The State of Alarm in Spain ended one week ago. The news was full of people filling the streets and partying like it was 1999. But, here in Galicia, it’s meant the gates are open and the Pilgrims on the Camino (Frances) have returned. Each day, we have more and more people walking past the house. Alone, in pairs, or in larger groups.
Saturday’s weather here was an entire day of what the news referred to as ‘an atmospheric river’. The wind blew so hard it rattled the windows. And the rain came down in hard waves. And it was very cold. We sat inside, glad to be warm and dry. But outside, those walking the Camino were not so lucky.
Don’t get me wrong. I have walked the Way in very similar weather. Both with Emilie in 2017. And again, with Jeff in 2019. It’s a rough go. The day stretches out, where the prospect of a hot shower and dry clothes are the one thing that keeps you putting one foot in front of the other.
Jeff suggested we invite some inside. Or under the portico, to avoid the worst, at the very least. He remembers what it’s like. But I shook my head.
‘Only if there is lightening. Or if they ask. Part of the experience is to walk through storms, learning that you will survive.’
The busiest days here are Monday-Wednesday. Most people that go by our spot on the Frances start in Sarria over the weekend. We don’t yet get the long Camino Peregrinos. Those from other countries or communities who start much further east. Leon or Burgos, Pamplona, or even St. Jean pied-de-port in France. Further still, as tradition dictates, from their front doors in countries like The Netherlands or Norway or Germany. The borders of Galicia, nor the other provinces, have been open long enough to accommodate such a long journey on foot. This will change as we head into summer, and Spain opens her borders to the rest of the world.
I was out trimming bushes and replanting the trees from our balcony in Valencia, when I heard singing in French. Three pilgrims were doing a call and response as they walked by the gate. Waving to me. It sounded so joyful. I just stopped and listened until the sound faded away.
Many of those who walk by us are chatting and laughing. Usually maskless while walking, and seem to feel lighter on the road. A reprieve from the pandemic. No matter that they are lugging heavy packs. They look happy.
Then, there are the others. Those for whom the road is something else, entirely. Everyone who makes the decision to walk The Way does so for their own reasons. But these souls carry something heavy with them that makes the weight of pack pale by comparison.
This weekend, Jeff and I passed two such Peregrinos. We had decided to walk into Melide on the path during a break in the weather, via the old village down the road from our house. Then across the ancient stone bridge right below it. The stream was swollen from the rains, but the small bridge held fast. As it has for hundreds of years. I got to ‘moo’ at the cows and ‘bah’ at the sheep. It makes Jeff laugh.
We were traveling light because we would use the local taxi service to come home. More on that next time. We hadn’t just walked from Palas, unlike the Peregrinos we passed, so we were on fresh legs. Walking at a clip.
We passed the woman first. She was going very slow and the look on her face said she was going as fast as she could, but the effort was costing her and she was holding back tears. Then, a little further up we saw the guy she was ‘with’. We know they were together because they had perfectly matching gear. But his face was a bit different than hers.
The guy was hunched and limping. but his face was twisted with anger. He was not waiting for her. But more than that, he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Grinding it out and cursing every step. Been there, done that.
He is not the first person I have seen in the past three weeks with this same posture and look in their eyes. I can recognize it now and try to refrain from offering a hearty ‘Bom Camino’.
They say each person’s Camino is a reflection of their life. And certainly, when you walk for days on end, you encounter all the things you thought you could run from in your real life back home. The Camino will bring them up, again and again, until you look at them squarely in the face. The further upstream you start, the more weeks you put one foot in front of the other over and over, the more opportunities to deal with those things will present themselves.
But now, we are on the outside. Observers to the personal experience of others who are brave enough to embark upon a bit of soul searching and introspection. And, I will say at times, it feels like we are intruders on a very private matter. Something so personal it would usually be hidden. But, on the Camino, there is no hiding.
I see why people return, again and again. No where else can you do this very private work, with so many other people who are doing it themselves. A collective experience with others who know exactly what you are going through.
In 2017, by the time Emilie and I reached the point of where we now live on the Camino Frances, I was light as a feather. You could have heard me singing as I walked past. The black dog, as they call it, was way back in Navarra or La Rioja, where I had left him in the first two weeks.
By Melide, we were in good shape. The physical trials were in the past. It was about celebrating the accomplishment. Mourning the end of one journey, and the start of the transition back into real life.
Soon, many of those who walk past us will be at that same stage I was. But, as we look at getting our business together, it is a reminder that the Camino meets each person where they are, and that we will be a small part of each person’s experience. And it comes with some responsibility.
We are privileged to be there for it, and it is almost holy, in a way. Each day, we will need to find ways to honor, and support the process. But mostly, by staying out of the way. Because every one’s Camino is theirs alone.