By Karen Stillman
It was almost 900 km of walking – with no days off. There were 34 hostels / hotels / pensions – a different one each night. A 20 kg sack held all my worldly possessions. I fell in love on my Camino.
Actually I feel in love with my Camino. That may sound crazy to some of you. However, it was one of the most enlightening, empowering, and magical experiences of my life when I walked the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage in Spain.
When I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port, it was like going back in time. It was 10 p.m. The terminal and this tiny village were dead, like a ghost town. There was not a soul around save the two dozen pilgrims disembarking the train; all of us stumbling in the dark to find our first destination of the journey.
This first day was not a routine walking day for me, but an adventure day! I experienced a full tour of the town: many shops and historical buildings, the battlements, a monastery, a prison, and lastly the church.
Later that evening, after I ate my delicious pilgrim supper, I was off to mass. Although not a daily routine, it became a favourite part of my travels. Whether it is in French or Spanish, the mechanics of the Catholic mass are the same as home. The priest was invited the pilgrims forward to receive our blessing before we started our journey. I was in awe. I felt as though I was present not just that day, but back 1000 years before, standing in exactly where millions of other souls had as they too started their pilgrimage.
As I walked each day, every town had at least one church. There was the majestic beauty of the large cathedrals and the quaintness of the smallest churches. The details of the architecture were sensational, whether it is from the 18th or the 8th century. For me, it was in the simple things, like the stones the builders used; caressing them as I strolled the nave, feeling their roughness, the coolness to the touch. Some had sharp edges. As I wandered, I contemplated the many hands that touched each location, the feet that walked the same path. It was mesmerizing.
The pilgrim mass and the churches were just the beginning. The countryside from the tiniest towns to the bigger cities were enchanting. The people were charming. It wasn’t only the locals. The various characters I met and walked with along the way were like none I could find in a storybook. Ahhh, the tales that I could tell.
I have yet to mention the actual walking! Every day, up and down. You get into shape fast! Up and down the hills and mountains, valleys and plains. Grateful for the walking sticks to help me along the way, delighted to arrive in the next destination, to the lay my weary head. Some days it was 20 plus km we walked, most days it was 30 something. One day it was 42! I got lost – happens to every good pilgrim! Every day was its own adventure of weather, terrain, stops and final destinations. It was snowy and rainy. It was hot and sunny. Sometimes I walked on grass, rocks, sand, and mud. Not one blister – thankfully! Lighting all those candles sure paid off.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela: I cannot sum it up in just one word. I can describe how it made me feel: LOVED – completely and unconditionally loved.
I invite you all to walk it. It’s an experience of a lifetime!
Karen Stillman is a certified DreamBuilder® coach in Ottawa.