I’m so excited to have had the opportunity and privilege of hiking a portion of the El Camino from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela in Spain – 100 Km in 7 days! One of my friends recalled it was a bucket list item, which I believe I posted on the netlogx “Before I die wall”. And reached out to see if I wanted to join them on the journey. This would be my first trip overseas, so I had no expectations, only a little anxiety. The kindness of the Spanish locals and fellow pilgrims (walkers) were evident as soon as we landed, so my anxiety faded quickly, and was replaced by joy and awe!
Before the hike, we explored Madrid a little bit. My friends and I walked to a local park and visited its Community Center, where a local band happened to be playing that day. After the concert, the band manager gave us free “band” T-shirts. We dubbed ourselves “Spanish groupies” – it was a great time spent dancing to a Spanish hard rock band! (Yes, one of the guitarists was wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt). We also attended a Flamenco dance later in the week and heard many individual musicians in outdoor restaurants too. One night we went out to a club, so we experienced all types of Spanish music! You could tell that the locals wanted to share their love of music.
During the walk, kindness was shown by everyone hiking the path, and a simple greeting between fellow pilgrims (walkers) “Buen Camino” was just the beginning. That led to conversations about where you were from and why you were hiking, as everyone had a reason. Prior to the hike, I had been participating in the netlogx wellness initiative, monthly walking challenge, and I can honestly say it prepared me well for the hike, as there were many, many steep hills, and valleys. As we traversed through the small villages with ancient churches, animals (lots of cats and dogs) and farmland, homeowners seemed proud to have us walk through their town – they greeted us and occasionally offered us water or a snack, asking for only a donation in return. We stayed at a local farmhouse one night, which was run by a mother and her sons. They cooked and served the meals for about 30 of us. The meal I selected was fish and was shocked when my dinner arrived with one whole fish – yes, eyes, tail, and all. I learned later that to display the entire fish was a symbol of freshness – fresh and delicious it was!
I continued to observe acts of kindness witnessed between strangers and fellow pilgrims along the path every day. Just something simple like taking someone’s picture, so they didn’t have to do a “selfie” was a common kindly gesture. It made you think about sharing what you had, like a blister bandage, snack/water, knee brace, Tylenol with someone in need, and engaging with strangers you encountered along the path. By engaging with others in acts of kindness along the path, I noticed I forgot all about the physical discomfort of hiking up and down the steep hills.
I’m thankful for all those who served us in the local cafes along the way, and most importantly our local guide who helped with interpreting as well as arranging rest stops, restaurants, and hotels along the journey. She helped bridge the gap in cultures, expanding our knowledge of the Spanish customs and lifestyle too. It seemed to me that the Spanish locals were proud of the El Camino and helped us safely enjoy their country. It was a social and spiritual journey to a beautiful cathedral in Santiago. I now have my official certificate from the Pilgrims office in Santiago, so my bucket list item has been checked off! I may even go back to finish other portions of the trail to accomplish the entire 500 K hike, but for now, 100 K was good enough.