Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the Camino de Santiago

It’s the destination, not the journey, that matters

You think we jest, perhaps not so much when one is walking the Camino de Santiago/Way of St. James! But we are ahead of ourselves....

When we left Botswana on May 26 it was with heavy hearts, a sense that it was the right decision for us, and no plan for what was next. Our family, friends and storage unit in Oregon were all well-acquainted with our COS date in November 2013. So in an odd way it felt as though we had 'free' time and only our imaginations to dream of the future that was upon us.

After spending ten days in Spain with Annie and Nick, the thought of walking the Camino (which, like the Peace Corps, was one of those ‘out there’ dreams) became reality. So here’s the importance of the destination.  Santiago de Compostela (compos stella translates: field of stars) is a place of great historical and spiritual significance, the center point being the plaza and cathedral where the weary over the ages have found shelter, rest and spiritual comfort.  Travelers (affectionately called pilgrims or peregrinos) have been making the journey to Santiago since at least the 10th century. There are actually several camino routes in Europe which all lead to Santiago. We met a woman who walked to Santiago from her home in the Netherlands --- 2400 km!  Point is: we all begin at different places on the journey and (hopefully) arrive at the same destination.

For us --- unlike so many others --- contemplation and preparation for this walk were extremely minimal. On the advice of a friend in Madrid, our pilgrimage began on June 9 in Astorga (beautiful medieval town on a hill) for the 164 km journey to Santiago  Carol may write an article entitled How Not to Walk the Camino which will include such wisdom as: 1. Don’t even think about wearing jeans and 2. Leave your laptop at home. Deep stuff like that. Yet our inner states of being were well prepared for this adventure --- at life crossroads, wishing time to reflect on our experience in Botswana, and setting an intention to meet the future with open hearts.

And reflect we did, walking the path marked with the Camino shell to guide the way through fields, valleys, villages, forests, up and down hills --- all of incredible charm and beauty. The awe we experienced almost always reduced the impulse to whine about aching feet, legs, shoulders, etc. to a friendly competition  of “Who Has the Biggest Blister?” with our fellow pilgrims in the evening as we rested at the local albergue/hostel.

Here’s another way the destination matters. Once reaching Santiago, pilgrims receive a certificate (compostela) to honor the completion of the walk. There was also a sense of inner completion (“We really did do this, wow!”).  And we hasten to add there was also great disappointment as the day we entered Santiago, Carol lost our two most beloved items: the essential guide book, and --- maybe you guessed it --- our Bananagrams. What was the universe’s message there? Let’s not delve into that mystery.

If any of you feels an inclination to make the Camino journey, we would love to hear from you. Well, we would love to hear from you for any reason!

Carol in Astorga, smiling and relaxed
because we haven't started walking yet!
Ditto for John!

                One of so many beautiful cathedrals on the Camino
Breakfast on the way, yum........
We say "there's a little bit of Botswana everywhere!"
Botswana blue, in this case!

Entering a village with the beloved Camino
shell sign which marks the way.
Our feet are not smiling, but we are!
Camino rain gear, quite fashionable?
                                                                     Storks on the Camino....
                                                                    they nest near cathedral bells!
The famed Cross of Fire on the Camino,
a place for rest and reflection.
The way opens.......

The bridge into Ponferrada
Hands and feet on the Camino, a circle of friends whom
you'll meet below!

The Cathedral de Santiago, our destination!
The greatest joy of the journey ----
meeting and sharing the path
with new friends from
Australia (Maureen, Penny, Juliet and Brian)
and Ashland (Rebecca and Martha)!

No comments: