This beautiful reflection on the famed Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route by Brendan McManus gave us some food for thought. This account of his incredible journey appears in our Winter 2018/19 issue, and it’s got us feeling inspired … have any of you ever walked the Camino or a similar pilgrimage route, Positive Lifers?
The Camino Way
Peace on the ancient pilgrimage route
by Brendan McManus
It is barely light and I am struggling along a narrow mud track in northern Spain. Around me are the impervious Pyrenees: impossibly high peaks straining for the sky. Sleep was patchy in the hostel and I’m bleary eyed and stumbling along, waking up to the dawn. The hand-painted yellow arrows point the way to Santiago, 800km away, but I won’t get there this time, only having ten days. The spiders’ webs brush off my face and arms and it thrills me to know that I am the first one on the trail. My muscles are a bit sore from the previous day’s walking, but I know that this will wear off. I am on the Camino and it is utterly thrilling and enveloping. An unexpected joy overtakes me and I rejoice in being alive, being able to walk and watching the world wake up.
The morning sun flares behind the Pyrenees: a reminder of the heat that will soon overtake me. Surrounded by mountains, they rear up into the sky on all sides. Far from claustrophobic, it is freeing to see the blue sky framed by ragged peaks. It is like the risky adventure of life. Beauty is framed by danger and inaccessible climbs, yet there exists a safe track through: a pass in the terrors, passage in the storm, a rite of obedience, permitting a possible path. It is a day of fields of wheat and barley, shorn stubble and big bales stranded on the soil. The path follows farm tracks and an old road into a broad valley that eventually glitters blue-green, a reservoir that looks out of place in such aridity. Skirting the lake, I am mercifully shaded by an oak forest that stretched on for miles until a 10th century castle rears its head.
The other hikers are behind me, strung out on the trail, but I won’t see them until the stop for mid-morning coffee. I look forward to the banter, the slagging and the check in. For now, I am totally alone and loving it. I need to walk as far as I can before the sun gets up – it’s already 23 degrees and after midday, it promises to be scorching. In the stillness and half-light of dawn, the dewy grass wets my feet and the glimpses of harvest valleys and fields stir my soul. Travelling light, I go on and on through trails, forests, mountain paths and farm roads: alone, but not lonely. I hear the sounds of the country coming alive. Birds are singing and I’m surrounded by butterflies! At around 11.30 a.m., I wait at a bar for my companions to catch up. I’m drenched in sweat and sun cream, but I am happy to see the others arrive. The paradox of being largely alone and simultaneously being in a group is a key Camino value, giving people space to walk alone and yet enjoying the camaraderie of being together, especially in the evenings.