Dale! (Spanish for “let’s do it!”). It was one year ago that Mr. Wiz* and I said those words to each other and left Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to hike over the Pyrenees and the 500-mile route to Santiago, Spain.
Since the 11th century, pilgrims have followed the Way of St. James to the Cathedral of Santiago, where his remains are said to be buried. For a time, its popularity waned until the movie The Way was released in 2011. Starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the father/son team reintroduced the Camino and are greatly responsible for its revival and the over 250,000 people from all over the world that traveled its routes in 2016 by hiking, biking or horseback.
The French route that we traveled is the most popular, but there are many others throughout Europe that all end in Santiago. Tradition dictates that it is “your Camino”; you travel each day as long as you would like, stopping at an albergue (a pilgrim hostel), five-star hotel or anything in between. You need not make the journey all at once, but in order to obtain a Compostela (certificate of completion), you need to have walked at least 100km (200km by bike) to Santiago and have had your Credencial (pilgrim passport) stamped along the way.
Your travels take you through small and large towns, fields, orchards, mountains and the flat plains of the meseta. There is a physical, mental and spiritual component to the journey that seems to be dictated by your location and the terrain. Many have also experienced a mystical aspect, seeing firsthand how “the Camino provides.”
Now, imagine all of this while sharing it with people from all over the world. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk), can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine).
As each day ended, I found myself overcome with emotion, reliving all the details that made that day like no other. A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there was such beauty in the incongruity of it all.
One year later, I still feel its effects on me almost daily. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.
Who would think that just putting one foot in front of the other would set me off in a new direction and lead me to a new way of life.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page