Text and photos CHARINA and CARLOS MENDOZA
Our journey on the Camino de Santiago in October 2014 involved many experiences rolled into one. It was a bonding trip, a physical challenge, a unique sightseeing and cultural tour, and a fascinating history lesson. Ultimately, it was a deeply moving spiritual journey.
As we walked The Way of Saint James, Spain’s patron saint, we followed in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims who over the past 1,200 years have made the long trek to Santiago de Compostela, one of the three real pilgrimage sites of Christendom.
Over the 125 kilometers we walked on the Camino, we had for company the beautiful scenery of rural Galicia and met fellow pilgrims from Spain, the US, Canada, Australia, and Italy, as well as a Filipina running a restaurant with her Italian husband and their quadrilingual five-year-old. We ate the best pulpo in the world at Melide, discovered the joys of a parilla, and now have fond memories of Cerveza Estrella Galicia and cafe cortado, both of which kept us going. Along the way, we saw and felt the true spirit of the Camino, seen not the least in an “honesty system” refreshment stand along a portion of the Camino in the middle of nowhere.
During our journey, we walked through forests lined with acorns (bellota), climbed steep hills, wandered through sleepy (and sometimes empty) towns, traversed a tiny creek with the help of boulders, crossed many ancient bridges, and chanced upon Romanesque churches and graveyards. In one of these churches, we met a blind man who collected small coins as tokens from pilgrims from different countries, so he could feel the contour of the each of the coins. We were dismayed that we only had Philippine notes on us. We walked through muddy paths, through fields and forests, and through concrete sidewalks that ran parallel to a motorway. We collected sellos (stamps) for our Camino credencial (pilgrim’s pass port) from bars, cafés, and chapels, proof that we had visited these establishments. There were times we walked alone, at times with a group. All throughout, we followed St. James’ scallop shell and the yellow arrows that pointed us to Santiago.
We learned many different life lessons along the way. While walking uphill was a struggle, the downhill trek also presented certain dangers to our knees and it helps to zig-zag down. We realized that adjusting how we walked, like perhaps walking backwards or relying on the heels of our feet, stretched certain muscles, alleviating some calf pains. We were taught that it was important to prepare for the day’s journey by wearing good fitting socks (with a spare on your day pack) and keeping our feet adequately moisturized.
The Camino is a marathon and not a race, and we quickly grasped that, no matter how fast we walked, we all ended up in the same place at the end of each day. Our little group referred to these as real life lessons in disguise .
At Santiago, we were blessed with a front row pew at the Pilgrim’s mass in the cathedral at noon, where the Bishop of Santiago concelebrated with more than 12 priests. We were inexplicably moved by the age-old tradition of the swinging of the Botafumeiro. The swinging started off with small pendulum motions, but as five men clad in deep red robes pulled on the Botafumeiro’s rope, it swung higher and higher, filling the entire cathedral with the scent of incense. The blessings did not end with the mass, as one of the visiting concelebrants, Padre Guillermo Luquin of Argentina, graciously agreed to bless our newly purchased rosaries on-the-spot outside the Cathedral at the Plaza de las Platerias.
The Camino was a fantastic oncein-a-lifetime experience with four other great friends who made our journey more memorable. We could not have asked for more wonderful fellow pilgrims than Poly and Carla Villacorta and Rico and Trixie Manuel, who kept us encouraged and entertained over 125 kilometers in five days. At the end of it all, we all believed that it was the journey, not just the destination, that made our Camino meaningful.
BY THE WAY Things to keep in mind while walking the Camino
1. It all starts with the shoes. Invest in a good pair that’s comfortable and waterproof. Train and do practice walks in the weeks leading to your Camino. Also, wear good fitting socks. And make sure you bring an extra pair.
2. Condition your feet. Slather your feet with petroleum jelly before you embark on the day’s journey. Camino veterans have said it is better not to shower in the morning because it softens the feet’s skin, making it more prone to blisters. Stretch your legs, shoulders, neck, and arms before you walk. Stretch at the end of each day’s walk.
3. Listen to your body. Take a rest when you are feeling tired. This is not a race. Walking sticks serve a purpose and help both downhill and uphill—they look cool too, but they are not just for show.
4. Bring your smartphone. It saves you the trouble of carrying guidebooks, a camera, and a GPS separately .
5. Enjoy the journey! Embrace the moments of silence, the chance to disconnect from your daily routine, and the chance to reflect. Make friends with fellow pilgrims and have fun counting how many countries they are from. Remember that while you all have different reasons for being there, you are all in this journey together.