Postcard from Camino de Santiago
by Patricia Thayer on 08/23/20
"If we say it, then we're doing it," my friend Diana proclaims at lunch one day in the teachers' staff room. We have been talking about walking the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, since our trip to Spain two years earlier. Now we are retiring after almost 30 years of teaching together. We agree that walking 100 miles of an ancient pilgrimage road in Spain is the perfect way to reflect on our lives as we celebrate our accomplishments. We begin planning. We set September dates, make flight reservations, set a 12 to 15-mile per day goal, make reservations at country cottages, and arrange for luggage transfers to each destination. We are excited and proud as we let family and friends know about our adventure. They are all duly impressed. We prepare by walking long distances in our hometown with backpacks and walking sticks. However, as we get closer to the date, we both become more and more apprehensive. It seemed like such a great idea six months earlier when we were ensconced in our daily routines. "What have we gotten ourselves into?" we ask each other. "Do we really want to do this?" The answer is "No." But if we cancel, we fail before we even start, and worse, we'd have to tell our friends and family. Our friends plan a going away party for us at a local restaurant to cheer us on. There's no staying home now.
After a long flight and then a long train ride, we bravely arrive at the small town where we will begin our pilgrimage. There is a sense of solemnity in the air as a scattering of pilgrims wander the streets. Some tired souls have already been walking several hundred miles, appearing weary but confident in their mission. Others, like us, are just beginning and anxious to start their journey. We rise early the next morning, walking sticks in hand, day packs on our backs, and scallop shells around our necks. We're ready.
We spend the next week getting our rhythm, a slow but steady pace. We are in no hurry. We appreciate the peaceful forests and rolling hills; quiet conversation between sister-friends; periods of separation and silence; moments for contemplation and reflection; medieval stone farm villages; crumbling churches and their cemeteries; stone weights released at kilometer markers; welcoming hosts at country cottages at the end of each day. We encounter a few obstacles in our path -- one cold rainy day, a few steep hills to climb, tired feet and blisters, moments of fatigue and hunger -- but each day contains breathtaking moments, memorable events, laughter and conversation with fellow pilgrims. Why do I travel? To build courage and confidence in myself by taking risks and overcoming trepidation; to take time to reflect on my life and prepare for what lies ahead. (September 2015)