Week 2 on the Camino was an entirely different experience–life is almost always better when you are doing it with someone else. I got off the train in Sarria and found my mom. We walked to a coffee shop and ate breakfast, including multiple café con leches for both of us. We compared our first class train rides-hers from Madrid to Sarria, and mine from Logrono. She had taken advantage of the tiny shower, whereas I had passed on using that. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, so it was nice to be in the same room and talk. After breakfast, we walked to our hotel, a breezy pension with floor to ceiling windows and a nice big bathroom. We rested for a while, getting settled in. I was still tired from my previous adventures, and my mom was thoroughly jetlagged. We knew we had many kilometers on our schedule the next day, so we ate at restaurants close to the hotel. My mom did wander around more of Sarria to get her steps in, but I opted to rest up for the next day—my blisters were still healing.
The next day, we woke up early—but not as early as many of our fellow Camino-ers. We got everything ready to go, ate breakfast, and then headed out. I was nervous about round 2 of the Camino, and this half of the trip being prepaid, we had no choice but to persevere through the pain and challenges. That first day, we walked through forests and fields, enjoying café con leches along the way. We stopped for lunch at a little café with an amazing vista out over the fields, and that sandwich was the best thing I had eaten in a long time.
Each day proceeded similarly, with late starts, walking through the pain, and delicious coffee and bread to pull us through. Looking back, I am amazed at how diverse the landscapes were-most days we traversed less than 15 miles, but our surroundings shifted every few kilometers. I am also amazed at the diversity of our fellow pilgrims-we met people from all over the world. We shared our lunch times with ladies from Korea who spoke very little English but were passionately walking. We met a delightful couple who had first met on the Camino, and now spent 6-7 weeks every year enjoying the time together, while leading mostly separate lives in different countries the rest of the year. We talked with folks doing very guided tours, and others who had just set off because they felt like it. One man had walked from Paris, with blisters all the way, and was making his way to Santiago.
We met a mother and son who were walking together, much like my mom and I. Everyone had their own reasons and stories for walking the Camino, and had learned different things along the way.
I had wanted to walk the Camino as a way to end my 20s, a decade of incredible adventure, and enter my 30s well, as someone who still chooses adventures but also knows what it is like to be settled, both within myself and in my life as a whole.
The Camino kicked my butt. Every step was painful, every mile hard. Kilometers never seem so long as they did during those two weeks. But I did it. I made it through, and sometimes I even enjoyed it. My mom and I talked about doing it again-there was some indescribable magic to be found on the Way. Even though it was challenging, it still felt worth it. I can only imagine what it feels like to walk all 500 miles from Saint Jean Port de Pied to Santiago. I calculated my total mileage at about 116—in 8 days of walking. No small feat, to walk over a half marathon 5 days in a row.
We made it to Santiago, as scheduled, and we both heaved sighs of relief. Our goal, though, had never been this ancient city with its relics, or this glorious church (that was under construction…). Like all great things in life, it had been about the journey, not the destination, and the adventure within to go on such a pilgrimage.
When I look back, I think about the people I met, the landscapes I saw, the falling down stone barns and the ancient bridges, the Pilgrim’s Mass in Roncesvalles, where the priest made us all feel welcome, even if we were not Catholic. The ancient chapel, where we hummed Amazing Grace together, and everyone knew the tune, whether they were from America or Australia, South Korea or South Africa, and at that moment, I felt connected to the world and to something so much greater than myself. I remember that sacred moment and tears fill my eyes-what a wonder it was to be a part of something ethereal and magical, deeply sweet and profoundly simple.