Inspired by the movie The Way, I walked from León to Santiago in the summer of 2012.Traveling alone was the ideal tonic for me at that time in my life, and I feel an ongoing sense of gratitude for my pilgrimage.
I relished in the joyful simplicity of existence along the Camino. My daily imperative consisted of only three things: tape my feet, repack my bag, walk to the next village. This facilitated steady, forward movement of 200 miles over two weeks, and evoked in me a sustained sense of contentment, the likes of which I had never known before. Foot to earth, foot to earth, foot to earth.
Although I knew from research that it was perfectly safe and common for women to walk alone, I wondered if I would be lonely. Or worse, would I be constantly in the mix and unable to be alone with my thoughts? Without any orchestration on my part, I was graced with the perfect combination of alone/contemplative time and community/pilgrim time.
Choosing to stay in simple inns along the Camino instead of the albergues, I was thankful for the quiet and privacy of my own bed on which to collapse dog-tired each afternoon. At times I felt self-conscious about my lodging choice, but the inclusive trail adage of “It’s my Camino” gave me permission to have my own experience without apology.
My gratitude list for all the simple moments that nurtured my spirit along the Camino is infinite. There were the “angels” staffing the farmacias, the asphalt path that showed up on a day my feet desperately needed stability, the comfort of seeing yellow arrows when feeling lost (even figuratively), meeting Alberto and him imploring me to slow down, the soothing sound of cowbells in the distance, the recurrent joy of bumping into a favorite pilgrim I had lost track of a few days prior, and for all the serendipitous and synchronistic moments for which the Camino is well known. Today I pay homage to it all.
Walking the Camino was my response to an unidentified longing of soul. And while I tried mightily to talk myself out of taking the journey – it felt self-indulgent and laced with too many uncertainties – I am forever grateful for having trusted the summons and walked the good path.
As the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi advises, “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”
(This piece appears in the December 2018 issue of La Concha, the newsletter for American Pilgrims on the Camino.)