...because tracking me by blog seems much more sensible than getting a gps inserted under the skin.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We walked in to Santiago on October 28th.

Morning sunrise to Santiago

It wasn't without its challenges, but we did it. 800 kilometers. 500 miles. We walked from France to Santiago. I can't wrap my head around the thought. If I hadn't documented it with photos and video, I probably wouldn't believe it.

There was a lot of camino magic that day. We woke up at 4:30 to walk the 20 kilometers to Santiago by 11am and make the noon pilgrim mass. Our group of 6 got split up, so it was really disheartening that we couldn't walk in together, but those feelings were replaced by excitement when we found out that the butafumiero would swing during mass. The butafumiero is a large 60-ish pound silver container that hangs from a rope in the center of the cathedral. Hot coals are put inside to burn incense. A group of men pull on ropes to swing it back and forth. The was done in early times to counter the smell of dirty pilgrims. At its peak, it swings so high that it looks like it will hit the high ceiling, and there is a story that this did happen once. It is truly a magnificent thing to witness. These days, they only swing it on rare occasions and when someone makes a large donation, so I really didn't expect to see it. It felt like camino magic that it happened.

It was a little sad walking in to Santiago that we didn't see any of the faces we had been walking with. Just before mass I was telling Linda who I wished to see. As soon as mass ended, we saw Mitch standing in the door. I had met him night 1. Mitch is a charming man, mayor of the camino. And then we saw a bunch of other faces we knew. We saw practically everyone we hoped to see, and it was unexpected. Camino magic. It brought tears to my eyes I was so moved by the gathering. And so - there was much excitement in the air and celebrating.   We had reached Santiago.

The high comes down quick though, and it is best to keep walking. The next morning was extremely emotional as we said goodbyes, the hardest to Taryn and her partner Kim. Kim joined us a week and a half ago, but Taryn I had met before day 1. I met her on the train from Bayonne to St. Jean. In St. Jean we stayed in different hostels and I thought I would never see her again. Day 1 she sped past me up the hill and I really thought I would never see her again. But she stayed at Orisson where I stayed, and we found ourselves walking in our camino family. I shed many tears saying goodbye.

Last night before Santiago with Taryn and Kim

And we started walking to Finisterre and then Muxia. Another 6 days of walking. It is very different, not to be headed to Santiago, but I'm so glad to be going to the ocean. I think it also would have been hard to leave after Santiago in having such an abrupt finish. Walking to the ocean allows us to ease out of it and walk through the emotions of beginning to let go of this way, this life, these people, this freedom.

But even when it is over, it will not truly be finished. The end - that is when they say the camino really starts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

At this point, we have walked about 300 miles. Some days I couldn't tell you what town we were in the night before. It all runs together. But I can tell you that two nights ago we were in Leon. A big city with a massive and impressive cathedral. We spent two nights there and took our first real rest day. We spoiled ourselves a bit and stayed in a hotel. What luxury we had with long hot showers and towels. Towels!  And to sleep in and not have to pack up and find another place to sleep for the night. I fell asleep those two nights with a beautiful view of one of the towers lit up at night.

Despite being there for nearly 48 hours, the 5 of us split among 3 rooms, not bound to make our decisions together, we found ourselves mostly together, eating meals together and hanging out in one of our rooms. It is so strange to me, someone who needs an almost exorbitant amount of alone time, that when time for that finally came, I wanted to know what everyone else was doing. I preferred the company of the camino family. I would gladly give up my alone time to be with them.

Colleen and Linda

The community aspect of the camino is what hits me most profoundly. Apart from the four I have been walking with from the start, there are many others that you may bump into from time to time that you have already met. We may walk with someone a day or two, lose them, and see them a week later. But someone that you have only met once before suddenly becomes an old friend the next time you see them. And you greet as old friends, so excited with huge smiles.

Recognizing that we who do the camino all do come from a certain amount of privilege, the nature of the walk allows for a certain amount of instant depth with others. We are all on a journey, have pain of some kind, sharing sleeping quarters and showers. You don't know who are the doctors or lawyers or shopkeepers or people who have quit their jobs. There is no need to be defined by where you rank in the real world and so walls between us are not erected. This openness allows for such special depth to happen among people.

Jousting bridge in Hospital

And I have been humbled by the generosity and support I have felt by this community. Whatever you need, it will find a way to you. I have felt extremely cared for and loved by people I have known for less than a month. I am trying to figure out how to bring these community aspects home. How to enact them at home and create spaces of openness that allow others to engage in this way as well.

One exciting piece of news is that I was able to change my flight back to the US. I now do not have to rush to Santiago and can finish 3 days past Santiago in Finisterre. I didn't feel ending at the foot of a gilded church would be sufficient for me. It wouldn't feel finished. But walking to the waves crashing on rocks, to a place that literally means "the end of the world," where the others I have walked with from day 1 will finish, that will be a sufficient end.

How they fix blisters in Mansilla :-)

So after 300 miles I continue on. They say there are 3 stages of struggle: physical, then mental, then spiritual. I am definitely on the mental part. After 4 or 5 days of straight and long roads, sometimes not reaching a village until after 10 miles, it becomes a little weary. Walking isn't always pleasant. It is a mental struggle to remind myself that I want to do this. Because sometimes it just feels crazy. But tomorrow the land gets hilly again, and hopefully we are not too bombarded by wind and rain. The camino holds much magic, and there are miles to go. Tomorrow's magic: a chocolate museum :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sunrise on the camino

I didn't expect the camino to be easy. I just didn't think it would be this hard. [Fair warning: possible complaining ahead]. I tried to come with no expectations, but expectations are inevitable. And so I think I expected the first week or so to be hard, but then blisters would heal and my body would get with the program. Unfortunately that hasn't been the case. With boots that are too small (since feet flatten, swell, and double pairs of socks are worn), blisters have come, and come, and come. Some days my feet hurt so bad that I felt nauseous. I started to doubt that I would walk normal again. But as they say, the camino provides. Linda, one of my camino family, had a pair of hiking sandals that she was looking to get rid of. My feet are much happier and healing and recovering much faster after so much walking. I am starting to walk normal again :-)

Commiserating with weary pilgrims

But if it is not one thing, it is another. A nasty cold has set in. Pair it with rain and wicked winds and you have created the perfect conditions for miserable walking.

My walks are often haunted by my worries as well. I worry that I won't be able to finish the camino before my flight leaves and it will feel horrible to leave yet another thing unfinished.

Being a nomad like this also feels a bit like insanity. The same routine everyday.

I had idealistic notions of a life of simplicity, happily traipsing the land of Spain in deep introspective thought and getting clarity and epiphany after epiphany. The camino gives much, but not without working for it.

Halfway to Santiago!

It is hard, but wonderful. I may not finish the camino having the details of my life figured out, but I come home with many lessons. And clarity is coming. Walking, walking, walking, I am able to work through some big and important things. I feel like I will come home a more whole and authentic Jamie. And despite the hard things, life is pretty grand. Walking, I feel alive, and after walking, there are few chores to do before spending the rest of the evening socializing, catching up with "old friends" (people we have met along the way), drinking $2 wine that is better than any bottle I have tasted at home and eating delicious food (that will be walked off the next day). There are beautiful moments, beautiful souls, and beautiful images that I  am storing up to pull from for a lifetime. Fiery sunrises, a gentle squeeze of the foot for an alarm, a pink wig that causes much belly laughter, singing nuns, fresh tortilla, the relief of crashing on a bed off your feet after 27km of walking. The gratitude you get from clean laundry, a free electrical outlet, and a night without a storm of snoring.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A few photos for your pleasure:

Looking into Roncevaux

At a rest stop. Just follow the shell...

One of the many views on an early morning walk

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Czechoslovakian Truffle to make it to the top...

Day 1. St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson. 8 kilometers that felt like 18 because of the steep 1000 meter ascent.  The hike up is no joke. Not for the faint of heart. But the thing about walking is that it's really not that hard. You just need to take one step. And then another.

I have big questions to ask. Big ideas to think about. But there are times while walking, perhaps particularly when the conditions make it hard, that your body demands some attention and respect.  Today was one such day. It was all body, and it did me well. And after a tough hike up, we were greatly rewarded with stunning views of the Pyrenees mountains. Rolling green terrain with loosely roaming white bovine and horses providing a background sound of bells.

I mostly walked alone today and the Quaker in me was so very content. I think I will prefer to mostly walk alone. Socializing comes later when there is downtime at the albergue, or hostel. This afternoon I had a glass of wine with a couple of Australian women in their 60's/70's. Even here where there are younger people I still find myself in the company of people twice my age  :-).

Walking on the camino, you find yourself in an instant community of people. And because it generally takes a certain type of person to want to walk 500 miles, I find myself around like-minded people. One of the things I look forward to most are those wonderful meetings with others that leave your soul a little lighter. Towards the end of the hike up, there was a wonderful flat grassy area that was perfect for taking a break. I took a rest as I took in the scenery. I'm sure I looked pretty rough, my face very red. A couple came over to me, younger and from where I am not sure, but the girl said, "for you" and handed me a candy. A Czechoslovakian truffle. The best chocolate I have ever tasted. And I know it made the rest of the trek up just a little easier, both for the sweet sustenance it provided and that it was a gift given from an unknown girl.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The way to St. Jean Pied de Port

How curious that my last blog's title was "I would walk 500 miles" not knowing that the next time I would write, it would be for the sake of truly walking 500 miles.

"Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands."

I came across these words by Native American author Linda Hogan about a year and a half ago. I have not been able to stop thinking about these words. They have taken on new meaning as I begin my walking. I had never been this excited about my travels before. One person told me they thought it was because it was the first thing I have really done for myself. I hope that's not the case. It sounds too selfish. I think it has to do with the quote above.

I feel like I have been carried to the camino. For me, it is a walk of gratitude, among other things that I am still defining. The past four years have been very difficult years. If I were a building, it feels as if four years ago, that building were completely destroyed and I have been working and rebuilding to have a livable home. I have been rebuilt, but I did not do it myself. Some wonderful parts have been added by some really lovely people. It is not just a livable home, but it is quite wonderful. So I walk in gratitude.

I will walk. A lot. I will listen in a deeper way. I will ask important questions. And there will be many behind me. Many of you. Reminding me "be still. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of many."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I would walk 500 miles...

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren't just entertainment.
Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.

You don't have anything 

if you don't have the stories.
-Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

Photo courtesty of the Arizona Daily Star

I have now put somewhere between 200-225 miles on my feet walking through the Sonoran desert over the course of 3 weeks over the past three years.  Some people that I walked with had accumulated up to 750 miles on their feet.  And so I wondered: How many more miles will *my* feet have to walk? How many miles will it take before something changes?  Before there is hope?  Before people stop dying searching for the basic rights to life?  I don't have the answers to the questions, but I speculate that my feet will be walking many more miles to come.

For the third year in a row, I embarked on a 75-mile walk from Sasabe, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona with 49 people from all over the US.  We all walk with a common purpose: to remember those who have died crossing the border, and those who continue to cross; to bear witness to the suffering and inhumanity that is occurring at our Southern border.  But for each of us, the question of why we walk is also a personal one, answered differently by each of us.  At night, each of us has to do a security shift for a couple hours, keeping watch in case border patrol or migrants come into camp.  The first night from 11pm-1am I sat with Judith.  She is my age, from Colorado, and I've never had as much fun doing a security shift.  I listened to her stories: of her mother who crossed, undocumented.  Of her friend, Jeannette, who was put into a detention center with high risk of being deported.  Though this was my third year walking, the reality of migrants crossing and the hardships they face is still very far removed from me.  In a sense, because I don't see it directly, it is still unreal to me.  Yet here I was, listening to Judith's stories, and this is her reality.  This is why she walks.

And why do I walk?  I asked myself this question a lot this year.  Mile 5, mile 17, mile 36, definitely by mile 60, "Why do I keep doing this?  Why do I keep coming back???"  But I can't NOT come back.  I have to believe very firmly that every life has value and deserves dignity.  That no person should have to risk their lives to provide for their families or simply be with those they love.  I suppose the border issues are complex.  I suppose.  But really, to me, it's quite simple.  Our tightened border policies that were implemented in the early 90's provided more security in the urban spaces so that less traffic would pass through there.  They had hoped that the danger and threat of death of natural barriers (desert) would be a deterrent for those crossing.  That those who tried crossing and perished would warn others not to cross.  Death was a factor in our border policy.  A high percentage of migrant deaths occurs due to heat and dehydration.  Migrants mostly cross in groups, and something as simple as a few blisters could cause someone to be left behind.  The desert is a dangerous place to be left alone with little water.  Unfortunately, desperation to be able to provide for one's family or to be reunited with one's family takes precedence over the possibility of death, so while the warning is clear, many continue to cross, and many continue to die.  You will hear that the number of people crossing has decreased significantly.  That is true.  However, the number of deaths occurring has remained steady.  This means that there is a greater chance of perishing while crossing.  So why do I walk?  Because in all of the talk on immigration reform, not once have I heard any mention of the number of deaths that is occurring in OUR country.  Thousands of deaths in the past 20 years.  If a few hundred people were dying each year in my little county in Michigan, we would certainly know about it.  The country would know about it.  But not until I began walking myself and was intentional in learning about it, did I hear of the deaths at our border.  So I walk because each story is important.  I walk because most of you who will read this do not know what is going on.  Most people in the north don't know.  So I feel it's my duty to let people know.  It's my part.

Baboquivari, the old mountain peak friend that guides us and many others crossing

For those who don't know, to get a better idea, we walk 10-16 miles per day.  The first half of the week we walk through a wildlife refuge, and the rest along a highway.  We walk with only what we need on our backs.  Support vehicles carry all of our luggage and everything else we need.  We stop every 1.5 miles for water, and every 3 miles for rest and food.  We start early in the morning to avoid high heat and reach our campsite by noon and spend the rest of the day under shade, resting, napping, visiting with people, or playing Uno with 7-year old Itzel, the youngest to ever walk with us.  Groups bring us lunch and dinner and we eat quite extravagantly.  The only time you'll walk 75 miles and *not* shed a pound!  While we in no way seek to understand the experience of the migrant who makes this trek or simulate it, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience something that will remind us or make us think about what the migrant experiences.  Tuesday is our second longest day at 14 miles.  During our breaks, I make a priority list.  It usually goes something like: food, bathroom (meaning a hopefully semi-private tree), drink, footcare, sunscreen.  Being last on the priority list, I forgot to put sunscreen on that day, but didn't worry too much about it as most of my body was covered.  The sun only saw a little of my forearms and hands and face, yet that was enough.  By dinnertime, I felt really ill.  Nauseous.  I found a spot with shade and breeze, but if I had to go in the sun, I suddenly felt *really* ill and panicky.  I could deal with feeling ill, as I was humbled by others taking such good care of me.  What I could not deal with so well was the realization that if I had been a migrant, if it had been me that had been born in a country to the south who needed for some reason to come north, whether to find work to feed my family or because I missed my family so much, I would not make it.  We carry with us a cross with a name, age, and year of death on it of someone who had attempted crossing the desert, and we symbolically finish their journey for them.  If I had been a migrant, feeling so ill, I would have been left behind.  Maybe border patrol would have found me and sent me back to who knows where (people deported aren't necessarily sent back to their countries), or maybe someone from a humanitarian aid organization would have found me and given me water and medical care, but maybe, very possibly, I would have died.  There were numerous times during the week when the heat felt unbearable to me, and I got anxious and panicky to the point of tears to find a cooler spot free from the fierce sun.  On the last day, at 109 degrees, I managed to find a sliver of shade by one of the vehicles.  I huddled myself together to fit into that spot of shade.  And so many times, I imagined myself feeling that way in the desert apart from our group.  Desperately seeking shade.  Water.  Respite from the sun and heat.  Clawing my way along the desert floor with it's vast array of cacti to make the way more difficult.  Would I find shade?  Would I just lay there and let every bit of moisture be taken from me, my body frying in the sun?  Would my name have been on one of those crosses: Jamie Archer, 30, 2012-2013?  Or maybe I would not have been found for a while.  My remains would have been found, but nothing to identify me.  Then it would be Desconocida on the cross: Unknown Female.  And what if my body were so ravaged by the animals and elements that I would become Desconocido/a: Uknown Male OR Female: gender could not even be identified.  These are the crosses we carry.  The lives and spirits we carry with us.  Each had hopes to make it to a better life.  I have finished the journeys for three people: Rusbel Cano Lopez the first year, then Desconocida, and then this year it was Rene Lopez, 32, died 2008-2009.  I thought about him a lot that week.  I still think about him a lot.

Our last morning, we have a ceremony on top of a ledge, from where you can look out over the 70 miles we had just walked.  Where many have died, and where many will continue trying to make it through.  We say goodbye.  If I could say I have a "favorite part" of the week, this ceremony would be it.  But this year I felt it deeper than I ever had before.  I wept as I looked out over the land.  I wondered about Rene Lopez.  When was the moment that his body had to give up?  Who was out there now, struggling to survive?  Whose cross will I carry next year?  How many more miles will I walk and how many more crosses will we carry?

We lay the crosses at a tree at Kennedy Park, our finishing point, symbolizing the journey they never got to finish

It continues to become more real today.  I am staying in Tucson for the summer, where I can learn as much as possible about immigration and migrant issues.  I need it to become more real for me so that it can become more real for you.  Last week I signed a petition and made calls to get Jeannette released from the detention center.  I don't know what you imagine an undocumented person to be, but Jeannette is well-liked and respected in her community and is mother to three young US citizens.  To be deported would be to rip apart a family and get rid of a valuable community member.  These are the people affected.  I had never made calls before, and almost didn't.  A woman I talked to said she would "note it down."  I had little hope it made any good.  But by that evening, enough calls had been made and Jeannette was free to go home to her children.  At the organization I am volunteering at for the summer, a woman called in about her son.  He crossed a week ago but was left behind by his group.  His group had made it, but she hadn't heard from her son.  He is 15.  This is real.