A Pilgrim’s Walk: Camino April 2014

They say the Camino has a way of summoning you, and for the past few months I’ve felt the pull to get out on the trail once more. Last Thursday, I traveled from Santiago to León, Spain, and started walking back toward home. I looked forward to getting some alone time, feeling the satisfaction of putting a lot of miles under my feet, and meeting new pilgrim friends. It turns out I wasn’t disappointed.

León is 318 km from Santiago, and normally those who start in León take about 14 days to walk to Santiago. Since I only had a limited time for this Camino, I walked to Ponferrada over five days, a journey of about 100km or 62 miles.

It was a beautiful afternoon when I arrived in León and the centerpiece of the city, the Cathedral, was lit up brilliantly:

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The paths out of León were mostly made of red clay. It was pretty, but so muddy I had to stop every few paces to scrape three inches of mud off my shoes:

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There were special tributes to the Camino along the way, meant to encourage pilgrims to keep going:

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I had set some “thinking goals” for things to think and pray about while I was on the trail. The first day, I was surprised because so many other thoughts wanted to come to the surface, it was really hard to clamp them down and focus on something focused! So for the first couple days I let my mind work through all the clutter that was there, and after that it was easier to pray purposefully. I’ve heard the Camino can be a “mind-clearing” journey, and it was certainly the case for me in the beginning.

I saw some beautiful sights over five days of walking, from the famous and historic Puente (bridge) de Órbigo by the town Hospital de Órbigo…

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…to Gaudí’s Bishop’s Palace in Astorga. Wow!

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There were also many charming towns, such as the aforementioned Astorga…

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…and tiny, sleepy villages such as Santa Catalina de Somoza:

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On the third day, the Camino took us into the mountains, and we literally had to pick our way around mountain streams as we walked. They slowed us down a bit, but made for lovely scenery:

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There were several important, sacred moments during this Camino. This path on the way to the town Rabanal del Camino was like hallowed ground. It was a kilometer or two of wooded trail, lined by a fence in which other pilgrims through the years had inserted twig crosses. It was so quiet and secluded, and walking along, surrounded by hundreds of these crosses, I could sense the presence of the Lord and the footfalls of so many pilgrims who’d gone before:

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Another sacred moment, and one that I’d been looking forward to for a while, was seeing the Cruz de Ferro. In recent times, pilgrims have brought stones from home to leave at the foot of the cross. The stones represent burdens, prayers, people, or thanks. For me, my stone represented the years and years of paperwork we’ve gone through to open up Pilgrim House.

When we arrived at the Cruz, we saw pilgrims taking turns, walking up to the cross, carefully placing down their stones, and taking a moment:

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Some pilgrims were really emotional; others were joyful. I was in this latter camp, as I left all that paperwork there at the cross, and I felt cleansed – from bureaucracy (for now)! Woo hoo!

Of course, one of the best parts of the Camino is getting to know other pilgrims. Being part of a community of pilgrims is always so interesting. You can spend an hour talking about blisters and showing each other your feet, and it’s normal. Or you can talk about snoring, showers, and bedbugs, and it’s still normal! Below, these three pilgrim friends are showing their bedbug bites for the camera. Our little group talked about bedbugs a lot, because that’s what was happening on the trail (to them! Luckily I didn’t get bit – but I hadn’t been walking near as many days as they had).

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At other times we told stories of the past, talked about why we were walking the Camino, and heard each other’s dreams and aspirations. It was so funny how we could talk about extremely basic stuff one moment and then the next moment be sharing so much of our stories. But that’s the Camino, bringing life down to the basics of survival, yet creating space to talk about the deeper things in life. It was so cool and again, sacred, to share these moments with my fellow pilgrims during the few days in life our paths would cross.

Here we are sharing dinner. These dear people come from Holland, Spain, South Africa, and the USA:

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During the days, we stopped at the same times to take coffee breaks:

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It was also neat to be part of the larger community of pilgrims. The last three days, everywhere I looked there were pilgrims around. The Camino was buzzing with energy and life:

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Eventually, though, I had to stop walking and say goodbye. This past Tuesday I finally reached the town of Ponferrada:

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Part of me wished I could keep going and experience the entire rest of the walk into Santiago. Overall, though, I was content:

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They say the Camino has a way of bringing life down to the basics – where am I going today? Where will I sleep tonight? What will I eat and will there be enough water when I need it?

Before I left for the Camino, I was anxious about this getting-down-to-basics thing. I like having things comfortable and in control, and getting back out on the Camino meant I was leaving these very essential things up to the every day. I had to get my daily bread daily, so to speak. It was a bit nerve-wracking to anticipate, but so freeing to actually live out, even if it was only for five days. I found that the Camino (and the Lord) really do provide food, water, beds, and friends. As fellow pilgrim Julian kept saying – even as he put cream on his 15 bedbug bites – “It’s a privilege to walk the Camino! Today is the best day ever!”

As we enter our busiest time – opening up Pilgrim House in just a few weeks – I hope I can keep remembering to take each day as it comes, and trust God for each step in the journey still to come.

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  • Jodi Stilp

    THIS, my talented friend, is my favorite of all your posts. The beautiful photos. The elegant writing. The heart of the message. Makes me want to drop everything and go. So glad you met with your Savior on the Camino. Thank you for sharing!

    • TheSweetRoad

      Wow, Jodi, this is high praise and it means so much coming from you, talented one! Cannot wait for you guys to get out here and walk and spend time hanging out with us. We should just get a date on the calendar and then go for it :). Love you!

      • Jodi Stilp

        Great idea. If only we had a travel budget…

        • TheSweetRoad

          Haha, seriously. Good thing is that once you get here doing the Camino is actually relatively cheap. We’ll keep talking :)