Called to the Camino
As I continued westward on the Camino de Santiago, past sheep guided by shepherds, through sun-soaked fields of wheat spotted with blood-red poppies, and vineyards as far as the eye could see, so often I just smiled to myself. I was right where I should be.
I had first heard about the Camino in Spanish class in high school, but really didn’t give it much thought until Summer of 2010 on a Spain trip with my students. Marie, another teacher in our group from San Antonio, had walked the last 300 miles from Burgos to Santiago a few years before. Her passion for this pilgrimage planted the Camino seed and started me thinking when and how I could make it happen. After I finished grad school, I thought.
Flash forward a year or so to last fall, when my friend, Adam, remembering what we had learned about in high school, sent me the link to a movie that was coming out about the Camino. The Way, an Independent film starring Martin Sheen, written and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, reminded me of this road I wanted to walk.
My Spanish teacher friend, Anne and I saw the movie together one weekend in October and were swept into the landscapes, the relationships, and the purpose behind such a journey. Still, I thought, when I finish grad school.
But the Camino just would not shake itself from me, and by January I was phoning Marie, the one person I knew who had walked it. I swarmed her with questions about what I would need, and where I would start and she eased my concerns about the possibility of going alone. Marie shared something that stuck with me, “A person is called to walk the Camino, and you have been called.”
Unable to shake my ganas to carry out this pilgrimage, I changed my game plan to wait until I was finished with my masters and decided to use my few weeks off in between the school year ending and summer classes beginning to walk as much of the Camino as I could.
My planning began, and the Camino quickly consumed me. I read countless books and bookmarked dozens of websites which I perused daily. I soon discovered the overwhelming support of the pilgrim community through the Facebook group, American Pilgrims on the Camino.
I had grand plans to walk the beginning, making the breathtaking (literally) climb up the Pyrenees into Spain, and seeing Pamplona, and Burgos, two Spanish cities I had yet to visit. I even flirted with the idea of busing various stages so that I could walk the last 100 km into Santiago, necessary to receive the official compostela.
One message was clear. A pilgrim could walk (cycle or horseback ride) the Camino any way he or she desired. Ultimately, I decided I would start at the beginning and walk my twelve days to Burgos, dividing my Camino into two trips. I knew even before I started that my walk would be about much more than the destination and let go of the notion that I had to reach Santiago right away. I would walk every kilometer in my own time.
With a departure planned for early June, by April I had purchased the majority of my hiking gear and was starting to break in my boots, stuffing my pack with heavy objects to grow accustomed to the weight I would be carrying daily. The closer I came to the Camino the more excited and nervous I became when the reality set in that my first solo travel experience was really going to happen.
Sure enough Santiago sent another sign when I stumbled upon a new travel blog, La Tortuga Viajera. I immediately felt connected to American expat, Erin living in Madrid when I saw her post that she was about to leave for the Camino. A few emails later, Erin had assured me I would be just fine on my own.
Anxiety laid to rest, I continued reading about the Camino. Only a few days before my departure I met a guy, named Guy (many jokes to follow), through American Pilgrims on the Camino who would be starting from St Jean Pied de Port the very same day as me. Moreover, he was staying in the same albergue.
When I finally reached the small French town at the foot of the Pyrenees, it was comforting and surreal to see a “familiar” face. Guy was a staple to our pilgrim family and watching our goodbye in Burgos, as Guy and the rest of the group continued on to Santiago, you would have thought we had known each other a lifetime, not merely twelve days.
Although my body ached from the many miles, what hurt more was ending my Camino prematurely. I was thankful, however for my perfect slice of it. Our Catalan amigo, Francesc had walked the Camino a few times before, and ended up on the Camino again by chance after another trip fell through. Francesc, also parting ways in Burgos, said that he would not walk the Camino again. His Camino was complete for this one had been so perfect. And I would have to agree. How will my next even compare?