A Special Camino This Year


On May 1st, Derek and I received an email from a Peace Walker Society member, who reminded us of our pilgrimage together several years ago. Her words conjured up vivid memories of our journey: moments of wonder, frustration, despair and sheer elation. We felt so honoured to have retained such a loving connection to each other through the passing of time. Her words rang especially true this day, as we read them while sitting at a café table in Villafranca del Bierzo.

It was no coincidence that we read this email from the Camino. After leading our last group in 2006, we felt such a rewarding sense of completion that we couldn't have imagined any reason for returning. But here we were again; destiny had pulled us back for a different kind of pilgrimage: our wedding.  

On May 1st, as in years before, I set out from Villafranca, but this time not to help lead a group of pilgrims; I would walk for three days alone. And at mid-day on the May 3rd, I was to meet Derek at a special location. We hadn't spent much time apart recently, so it felt strange waving goodbye on the bridge, thinking, will he be there to meet me on Monday? My worries melted as I hiked up along the hot, sundrenched ridge. A gentle breeze cooled my brow. The hills were painted with bright shades of yellow and purple heathers and wildflowers, and the views took my breath in every direction. When I reached the top, the familiar sight of a chestnut grove made me smile, remembering the snow I'd encountered there six years earlier. Not this time!

A cozy refugio awaited me that evening, and hours later I dined with two dozen pilgrims, all strangers to me, but like family, of course. I awoke the next morning, as always in this place, to the loud strains of Ave Maria and Nessun Dorma wafting up through the stairwell to the large attic bunk room, along with the smell of coffee and somewhat burned toast. This day I enjoyed a slow meditative walk through a cool valley with songbirds and cowbells as musical accompaniment. Then I strode up the winding path to the ancient hamlet of O Cebreiro, past the old round houses made of stone with thatched roofs, and I continued up to the cross on the hill overlooking the settlement.  As a treat that night, I booked myself a room for myself at the inn, and slept on a gloriously soft downy bed — ahh, what luxury!

On the morning of May 3rd, the shutters blow open with a bang! and I gaze out at a sky of swirling snow.  I can't believe my eyes, but in this part of the world, as I know, the Celtic wind bestows unexpected gifts. On go all my layers and off I go into the frigid air, feeling less than confident but strongly determined. As I walk down into the valley, the blowing snow turns to freezing rain, and I draw my hood tight to avoid the stinging drops.  The walking path converges with the highway at several places, and in one spot I think to myself (for this is a proper, if not lengthy, pilgrimage), have I lost my way?  Cars whip past me, drenching me from head to foot. What am I doing here?  Did I miss a sign?  But with relief I catch sight of another yellow arrow and follow the trail back down into the cocoon of the valley. Many years ago, as I approached the end of this valley, I'd caught sight of a man on a hillside. That man was Derek, and suddenly in that moment, I knew he'd be an important person in my life.  He looked to me like Obi Wan Kenobi, which made me, I realize, Luke Skywalker, but that's apropos – he was admiring how I seemed to float along the trail, like he did in his younger days. He became my mentor. Little did I know what turns our relationship would take in the coming years.

Today though, I'm not likely to glimpse him through sun-speckled leaves.  With the rain and fog I can't see 50 feet ahead, and I begin to wonder if I've missed the spot somehow.   Or maybe something has gone wrong for Derek. But suddenly in front of me is the hilltop and a ghostly figure standing in the mist.  I know it must be him!  My heart skips a beat and I almost faint.  I want the moment to last forever, but I want to be on that hilltop now! And there we are, embracing in the freezing air.  Warm from the inside, I pull off my jacket and sweatshirt, and unfold a long dress I have tucked under my layers. Derek reaches out and offers a wilted but exquisite little bouquet of wildflowers.  Through tears and raindrops we kiss and recite our very own wedding vows.  Derek's fingers are numb from standing in the cold for an hour, but we still manage to exchange the rings we'd had made for us back in Canada. We marry each other on the hilltop.

Afterwards we are joined by Lucile (our wonderful longtime Camino co-leader), her partner Hans, and their darling baby Nina, who'd traveled with us to Spain from Amsterdam. We warm up by fireside at the rustic inn back in O Cebreiro, dining on hot caldo gallego and toasting each other with glasses of cava.  Our wedding cake is Tarta de Santiago.

An Old Friend's Blessing


The next morning, Carolyn and I drove north. We'd imagined spending lazy days on the beach, but the cold wet weather remained one step ahead. However, we did lots of exploring on the winding Camino del Norte, and were pleasantly surprised by the number of pilgrims we encountered along the way. Our ultimate destination was San Sebastian, in the heart of Basque country, close to the border of France. There we had a date to meet my old meditation master, Dhiravhamsa, a Buddhist monk from Thailand. I hadn't seen him in perhaps twenty years, so would I recognize him?

The appointed time came and went, and Carolyn and I began to wonder. But soon Dhiravamsa found us and brought us into the cozy café where he'd taken refuge from the fierce wind. Just as I'd remembered him, he seemed to have barely aged - only a few grey hairs more, but the same warm open smiling face. Over cups of thick hot chocolate, we chatted about the old days, our respective journeys and the state of the world. Then he invited us to meet on the beach the following day.

With morning, the clouds parted and the air warmed. On a golden beach (called La Concha - the shell!) we met, and planted our feet firmly in the sand that felt vibrant with energy. The blessed sun was now beaming down gloriously, and all our senses seemed awakened by the light and heat. As Carolyn and I held hands and closed our eyes, our dear monk friend recited an ancient sutra. Dhiravamsa's singsong words blended magically with the sound of the waves against the shore. When he finished, he took our hands and blessed our rings with his own personal words about union.  Afterwards the three of us celebrated at a bar in the square, laughing and sharing stories over tapas.



We went to Vancouver in early June to attend my granddaughter's high school graduation ceremony.  How proud we were to witness the occasion, shedding a few unexpected tears (happy ones) as we watched our special girl take one big step closer to adulthood. How exciting, all those hopes and dreams, all the ripeness of young folks just ready to burst out into the world! There is no stopping them.

The next day brought more excitement. We eloped – again! It had been no insignificant challenge, the question of how or whether to invite anyone. When we realized how many friends and family members we had between us, we decided it would be more fair to invite no one except two witnesses. But everyone's support would be evident, even without their physical presence.

We met at our friend Tina's small cabin on the Sunshine Coast. Unlike our first ceremony, but reminiscent of our second, a rainy windy day gave way to calm skies, and the sun shone down on us as we stepped onto the beach and took our places. With the marriage commissioner in attendance, Mark conducted the ceremony, and his words were perfect, honest, simple and heartfelt. He called on those present and friends unseen to witness our union. Tina shared a song that brought tears to our eyes. It's hard to say anything more about something so personal. But we felt so blessed.

Some people have asked, Why get married? For me, the question can be answered very simply: it was inevitable. When we act according to our truth, there is no other way. It just feels right. Some friends of Carolyn who have known her as a lifelong nonconformist are puzzled. But she says that now she is "middle aged"she feels less need to "go against", as she quietly follows her inner compass. "It's fun rebelling against my own rebelliousness!"

In all cultures, rituals help mark the important milestones in life. Making a loving commitment to another, and honouring that love by sharing it with others - this is one of the most significant rituals. Love is what heals us and heals the world. This too – I hope – is inevitable.