Pilgrims have been walking the Camino de Santiago for more than 1,000 years. This year over 250,000 people will arrive in Santiago de Compostela having completed at least 110km of the 800 km journey known as The Way of St. James. These Pilgrims come from all over the world and for all kinds of reasons, but I’m pretty sure that by the time their tired feet reach the cobblestones outside the cathedral in Santiago, that every one of them (even you, cellphone guy) will have experienced the wonder, the shared connection with fellow pilgrims, and the sense of having accomplished something quite special. I know I did. Hubs felt it too.
Little has changed. Everything has changed.
We walked on narrow, rocky dirt paths through forests knowing that since the 10th century feet had been tramping this same earth. Not in high tech hiking boots like ours, but in makeshift shoes fashioned from strips of cloth and hide. Not with backpacks and camel backs, but with everything they owned on their back or in a cart. Our journey lasted 8 days. Theirs might have lasted 8 months… and then there was the return trip. We flew back to Madrid for a little more museum hopping and tapas tasting. They walked for penance, a plenary indulgence and sometimes for a healing. We walked for fun, our health and a sense of accomplishment. But here’s what I know for sure – the one thing each and every person who’s ever walked this path has in common is that somehow we all find a little magic in the mix.
It’s said that the Camino always provides. Maybe it’s water when you need it (or a bathroom), the kind word of a stranger as you stand at the bottom of that very long hill. That moment when you look up from adjusting your shoes and thrill to see a farmer and his herd of cows coming down the cobblestone street – straight at you. Or maybe, it’s stopping at a tiny church to receive a blessing and have your passport stamped. These are all gifts from the Camino. Steeped in history and mystery. The outside trappings may have changed, but the true magic of the Camino takes place on the inside – if you allow it.
How can it not?
For someone like me who is a take-charge, need to know everything, cross the T’s and dot the I’s type, learning to trust that we could navigate solely by looking for yellow arrows was freeing. I didn’t have to be in control. I had no control. Except to put one foot in front of the other and go for it. And so I did. And so did hubs.
Those yellow arrows led us through gorgeous farmlands, up long hills with stunning vistas, down winding paths through 800 year old villages, over stone bridges built by the Romans and finally, at the end of each day to a lovely old manor home where we showered, bandaged our tender feet, drank many copas de vino, ate home cooked local fare, and fell into bed exhausted.
Finding your way on The Way means being in the moment. It’s the only way you’ll see all those yellow arrows and (sometimes) shells. And just like magic, one always appears just when you need it…and in the most interesting places.