On Oct. 28, 2009 I “officially” ended my walk on the camino frances.
This weekend I attended a walk and potluck in Seattle hosted by the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino. It was wonderful to get together with other folks who were considering walking the camino and who had questions and those that had already walked one or several of the different routes. Several people have acted at hospitaleros at places I could visualize as they named them – El Acebo, Rabanal, Estella… And just as on the camino the food was great, the sky blue, (the torrential downpour began just as we were finishing -this is the Pacific Northwest after all), the walk delightful and the other pilgrims quite diverse. I particulary enjoyed the stories by Seth, a young man who walked the Northern Way last year, and had brought his mom to the gathering as part of a campaign to get her to walk the camino.
It was the perfect kickoff to returning to France and hopefully walking some of the Via Podiensis (walking through France starting in Le Puy in the company of Beate and Guylène.
As I was driving home I reflected that since my walk ended there have been many of what I think of as camino experiances.
First it continued as I visited Guylène in Haute Savoie and tried to process the amazing journey I had just completed. I was still feeling separated from the hustle and bustle and pressure of daily life. It was wonderful to be around someone who understood. I realized that as I met Alain, Yoland and Guylène’s daughters and friends that they too were becoming part of my journey. And I was able to visit other camino companions – Christel, Daniel and Michel who lived in Savoie.
Upon returning home I read all the books I had avoided before my walk, wanting my experience to be unanticpated and new. I started with Elyn Aviva’s book “Following the Milky Way” which was a record of her walk in the 1980’s. And have gone on to read other memoirs, map books, guide books, books on the history of the Basque, Spanish cook books, books on European birds…. My internet friend Peter from Germany sent me a beautiful picture book of the camino by some German Pilgrims.
I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to visit Michelle in Victoria, BC last year when she was staying with her daughter. (We did a walk through town and parks to the water with magnificent views of the Olympia Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca). It has to have been one of the most spectaclar and warm Februarys ever in the Pacific Northwest. The cherry trees were in full flower, and gardens crazy with daffodills. We chatted in coffee shops. Looked at her great camino photos. In the evenings we watched the Olympics with her daughter (where they were not so thrilled about the unusually warm weather).
Then Guylène and her brother Yoland visited me at my home. As I took them through our little downtown I was amazed at the number of fluent french speakers who miraculously materialized everywhere we went. I was pleased that they could be here for our Arts Walk weekend, there was tons of music and Olympia’s own Procession of the Species. We took a couple of whirlwind trips by car to the ocean, where we walked along the beach at my beloved Damon Point and Pacific Beach.
We then zipped over the mountains to the Grand Coulee region of Eastern Washington, where the sky is blue, the basalt cliffs steep, the horizon endless, the ceaseless wind gale force, and the wildflowers in sparse delicate bloom.
We had a couple of great dinners in the nights before they left. One with a young family they had met downtown – the husband turned out the be the nephew of several people I had gone to high school with in Congo.
The other one with other pilgrims – both actual and vicarious.
Just in the last few months I had heard from others who I walked with who have gone back to continue their camino – Michelle, Guylène , Hélène and Phillippe or have gone onto other pilgrimages – Edurne & Olga walked the Via Argonese, Irene and Norberto who found pilgrimages in South America. Michel walked AGAIN from Le Puy to Finisterre. I think of the poem on the wall in Najera. What is it that has exerts such a strong draw?