“You don’t choose the Camino. The Camino chooses you.”
It chooses you even when you had your sights set on Ireland, a multi-day hike near the sea and milky cups of tea with a friend in Galway.
At the bottom of the webpage explaining Ireland’s mandatory 2-week quarantine, the next article caught my eye: “Spain opens June 3!”
If the Camino calls you, and you don’t heed it? It will just keep calling you. And calling until you relent. I’ve learned.
So, flights, PCR tests, international forms, QR codes, and some good PPE obtained (yes, I’m fully vaccinated and followed all reqirements), I hopped across the Atlantic.
In record time, I had heeded the call. There I was, blinking up in astonishment at the twin cathedral spires of Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago. My end and beginning.
If you don’t know, Saint James the Greater was the hot-headed disciple of Jesus, his cousin actually. To me, he’s the saint who holds a sword aloft, slaying and trampling that which comes between me and the Divine. (In reality, he is the patron saint of Spain, associated with massacre of thousands of Muslims and Jews throughout history. Every pilgrim gets to grapple with this reality.) I don’t love the dude, yet there’s spiritual merit in hanging with him. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary.
With two Caminos under my belt, you’d think I would have learned everything the journey had to teach me. But maybe it was just time for me to cut away more of what’s not essential? Dunno! But I’ve been here enough, facing a daunting walk to know I can trust this illogical, inexplicable call.
So here I am.
And it’s so different. Everyone here is wearing masks indoors and out. I didn’t see a single pilgrim for hours. Instead, the city was alive with locals. I mean alive.
My pensión balcony looked over an outdoor terrace where two different bars offer seating and cerveza. The air felt ebullient. Laughter, happy, emphatic conversation, and occasional bursts of song echoed off the medieval stone buildings. Rather than an outsider, I felt like part of an unannounced celebration from three stories up. Even still masked, Spain seems to be taking a deep breath after a devastating year.
After an evening stroll, I met G, a Jewish pilgrim from California, and we talked until nearly midnight about everything under the sun. My first pilgrim buddy!
The next morning, I found my way to the “new” pilgrim Welcome Center to attend “the only English Mass in Galicia.”
In a little side chapel there, with seats marked for appropriate distancing, I and three other pilgrims celebrated Mass with a kind, young priest from the Philippines. Everyone got to introduce themselves, where they were from — an unusual lovely touch. During the intercessional prayers, the priest invited us to come up to the altar, light a small candle, and express a prayer from the heart. It was so intimate and touching!
Afterward, the priest invited us out to coffee. D from New Hampshire, C from France, and I sat with a view of the cathedral and visited. It felt like such a blessing to be suddenly connected with fellow pilgrims. After all this time!
In the evening, I took G’s suggestion from the previous night and sought out a great vegetarian restaurant (rare in Spain’s pig-focused cuisine). Or rather, I tried to find it!
Despite this being my 4th visit to the city, I *still* get lost! But, persist I did, and ended up in a verdant cafe called The Green House. Run by a delightful woman with even more delightful stories, I’m so glad I found it! Curry empanadas served with an amazing dipping sauce for the appetizer along with the house white wine. The main dish a veggie style French cassoulet was absolutely delicious.
For dessert, rather than sweets, I got to have a most delightful conversation with a young woman from Germany, A, who spoke flawless English. She arrived after me and sat down at a nearby table alone — though there were only four tables in the place! It seemed unfair to me that I had the biggest, comfiest table by myself.
When I invited her to join me, she smiled and accepted immediately. The German guy sitting alone at his table, put his hands up as though he didn’t want to interrupt.
“You sure? You’re welcome to join us!”
“Yah, yah,” he waved me off kindly.
I learned that A does amazing international work AND is also an artist who creates paintings and murals. She wants to bring more creativity to her life.
And after an hour of heartfelt conversation, thought to myself: this is what the Camino is! Bringing different people together who are seeking ways to live more meaningfully in the world. Folks who are making hard decisions about how to release the good to go for what’s really calling them.
Every single one is a teacher.
So, I’m grateful to be here, but I won’t be a real pilgrim until the walking begins tomorrow from Santiago to Negreira — about 13 miles. I hope. I haven’t trained at all.
So, if I don’t keel over from the effort (sorry, Mom, just joking), I’ll post again tomorrow with photos.
Tell me what you think!
Thank you Jennifer for your so very visceral descriptions of what you are feeling and experiencing, making it easy to feel I am there with you. Godspeed.
Thank you! It gets a little sweary at times, but sometimes that’s what the moment calls for! 😂
Oh, the memories, Jen! The cathedral, the street . . . the camino. . . . I did it part way with three daughters, and when they left, was joined by my future daughter-in-law. It was to Celebrate 70! I returned the next year to pickup where we had left off the year before, and completed the journey to Santiago.
You are speaking of what I called “Camino Miracles”: all those wonderful things that you would experience only on Camino. Those “miracles” are somewhat bittersweet, because, to me, they were the way the world should run. Strangers sharing meals, sharing steps, sharing the experience. The world meeting and learning that we all take this journey called life one step at a time, and it’s better to share it with everyone.
I’m looking forward to your next installment.
Thank you, Carol! Until you return, I’m happy to help you live it vicariously! 💖
Did I know you walked this? How lovely that we have this in common, Carol! May we each walk a little closer to living Camino every day!
Lovely Jen. Buen Camino.
So lovely to meet you!!!
I’m excited to hear of your adventures. A few of my friends have done the pilgrimage, and all have come back with new “life lessons.” Two friends from here in California sold their businesses and their home to move to Spain, and they love it!
Wow! There’s really nothing else like slowing down so much and for so long that one has space to hear an inner call to a more authentic life.
It’s a bit of a risk to open oneself so widely, but on my third Camino yet, I’ve never once regretted the changes I’ve made — only regretted not making them sooner! Lovely to have your vicarious company
Thank you, brave pilgrim! I’m traveling vicariously.
I truly enjoyed your narrative. Your statement “Folks who are making hard decisions about how to release the good to go for what’s really calling them” really resonated for me. I’ve been kinda doing that for the past 10 years without a succinct way to describe it. I love Spain. I was in Madrid during Easter Week in 1991. I was there for other reasons but was blown away by the way Spain celebrates Catholic holidays. It was a real treat. Enjoy your pilgrimage. I admire your devotion and commitment to action.
Seekers are not always welcome or understood, but they are essential for humanity’s future. Keep seeking, brother!
I think multiple definitions of wonder are peeling away, more to be unveiled as you continue. I mean for me, reading you, following the adventure. And clearly the unveiling is yours, too, though of probably many more words than wonder.
That’s the truth!! Hugs!!
So fun to hear about your beginning journey… thank you for sharing these beautiful openings of your heart as you take your en steps and join with others….. many blessings!
I’m so glad for you. You deserve as much fun and happiness as anyone. Thank you for the entertaining blog.
Glad you’re underway!
Me too? I think? 😂
I admire your passion and joie de vivre! Be safe and enjoy your walk.
I am delighted to learn that you are (finally) able to take this journey. Much love from NEPA!! Kay
Right back at you, sister! HUGE hugs!!
As usual, you are impressive, original and deeply thoughtful.
i love having you in my life!
I saw some of this Camino on one of the Rick Steve’s TV tours. His take was much as yours. Great way to meet people more deeply and from all over the world. Even in a pandemic!
Remember to BE safe because we need you in our world… and back home!
Enjoy and thanks for bringing me (us) on the walk with you!!
Many thousand blessings… and esply to your zappatas!
So lovely to hear from you! Thank you so much for the encouragement!!
I love being with you as you do this journey. I now to the willingness to tackle the distance with faith in your body to partner with you. I don’t think you needed the training, this is meant to be
Amen, sister! Hugs to you!!
I think you are a brave soul to do that journey with no training. Are you doing the whole walk? It is on my bucket list. You have a great, positive attitude and some new walking friends for when you need conversation. I always enjoy walking and not talking. I get totally immersed in the journey and at times myself. I tend to have great conversations with myself, answering questions that I have. Please keep posting. I would enjoy following along. My sisters and I try to do 1 long distance walk a year. Last year was the first year in 16 that we could not do one. Take care.🦯🦯
Hi! This is my third one. I walked all 500 miles in 2013 and again in2016, but in reverse. This time, I’m just walking the loop to the ocean and back from Santiago. Depending on wifi availability, I’ll be posting daily until I finish! Thank you for the encouragement!
I have thought/dreamed/planned to do the Camino for over 40 years now, since my first visit to Galicia. My father immigrated to the US from there & I have gone to see family over the years but, no Camino . . .
Jenn, I am simultaneously envious & inspired by you! Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.
Galicia is one of the places my heart calls home. I can only imagine ernest it would be like to be FROM there! I hope you heed the call someday!
You never fail to amaze me, Jen!!! If you had just said “guess where I am now!” I would never have guessed in 1 million years. This is fantastic! Can’t wait to hear your stories!
Have a great journey. Sounds amazing. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
So thrilled to be able to track you on this wonderful pilgrimage. I so admire all of you brave pilgrims.
It sounds perfectly wonderful meeting all the people and make friends from many places.
I am happy that you are doing this for yourself. You have been such an inspiration to so many
and put in so much work and energy. Great leadership, great character and I so appreciate you.
Wow, thank you, Barbara! I could say the same of you! Three Camino taught me that we get there together!
Oh my gosh, such kind words from someone I admire so much! Thank you!
How wonderful! Blessings on your journey!
I love the line “how to release the good to go for what’s calling them.” That’s a really powerful statement. Best wishes on your Camino.
Thank you for this!
This is a fascinating blog. Thanks Jennifer. The Cathedral in Santiago looks so clean…last time I was there it was covered with scaffolding for exterior cleaning. It seems like you are walking backwards on the Camino, do I have that right? Or maybe there isn’t a backwards or forwards. I love that you are traveling alone and the people you are meeting are so interesting, something that seems easier to do when you are solo. You are a wonderful, thoughtful writer and I look forward to following your journey.
Beautiful view from your balcony! Can’t wait for your next update.
Thank you very much for your kind words! That means so much! This time I’m just walking from Santiago to Finisterre, much shorter but my favorite part!
Sweet day of preparation and connection, the Camino community – you are all connected by way of your journey. And so you begin – buen Camino.
Hugs!! And I wore my hat today!! 😊
Thank you!! HUGS!
I’m so excited that you’re doing this! And I stayed in the same Hostal in Santiago 😊 Buen Camino!
Wow! The camino world is muy pequeño!
Delightful heartfelt reading inspiring too!
Happy for you
Thank you for this delightful update. Keep them coming.
I love reading about your journey! My daughter walked a portion of the Camino as part of her college experience several years ago. I have read many many books written by “pilgrims.” Living vicariously as I wouldn’t be able to walk so many miles per day.
For what it’s worth, if you have enough time, you can walk as slowly as you like!
An inspiring and surprising post, Jen! I’ve not been keeping up with AoC posts, and I didn’t know you were embarking on the pilgrimage. I look forward to your journal. The Camino has been calling me for a number of years, but I haven’t yet responded.
I’m sure you’ve read lots of writings by other pilgrims (and, clearly, you could/should write your own!). Here’s another one that might interest you by a fellow author of Homebound Publications – Into the Thin by Stephen Drew.
Blessings to you on your journey – Iris
Thank you so much, Iris! Once the Camino calls, it will keep calling until you go — or at least that’s how it works for me! Thanks for the book recommendation. I am indeed writing a memoir of my first Camino in 2013. Hoping to publish next year!
At first, I had no idea why you’d popped up in my email feed…and then I remembered your take on surviving the last few years and got a fix on your adventure. Brava! This is something I’ve wanted to do for years…almost got there right before COVID and then…you know the drill. I will follow your story here with relish and delight…good for you…again! Excited for your updates…take good care and muchismas gracias for sharing your experience. XO
Thank you! It’s my pleasure to share. May the road ride to meet you!
OMG Jennifer, Spain is one of two European countries I have not been to and you have made it come alive for me. You travel the way I do, alone and open to meeting and talking with other people. How enriching that makes the trip. I can’t wait to read more.
I can’t say enough good things about it, honestly! Highly recommend!! Buen Camino to you!
Jennifer–this post and today’s are my “dessert.” I love reading about your serendipitous journey to Spain and the Camino.
Thank you!! You rock!!
I have always wanted to walk the Camino…and reading your blog you just planted a seed…I don’t have to go only one time…I can go and come back and repeat and keep journeying. I love that. Thanks for the inspiration! What a great trip you are embarking on!!
Wow! I didn’t know that about you! And yes, you can do this journey any way you like. Thank you so much for sharing with me!
Wonderful. Best of luck and joy on this wonderful adventure