Sunday, August 4, 2013

I hiked the Camino de Santiago!

my feet at the cathedral in santiago

Through sun and rain, four provinces and many blisters later, after twenty-seven days, I arrived at the famous Cathedral of Santiago. I walked over 500 kilometers from my home this year to my home last year. I was really tired, but mostly I was overwhelmed with the happiness of having done it, and the sadness of the experience ending. 

The first time I was in Santiago I looked up at the Cathedral with so many questions. I had just arrived in Spain and I watched everyone move through the square with wonder, imagining their experiences. 

This time I was one of the many pilgrims in the sea, but even walking hand in hand with the friends I had met along the way, there was a part of me felt the same: I looked up at the cathedral and I looked around the square, and I wondered. But, I realized in the warm July sunlight, there was also a part of me that felt just a little different

some of the first of the group to arrive in the square

It's cheesy, I know. Maybe it's my love of sunlight or the delirium of being exposed to so much of it at once after a month of walking in the rain, but it held a peacefulness and a special warmth. I wasn't on a particularly spiritual journey; like most of the people I met I just really like walking, being outside, meeting new people and seeing new things. That's the thing about the camino, though, it brings you to places that you never expected

It's easy to understand why so many people come back for more. 

One of the people I'd met along the way was Grint, a German man whom I'd barely spoken to in spite of sleeping in the same crowded albergues for most of the last two weeks. He spoke a little English, but mostly he was quiet. He ate with all of the pilgrims and always smiled, even though we kept him awake night after night with our chatter. He was always the first to sleep and he was gone before I woke up each day, but he was always waiting at the albergue, smiling, in the afternoon. 

He was first to the square, too, ready to greet us with a smile and snap a photo. There were lots of hugs and then people started running around, dumping bags, booking trains, buying souvenirs, and checking service schedules to see if we could catch the famous mass with the botafumeiro... but as the midday sun faded to soft afternoon light we sat down for a drink, just like any other day on the Camino de Santiago.

I happened to sit by Grint, but this time I was the quiet one. I looked the friends around me
and thought of all the people I'd met along the way, and, instead of calculating daily kilometers, I pondered each of the minutes and the steps that had brought me to this place. Now I was here and only seconds remained. Of all the moments that make up my life, I thought, this is one I really want to hold onto.

Grint had walked the camino three times now, the first time from his front door in Holland. I leaned over and slowly asked my new friend what it was like for him, when he'd been here in the past? What did he do? Sleep, he answered honestly. Laughing helped me hold back my tears. Sometimes he'd visit a museum, he added, but mostly he just liked to do this. He liked to sit in the square and watch all of the people.

Sitting there next to him, I couldn't think of any more fitting, more spiritual, tribute to the Camino.

the whole camino family