My Camino journey, which began in St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees over 2 years ago, came to an unexpected but blessed moment of completion on the evening before walking the last 13 of the 500 miles to Santiago. A group of us were sitting round a table in a pilgrim hostel in Pedrouzo eating, drinking, chatting and laughing: three Brazilians, two Americans, our Spanish friend Ignacio, and the Anglo-Irish-Korean combo which is myself and my wife Yim Soon with whom I walked my third and final stage of the Camino. A Canadian man called Claude came and joined us. He was doing the Camino by bike so didn’t know any of us who were walking (he was much quicker!) but he said that he had heard the chatter and the laughter and that something had drawn him towards us.
We were sharing Camino stories and then Claude suggested that we each tell of a particular highlight of our Camino journey. Ignacio, with whom we had several times shared beer and fried octopus at the end of a long day’s walk and who had often picked up the bill, confided that he had been made redundant some months previously (I hadn’t been aware). He also said, however, that the Camino had taught him to see what was truly important in life, like spending time with family and friends. Nancy from New York told us about the generosity of a young German woman who both went with her and translated for her at the hospital when a foot injury had threatened to end her pilgrimage on the very first day, and then gave her a pair of sandals which fitted perfectly and in which she was able to walk until she could wear her boots again. A young man from Brazil, Mathieu, was in tears as he spoke of the death of his mother four months before and his regret at being away at the time. He went on to say that on the Camino his mother had appeared to him in a dream and had said goodbye to him. Another wonderful man from Brazil, Ariel, told us to a mixture of tears and laughter how after the Camino he was going to be a better person “to my girlfriend, to my parents, to my cat and my dog, even to my table”.
When it came to my turn I explained that I was on the Camino to celebrate and to give thanks: for all that has happened in my life since I began my first stage in April 2015; for our children; and for 25 years of marriage. And I said that a highlight was doing this third and final stage with Yim Soon. There was loud applause and cheering in the group (and yet another toast). We had each lived something profound on the Camino and it was a blessing that we had the opportunity to share together on this last evening before Santiago something of the essence of that. I bumped into Claude again in Santiago and told him that he had been the channel of some kind of sacred energy for the group. He explained again: “I was just drawn to something and I had to come”.
My final moment of completion was in the Cathedral at Santiago, having at first felt rather disappoint ted by how busy and touristy the place was. During the pilgrims’ mass I looked around and spotted Claude and several others of the amazing people we had journeyed with and felt such a profound sense of gratitude. And then at the end of the mass there was the swinging of the botafumeiro, the large incense burner that requires seven men to lift and swing. It was truly a purification, and tears streamed down my face, tears of pure joy. As I explained to those whose English was good enough to get the pun, it was the icing on the Camino cake.
I promised in my first blog an occasional song, and here is the link to the song I wrote after my first stage of the Camino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSdf_S25bDI