Follow Joe as he hikes the Camino, experiences World Youth Day in Madrid, and travels to spiritual points in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and beyond.
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Eva, Our Guide (and Other Camino Tales)
Eva, Our Guide
Her walk is more of a stride, or a sway, maybe even a dance. The Spanish sun has baked deep lines into her face — not unlovely wrinkles — these are more a map of beauty and years drawn across her gaze.
She has been walking The Way for 14 years and knows the trails and churches of the path like the back of her hand. Her name is Eva — she is our guide on this journey.
What do you do when you’re from a place so many others in the world wish to make a pilgrimage to? Eva was born in Santiago de Compostela some 60 years ago and has been a fan of the Camino ever since she could walk. And walking is what she does best. Formerly an English and Spanish language instructor for children and adults, she now teaches history, botany and spirituality for those she leads on the Way.Want to know what year a church along the path was built? Eva knows. What kind of plant is that; is it poisonous; can I eat it? Ask Eva. In the presence of her quick and experienced pace, it is impossible to feel lost in this world even for a moment. Friends, if you are lucky enough as I, to one day travel the Camino, pray you may follow in the footfalls of someone like our Eva.
Pulpo y Vino (Octopus and Wine)
Each night Mike asks us all what are overs and unders are — our ups and downs from the trip, highs and lows. My most recent “over” happened in the town of Melide, playing chaperone to six of the young guys — Devon, John, Tony, Timmy, Justin and Jay Allen — at dinner. Now, for the most part of our journey, meals have consisted of meat, cheese and bread — delicious at first, but after five days of the stuff it gets a little boring. At a tapas restaurant, Devon — our token Spanish speaker for the evening — ordered us five flavorful plates: calamari, sautéed pork, croquettes, chicken and empanadas. The seven of us, still somehow hungry after this meal, then ventured out to a restaurant that Devon and Justin had discovered with T.J. earlier in the day, which specialized in Octopus.
We walked in, the kitchen was right there in the front and we noticed two giant steel pots boiling to capacity, purple tentacles peaking out of each. We sat down. Devon ordered us three plates of the stuff. After boiling it, the Spaniards cut it up, sauté it in olive oil and cover it in spices. It was delicious. Once we devoured this second meal, we dipped bread into the remaining oil and spices. I asked Devon to order a glass of red wine for me. They brought me a whole bottle and a small clay bowl to drink from. I drank from a bowl! It was a good night.
Littering on the Camino
I’ve been giving a few talks to the group regarding pilgrimage and the journey, (receiving a few supplemental stories and prayers from my friend, Fr. Jack Collins,) and during my second talk, I told everyone in the group to make a plan the next day to litter on the side of the road. I said, take your garbage and junk and everything you don’t need anymore, and just toss it aside. Of course, I wasn’t referring to actual garbage and trash, but rather all that emotional garbage we all carry around and can’t seem to get rid of. The Camino is the perfect place to let go of this stuff. Walking along some 20km a day, we easily discard those things we’re done with because they just make life more difficult. Let it go, give it to God, give it to the Camino. If I’ve eaten a banana or an apple and I’m finished, I’m not going to walk around holding the peel or the core, because it’s annoying and bothersome. I’m going to toss it, let go of it, be done with it and move on. And so should we all let go of those things in life that weigh us down: a broken relationship that can’t be mended, an expectation that will never be fulfilled, a hurtful loss in our lives.
Guest Altar Servers
We all attended Spanish Mass last night in the town of Arzua, at the Cathedral of St. James. Coincidentally, the names of the Spanish priest and visiting bishop were both James, we were staying at the Albergue St. James, and we’re all walking the Way of St. James. Weird.
At the beginning of Mass, much to our surprise, the priest and bishop were preceded by two alter servers — our very own Ricky and Nolan. Though most of the service was in Spanish, and neither of them speak it to my knowledge, they both did an extremely nice job of things. At the end of Mass, the bishop called all of us pilgrims forward and bestowed a special blessing on us as we make our way to Santiago de Compostela, and World Youth Day.
Yesterday, we met these two fellow travelers on the road. The guy on the right has traveled roughly 2800km from Belgium! Three months ago he and the guy on the left struck up a random conversation as they passed each other, and have been traveling together ever since. Now, two days away from the Cathedral of St. James, they are almost finished with their journey. Everyone here has a story.
We made it through the fourth day of the journey that involved a 13km hike mostly up and down very long and steep hills. Everyone did a fantastic job. Then, shortly after arriving at our alburgue in Arzua, a handful of our pilgrims suddenly became nauseated and very sick. Food poisoning? A virus? We didn’t know; all we knew was that our friends were getting sick and needed help. It was rough for a few hours there, but eventually the group came together, and those that were sick got the care they needed.
The next morning they were feeling much better. These circumstances are very difficult to deal with while traveling on the road with forty others, but it’s all part of our journey. The Camino is not just about walking and getting the hike done each day, it deeply involves those other hours of the day where you’re dealing with each other and each other’s emotions; sometimes uncomfortable sleeping conditions (snoring mostly); getting sick; blisters and muscles aches, etc. All of us pilgrims need to remember we are still on The Way, even when not on the actual path, but especially when we’re off of it, looking each other in the eye, trying to work through these issues that come up, whether we walk each day or stay at the hostels recovering. That’s when the truest tests of strength, patience and endurance really set in.
Elliot and Mike
I would hate to be having the Camino these guys are having. For my own experience, I feel I’m the luckiest one here: I get to take pictures and write about the journey all day, eat octopus and ponder scallop shells. But these guys have to lead the group, figure out what’s best for everyone and make tough decisions, sometimes even missing walking on the trail during the day so they can take care of things for everyone else. I ask everyone out there reading this to pray for our band of pilgrims, and when you do, say a special intention for these two.