|Sunrise over Bolibar, Basque Country, after an accidental four a.m. start time.|
High heels tap-tapping on the pavement. SALE signs in every storefront. The familiar turning on sound of my shiny laptop that I haven’t heard in a month.
Not one single “hola, peregrina!”* as I pass crowds of strangers in the streets.
Walking through central London is quite the “welcome” to the world. But arriving in London town on this beautiful July day, that’s just what I’ve done, scallop shell hanging from my backpack, dusty shoes on my feet and cool breeze on my face.
While many reflections are sure to follow, here are the first thoughts I’ve had since officially “returning” from my journey:
I’m damn proud of what I’ve just done.
Estimates vary from 795 to 863 kilometers (San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela), but whichever way you hang it, that’s a long walk. I’m proud of these legs that have put up with unplanned 35-kilometer days, these feet that have weathered blisters and mysterious swelling without (much) complaint, this brain that has learned passable Spanish in four weeks. While part of me was underwhelmed by my accomplishment and tempted to understate it, another part of me felt like turning around in the street and shouting, “Look what I did!”
I really want others to know that they can do it too.
Over the past month, I have heard of or personally encountered pilgrims on horseback, bicycle (“bicigrinos”) and wheelchairs; overweight men, non-athletic girls and heavy smokers; young children, women in their seventies and everything—everything—in between. Think you can’t do the Camino? I think you can.
Being a pilgrim is a privileged way to experience another place—maybe the most privileged.
Never have I been so utterly accepted in my travels, nor my purpose and my role so completely understood. As a pilgrim (as opposed to a traveler/tourist/visiter/all the other things I have been), I found local people exceptionally welcoming, caring, understanding and accommodating. The people of Northern Spain have happily put up with my (and thousands of other pilgrims’) poor language skills, smelly clothes, abysmal navigation and overall cluelessness as we passed through their homes. It was a privilege to be received so kindly.
I’ll miss it.
Backpack, staff, sturdy shoes and scallop shell. The trappings of the modern day pilgrim are different from those of our predecessors, but nonetheless unmistakeable. On a daily basis I received unsolicited directions and support from passerby. From farmers in their fields, cyclists whizzing by and cars on the road, shouts of “Hola, peregrina!” and “Buen Camino!” were common and comforting. To be so firmly rooted in a fixed purpose, and to have that role understood and supported by the community, infrastructure and even landscape around you is a rare gift. Though difficult to describe, pilgrimage as a state of being was an unparalleled experience, and I will miss it.
I definitely don’t know what I’ve learned yet.
Deep thoughts? Rare. More common: “My feet hurt.” “I’m hungry.” “Why is the sky still spitting at me?” “Ooohhh, that’s a pretty mountain.” “Cows are funny.” “Goats are funny.” “Hehe, sheep are really, really funny.” “Ooohhh, pretty horses.” “Hmm, my feet still hurt.”
You get the idea. Even more common: “… … …” Clear mind. That was the best part. So, I don’t know yet what the big lessons were—but I’m sure they’re in there.
But everything was perfect and exactly how it needed to be.
There’s no “right” way to do the Camino. Everyone will walk at different paces, stop different places and learn different lessons. And that’s exactly as it should be. I’m still entirely in the processing phase of my return, but I know one thing for certain about my journey: It was perfect.
*Peregrino(a) is the Spanish word for “pilgrim.”
Some bonus awesomeness: Check out my friend and fellow pilgrim, Margaret’s inspiring campaign, WALKING FOR WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER IN TIMOR-LESTE – HALIKU.
I expect to be writing a fair bit in the coming weeks and months about the Camino, so if there’s anything in particular you want to hear about, please let me know!