We more or less walked the coastal route today from Portland to Cape Nelson light house and then to Cape Bridgewater. It was physically a lot more demanding than I expected – with a lot of ups and downs and winds and twists, and it was actually therefore much longer than google maps had indicated to the camino organisers. It billed at being about 32km, but clocked in at 37.4km. That may not sound like a great difference, but the reality is that around 36km in one day and strange aches and pains start appearing in various muscles of the feet and legs. Still, everyone made it, even the two that took the wrong turn and ended up doing a 45km day. And one member of our group is 71 years old. He said to me at dinner tonight that he would never have undertaken the walk if he knew exactly how long it was, but I shook him by the hand and said: “You did it.”
Before leaving, I had a conversation with my myotherapist about my walking. “What do you think about while you are walking?”, he wanted to know. Well, I take in the scenary, I listen to music on my iphone, and I pray. “I think that must be the difference,” he said, “If you are praying that gets you to your destination rather than giving up along the way.” Today proved the truth of that. Everyone came through, and arrived at the camp at Cape Bridgewater. No one was hurt – which isn’t to say that we were not all hurting in our own particular physical ways.
I am aware too that there are many on the Camino who are hurting in other ways. One pilgrim shared with us on the way the last 10 months since her daughter was hit by a car and suffered multiple fractures to the skull. The recovery has been slow, but it has been real – a sign of the power of prayer, she said. Is this why you are doing the Camino?, I asked. “I needed a chance just to get away and process everything we have experienced in the last ten months”, she answered, “and my husband was very supportive.”
One unexpected element along the way was snakes. Many of them. My first encounter this morning was with a dead one that I almost stepped on. I only realised it was dead after my initial recoil. But later in the day the reports started coming in thick of sightings along the path. The second encounter was when I had turned to speak to the bloke behind me and he said, “Did you see that? You just stepped over a snake!” But my final encounter was the most terrifying: I came around a corner at full bore (around 8.5 km/h) only to find a huge snake in my path. He (?) immediately went into fight mode rearing up ready to strike but then, as I hastily backed away, decided on flight instead, much to my relief. I had my walking poles ready to retaliate against any attack (the poles have more than one use on the trail). I think most of the ones we encountered have been Eastern Tiger Snakes – big, thick bodied buggers with yellow bellies. Other pilgrims later reported similar encounters. So, be warned if you plan this trip in the future! Talking about this later to Luke Mills, the creator of the Aussie Camino, he suggested that pilgrimage has always involved risk, and perhaps this is the particular risk of the Aussie Camino. How appropriate that, on a journey of spiritual discipline, the tempter should take the form of a serpent!
The way we walked today was scenically spectacular. We are not tourists, but that did not stop me taking many photographs of the journey. We mainly followed the Great Southern West Walk, which was along cliff tops and, for a goodly number of kms, on the beach. At this point, I put my music selection onto Michael Nyman’s soundtrack for the film “The Piano” – which was really appropriate for the crashing ocean waves, the broad sandy beach, and the thick fog of sea spray in the air.
Tonight’s dinner table was true Camino jolliment and cameraderie. I had brought six bottles of wine along which were shared among all present. We are staying at a school camp, which was also once the location of a Josephite convent. In the morning Fr Greg has offered to say mass for us at 6:15am before we leave at 7:30am, so I perhaps ought to get a bit of sleep! (I have just spent an hour or so talking to Luke about his vision for the Camino over a pipe).