A milestone of sorts today on the Camino, as we passed the 200 km mark (about 120 miles) – we have now walked 25% of the Camino, with another 575 km to go. This evening, we are staying in Azofra, a very small village in the Rioja region. Rioja is known for its very good wine, especially Crianza, Tempranillo grapes, and Garnache. It’s all very good!
As we have walked the Camino the last few days, we have noticed that the steady stream of peregrinos that we were seeing during the first few days has become reduced, or perhaps just spread out. We have not seen Meg and Ann from Boston the last couple of days – I think Ann had been struggling to walk, so they may have stopped for a day or two to allow her to recuperate.
However, we are seeing some familiar faces each day – a couple from South Korea; Lars, Ingelise, and Kirsten from Denmark; Jill and her boyfriend from New Zealand; and Laura from Canada. This afternoon, we talked with some Germans, 3 girls and 1 guy; he is walking the Camino before starting a graduate program in Public Policy at Columbia University in New York.
May 22, 2015, Azofra
On the Camino de Santiago, there is a curious but delightful transformation that takes place. Actually, there are many transformations, but one that I think is important and perhaps unanticipated is how life slows down and becomes simpler. For many of us who live and work in our fast-paced societies, this transition doesn’t necessarily come easy. It takes time for our bodies and minds to slow down, to discover the daily rhythms of the Camino, to adjust our thinking to a slower pace of life. It’s one of the true gifts of the Camino, and one that I came to treasure perhaps more than any other.
On the Camino, one begins to make new friends almost from the very first day of walking. It’s not hard to do, and just seems to become natural on the Camino. When you are walking on The Way, you will see fellow peregrinos on the trail, or in an albergue, or at a Pilgrim’s meal, or in a church, and it doesn’t take long to strike up a conversation. And it usually doesn’t take long to get to the most important question, the “Why?” question, as in, “Why are you walking the Camino?” The answers to this mighty question can run the gamut, from superficial to deeply personal reasons. I suppose the answers to the Why question are as varied as peregrinos are themselves. Interestingly, conversations between pilgrims seem to revolve around life stories, but don’t usually delve into what we do professionally. It seems that many pilgrims are searching for something that’s missing in life, or just want to take some time to think through a particularly vexing problem or question about life. For whatever reason, who we were before we started the Camino just doesn’t seem all that important. It’s a time to open our minds and hearts to new possibilities.
The Camino de Santiago has an amazing capacity to open people’s souls up to the possibility of making friends and it provides the time and space for people to get to know each other in an intimate way. In some ways, the Camino is a great metaphor for life, albeit in a compressed timeframe. Along The Way, people will come into and go out of your life. Some people you will see almost every day, some you will see sporadically, and some you will see for a short time before they head on to wherever they are going. Some pilgrims you will see at the beginning of the journey, then not again until you reach Santiago de Compostela. It can all feel very random, but I’ve no doubt that the spirit of Saint James is at work, according to God’s plan. Such are our lives – friends come and go, some we know only for a short time, others become lifelong. It’s a wonderful thing, and worth making time for.
A few notes about the companions that I walked with on the Camino de Santiago:
Bill from Atlanta first planted the seed for me to even consider walking the Camino, when he sent me a text one evening in 2012, saying “let’s walk the Camino in 2014!”. I had never seriously considered doing it before, even though I had visited Santiago de Compostela before (when my daughter studied there in college). Bill provided the spark needed to get me thinking about it more deeply, and that solidified into a deliberate plan to walk the Camino in 2015.
Larry and Carl from Nashville added spice and much laughter to our Camino foursome. Larry was my kindhearted and spiritual inspiration on the Camino. Larry was also the most resourceful peregrino of our group. He learned to navigate trains, buses, taxis, and rental cars, and would always show up. Carl was our most openhearted peregrino, always ready to engage in conversation, and willing to strike up a discussion with complete strangers easily.
To all our Camino friends, especially Lars, Ingelise and Kiersten from Denmark, Simone from New York, and so many others, thank you for the giving of yourselves and being companions on the journey. You truly blessed us with your presence and friendship!