Friday, September 4, 2009

Why do they walk.....?

This is the question we´ve been asking people along the Camino: "What brought you here?" People are here from all over the world -- and their answers are all over the map.

Sophie, a Swedish jazz dance teacher, said that she needed to let go of some things. This was a good time to do it. Linda from Australia echoed the sentiment: "I wanted to lose some things, leave some things behind." I thought of all the things Lisa and I had literally left behind, building tiny altars of "stuff" in Puente la Reine and Estella, two early stops. Pilgrim hostels regularly display "stuff" for the taking. Books, maps, gear that at home seemed absolutely essential. And now was simply extra weight. Someone else in need of an extra pair of socks, a book for the evening then picks it up.

Why do they walk?

Giovanni, an Italian journalist about our age, told us he filled out a form on Roncesvalles that asked the same question. There were four options: religious, spiritual, cultural, and sport. He simply checked them all. He´d wanted to do the Camino for years: he loves medieval history and art. The Camino is loaded with both. We asked how long he had for the trek -- and he told us he had an open ticket home. He didn´t even know whether he would have a job when he got back.

A German woman walking alone said she had wanted to do the Camino for 35 years. Now was the time. She looked elated -- even after the day´s trek.

Nancy, a retired government scientist now living in Redding, California, simply said with delight: "You´re the first person to ask me that question -- and it is exactly the right question."

She didn´t get a chance to answer, because at that point a Korean woman with whom we´d shared water during a hot, dry stretch walked by and greeted us. She looked immeasurably revived. The conversation wafted somewhere else.

Why do they walk?

My favorite response so far came from Eric, the Danish biologist/therapist who walked with us on the first day out. We saw him again in Viana at the end of Day 4, walking through the streets with a couple of young Spànish men with whom he had been traveling. He had a loaf of bread under his arm and was in high spirits. He assured us he wasn´t drunk, but was headed for a beer with the Plaza with some friends. The cobbled street was crowded and packed with people, and he yelled at us over a stream of townsfolk, tired pilgrims, and children: "I´m a child again!!!"

That option wasn´t in the form issued at Roncevalles.

How would we have answered the question we keep posing? Probably like Giovanni, we would have checked all four boxes, then added some of our own.

A few of which will only become clear as we travel further.

Yes, we´re sore. Yes, we´re sunburned. Yes, we´re be-blistered. Yet, after a shower and a move from the vertical to the horizontal, we´re ready to meet friends and explore the town, visit the church and simply be grateful to have made it as far as we needed to go today.

Tomorrow will take care of itself.

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