The possibility of a hike on El Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) opened up for me about 2 months ago. I was so drawn to this pilgrimage right from the start – and so began the long preparation – outside and inside – I’ve been writing about since.
My fellow hikers and I (Wendy and Linda and maybe a few others) have not yet nailed down all the trip details. We know we will fly to Spain late next August; we are pretty sure we’re hiking from Sarria to Santiago, the last stretch of the trail. We are staying in small inns along the way, with our luggage driven from place to place; others hike carrying everything on their backs, stay in refugios, cook their own meals when facilities are provided and wash when they can.
But there are many ways to travel The Way, and many multitudes who have done so, many more to come.
It seems as soon as I said the words El Camino more or less out loud – on facebook, at work, and with friends, I was immediately – and warmly – ushered into a new world, one I’d never seen, and began to meet wonderful new people, though none face to face.
I’m corresponding with one man in the UK, an uncle of a colleague, who is a veteran traveler of El Camino and has been extraordinarily generous with his time and thoughts and suggestions – from the highly practical (vaseline on feet every morning!) to exquisitely lively descriptions of Spanish towns coming to life at night or beautiful evocations about the Mass given at a 1,000-year-old Monastery in Roncesvalles, Spain “where the priests administer a pilgrim blessing, as they have been doing from the beginning, in all the languages they know, and finishing with the words, ‘And please remember to pray for us when you get to St. James.’ “
The Camino Effect – emerging from a network of pilgrims who have made this trek, parts of it or all of it, in every conceivable way. And for every conceivable reason.
Some go to lose weight (it’s a frequent question on El Camino forums); some go to walk through their grief; others are seeking – God (going by many names), community, a sacred experience, an epiphany, a nameless ‘something’. Others simply think it will be fun.
And, of course, there’s the movie that’s recently been released – The Way, with Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. I can’t wait to see this (though I’m afraid Martin Sheen will always be President Bartlett to me, forevermore.)
I am not entirely clear what has drawn me to El Camino – more and more as time goes on. I am aware of a sense of wonder and humility when I consider the mass of humanity who originally walked to seek forgiveness from the apostle St. James, whose remains are thought to be buried in the cathedral in Santiago. Right now, I feel like I don’t want to wrap myself up in expectation, but rather be as open-hearted as I possibly can be to whatever emerges.
Here’s something I loved from yet another new person I’ve been introduced to in the Camino network, through a mutual friend on facebook.
“What to expect on the Camino:
Sunshine, virtually no rain (in August), joy, blisters, laughter, tears, snoring (in refugios). Kindness, friendship, aching limbs, tiredness. Wonderful landscapes, modern windmills, cows, sheep, acorns beneath your feet, birdsong, the sound of water and of cow bells. Traffic swishing past, sometimes uncomfortably close; car horns honking to encourage you onward. Celtic music blaring from speakers in grey-stone Santiago. A babble of languages, wonderful dinners (pulpo, caldo gallego, pimentos, Santiago cake) and some not-so wonderful ones. Good wine, red and white.
Rediscovery, renewal. A sense of loss when it’s over. Fulfillment?”