My Camino… The Way of St. James
by Marygrace Lomboy
How does someone describe a trip of a lifetime that was just a walk? It’s something that I experienced that I find myself going back to in my mind several times a day, and ask myself “did that really happen”? I recall it, but it almost feels like a dream state of consciousness. The sounds, the people, the landscape, and the walking…like a dream.
This all started about 6 years ago when I brought home a movie from Redbox, called “The Way”. It looked kind of spiritual, wasn’t sure what it was all about, but convinced my husband to watch it with me. It was an amazingly emotional movie, and afterwards, we both said that the Camino is on our bucket list to do someday. Did I think we would actually have an opportunity to walk through Spain someday? Not really – not with life happening, 3 kids, I was in grad school at the time and was also working. But it was fun to dream about it…
6 years later, we were at a cancer fundraiser, and I was talking to some folks about returning back to Lourdes on another mission trip. I’m a nurse practitioner and have traveled with this group of professionals from Lancaster as their nurse on several past mission trips. I was finding out some details to this next Lourdes trip, and then someone in the group said that there was another trip to Spain walking something called “The Camino”. My eyes lit up!!! I quickly found my husband – told him about the possible opportunity to walk the Camino, and we signed up to go that night. We had an opportunity to have our entire family go, but our 2 older children have jobs that wouldn’t allow them to leave 11 days, but our youngest son was able to go, as he would be on summer break from college.
So, we were fortunate to go with our youngest son, for 11 days, starting in Valencia, Portugal and walking up to Santiago, Spain. We received our travel pack a few days prior to leaving. We had trained, walking many miles trying to break in sneakers to avoid blistering while on the trail. We were given a scallop shell, a symbol that pilgrims have displayed on their backpacks while walking the Camino. The scallop shell has many grooves that meet at a single point. This shell represents all of the pilgrims coming from various routes of the Camino – Portugal, France, Italy, Ireland, etc…all meeting together at a single destination, the tomb of St James at Santiago. We walked for a total of 7 days, and covered approximately 87 miles, or 122 km. We received our Compestela, which is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims who have completed the entire path or a minimum of 100 km of the Camino trail.
It’s interesting when all of your focus every day is just walking. The release of everyday modern life and quieting the mind just happens. Paying close attention, and being very tuned into your body and the effects of the walking were hyper acute. After the 2nd day, with all of the uphill climbs and the hard descents, several of my fellow pilgrim’s feet were torn apart. Major blisters, hot spots and open pressure ulcers resulted. I’m a wound specialist, so I was kept busy at night after our dinners, popping blisters, applying specialized dressings to help with the hot spots, and wrapping up feet so they would offload pressure a bit better the next day.
We walked as a group at times, and I also walked alone. All of the pilgrims were given the address to land at the end of the day, and it was always a celebration to see each other at the next destination. There were a few days that I was worried sick while walking, as we couldn’t find our hotel, had to walk additional miles because we were lost, and had separated from our son, who was walking ahead of us. Needless to say, he was always at the hotel waiting for us – one time, in particular, sitting at the bar, drinking a nice cold beer with his friend, and said “what took you so long to get here!”. One of the first lessons I learned from the Camino is to let go. Especially with our youngest son, Christian. He figures it out all on his own, in his own time. I don’t need to control his destination – I believe he’s got his own path. It’s his Camino. Lesson learned…
The third day of our walk was our 29th wedding anniversary! When we got married, I carried my favorite flowers down the aisle – white calla lilies. Little did I know 29 years ago, that I would be hiking from Portugal to Spain and that white calla lilies grew wild everywhere on the Camino trail! I was surrounded by my favorite flower. It actually brought tears to my eyes… My husband picked a calla lily for me and sweetly placed it on the back of my back pack. I carried that with me for the remainder of my walk, putting it in water every night and placing it back on my pack in the morning.
Walking everyday was a lesson in mindfulness. I just finished training in mindfulness based stress reduction from UCSD and am getting ready to teach my first class. The Camino gave so many opportunities to practice mindfulness. Just simply being aware of where your feet are taking you and constantly looking for the signs to where you are going. There are yellow arrows and scallop shells on trees, buildings, and fences, but you have to look for them to know the right direction of the Camino. There were some instances where we were engrossed in a conversation with another pilgrim that we met on the way, and missed one of the scallop shells – and had to back track in order to not get lost.
The simple sounds of the walk, the many birds singing, the rhythm of my walking sticks hitting the dirt ground, the sound of my breath, and the trickle of the water from a creek nearby. The simplicity of the path. Traveling at a pace of approximately 2 miles per hour gives you the opportunity to really be in the moment, and to notice this sacred landscape. Just putting one foot in front of the other, one mile after another…
The energy of the Camino was palpable. Thinking of all the pilgrims who walked this path prior to us walking is overwhelming. It truly felt as though we were walking on sacred ground. The good intentions, all of the prayers offered, and all of the struggles and hardships to get to Santiago was felt every day walking. The locals couldn’t have been more encouraging as we walked amongst their vineyards, stopped at their makeshift cafes in their garages or on a spare room of their house. Offering us homegrown tomatoes, homemade crusty bread and fabulous cheese and sliced meats. The wine was inexpensive and so delicious! The locals always wished us “Buen Camino” in Spain and in Portugal “Bom Camino!, always with a warm and encouraging smile.
The Camino showed us our age every day. The younger people in our group would always be the first ones to get to our destination as some of them actually ran the Camino. Trouble with knees, ankles, and feet were issues for the rest of us. Just when I felt like I needed to take a break to rest, I would come up to an elderly person who was barely walking. One gentleman that I remember was limping the entire way – almost dragging his left leg. He was wearing a back pack, and one of my fellow pilgrims offered to carry it for him for the day. He declined the offer, was appreciative, but stated that this was his walk and he will get there when he gets there. The patience and perseverance that he displayed was so encouraging. I kept walking…
Everyone does the Camino for different reasons – as a matter of fact, before you get your Compastela in Santiago, you have to fill out paper work where you were from, where you started your walk, showing your passport with the stamps from different towns you stopped in and also the last question…why did you do the Camino. The answers to this question were religious, spiritual or tourism. We met so many people from all over the world walking with us. Everyone has a story, everyone has a reason. Some are so personal, as the pilgrims are protected and quiet – using this time, walking to make sense out of what they are experiencing. And others are openly trying to come to terms with what’s going on in their lives. We met a young man from Portugal who was fighting consumerism. He left his job for 2 weeks to walk the Camino and purposefully had no money. He wanted to do his Camino with just what he carried on his back. We met him in Santiago and he had accomplished his goal.
When we finally got to Santiago, it was bittersweet. Joy that we made it to our destination, and a yearning for the walk to continue. We made it in time for the pilgrim’s Mass. The highlight of the entire walk was the synchronization of the beautiful “hymn to Santiago” with the spectacular swinging of the huge Botafumeiro, the incense burning as this swinging metal container was wafting over our heads to the heights of this grand cathedral. It is said that the burning incense is symbolic for all of the pilgrim’s prayers being released out into the world after they complete their walk to Santiago. I was filled with emotion and gratitude.
I realize now that the journey is more important than the destination. The walk had become a metaphor for life. It’s the everyday “walk” that each of us have the opportunity to be present, to be aware of our body, the people around us, and taking in the views of our surroundings in making each day our own Camino. Everyone is on their own personal journey… it’s not the destination that counts.