Sunday, June 19, 2011

MY Camino Becomes OUR Camino

Pilgrims on El Camino frequently speak of "my camino."  As in, "I made my first camino two years ago."  Or, explaining a decision, such as taking a bus or taxi because of time or injury or just tiredness, "this is how I need to do my camino."  Or, "every one has to do their camino in their own way."

I have come to the end of MY camino.  In less than 48 hours (not that I´m counting or anything) my husband Rick will be joining me to walk the last 117 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.  So MY camino is about to become OUR camino.  I am so looking forward to sharing this amazing experience with Rick, but am also aware that the experience, while I know it will be deeply enriched by sharing it with the person I love most in the world, will likely be different in ways that I cannot immediately predict.

So I thought I would offer some thoughts at this point about what my camino has been like.

Simplicity -  Life is simple on El Camino.  Walk.  Eat.  Sleep.  Almost everyone who walks comments on the simplicity of life.  You get up.  You walk.  You eat.  You find a place to sleep.  And the next day you get up and do it again.  There are rich variations and challenages each day, of course. But at heart, the agenda is pretty much the same. Walk. Eat. Sleep. 

No complicated problems to solve.  No meetings to attend.  No checkbooks to balance or stock reports to worry about.  No home repairs.  You are detached, indeed usually unaware, of world problems.  Just Walk. Eat. Sleep. 

I know that in terms of comfort and safety, my walk is immensely easier than all those pilgrims who have preceded me on the way.  But at heart our day´s agenda is the same, the simplest imaginable.  Walk. Eat. Sleep.

Community - It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of community on El Camino.  About 3 weeks ago I found a little El Camino family.  Two Canadian sisters, Pam and Donna.  Donna´s husband Fabio.  Maureen, a Canadian born in Scotland.  Lola, a South African.  Rita, from Italy.  Except for Pam, Donna, and Fabio, we all met on El Camino. The others had been together for a while when I attached myself to them.  After 2 1/2 weeks of walking alone, I was suddenly lonely, and these lovely people welcomed me into their circle.  Because there was only Fabio with six women, we often teased him about being Mormon, with six sister wives.  He put up with all of us with terrific grace.

El Camino friendships are a little like church camp--intense but limited.  You walk together for hours a day, often eat together, sleep together--certainly you laugh together, and look after each other, commiserating over blisters and other injuries.  You share the challenges of sleeping in crowded albergues and toiling over steep climbs. 

I am deeply grateful for the time I walked alone, and I am equally grateful for the time I walked in community.  Both experiences enriched me. 

But it is not just these friendships that make up one´s community.  You find that you see the same faces day after day--in the albergues, in the restaurants, in the mercados, on the trail.  You know some of their quirks, like the French group that got up early (always by 5:30) and had no compunction about turning on the lights even if everyone else was still sleeping.  Or the Germans who were always friendly and helpful.  The college group from Michigan.  The lovely couple from Australia who always seemed to figure out the best place to stay, and at 70, could walk most of us into the ground. The Buddhist nun who walked in her brown robes, and her mysterious woman companion who was sometimes less than gracious.  The attractive French woman who, true to stereotype, always looked fabulous when the rest of us were just struggling to be clean. (Her pack was the same size as mine, but she seemed to have an endless supply of attractive outfits.)

And there were friends that I made who kept reappearing, like Anna from South Africa or Jennifer from Australia or Claire from Belgium or Sandy from Seattle.  Seeing them was always a joyful reunion.

Of all the wonderful memories I take with me from El Camino, I can imagine none more important than these dear, dear friends.

Gratitude - One of my favorite praise choruses is "Give Thanks"--Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One, Give thanks because s/he´s given Jesus Christ his/her Son.  And now let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am weak because of what the Lord has done for me...Give thanks."

I sing this almost every day, usually over and over again.  I was and am so full of thanks for this opportunity, and for the small graces that fill each day.  For the songs of birds in the morning.  For sunlight glinting through birch trees.  For the sound of rushing water.  For tumbledown Spanish villages with little cafes where I can rest and revive.  For church bells through the day.  For the taste of cold water on a hot day, and cafe con leche on a cold one. For my body which has (mostly) unfailingly carried me nearly 700 kilometers. 

Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God."  For me each days has been charged with the grandeur of God, not just in mountain vistas and gorgeous sunrises, but in the small beauties of a field of poppies, or passing through a Spanish village and seeing window after window full of flowering plants, the soft benediction of¨"Buen Camino" from a Spanish farmer toiling in his field. 

How can I not give thanks?


  1. Thank you for this WONDERFUL post!! I've suspected that this is exactly what the experience is all about - thanks for affirming!

  2. My name is Katherine, and I am emailing you with a couple questions regarding the Camino de Santiago. I am writing an article on the Camino for my school newspaper, and I am also doing the Camino de Santiago this summer. As well as information for this article, I am also doing this for information for me. Anyway, I would really appreciate your help and input!! Thanks!!

    How do you recommend someone trains for this?

    How heavy should your backpack be?

    What type of footwear do you recommend?

    What are the most important things to pack?

    Do you recommend hiking poles?

    What did you find to be the hardest part in hiking the Camino?

    What should people know about this particular trip?

    Any stories/comments/etc. you have would be greatly appreciated!!!

    Thank you so much for your help!



  3. Katherine--

    Thanks for your interest. Some of your questions are covered in the blog. Many of my early posts talk about my training. Other than the obvious (walking, particularly some long walks), I think the weight training I did was very helpful. I had virtually no injuries compared to what I saw many folks struggling with.

    The standard recommendation for backpack weight is 10% of your body weight. That was the rule of thumb I used.

    As far as footwear, this is a source of endless discussion. I bought a pair of Merrill hiking boots one size larger than I normally wear. I had a few blisters (see some of my posts) but nothing terrible.

    Aside from packing light, packing clothes that are sturdy and dry quickly, etc., I would also remind folks that they are going to be wearing these clothes for 5 or 6 weeks, so pack things that you like (colors you like, things you think look good on you, etc).

    I turned 60 the year I went on El Camino and my hiking poles were a life-saver (again, I think I wrote about this). I think they are particularly helpful for us older peregrinos.

    The last half of the meseta was probably the hardest for me. The first half was beautiful in its own way, but there are several days on the last part that are just walking along a highway with no shade and nothing interesting to look at and the days are long because the albergues are few and far between.

    The best part of El Camino is the community. You meet truly amazing people. And the hardest part is the community. Communal sleeping and showering are challenging and the lack of privacy can be wearing. Don't go unless you are prepared to be good humored about it. And the good far outweighs the bad.

    For stories, reflections, etc. check my blog. The best ones are all there.

    Good luck with your article and also with your walk.

  4. I am just writing a newsletter about the Camino and ran across your blog post. It so perfectly expresses most of what I'd like to say. Do you mind if I share it?