A surprising Camino!
Well, we have finally made it to Santiago, after 110 kms, a beautiful sunny day greeted us as we trekked the last 4.7 kms down the hill and through the city and finally into the Cathedral square! It wasn’t just relief that greeted us but a sense of accomplishment that we had got here relatively unscathed, with feet intact and a bag full of stories and experiences to share….
We wondered whether we would see some of the people we met along the way? The answer to that was a astounding yes, but not in any planned way. And that’s the subject of this blog, a final one on the Camino before you all get sick of it!
Although the Camino can be anything from a personal pilgrimage to an exercise in long distance walking, we found the reflective element was really beneficial. So in between the walking, the food and the beers both of us found space to clear our heads and examine our lives just a bit.
The one major thing I think I want to take away from the walk, apart from the beauty and the sense of achievement , is to stop trying to plan my whole life. Instead I want to respect spontaneity, to understand that not everything can and needs to be controlled. We make decisions for many reasons, but in the end they have to be our reasons. And that through that spontaneity we open ourselves up to new and wonderful things.
Let me start at the beginning….
On the very first day, and we were very green peregrinos or walkers at this stage, just feeling our way, we passed a bar, not like the bars in Perth, but a small bar, which was also a cafe and a restaurant all rolled into one. This was run by an elderly couple, was down a hill and had seats outside, pretty much on the road. No one else was stopping here, most walkers had stopped at one at the top of the hill, where there was a view. Matt looked at me and I looked at him, and we felt this was a place for our first cafe con leche (coffee with milk) of the day. It was a spontaneous decision that would influence the rest of the walk for us. As we were sitting there the elderly woman came to me with some newspaper. Initially I was a bit confused, as she asked me to lift my shirt…, then I realized she was wanting to put the newspaper on my back under my shirt to soak up the sweat. This is apparently something very traditional that Spanish people do for peregrinos and it was the most touching thing I can remember happening to me. Suddenly we were part of something very special, yet very ancient. We seized the moment and were given a gift.
But another gift was about to be given. So there we are pretty much on the road, drinking our coffee, with the newspaper on my back, when along comes a young man, with a donkey and a dog. He stops and orders a coffee, and enquiries as to whether he can let his donkey eat some of the grass by the side of the road. This was our introduction to Anthony, a French lad in his late 20’s, Martin, the donkey and Uno, the dog, who had been walking for over a year, and were heading to Santiago. They had started their Camino in the middle of France, traveling by day and seeking fields to set up a tent at night and cheap places to eat. We had a little chat, enough to find out Anthony intended to keep walking, and that he had a love and compassion and a bond with both animals that was amazing.
We were to meet up with Anthony and his menagerie many times during the coming days, each time a surprise, as we made our way along the Camino. At bars for a coffee, or by the side of the road, suddenly he and Martin and Uno were there. We shared a few spontaneous lunches, our shout, and some obligatory cold beers. In a town square I looked after the animals while Anthony went and got a paper, and we had time walking together along the path, at a donkey’s pace, of course. But this in itself was also a blessing. At this pace there is time to talk…and we found out just a little bit more about him. A gentle soul from Brittany, he had an urge to travel and a sense that life on the Camino was a shared life. He had spent a year in Australia, and in the Kimberley, which had sparked his wonder lust and he had a desire to visit and perhaps live in Mongolia, after heading to Morocco and Jerusalem. We found we had similar views on many things happening in the world so he was not totally disconnected from it. In fact I think he was working out how he could contribute best to it…..
In all our encounters we enjoyed his sense of humour and stories of traveling with Martin, the time Martin got sick after eating apples, the way he hates when horses go past, but then wants to run after them, the way Anthony got him in the first place, and the relationship all three have to one another. If Anthony is out of sight both Uno and Martin start looking for him, very anxiously…
Every time we left them, it was tinged with a little bit more sadness as our connection had become that little bit stronger. What we thought was the last time was in a field just outside of Santiago, a joyful goodbye if there is such a thing, as we hadn’t thought we would see him so close to the city. We were able to tell Anthony how much his company, and that of Martin’s and Uno’s had enriched our journey, and that we would watch his further travels with delight via Facebook.
So, as we left him in this field, after a fitting farewell, with hugs all around even for Matt, and hugs for Martin and Uno and one last avoir, we set sail for Santiago.
But never say never in this world, which is something I am beginning to really understand…
We arrived in the Cathedral square of Santiago to find many pilgrims there, walkers, bike riders and those who rode horses, sad that our walk had come to an end. We recognized some of the dusty and dirty faces but many we did not, but that did not dampen our enthusiasm or our feeling of camaraderie. Once the initial excitement was over, we did what all pilgrims do, we took a photo and headed to the Pilgrim’s office to get our certificate. Here we waited in line, and were greeted by one of the officials, for us a lovely Spanish man, who shook our hand numerous times, even though we had only done 100 kms, wrote our names in Latin on the certificate, also in Latin, and handed it to us in such a way that we felt incredibly special to have joined this group.
In fact we have joined the Camino community and will never be the same!
But this is not the end of the story…..
After all of this excitement, and after the 21 kms we walked in the day, we were really pooped, so once we ate and of course had a celebratory beer we headed to our hotel for a shower.
When we came out and back to the square, we could not believe our eyes, for there, in the square was Anthony, Martin and Uno! In the Cathedral square of Santiago! We were amazed that he had travelled the 4.7 kms through the town to the Cathedral with a donkey and a dog!!! When we heard how he got in, just by walking, apparently Martin had a head of steam up and just kept walking, we could not help but laugh. But more amazing was that we were all in the square at the same time!
We quickly greeted Anthony with hugs and kisses. He was so happy that he had finished his 1500km walk with the family he had started with. It was also such a spontaneous and wonderful end for us, to see them all again, such a wonderful, unexpected surprise. Of course we were not the only ones greeting him, he had many people talking to him. Anthony was now a bit of a celebrity, as the only person with a donkey in town!
It was at this point we realized that while Anthony was a major part of our journey, a joyous, spontaneous part, we were a small part of his. In the end we could never have planned this continual overlapping of stories, yet by being open to others, and ready for what may arise, we were given many gifts along the way. Anthony, Martin and Uno was one such beautiful gift. But they were not the only one. There were many others we connected to during our Camino, some we met up with again in Santiago and some we did not. Our Camino journey was enriched by all of them, all unplanned encounters on the road…..
So our Camino has come to an end. How do I finish this blog after writing so much about a donkey, a dog and a young Frenchman. Perhaps it is to say that our connection and time spent with them revealed to me some universal truths about life, in addition to losing my control fetish!
I was reminded that we are to embrace the moment, not what has gone or what is to come, but the current moment and embrace those around us who are sharing that moment. Difficult I know, perhaps a Camino walk might help! I was shown that community does not need to be for years and years, community can be as short as 1 day or 6 days or as long as a lifetime. And our experience with Anthony and the many others on the Camino reinforced the notion that every encounter with another can be beautiful and meaningful and filled with love and compassion, joy and light, if we want it to be.
And finally, that we can choose our own way, even with a donkey and a dog for company!
Not bad for a few days walking!