When I embarked for Spain I was a mere 26. College had passed me by like a tree passing by a fast moving train. Childhood was over in a second, and now I was in the mood to contemplate. Walking helped me get in the right rhythm for the next stage of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but walking on this road would prepare me for the next 20 years of my life. It was a gift from God.
Right away, though, I was overwhelmed with loneliness. Coupled with the tallest hills I had ever climbed, it made for the ultimate boot camp. And so as I started my journey alone, without 1 friend, I was perplexed by what all of that would mean. In fact, when I got to the little town of St. Jean Pied de Port, it was raining so hard that I could not see.I scrambled from the train platform over to the ticket counter, and the kind men told me where to go for a nights rest.
Based on availability, I was paired up with 2 other foreigners, and we slept in three beds in a small room overlooking the streets of St. Jean in France. But perhaps I should begin by telling you a few things about the Camino. It is a 500-mile walk towards the resting place ( the bones of James, one of the saints from the bible.) The Camino has been going on for over 1000 years. You can do a section of it at a time. You can go by horse, bike, or by foot. You can walk for a weekend or a fortnight. I walked for about 17 days and that ended up being around 175 miles. There are some who complete their Camino by going back year after year. It’s up to you. There are no rules. You take it as you find it and walk as you will.
On the 2nd morning of my pilgrimage, I met my first set of friends. Like me, they were walking for undisclosed reasons, but cert. For me, I had become a peregrino. I was now a pilgrim. I had encountered God, and I was walking towards that deep, holy, and abiding presence. I spent a healthy portion of time in prayer and often awoke at 5:00 am to go out and walk and talk with God.
But for these first friends, it was entirely different. It’s kind of a “choose your own adventure.”But in truth, it all began as a pilgrimage to the relics of the Apostle James, interred in the grand old Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Ever since his grave was discovered in AD 800, hundreds of thousands of the great and good have trod the path across northern Spain, making the Camino the most famous pilgrimage in the world. In fact, one of my ancestors walked the path 1,000 years ago.