I bought some cheese, baguette and bananas and was on my way to conquer the mountain Alto Pradela, which is 930m high and required climbing around 350 m in a four kilometre stretch.
During my second day on the Camino when I had slept in Ledigos, a young female doctor from Barcelona urged me to take this detour. Her comment in broken English was that ‘the path is so steep; you almost walk on hands and feet’. It was not that bad: only the initial approach was really steep, and ‘almost walking on hands and feet’ was a striking but rather exaggerated expression. The rest of the way was quite manageable. Most other pilgrims preferred to take the tarred road with its traffic through the Valcarce valley, a gorge that lay far below my path.
Emil from Berlin passed me on the steep section and asked whether my sins were so plentiful that I had to do this penance! We bantered in this way until we both got so hot from the effort of climbing that we stripped down to minimum. I left first and went ahead and he never caught up with me again. Perhaps his sins were heavier than mine? When nearing the hill-top, I also passed a couple having their lunch, otherwise there was no one else around, not even a local.
I guess my sins could not have been too heavy. I climbed the mountain fairly rapidly and without difficulty. On reaching the top, I had something to eat while sitting on a rock and I enjoyed the marvellous 250° view over many peaks and valleys. The walk was generally known to be a challenge and those who had trotted along the very busy tar road admired my stamina afterwards. I had seen them moving along, looking like miniatures.
The way up reminded me of Suné, my son’s wife. Years ago Suné, Nadja, Kai, Arno and I had walked a steep incline on the slopes of Table Mountain in order to reach the Contour Path. Suné, petite and determined as always, was in front and maintained a fast pace and we kept up with her as best we could. When we commented on her speed, she confirmed that for her it was a matter of getting the difficult part over and done with as quickly as possible and with the least amount of fuss – a good principle to follow in all aspects of life!
Expanding on this thought: When walking the Camino we have choices as far as our endeavours are concerned: we might decide to walk up the mountain – or we might prefer to walk along the busy tar road. We can walk up the mountain at slow speed – or we can climb fast so that we complete the task ‘with the least amount of fuss’. We have choices and hopefully in everyday life we make sound decisions and move on.
Talking about efficiency, choices and moving on effectively directs me to a parallel picture that might be relevant. In this picture I compare our highly developed transport system with the way we live jointly and communicate effectively. Long gone are the days when building blocks like those used for the pyramids and other ancient structures required great effort to be shifted. Long gone are medieval days when those who could afford it rode donkeys or horses – the majority, in any case, had to walk on foot.
The first wheels, invented about 5500 years ago in present day Iraq, were probably oddly shaped, maybe multi-faceted and providing a rather bumpy ride. Eventually wheels became perfectly round and glide bushes supported axels and reduced friction. Now-a-days bearings make wheels spin and the latest development allows trains to hover on tracks, being propelled by magnetic fields – frictionless, only air providing resistance.
How does this compare with our physical, mental and emotional existence? Have we also developed a proficient and streamlined way to live, communicate and keep our own thoughts running smoothly and efficiently? For example, the global economic system has had a bumpy ride of late. Nevertheless, if we consider economic advances made over past centuries, many countries appeared to have had a good run on bearings – even if ‘grid’ causes occasional chaos. If one, however, looks deeper below the surface, one sees, for example, the daunting prospect of environmental deterioration and climate change caused by our modern lifestyle; dependence on fossil fuels causes, for instance, serious problems. Considering health matters; there is the great variety of unhealthy foods legally sold and causing havoc, which in turn increases our reliance on unhealthy drugs. One wonders if we are still moving forward efficiently in this world.