to an outright refusal.

Or maybe the panic I felt that night in Le Puy-en-Velay as I paced under the streetlights.

Now, I’m no hero.

My point is that this refusal, which is part of so many myths and other stories, reflects a universal truth: doing something big and different is scary. It’s tough, too, even when we’re beginning something we really want to do.

And if galaxy-saving heroes like Luke Skywalker (Star Wars always comes up in a discussion of the hero’s journey, and who am I to break tradition?) can refuse their journeys, shouldn’t we be able to do it, too?

The problem is when the refusal becomes the story: it’s never overcome. Looking at my own life, I can see a number of times when I was living a refusal instead of an adventure.

But Campbell said we should choose the adventure, every time.

He was using the term “adventure” in its broadest sense here. You don’t have to leave home to have one. It could be taking a job you’re afraid you can’t do, or asking someone on a date when you’re afraid they’ll say no. Or, of course, (to choose an example totally at random) it can involve walking across a country or two.

Adventure is risk. It can be frightening. It can be tough.

But in the end it’s absolutely worth it.

* * *

Stained glass in the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe

Some of the simple, beautiful stained glass in the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe.

I didn’t reach a firm decision that evening I paced the streets of Le Puy.

The next morning, I woke up when my roommates got up to head for the pilgrim’s blessing at the cathedral. Then I rolled over and went back to sleep.

That day, instead of beginning my pilgrimage, I went on a long walk to a sports store, where I bought new pants and a silk sleeping bag liner. I decided my boots fit after all—and they really did, once my feet had swelled up from all that walking. I found a pharmacy and asked for anti-flea shampoo, after summoning all my French to describe “shampoo for the little bugs that bite in the hair.” (I’m still not sure if I actually had fleas—but at least it had a placebo effect.) I climbed the many steps to the lovely little Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel, and that alone made the delay worthwhile.

The next day, I got up early and trudged up the hill to the cathedral for the pilgrim mass. And when the mass was over, I started walking.

It was tough sometimes, the adventure I started that day— mentally, and emotionally exhausting.

But I walked into Santiago, almost three months after that evening in Le Puy, having walked the whole way. And I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:31 am
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Camino Documentary Needs Pilgrims’ Help

[Interviewing pilgrims for The Camino Documentary]

A Camino Documentary crew interviews Hanns, Paul and Uschi in the Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

You could say The Camino Documentary was born in May 2008 in León.

Lydia Smith, tired from a day’s walking on the Camino Francés, was having a massage and telling the masseur about her life in the film industry.

He said, why not make a documentary about the Camino?

“And I [said], oh no, I can’t do that,” Lydia tells me over the phone, more than two years into the making of the documentary. “I didn’t really think … I could capture it. It was so sacred and beautiful. It felt like too big of a deal.”

It didn’t make sense for her to do it since it would be too hard to raise the money, she decided. She had, after all, only produced one film independently and had sworn never to do it again. Her other films had been contracted by companies that already had funding in place.

But back home in Portland, Oregon, Lydia found she couldn’t get the idea of a Camino documentary out of her mind. And the more she thought about it, she says, the more she realized this was what she was supposed to be doing.

I do value [the Camino] as so sacred, and respect it. I’m bilingual—I lived in Spain for six years—so that gave me a huge plus, being able to interview all the hospitaleros and the experts on the Camino. So I decided to do it after I got home.

She chose to trust that the Camino and its pilgrims would help her find funding, and set to work.

And a year after the conversation that started it all, she interviewed David Casado Medina, the masseur who suggested the documentary, about physical side of walking.

Returning to the Camino

Filming morning fog in the Pyrenees.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Lydia went back to the Camino in spring 2009, this time as director of a documentary with a multi-national film crew in tow.

There were two main crews of four or more people that each kept track of about six pilgrims, and one cameraman who worked on his own. The pilgrims were given cell phones, but sometimes they weren’t sure which town they were in, so meeting up could be tricky.

Organizing and keeping track of everyone and everything was much more difficult than just walking the Camino, Lydia says.

[I had] the challenges of co-ordinating and being in charge of twelve people and trying to get free food and lodging, and not having very much money. It was really hard, and it made me really ache to be on the Camino myself.

She did get to walk part of the time, though. Her crew would usually find one of the pilgrims they were documenting in the morning, and walk with and interview the pilgrim. Then they would do the same thing with another pilgrim in the afternoon.

There were other ways that making the documentary reminded Lydia of walking the Camino herself.

I felt like everything was intensified on the Camino. When I was happy, I was super happy. When I was sad, I was super sad. And doing this film is like that.

And for Lydia, making the documentary, like walking the Camino, is all about the people she met along the way.

Filming Pilgrims

[Camino Documentary still]

A still from The Camino Documentary's trailer.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

So how did pilgrims react to the documentary crew?

“Most people were really into it,” Lydia says. Twelve pilgrims agreed to be part of the documentary, and only one person she asked said no.

Having been a pilgrim herself, Lydia was careful to let the pilgrims have unfilmed experiences. The crews didn’t follow every pilgrim every day.

And, Lydia says, being followed by the documentary crews enhanced some of the pilgrims’ Camino experience.

The two older guys, Jack and Wayne, they talked a lot about how much they appreciated [being filmed], because every couple of days we’d check in with them, and say, ‘What are you doing? How are you doing?’ It made it much more of a reflective experience. They were really thinking, ‘Okay, how is this really affecting me? What is happening?’

And the rest of the pilgrims who participated?

“I think all of them really liked being part of it for sure,” Lydia says. “That part I felt really good about.”

Hospitaleros and More

One advantage to filming, as opposed to walking, the Camino is that it gave Lydia an opportunity to have good conversations with a lot of the people who really make the Camino work.

She spoke with the hospitaleros and other Camino experts, who make up what she calls the film’s “chorus.” In the finished film, they will provide information that comments on and helps to explain the experiences of the (likely six) featured pilgrims.

Hospitaleros don’t always have time to chat with every pilgrim who passes through, but many of them spoke on film with Lydia. A lot of them, she said, have given up their lives in other parts of Spain to devote their lives to the Camino.

There’s the famous people on the Camino, Tomás from Manjarin and Jato [from Villafranca del Bierzo]. But the thing is there’s so many more people that really have the soul of the Camino in their heart, and nobody really knows that much about them.

The Film Crew on the Camino

[The Camino Documentary crew]

The Camino Documentary crew in front of the Santiago Cathedral.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Lydia didn’t just interview people directly connected with the Camino. She also regularly interviewed her crew, and hopes to be able to produce a thirty-minute behind-the-scenes glimpse of what filming the Camino was like for them.

The crew, Lydia says, was made up of “really high-level professional people in the film industry” who agreed to a rate of just US $100 per day. Apart from Lydia, only one other crew member had walked the Camino, but the others either wanted to walk it, or just felt that the experience of being there would make up for the low wages.

Lydia says that walking the Camino and making a film about it are two entirely different experiences.

But [filming] it still touched people. You still get to touch some of what the Camino has to offer, [just] not in the same way.

Pedro Valenzuela, the director of photography, raved about the Camino after returning home to Chile. After hearing him talk about it and seeing the 23-minute version of the film, his wife left him with the kids and set off to Spain for her own two-week pilgrimage.

And as for the rest of the crew, Lydia says they got a lot out of it, too.

Most of them, they’ve said to me it was such a wonderful, amazing experience. And it was really important to me to try and create that for them.

[Camino Documentary director Lydia Smith and Cyrian]

Camino Documentary director Lydia Smith shows Cyrian, the youngest pilgrim the documentary makers followed, how the camera works.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Documentary Vision

When Lydia got home from her Camino, she had the same problem as many of us the rest of us: there’s no way to really explain the experience to friends and family. They just don’t get it.

But Lydia says The Camino Documentary has already helped pilgrims in that respect.

What people have told me is now with the [documentary] trailer, it’s something people can show, and say, ‘This is kind of what it’s like.’ You know that whole thing of people being so much kinder and generous with each other. It’s so hard to describe. But my intention is to be able to have a film that pilgrims can say to their family, ‘Look at this. This is what I experienced.’

Even more important for Lydia is what she hopes the documentary, which shows people of a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, says about living a life.

We each have to follow our own way, and have the courage to do that. Because it’s not always the easiest road. … And so my intention is really to create a film that inspires people to follow their hearts, and to really do what they feel their life’s purpose is.

And also my intention with this film is to really show that we each can do things in our own way. And just because you have a different way of doing something doesn’t make your way right or my way wrong or vice versa. [We need to] really learn to respect each other’s way of doing things, and not have to insist that we all do things the same way.

The Struggle for Funding

There are currently two versions of the film: the six-minute trailer you can see on the website, and a 23-minute version. But Lydia is struggling to raise enough money to produce a complete one-hour documentary.

The day I talk with her, she’s feeling discouraged. She’s just found out that the large grant she was really hoping for hasn’t come through.

Grant-wise, she explains, the project is in a funding hole. Foundations generally want to support documentaries on social issues, while corporations don’t want to be involved in anything that has spiritual elements.

And so Lydia sold her house back at the beginning of the project and has been working without pay for over two years. What funding there’s been has come from what she and her business partner have contributed, a few small grants, fundraising events, and many individual contributions.

About a dozen people are working for free, and just two people get paid—at a minimal $10 per hour.

There’s great footage, Lydia says, and a lot of people are really enthusiastic about the project. It’s the financial side that’s been causing the problems.

I do feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s really awakened in me my purpose. I guess I just never dreamed it was going to be this hard.

The struggle reminds her of Annie, one of the pilgrims she followed on the Camino.

She had all these fears of what was going to be hard for her. And what [she thought would be] hard turned out to be easy, and what she thought was going to be easy was hard.

Lydia herself didn’t have too many physical difficulties, but suffered at night, listening to the snoring in dorm rooms.

“So I think we all have different challenges,” she says.

For me, making the film itself has not been [the challenge]—I have great material. It’s just getting the money so I can pay people to help me put it together [that] has been the challenge.

Looking to Pilgrims for Help

[The Camino Documentary Cover]

The cover of The Camino Documentary's 23-minute fundraising trailer DVD.
Designed by Deb Jones of Garris Jones Design.

The documentary has gone as far as it has, Lydia says, in large part because of pilgrims’ contributions.

There’s the German pilgrim who decided the six-minute trailer needed German subtitles, and volunteered to do the translation himself.

There’s the Mexican woman living in Spain who is determined to help raise funds.

And there are many more pilgrims who have volunteered their time to transcribe and translate footage.

“It’s people and fellow pilgrims that really give me the inspiration to go on,” Lydia says.

Because there’s times when I feel like I just can’t keep doing this. But it’s other people, it’s the pilgrims that give me the encouragement to keep moving forward.

Now, Lydia is asking for help in a more structured way. Yesterday, she and her team launched the Power of One campaign to ask for donations.

Anyone can donate any amount, and different levels of donation will have different benefits. (Check out The Camino Documentary‘s website for complete information.)

For example, for a US $25 donation, donors will get instant access to the 23-minute film, which introduces the pilgrims’ stories, and has some gorgeous Camino footage. $50 or more will let donors see the completed film upon its release.

Five percent of the money raised will be “given back” to the Camino, half of that to an albergue or other Camino non-profit, and half, through a video contest, to a pilgrim who wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk the Camino.

“If I can get 10,000 people to donate,” Lydia says, “then I’ll be able to make a film.”

Money Matters

Lydia figures she needs US $50,000 to $75,000 to get to a rough cut of a 60-minute documentary—and that’s with her continuing to work for free.

At the rough cut point, it will be basically a watchable film, but will still need work, like colour correction and proper sound. But with a nearly completed film, it should be easier to find a distributor who will pay for the film to be finished.

Then, Lydia hopes, the film will be available on DVD, and shown on various TV stations around the world.

Any money the film makes after its release will go toward paying the people who have been working for free, and then paying the film crew “a living wage, which [the amount they were paid] wasn’t.”

Learn More or Donate

Visit The Camino Documentary‘s website to learn more, watch the six-minute trailer, and/or donate to the project.

You can also check out the Facebook page. Its many comments from pilgrims attest to the immense support the documentary has already received. And by “liking” the page, you can help Lydia show potential backers that lots of people (myself definitely included) are eager to see the finished film.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:45 pm
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