In honor of “Throw Back Thursday” (#tbt), I’m posting a series of entries regarding my experience of doing Spain’s “El Camino de Santiago” in the Spring of 2013. The experience taught me a great deal about myself and life in general. Read on to see how our second to last day went, and to hear the story that brought us to tears and made the extra 10km we’d walked absolutely worth it.
Thirty whole kilometers stood between us and our destination when we set out on the road on our second to last day. The majority of the days before had been around 20-25 km, but the day prior had been twenty-eight and most pilgrims looked forward to the leisurely twenty kilometers that followed this epic leg of the journey. However, instead of going for the usual 20km route from Arzua to Pedrouzo and spending the last day doing another 20km from Pedrouzo to Santiago, we’d decided to schedule our arrival in Santiago de Compostela for early in the day, in order to give us time to go sightseeing. This meant that instead of calling it a day in Pedrouzo, we’d be walking yet another 10km to Lavacolla. When we’d planned the trip, we’d assumed that we could easily do an extra 10km on our fourth day. Note to fellow pilgrims: This is NOT a wise idea!
We set off from Arzua in the pouring rain and fog. Thankfully, the scenery lining the road was much more beautiful than we had expected. Although, yet another day of hills to be conquered was another suprise that was less than welcome. We saw many animals along the road, which offered up great photo opportunities, and we even had the chance to reunite an escaped puppy with his mother. A fellow pilgrim told us we would surely be blessed for our good deed.
We managed to walk for about 16km before we took our first break (although I did convince everyone to take a quick 5-minute break earlier in the day–I honestly didn’t think my feet would make it if I had to walk anymore!). On this day, I started to understand what Paulo Coelho meant when he said you reach a point in the journey where you don’t walk the camino, the camino walks you. I felt like it was pure inertia propelling me to go on.
We stopped for lunch in Pedrouzo before continuing the second half of our day’s journey. At the restaurant we were surrounded by other pilgrims who were high-fiving and toasting to having finished their day’s journey. Although in many instances along the journey, reserving pensiones in advance had served us well, this was in an instance when we’d sorely regret it.
Before starting off again, I tried my best to fix up my blisters in the restaurant’s bathroom, but it did very little to help. Only a couple minutes back into the journey, I found myself thinking “There is absolutely no way I am going to be able to walk 15 more km in so much pain.” With every step, my feet were throbbing. However, the human body is an incredible thing. I kept walking on in pain and somehow, a few kilometers down the road, the pain went away. Or was it that I got used to the pain? I’m not sure, but either way I was able to continue walking until we reached Lavacolla and even managed to muster up some energy to film a part of the lip dub video we’d been putting together during our walk.
“Overjoyed,” does not even begin to express the feeling of elation that overcame us when we finally arrived in this village and were able to stop to do our own celebratory toasts for the day. And at the bar we decided to stop at, we confirmed that we had made the right decision to walk the extra ten kilometers, even if just for the opportunity to have the bartender share with us some of the many stories that she’d heard from pilgrims stopping in for a bite to eat or a refreshing beverage. One particular story stood out and still sends shivers up my spine to this day.
Many pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago with a particular wish or prayer in mind, and they do the walk as a way to demonstrate all that they are willing to sacrifice in order for it to come true. When they arrive in Santiago, they are supposed to ask St. James (San Tiago) to make their wish come true. A husband and wife had come into this bar in Lavacolla with their three-year-old son. He was unable to walk, talk or eat on his own and they had walked all the way from their home in Germany with the prayer of healing their son. For kilometer upon kilometer, the mother had kept her son swaddled against her chest, and had continued on in the hopes that possibly this demonstration of love would be enough for their son to be healed. The bartender said that she never forgot the image of this mother and father and their son.
One year later there was a particularly large group of children laughing and running around in the bar and one blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy caught her eye. Just then, a woman approached her and said “do you remember me?” She went on to explain that she was the very same woman from Germany who one year ago had done the Camino de Santiago with her son against her chest, only this time she was making the round-trip from Germany to Santiago as a way of saying thanks for their blessing. When they had arrived back home in Germany they had placed their son on the couch and had gone into their bedroom to change their clothes. While changing they heard someone say “I’m hungry,” and to their surprise they turned around and there in the doorway was their son. The woman pointed to the curly haired blonde boy running around the bar with the other children. “That’s my son,” she remarked.
As the bartender told us this story, her own eyes began to well with tears, as did our own. Was it possible that the Camino de Santiago really, truly was a special place? An experience not only to learn about oneself and important life lessons, but also a road to miracles?
When we had originally booked the night’s lodging, we didn’t mind that it was one kilometer off the road. “What’s one more kilometer after having walked 30?” we thought. However, after sitting in the bar for awhile, we decided that we would take the hotel owner up on his offer to come pick us up in his car. But not before the guys offered to go off in search of some wine, cheese, meat and bread to enjoy for dinner that night. After all the walking we had done, there was no way we would be leaving the hotel to go in search of food.
We spent the night at Pazo Xan Xordo, a stone building surrounded by gardens that would have beckoned us to come and relax if it wasn’t so wet and aimless strolling had sounded appealing to us. Instead, we decided to take a long, luxurious bath and drink three bottles of wine to celebrate having arrived at this place which had formerly been a residence for royalty. This day had absolutely renewed our energy and spirits. There was now not a doubt in our minds that we would make it to our destination. I fell fast asleep dreaming of how exciting it would be to see the cathedral of Santiago coming into view.
This day may have been the longest, but it was certainly full of moments of learning and reflection. And a necessary reminder that there never is a “right path.” Sometimes it just takes pushing on a little longer before your own path starts to make sense. Check back next week to hear about my arrival in Santiago de Compostela, get some great recommendations on places all pilgrims should eat at and to hear about “Santi,” our surprise travel companion on the last part of our trip.