Walking down the cobbled road, decending the steps, walking through the tunnel and past the young man playing the bagpipes, then entering the vast Praza do Obradoiro, home to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, we, my hiking partner and I, were both elated, and exhausted!
We had finished the walk from Sarria and arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in the early afternoon. The final task was to visit the Pilgrim Office to receive our official certificate, the Compostela. To earn this recognition we had to walk at least the last 100 km of the Camino Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and collect stamps on the Credencial del Peregrino along the way (at least two each day) to verify we actually did in the walk.
Over our six days of hiking, averaging 20km per day, we were graced with perfect weather, while soaking in beautiful, lush, peaceful meadows, and fragrant forests of acacia and eucalyptus trees. At times we walked together, sometimes chatting with other pilgrims, and other times we walked alone, each lost in our own thoughts. And we climbed many, many long hills on paved, cobbled, rocky, gravel, and forest bed surfaces. Then down again. Only to turn a corner to find another hill daring us to reach yet another peak.
At the end of the first day we humbly admitted that we had never been more physically challenged in our lives…and that was just day one! Day two boasted an unfathomable 24 km, 17 of which were mostly vertical. How would we ever complete another 4 days of this?
But we did. At the end of each day we were rewarded with unique and wonderful accommodations, mostly dating back to the 1700’s. Each place had been refurbished while retaining most of the original structure and elegant beauty. Meals were created from locally sourced foods by skilled chefs — a delight to our tastebuds, and nourishment for our weary bones.
People choose to hike all or a portion of the Camino for various reasons. I really didn’t set out with a defined purpose. The thought of taking a break from a busy schedule and the demands of daily life was appealing. Getting away from technology was also something I looked forward to, however, without the use of a phone and internet with EU access, the journey would have been greatly impeded.
I had watched videos of the Camino and was certainly attracted by the scenes of serenity as pilgrims traversed trails that guided them through countryside and ancient villages, some seemingly uninhabited, others more vibrant yet quiet and peaceful. My experience certainly reflected the shared experiences of pilgrims that had gone before.
For me, this hike was more physically and mentally challenging than I had imagined. However, through texts, FaceTime, and daily handwritten notes of encouragement from my husband (he had written a note for me to open each day on my voyage), his message of “Dig deep, find that place of courage, strength and peace. You can do this!”, was food for my soul. Add to that the cheering voices of my kids, grandkids, niece, and friends — there was no way I was going to quit (much to the chagrin of my feet and their growing blisters!).
On day 5, while climbing yet another hill and reminding myself to breath, a moment of realization hit me; I still had the physical and mental fortitude to push myself to the limit, and walk (or limp) the St. James Way trek in my 65th year. I could do this…and more!
As I’ve written in past blogs, and in my soon to be published memoir, ‘What if…’ life is to be lived to the fullest, even in the face of obstacles. Age should never be the determining factor of what adventures we embrace. Pain, injury, health crisis, you name it, don’t necessarily have to change your goals, just the path you take to get there.
Currently we are riding a bus on a very windy road enroute from Bilbao to San Sebastián, Spain. In Bilbao we explored the Guggenheim — the architecture was every bit as mind blowing as I expected, walked the streets of Old Town and visited the Cathedral of Santiago. Unbeknown to us, our Credencial del Peregrino granted us free access (and another stamp) to take in the beauty of this structure. While wowed by it’s beauty I was once again saddened and left wondering why so many homeless individuals sat, kneeled, or lay prostrate just outside the doors of such obvious wealth and opulence, begging for money or food. One of life’s many injustices.
I am excited to arrive in San Sebastián and get my feet into the Atlantic. By the ocean, or sea, continues to be my place of rumination, a great place to sit, breathe, and reflect on what I’ve experienced over the past 2 week since leaving home.
Stay tuned for more reflections as I probe and ponder experiences through life and travel.