Santiago Pilgrimage Update
A few summary thoughts on our pilgrimage:
How was the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain?, I keep being asked. I could start with blisters, the daily mark of group progress: who has one or more today, how bad are they, can Ed with his vast medical kit (how much weight was he carrying?!?) tend to them or do we need to find a farmacia this afternoon to get better bandages and disinfectant? Those pharmacists were invaluable. New boots not broken in, new boots well broken in, old boots that never caused blisters before, it didn’t matter: blisters were a constant source of pain and discussion and disappointment, but they are not a character flaw. That message bore repeating. Some hobbled on despite their blisters, others needed to take a day here and there to be transported by bus or taxi, and switching to modern transport certainly brought home to the rest of the group just how little distance we were actually covering each day by contemporary standards. The mystery of blisters yielded to the mystery of why were we doing this: what makes me a pilgrim?
Or I could talk about my bicycle: after months spent healing stress fractures in my knee, I was not yet ready (said my doctor) to walk 70+ miles with a backpack over often rough and uneven terrain. So I rented a bike: a company based in Lisbon said it would ship the bicycle of my choice to our first hotel and pick it up from our last hotel, and there I was, pedaling along the road/dusty trail/ highway shoulder that everyone else was walking. I felt a bit silly – but then I realized that I could sprint ahead to see how young Christopher was doing, who insisted often on jogging down the trail no matter the heat or incline, and then swing back to check on whether everyone had noticed that one tricky intersection that wasn’t as obviously marked as some others, and then head quickly up to our day’s end and make sure that we knew how to find the hotel. And it was great fun: I hadn’t done that much off-road riding since I was a much younger man, and the challenges of hills and ruts and bumpy stone bridges were a blast.
Perhaps best, though, would be to talk about the yellow arrows, the painted or spray-painted arrows that pointed the way for us. Yes, there were official posts and signs that featured a stylized scallop shell, its fan of lines pointing not down (like our parish logo) or up (like Shell Oil) but sideways to indicate a left or right turn – and these posts included a notice of the kilometers remaining to Santiago, counting down our pilgrimage to the cathedral that houses the body (so they say) of our patron saint. But the arrows were much more ubiquitous, painted on rocks and curbs and trees and the backs of street sign posts and even the sides of buildings, navigating us through town streets or pointing to where we went from country roadside to wooded path. They sent us through vineyards with grapevines trained to grow up over our heads; they urged us up hillsides and through industrial parks; they took us past medieval stone crosses and led us to fountains to refill our water bottles. And they brought us, finally, to the square in front of the cathedral, to a sense of accomplishment no matter how we had arrived, to a realization that they were not mere markers but reminders of every pilgrim who had gone this way before us. The yellow arrows became for us visible signs that God is always trying to point our way in this pilgrimage of life, if only we could search sufficiently patiently for the arrow that lies somewhere before us.
For background to the pilgrimage, click here.
To see a photo album of the trip, with captions, click here for the Flickr link.