While I’m away vacationing in Paris, I thought this would be a great time to host travel related blog posts and essays from my friends. Danielle submitted this piece to me and after reading it, I found myself googling Camino de Santiago. Reading her piece reminded me a little of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’m starting to see that taking on a long and strenuous walking journey is a renewing experience for people. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.
When you walk the Camino de Santiago, you meet people. You meet Vim from the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man who is not too steady on his feet and can’t seem to keep his clothes on in the albuerges. You meet Meike, also from the Netherlands, who is writing her dissertation about the Camino and is walking in love with a man she met on the trail. You meet Julie and Etienne, a Canadian couple who speak French but are not from Quebec, but New Brunswick thank you very much. You meet Marxi, a German walking with his dog, Funky, who never pays to stay anywhere, sleeps outside underneath tables and fishes in the rivers for his meals. You meet HuiYoung, a young Korean who wants to be a nurse and is always elected head chef for dinners because he was a cook for the army. You meet Bill, a Canadian who makes you laugh so hard you can barely stay on your feet. You meet Dorothea and Dan, a couple walking for the second or third time who always have Breathe Right strips for snorers and warmth for young pilgrims needing encouragement and a kind smile. You meet Alessandro from Italy, with an accent that tickles your ears and a spirit that pushes you up steep hills. You meet six horses standing in the middle of the road on the way from Roncesvalles to Zubiri.
Left to Right: Danielle, Alessandro, Etienne, Julie, Kenny
And when you come to the end, when you are finished with 6am breakfasts, 24 kilometers of walking a day, washing your four pairs of underwear in the sink, and eating hard, crusty bread at almost every meal, packing your bag in just the right way (sleeping bag at the bottom, people), learning to sleep through storms of snoring that defy earplugs, and rubbing menthol into your legs and feet just so you can move when you open your eyes in the morning- when you are finished with all that and you stand in front of the cathedral at the end of your month-long journey- you meet yourself.
You did not plan to meet yourself. You planned to prove to yourself and your husband and all the people who formed the sentence, “You really want to walk for a month carrying all your stuff on your back?” that you could do it. Because you weren’t sure that you could. But you did so much more than survive. You walked yourself right out of that debilitating self-criticism that supposedly knew all the little ways in which others were judging you. You walked into a new kind of validation, where you looked deep in your guts and whatever was there, you decided it was meant to be there. You walked out of thinking comfortable was a worthy goal. You walked out of neurotic circles of self-doubt and into the warmth of just enough self-awareness.
You met yourself. You are surprised that yourself has met you here after almost 500 miles of taking one step after another. Because yourself is not the you that slept that first night in the Refuge du 55, Rue de la Citadelle, bed number 114, top bunk at Saint Jean Pied de Port. Nope. Rather, you run into the you who was walking from Palas de Rei. You thought you were in front of your husband and Julie and Etienne (NOT QuÃ©bÃ©cois, but Acadian, and true friends) but somehow you end up behind them without realizing it. So you come to a crossroads and you decide to sit down and wait for your friends because surely they aren’t that far behind you. You sit under a tree and watch the road, watch some ants, kill some unfortunate ants that got on you, said sorry to the brother ants that had the good sense to stay off of you, and wondered where your friends could be. And your husband walks quickly. How could he be that far behind you? So you begin to wonder if they didn’t decide to go on to ArzÃºa to spend the last night on the Camino a little closer to Santiago. Did they decide to keep going? Did you miss that? Or did you hear it and just forget? So you begin to consider your options. And you stand under the tree. Then you walk out to the crossroads and talk to some people who know no more than you do. You walk back to the tree. You decide to wait. And now you watch both ways: the road coming and the cross where the decision has to be made.
You see a man running past the cross in the road. It is your husband. He thinks you’ve missed the turn and have kept going. He is running after you. If that was true, if you had kept going, he would have to run a long time to catch you. He is running fast. And in that moment, when you see that man running after you, see his body hurrying to wherever you might be, you know. You feel the most loved you’ve ever felt in your life. And you are yourself now, so you feel the most loved and you believe it. It is so wonderful to meet your love and yourself here in this moment. So you scream, you yell, you wave your arms and that swift, searching love turns around and sees you. You in all of yourself. You that has turned into you over the Pyrenees, through Navarre, across the terrible, flat meseta where you could see your destination for miles and miles before you arrived, up into the beauty of Galicia and finally here. At this almost-the-end crossroad. Under a tree. Pursued by a man who loves you.
When you walk the Camino de Santiago, you meet some interesting people. Yourself included.
Danielle Buckley Park walked the Camino de Santiago in the spring of 2011. She is currently living in Seoul, South Korea with her husband, 15-month old son, and dreaming of a full night’s sleep. She is also enjoying a visit from that very same Canadian Julie and missing that very same Canadian Etienne. When she writes, she writes at Wonju Wife (http://tuesdaysborrower.blogspot.com), tweets @wonjuwife, and posts ridiculous amounts of photos of her son on Instagram as wonjuwife.