Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Shelly Heller of Silver Spring, Md. (author); Dianne Martin of McLean, Va.; Toni Marsh of Montgomery Village, Md.; and Val Clarke of Torquay, Australia.
Where, when, why: We walked for a week from Sarria, Spain, to Santiago de Compostela — the last 68 miles of the Camino de Santiago — in May. Three of us are on the faculty at George Washington University and work out together at lunchtime. Our workout conversations include topics such as films, books, news and gossip. One day, we talked about the movie “The Way” and agreed that walking El Camino would be a great idea. But, unlike Martin Sheen, we glamped, using an agency that transported our luggage from stop to stop and staying in hotels that we reserved rather than simply finding a place to stop.
Highlights and high points: Walking through medieval villages with 100-year-old rosebushes clinging to the stone; sharing the road with a farmer driving cattle along with a stick; seeing fields of wildflowers, ancient forests where the paths were so worn that walls of earth rose 20 feet on either side of us, and vistas of Spanish hillsides and vineyards; passing fields of recently mown hay dotting black soil rich with manure — all of the sights, sounds and smells were new and delightful. And the food, except for the octopus, was outstanding. We especially loved torta de Santiago, a wonderful almond torte. The entire trip was amazing and so different from our daily lives — no phones, no television (at least not one we could understand), no meals to make and no real decisions to make other than putting one foot in front of the other.
Cultural connection or disconnect: The Camino was about the people we met: other peregrinos (pilgrims) from around the world, whom we kept running into at various points along the way. We had names for each: Our Lady of the Pink Pants (who wore pink every day), the Dutch group (a group of tall, tan, beautiful blond women out for a stroll) and the Alones (folks who were walking unaccompanied to “find themselves”: the student from Wellesley, a young woman from Slovenia and a young man from somewhere who adopted us).
Our most interesting meet-up happened by chance. We stopped at a resting place and chatted with another pilgrim, who told us that an important person was walking the Camino (maybe an archbishop, he said) and that every evening there was a Mass for the peregrinos that we should attend. Among the four of us were one Catholic, two Protestants and a Jew, but we thought: “Why not? It would be part of the experience.”
We arrived at the church, and the priest was atwitter. When the Mass began, there were three officiants, and one was wearing white garments, hiking boots and a red skullcap. Our Catholic member said, “That’s not a bishop; that’s a cardinal.” Indeed it was. Cardinal Daniel Sturla, who recently had been elevated to cardinal in Uruguay, was walking the Camino with 20 or so of his high school friends, each decked out in matching T-shirts. On our final day in Santiago, we attended Mass again, and there was our friend, Cardinal Daniel — this time in full cardinal regalia.
Biggest laugh or cry: We are a bunch of East Coast, Type-A personalities — we set a goal, and we get it done. On the first day of our walk, we still had about nine miles to go. We decided not to stop until we were at least halfway and pledged not to drink beer or wine until we had earned it by completing the Camino. We stopped at about 1 p.m. and ate too big a lunch and then could hardly summon the energy to continue. Rushing past charming cafes and inns , we focused on our goal. And, in doing so, we missed the point. The next day, we realized that this was El Camino, not El Destino. The walk is the trip. So we slowed down, stopped in every cafe, and drank the local brews and delicious sangria. It was a good decision.
How unexpected: Perhaps we were most surprised by ourselves. We are fit, but we had never done anything like this before. We were amazed that we did it and that we never ached. (Okay, well, maybe just a little.)
Fondest memento or memory: The greatest gift was the journey, each of us a pilgrim in her own way. There were miles where we walked together, four abreast, sometimes two by two and sometimes alone. We had time to catch up on one another’s lives, to learn new things about one another that we never could have guessed. We learned that we could enjoy one another’s company and also enjoy our solitude. And, of course, we bought matching T-shirts for our next lunchtime workout.
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