Sarvaan and Eva reach the end of their 800km pilgrimage through Spain
The next morning I decided to walk alone. I enjoyed talking with Mark, but found that it took me away from the moment. I was missing out on the beauty surrounding me, as well as the stirrings inside me, so the third day I chose to go solo and commune with nature. It was a tough day, without anyone to talk to I had all the time in the world to focus on the pain, exhaustion and distance to go. There was nothing particularly difficult about that stage, my body just didn’t want to go on and my mind fought it the whole way.
With my feet dragging I entered Pamplona, the place famous for its running of the bulls. I was immediately impressed by the beautiful architecture, the warm colors, and vibrant style. The Albergue was welcoming as well. It was big, comfortable and clean; just what my aching body needed after 3 grueling days.
For the next two weeks we pressed on more or less in the same fashion, yet at a much slower pace. We decided early on that it was much more important for us to experience the wonderful communal nature of the Camino rather than making haste to Santiago. Anytime we came to a welcoming shelter with a good vibe we stopped, regardless of how little progress me made during the day.
In this way we had many interesting experiences and met wonderful people we otherwise would have passed by. One such person was a young Muslim man named Can from Turkey with whom we would spend many days walking together. We also met a couple who started their pilgrimage from their home, walking a staggering 3500 km from Holland to Santiago. For two days we were joined by a Swiss man and his 10 year old son, who gave me hope for a generation of awakened youth. We also met a Shaman who welcomed us into his home and performed a heart-felt healing ceremony with us. We witnessed a large group of juggling pilgrims putting on an impromptu show. We found a secret Albergue that very few pilgrims ever find. We spent a day at an inspiring eco village and were taken to a secret waterfall by 2 young Albergue volunteers.
There were majestic castles, pretty bridges, a fountain flowing with wine, Roman ruins, ancient artifacts and even a site where one of the oldest human remains were found. After 1000 years, the Camino still has its fare share of interesting finds and secrets to uncover, there for the pilgrims with a keen eye to discover.
I was also happy to find that Eastern ideals were welcome at many places along this very Western and very Catholic road. At one small Albergue, we were greeted with a “Namaste” written in the concrete block at the foot of the door. Many other Albergues had spiritual books on their shelves and indeed Osho’s could be found in a handful of them. I also met an Osho sannyasin making her second pilgrimage along these roads. All in all, I was relieved that my lack of faith in organized religion never came up once during the entire journey. We were pilgrims and that was all that mattered.
It wasn’t all sugar and spice, however, as Eva and I had our fair share of trying times. There is a saying – “The Camino will either make or break a relationship”, and in fact it almost broke us several times.
Many relationships are formed there too, but for couples it is a path strewn with perilous obstacles and tests of faith. We both agree that if you really want to know your partner, then walk the Camino together. There’s nothing like a 800km pilgrimage to test your love and faith.
When you are walking great distances on a daily basis, there is no energy left at the end of each day for false pretenses. To the contrary, with plenty of time for inner reflection, many things can and will come up. In my case it was large doses of anger and sadness with tears occasionally bubbling to the surface, and there is nowhere to hide these things on the road.
We also had to deal with a considerable amount of pain. Almost every pilgrim has to deal with tight muscles and blisters, two things I certainly struggled with at times, but I also had the added burden of throwing out my back. Eva too walked many days with a bum knee and also had a bout of food poisoning.
One thing we didn’t have to deal with however, was bad weather. We heard stories of snow storms and torrential downpours, as well as sweltering heat, but besides a few days of rain and some muddy roads, we experienced nothing but good conditions.
Most of all, however, we reveled in the beauty and solitude of the Northern Spanish countryside. Some days we hardly saw another soul and it suited us just fine. We walked through endless wheat fields, through abandoned villages, over tall mountains and across sun drenched plateaus. With few distractions, we found ourselves reconnecting with nature and reflecting on the miracle that is our existence.
After 5 weeks of incredible, albeit mentally and physically exhausting walks, we arrived in the Celtic region of Galicia, home to Santiago de Compostela and an anomaly within Spain. With a wet climate and covered in green grass, one can feel he has been transported to Ireland or Scotland. Moreover, when you arrive in Santiago to bagpipes and shops selling kilts, you may think that you have entered a time warp.
About 120 km from Santiago, pilgrims pass through a large town by the name of Sarria where, unfortunately, about 90% of individuals decide to start their ‘pilgrimage’. I cannot bring myself to give these people the distinction of pilgrim, as I do not believe that a simple 4-5 day walk of 120 km constitutes a pilgrimage. Compared to what the other 10% go through, it is nothing more than a walk in the park.
Here our pilgrimage drastically changed. We essentially went from weeks of uninterrupted quiet, peaceful and reflective journeying, to a sudden and frantic rushing amongst throngs of loud and unconscious mobs. During this last stretch walkers are also inundated with commercialism, high prices and opportunists praying on credit card pilgrims who know not what they are doing.
In spite of this, we marched on, more determined than ever to reach and relish our moment on the floating air of achievement. As we neared Santiago we both felt more uplifted and energetic. Neither of us had ever taken on a challenge quite like this and we were both very aware of the significance it would hold for the rest of our lives.
By and by we arrived, and stood speechless before the towering cathedral that is the house not only of St James, but of our dreams. We had raised the bar of what we thought ourselves physically capable and basked in the ecstasy of it.
For good measure, we ran into our old friend Can, whom we hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. Seeing him brought everything full circle, and shed light and symbolism to many of the answers I had been seeking.
He had arrived a few days before us and immediately went about playing music in the streets for money. Soon he was also getting donations for some booklets he printed of his sketches. (His camera broke in the beginning of his pilgrimage, so he took to sketching many of the cathedrals, sceneries and people he came across.) He ended up selling a great many and quickly became the well liked ‘new guy’ amongst the Santiago buskers.
This incredible young man, who had already achieved so much in life professionally as an accomplished architect, had found contentment following his heart along an old trail. Expressing himself through the mediums of art, music and love, he sat with anyone who wanted to share it with him.
Most importantly, he reminded me about the true nature of the pilgrimage, and myself. Two weeks previous, we found him playfully asking every stranger we passed – “Are you Camino?”, “Have you seen Camino?”, “Where is Camino, can you tell me where I can find him?” Sometimes he just yelled at the sky – “Camino where are you?”.
The symbolism wasn’t lost on me. I thought of the Buddhist saying – “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” You can search for Camino or the Buddha everywhere to your heart’s content, but you will never find him on the road. The fact is, the Buddha (or Camino) can only be found within. I know now that the entire pilgrimage happened within me. There was nothing to find on the walk but the walk itself. But of course, had I met Camino on the road, I would have certainly killed him.
Text by Sarvaan
If you want to read about Sarvaan’s walk in more details go to his blog post…