By Monique Moniz
Santiago! That cry was inspirational to the Christians seeking to reclaim lands long lost to the Moors. Millions of pilgrims over the centuries have trekked along the paths established long ago to Santiago de Compostela. Today, Santiago is the pilgrims’, the adventurers’ and the seekers’ search for truth.
While people travel far and wide from within Spain, the most famous routes emanate out of France. Our story followed another route: The Portuguese Way.
We began our trip in Madrid and continued to Andalusia before walking the Camino from Portugal. Our first 10 days in Spain built the camaraderie and friendships we enjoyed during the week walking from Portugal north through Galicia.
Our journey, however, started months before our arrival in Spain. We were 18 Davis residents — and three other Californians — meeting numerous times to walk, to build up our stamina and get to know one another. Although some of us were friends, traveling together allowed us to develop deeper friendships. It prepared us for The Camino.
The hours walking the Camino in small groups allowed for deep and significant conversations, and times of quiet reflection. The joy of watching the locals go about their daily lives, working the fields, hanging up laundry, talking to friends, buying groceries, playing with children enabled us to realize that there is more similarity to our lives than differences.
Although we were strangers in a foreign land, we were greeted warmly, welcomed by many, and found ourselves totally mesmerized by the beauty of the countryside. Despite the global crisis Spaniards continued to endure, we sensed the beauty of community. A balcony poster proclaimed: “Tonight let’s forget the crisis my darling and go out dancing.” Everywhere, we witnessed community as Spaniards celebrated life without fear or engaging in conflict.
Community can bind people together through a common journey. Our community coalesced around our preparation and initial travels within Spain, and culminated in a 115-kilometer sojourn along the Camino and toward Santiago de Compostela. Together we had opportunities to celebrate our joys and sorrows, our loves and disappointments, our exhilarations and dejections, as well as our faith as we walked in tandem with old and new-found friends.
Community and friendship are elusive commodities in our hectic lives and ones that require continued nurturing. Yet the opportunity to build community, be it perhaps temporary, opened the door to rewards beyond compare. It was walking and watching the Spaniards in their daily lives that brought community home.
We enjoyed the opportunity to walk with others and our time to enjoy conversations in a way that is just not possible at home. As we walked, the possibility to get to know one another without life’s distractions was joyous. As we got into the rhythm of the Camino, we often would run into the same pilgrims in a variety of places. Our “new” acquaintances appeared in villages each day and we greeted one another as old friends. It made the journey that much more profound when you met someone who was once a stranger at the beginning of the Camino and now someone who greeted you warmly and enthusiastically.
Our destinations, quaint towns, beckoned us onward. Upon arrival, we showered, rested and many of us were off exploring before turning in for the night. It was amazing to see how many of the pilgrims on the Camino were in the same town for the night. Each day brought new adventure, new scenery, new friendships, some brief, others more expressive, and the opportunity to really reflect on what brought you to this journey in your life and what did you want to take with you once you completed the Camino.
When we finally arrived in Santiago, our first glimpse of the cathedral was on a high mountaintop quite a few miles away. It was an impressive sight of a large city with this cathedral on a hill. Although our last day hiking was a long one, 17.5 miles, seeing the cathedral in the distance encouraged us to carry on to our final destination.
Once there, we were met with this awe-inspiring sight that was difficult to take in. There were hundreds of people milling about with this massive edifice in front of us. When we were finally able to enter the cathedral it was a moment of great satisfaction: We had made it. The next day was Sunday and we attended the Pilgrims’ Mass, which was very eloquent and significant. It was the end of the journey for many and the beginning of a new way to look at life.
There were hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims crowded into this massive cathedral who had journeyed far and wide to come to this point. After the service, our group boarded a bus to Finistere to see the end of the “old world.” We bused out to eliminate an additional four-day journey.
It rained and poured, but we were warm and dry with our community of travelers and a few new pilgrims that we invited to come along with us. That evening we had our last dinner together as a group. What started out months before as a group of acquaintances, friends and strangers ended as a community of fellow pilgrims on a brief, but significant journey in life.
That is the Camino! Buen Camino to all!
— Monique Moniz is a Davis resident.