Moving always calls for a break from the things one knows – a journey is required to move forward. Jose and I continued our journey in Spain, leaving Barcelona to begin our next adventure. To feed our souls, Jose and I decided to undertake a pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. The Way, or the Camino, is a collection of routes pilgrims have used for centuries to reach the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, where St. James the Apostle is laid to rest. Pilgrims from all over the world come for a variety of reasons but all with the same destination – Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
To make an official pilgrimage, one must travel the last 100 kilometers of the journey on foot or horseback, or the last 200 kilometers on bicycle. Jose and I started our over 60-mile hike in the quaint town of Ourense in Galicia, Spain, following the camino know as La Via Plata, or the Silver Way. The path is marked with symbols such as shells, the sign of pilgrims to Santiago, yellow arrows spray painted on walls, posts, or the ground, and crosses and altars that marked the route for pilgrims in the Middle Ages.
We hiked up and down Galicia’s hilly landscape for five days. The weather was perfect, the landscape stunning, and we met amazing friends along the way. Each night we slept in albergues, which are pilgrim hotels in the tiny Spanish villages along the way. Essentially a hostel, you sleep in a large room with a dozen bunkbeds, wash your clothes in the sink and settle in for a relaxing meal before collapsing on your bunk bed. The next morning, you’re on your way along with all the other pilgrims. At five euro a night, you aren’t expecting much but when you finally see the one you’ve been hiking to all day, I can promise that you’ve never been happier to see a place in your whole life.
And when we stepped into the plaza of the Cathedral of Santiago, we were tired, dirty, smelly, and yet completely elated. Entering the square, street musicians began singing Shubert’s Ave Maria. It was a serenade just for us, and made me stand in awe of life.
In this modern age, why should you endure the hunger and bodily pain of walking 60 miles when you can drive? What could you gain? There are so many things – the joy of watching the world move by at the speed of the Saints. The path is slow, meditative and deliberate, especially if you are pain. There is a lot of pain. Every step requires effort, but your progress inspires you, thrills you even, when you reach a hilltop and realize you scaled the earth with your own volition and strength. From there the world looks glorious. The smallest comfort is magnified. The taste of food expands. Your own prayers feel – and indeed they are – more heartfelt.
This is pilgrimage – we look for holiness, we talk to God, we walk and the whole world changes. My friends, if you need a change, consider taking your own walk. You may be surprised at your ultimate destination.