Memories of the Camino and the Old Woman

On April 2019, I walked 790 kilometers across Spain’s Camino Frances. The Camino de Santiago (translated “Way of St. James”) is a pilgrimage that people have been making to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, for almost 1,000 years. In the olden days pilgrims would begin their pilgrimage from their front door and walk the entire way to St. James.

Everyday I walked I became overwhelmed by this internal feeling of happiness. Could it be because I finally realized that now I have arrived and am doing it? This is exactly what I felt walking the camino would be like; to be simply free, just follow the yellow arrows – and walk at your pace. The most well-known and most common route to Santiago de Compostela is the Camino Frances. The route begins in St. Jean de Pied de Port in southern France, and covers 790km (approximately 500 miles) to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

When the scenery became monotonous my over active mind just wanders off. Once I even gave some thought to the era of the roaring 20’s and 30’s before moving on to the US Great Depression. In the book, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, he introduces us to the Joad family, whose survival depends on their ability to extricate themselves from the dust bowls of Oklahoma. The more the family walks, the more the family changes; similar to everyone near, ahead or behind me now, on the camino Frances.

What changes first for the Joads was their family structure. After more walking each family member also begins to change. Suddenly, up ahead I spot an old woman and from a distance away I take her picture, framing it to the background. A little bit later I catch up to the old woman, as I walk by, I ask her in Spanish, if she recognizes the woman in the picture? Her eyes suddenly light up; as she recognizes herself. A huge grin engulfs her entire face. I notice but, a few teeth remain in her cheerful smile. Still, she is beautiful to me. She is a camino country grandmotherly type. The camino runs right by her home. She embarrassingly says to me, you are “muy amiable” and reaches over to offer a friendship hug. Near tears now come to my eyes. The word “muy amiable” implies that one is of good nature, and has excellent qualities that make one most liked, cheerful and helpful. I could not have received a finer compliment today. This was a simple moment in time but, one that now touched my very soul. The spirit of the camino is in me.

When I left the old woman I now thought of the importance of family, back home and on the camino. Family is the one weapon that the Joads have against the cold and bitter world all around them. They, along with many other migrant workers quickly learn that they are stronger and safer when they reach out to other families, and when they create a sense of community. The camino was once again providing lessons to me of mind, body and soul

One thing that helps for long stretches of walking is to entertain your mind. Pay attention to yourself, your surroundings, never fail to give a compliment, a greeting of the day, to your fellow pilgrim, simply enjoy living in the moment. Write a story in your head and later place it down onto paper. Share it to family, friends, or to future pilgrims on a blog.