The arrows mark a road, El Camino de Santiago, an old pilgrimage road, now equally visited by some complying with a sacred rite, others seeking a journey of self discovery, many taking a challenging hike in the pine scented air of northern Spain, some wanting to make new friends, and others seeking the healing power of mother earth in the villages that are still uncontaminated by the modern consumption culture. I was each and everyone of them.
In this journey, I came to understand the logic of pilgrims, fasting and religious rites. Exhausting one's body to purify the soul, carrying one's cross in a procession (in my case a green backpack) or going to the holy city on camel back under a blazing sun. Enjoying the enlightement that comes gradually on the road and what the holy site symbolizes.
The Road left me wondering if all journeys to the self start with penance and if we are meant to suffer before we can rejoice. Can we really look inside for all the answers if we're constantly deciding what to wear, what to eat and what to buy? Constantly rushing to make money and then trying to buy time; building new cities everyday and then trying to escape them to hear ourselves think, it's somehow... absurd if I may say. I had to carry what I would need for the week for over a 100 km, there was no feeling more liberating than throwing away objects I previously thought I needed -my friend realized that the weight of the backpack always equals our attachment, couldn't be more right. I hope the time before Ramadan doesn't steal away this energy, as I look forward to more self discipline and reward, a clearer mind and more sharing and solidarity.
The Road is a maquette of life. With strangers and friends you share the agony of a knee-bending slope, seeking distraction from the pain in your feet and back in random conversations and laughing the pain away. You also share the relief of getting to a refuge and hug people you met only a few days ago when you get to the final destination. Sharing the little food and first-aid we possessed created a bond with friends as well as strangers, reminded me of our desert trips somehow. Sharing reflections on what The Road taught us over a cook-together or near the washing machine was more than enlightening.
I realized that any journey has moments of solitude to savour, bonds that last beyond the journey, and sometimes just fun company or moral support for only a few kilometers, and it's ok to part at resting spots, we can't all have the same pace all the way. The Camino showed me that everyone has a good side which the constant fight over a job or parking space kills, everyone has a nurturing healing power, everyone has something to give. It is also true that the collective environment builds it, you want to be good when everyone around you is good, if it's just you, people mistake your giving -and the strength it requires- for weakness and try to take advantage.
To have the stamina that the road requires we need frequent stops to regain our strength, it is really absurd to get to the milestones or the ultimate destinations exhausted (speaking of stops, I send all my love to María, one of our hosts, owner of a rural house and farm, who makes the best flan I ever tasted).
After all, it's the journey not the destination. As beautiful as the Santiago de Compostela cathedral was, it was like any other big cathedral in Europe, it's real value was what it symbolizes, that persistence pays off. I met a girl wearing a T-shirt featuring the drawing of feet with plasters and blisters, it read "sin dolor no hay gloria", as in "no pain no gain".
My route was on foot, part of the Camino Francés, an orange line on the map. I heard stories about the other routes and I highly recommend biking the road if you can, you'll cover more ground and have fun if you get a high from crazy slopes. Here are the links and you can always drop me a line to know more or to get packing tips (the lighter your backpack, the easier your life will be)
Have a good journey wherever you're heading, as they say around here, buen camino!