My Camino wasn’t easy.
Physically, I kicked ass: I walked two days of 44 km, or 26 miles, back to back, and after those long days, felt on top of the world!
Yes, I walked a marathon. Twice. In a row. Booya!
Although the beginning was tough, with the requisite blisters and bone aches, compounded by bedbugs, some tummy troubles and a cold, by the end, I could walk 20km (or 12 miles) without registering any discomfort. My body adjusted well to the daily waking.
Blisters: They’re what’s for dinner! (Sin dolor, no hay gloria…)
I loved walking those marathon days, listening to heart-pumping music and pushing myself to the max. A group of vagabond Spaniards who were biking the Camino in a leisurely manner (complete with their tiny chihuahua mixes in baskets pinned to the front of their bikes!) even remarked at my pace, calling me “Conan (the barbarian)’s Wife” because of my strength and speed. Rock on!
La Mujer de Conan: Badass.
Mentally, however, the Camino can be a different game altogether. Like most who walk the Camino Frances — including those of us who profess to prefer time alone! — I spent a lot of time with a group of people who became my “Camino family.” I didn´t realize how important they all were to me until the Camino was almost over. Again, mimicking life, sometimes it´s hard to know which people will wind up affecting you the most, whose hearts are touched, which memories will stick.
The Full Fambly! Veronica, Jorge, Juanjo, Paolo, me, Serafin, & Jordi
And, like in any family, there was drama: song and splinters, apologies and forgiveness, rupture and reunions. Full of love and confusion, joy, frivolity, and plain old indescribable emotion, just like life.
Song AND dance! It was like “Camino Frances: The Musical!” out there!
I joined and separated with them several times over the month, the family group taking on different permutations throughout, people dropping behind or forging ahead, pairing off or adding new members for a spell.
With Juanjo, Angel and Ernesto on my birthday, at La Casa de las Risas
Una de las varias Días de Despedida. One of the many Days of Farewell
With Veronica and Jorge: Veronica gets a foot massage.
On my own on the Meseta.
Reunion en Leon
Alone again: My eyes see beauty all the more clearly when in solitude.
I struck out on my own again a few days before Santiago. In the end, I walked into Santiago clasping the hands of two Italians who’d befriended me that morning, their strong grips swinging me down the steps as we whooped with joy.
Marco from Italy!
Despite this great company, and the triumph we felt reaching our goal, though, I still felt essentially on my own and a bit lost and lonely without my “family”.
Cathedral, Santiago de Compestela: Breathtaking
Serafin, who was instrumental in creating the group in the first place, had long ago left us and had already reached Santiago a few days before. Jorge and Veronica had coupled off and, lagging even farther behind after a rough bout of illness, would not reach Santiago for several days.
Veronica, with her Entourage: Jorge, Serafin, & Paolo
Juanjo (“El Niño” from Spain), Paolo (“El Creyente” aka “Paolo Segundo” from Italy) and Sam (“hombre vino”, from England, a recent addition and old friend of Paolo’s with whom I enjoyed joking with in my native tongue — FINALLY! — from the instant I met him) had already made it to Santiago, walking from time to time with Cinthia, a gorgeous, smart and very sweet Argentinian girl who’d joined the group not long before.
Pilgrims looking Pensive:
Sadly, the only picture I have of the Three Amigos all together!
Jordi, who we called “El Pastor” because he was the “shepherd” of the family, always making the plans and decisions while taking care of and watching over everyone, was a day behind, due to reach Santiago the following morning. He had met up with some friends from Barcelona who walked at a slower pace and for whom he’d decided to part with the rest of the group.
El Pastor, being pastoral.
And such is the way of the Camino, seeing some people one day, bidding farewell the next, pilgrims floating in and out of your life. As it turned out, though, I wasn’t the only one mourning the dissolution of the family.
When Juanjo, with whom I didn’t always get along, found out I was also in Santiago that day, he asked me, in his way, to please rejoin them.
And when Jordi found out that I was with them, he somehow, magically, remarkably, put on his super-speed and, with the blessing of the friend he had been staying behind for, bid adieu to his Barcelona group, and proceeded to walk 53 yes FIFTY THREE KILOMETERS to reach us in Santiago.
You know how far that is in miles? Bad-ass motherfucking far, that’s how far.
Pastor Ferrari: Badass.
Paolo, Sam, Juanjo and I waited for Jordi in front of the Cathedral, and sang to him as he entered after his long day, the new apellido ¨Ferrari¨added to his name to honor his speed.
“Pastor Ferrari!! Badada dada da“, we sang, “Pastor Ferrari, badada dada da…”
It was incredibly emotional to watch him come in. Jordi had become my “big brother” of the Camino, and seeing him again was one of the biggest joys of my walk. Recognizing the emotional, physical and logistical encumbrances amongst all of us, the improbability of such a reunion made it all the more moving.
There is a saying that goes, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” It’s a good rule for life, and one I hope I’m able to learn someday from this Camino. I think I may already be learning.
“May we leave behind that which has pained us, and keep only the joys.”