A good friend of mine recently walked the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Walk in Spain. I enjoyed reading her account upon return, and with permission am posting it here. I particularly like the part about the yellow arrows. A preacher could make a good sermon out of that. All bolding is mine. Enjoy.
Sorry it has taken so long to send a summary of my trip. I meant to do it immediately, and even promised Mom and Dad that I would send out an update the next day after my return, and here it is Saturday evening. . .
Perhaps it is because I am still trying to integrate the experience into my present life and make sense of it that words are not coming readily to me. I can state the facts: I walked 470 miles, starting my walk in Pamplona on May 22nd and ending in Santiago on June 23rd. I took one day “off” on my birthday. I suffered no blisters or foot sprains or strains and never got sick, even though for one evening I thought I perhaps might be. I met lots of people from other countries and made some friends which I no doubt will see again. I had a few warm, sunny days, but many more cool, misty, drizzly days. I took almost 800 photos. I lost a little fat around my waist and gained some muscle on my calves for an overall weight reduction of: 0.
The past several days I have woken up in the mornings and sat there in bed in the dark, slowly sipping my coffee and pondering the experience. I thought I might achieve some sort of spiritual enlightenment or at least have a CLOSE ENCOUNTER on the Camino. Nope. I still feel as unenlightened as ever. What I did feel on the Camino was. . . happy. Almost all the time. Even when I was not sleeping well at night ( which was always), and when it was drizzly outside and when my feet ached.
I am sure a large part of this happiness had to do with the simplicity of life. Every day my duty was clear–to follow the yellow arrows. These arrows, as well as the symbol of the scallop shell, guided the pilgrims from the eastern end of Spain to the western end. They were everywhere: painted on sidewalks, poles, barns, trees, stone fences. They didn’t always occur with the frequency with which I would have liked, but when one appeared after some minutes of bewilderment, I felt such relief that I would often take a photo of it. Ah, it WAS the right pathway! No, I’m NOT lost! Thus I ended up with probably 30 pictures of yellow arrows on my camera.
Feeling happy also seemed very tied into the sensations I was experiencing as I walked. The smells of freshly mown grass, roses, thyme, lavender, some unknown scent which I never did identify. The play of leaf shadows on the path ahead of me. The constantly changing formation of clouds. The mist rising over the mountains. The songs of the birds and the clanging of church bells. The sense of antiquity around me–ancient ruins, bridges, and churches. I tried to write in my journal every day, but as the weeks progressed I wrote less and less and even stopped writing at all three days before I finished.
I also felt a great sense of freedom, exploring on my own and making every decision according to what I wanted. Is that selfish? I don’t know. In my normal life, all my decisions take into account other people and how they will be affected. I felt much more purposeful on the Camino, without the clouding of other people’s expectations and desires for me. I felt a strong sense that I am responsible for my actions and that my actions do make a difference, that everything that is around me in my life at the present is the result of some action I have or have not taken. I was especially impressed by two people I met while walking who had completely revoked their previous way of living and had remade their lives after walking the Camino.
I arrived in Santiago at noon on Sunday. It was a bit of a let down for me, as I was tired that day and feeling sad that my journey was ending. For some pilgrims it was the achievement of a goal. For me, the journey was the goal. On Monday morning I said goodbye to two good friends I had made and traveled with for a couple weeks, a couple from Germany. I waved goodbye to them as they stuck their heads out their motel window and I sped away in my taxi. When I boarded the airplane in Santiago I realize my shirt was inside out, and my first impulse was to pull it off over my head and quickly switch it right side out. That’s when I realized, Brenda, you’ve been living in hostels a little too long and it’s time to re-enter the “real” world!
Now that I am home and back into the normal stresses of everyday life I am trying to figure out what IS the “real” world. Can life be lived more like the Camino–more simply, more happily, more gratefully, and more on purpose? More “real?” I sure wish I had some yellow arrows to guide my way. . .
S.Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Sign up for the newsletter!