“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!