So I've described all the practical and superficial aspects of the camino. Now let's go a little deeper...
It might be best to start with the question "why did I go on the camino in the first place?" For three reasons. First, to grow closer to God, which I definitely did. I often felt like I was walking with Jesus, and there were even times that I felt like my Dad was with me. I believe that God and our loved ones are always with us, but it was so much easier to see that while I was walking. I had no distractions, no responsibilities. All I had to do was walk and be present, and then it wasn't too difficult to recognize God's presence in the wind, the birds, the mountains, or even my fellow pilgrims. It was wonderful.
My second reason to go was to have some time to reflect on my life, my time in L'Arche, my time in Kenya, etc. Sometimes I "structured" my thoughts around a topic, but most of the time, I just thought about whatever came to mind. It also gave me a chance to prepare myself for the next stage of my life: nursing school in Seattle. I thought a lot about what I want that to look like--yet without too many expectations--and how I can be in school full-time in a healthy, sustaining, and life-giving way. I've decided that I'm going to walk one of the caminos to Santiago every time I have a big transition (starting school, ending school, changing jobs, marriage?, retirement, etc.).
My third reason was to simply go on a pilgrimage. I was really attracted to the idea of it. In a way, a pilgrimage is an outward expression of the internal journey we all experience during our lives. Sometimes the way is wonderful. Sometimes it's monotonous. Sometimes we're surrounded by fellow "pilgrims." Sometimes we are lonely. Sometimes we feel great. Sometimes we feel like we want to die. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how life is like a camino--to risk sounding like Forrest Gump--and how lessons I learned about the camino are really life lessons:
-Take care of your body.
-Drink lots of water (and some wine).
And most importantly...
-It's all about the journey, not the destination.
As Diego, one of the Spaniards I met, said, the camino is in your heart, and it's absolutely true.
But this sounds like I was having these deep, profound thoughts all the time, which is not true. A huge chunk of my time was spent thinking about movies and TV shows (Lost!), and an even bigger chunk was spent singing songs to myself. Usually, I'd sing in my head or hum, but if I was alone and didn't see anyone ahead or behind me, I'd belt them out. (I got "caught" one time by some pilgrims that were resting under a tree.) I'm not ashamed to say that most of the songs I sang were showtunes, particularly the entire musical of Rent. One day, I sang the entire thing, except for some of the answering machine messages and "Without You" (booooooring and impossible to memorize). Though I mixed up some verses, I'm pretty sure I got it all. I think it was a good thing to sing because there are a lot of wonderful themes and ideas in the show for me to be more mindful of, particularly "no day but today." (And how to make a "neighbor's yappy dog disappear.")
So it was a really, really wonderful three weeks. I felt so at peace, I saw beautiful parts of Spain, I loved the simple rhythm of the day, and I met so many wonderful people. It was by far the best part of my travels, and I invite ANYONE to finish the last 200 km with me. I'll see you in Astorga in 2012.