In 2010, I had the opportunity to experience the last 100km of the Camino de Santiago on foot. It would be a foretaste to this summer, when I had a chance to experience the Spanish pilgrimage again, this time a much larger portion of it and by my favourite mode of transportation- bike!
But why a pilgrimage you may ask? Credit card reward points. I checked my reward points before last Christmas, and pleasantly discovered that I almost had enough points for the equivalent of a round-trip to London, England. In talking via Skype with my friend William (former Little Trinity member who now resides in southern Spain), he suggested that if I was coming to Europe, perhaps I could come to Spain again and try to cycle the whole Camino with him. An offer I couldn’t refuse! (Note: I only had to bring my clothes and some panniers, as William had a couple of mountain bikes already.) Having been on the Camino in 2010, with William, I had an idea of what would be in store.
I already knew how marvellous the scenery would be. To take in the beauty of northern Spain, while riding for hours at a time, is a feeling that I’m sure many of you can relate to. That is why we enjoy cottages, beaches, hiking, camping, and other activities that allow us to be outdoors. It can refresh and rejuvenate us.
I looked forward to the scrumptious Spanish cuisine, served with warm hospitality. Fresh ingredients, with warm, baked bread, were often served with wine for us. All served with such hospitality that has been cultivated for centuries and part of the Camino experience.
From my previous time on the Camino, I also looked forward to meeting people from all over, who were travelling the same route, but from different backgrounds, life stages and doing it for various reasons, including spiritual or religious. I would hear about their lives-experiences, transitions, challenges, joys and brokenness.
And while I experienced all of the above, I would experience much more this time around.
Doing the Camino for a longer period this time, I learned a little bit about how to depend on nature and others. At some points, there were even some unexpected gifts along the way. A couple of times, there were fresh, ripe apples that had fallen by the Camino road/path side from a private trees. All along the Camino, were wild blackberries, so at times I could gather bunches into a ziplock bag, and offer it to other pilgrims passing by who cheerfully accepted. Perhaps the best surprise was a winery that had bought an old monastery along the Camino, and had two taps that were available for pilgrims – one for water, and the other red wine!
Though on our bikes, we travelled the same route as those who were walking, and so at times we were at a slow, steady pace that allowed us to meet people, see towns and sights, and have regular breaks. In some cases, we were able to end up at day’s end, at the same places of those who had walked and that me had met earlier in the day.
During the Camino, there was the gift of having connections from different parts of my life and who I am. Being with William, I was reminded of how special of a faith community in Toronto that I’ve been a part of for over 20 years. It is where I have had so many rich friendships and connection, that have encouraged and challenged me in my faith and many others ways.
I unexpectedly used what little Korean I have, when meeting a number of Koreans along the Camino, including 4 Catholic nuns from the moment that we literally began biking from our starting point.
I was able to use some of my high school French numerous times in speaking with French pilgrims.
My Haiti connection (from volunteering there in 1999-2000), happened with a staff person in the pilgrim’s office in Santiago. After finding out he was Haitian, I began to speak some Creole to which he instantly grinned from ear to ear, laughed and said “In my 3 years here, you are only the second person to speak my heart language. You have made my day!” (Incidentally, he was also a person of faith and studying in seminary.)
Though I was on a pilgrimage-vacation, I was glad that I was not oblivious to others’ brokenness. Though Hispanic (El Salvadorian by birth) and fully fluent in Spanish, William reminisced about his share of struggles and challenges of not being born and raised a native Spaniard. While nearing Santiago, William was also able to converse at length with a young Colombian man, who has faced his share of difficulties. He was selling Camino souvenirs and had one of his sons present, helping to make and assemble the merchandise. He had lived in Spain for several years with his wife and young children, and he was struggling to make ends meet. He was working long hours and also had to be on constant watch for police, who could come after him and/or confiscate his inventory at any given moment.
In addition to this, a large part of my trip’s purpose was also to raise funds for Charlie’s!
I was thankful to be able to experience and receive so much more than my first Camino experience. A significant part of what I experienced was due to cycling.
As you travel along the Camino, many people will say “Buen Camino” to you, to which you respond in kind. The meaning behind the saying is a wish or hope that you will travel well, or journey in a good way. So I say to you “Buen Camino” and hope that in years to come, I can continue to support Charlie’s while enjoying the opportunity to travel by bike! (Maybe part of the Trans-Canada Trail next summer!)