Wednesday, June 11, 2014

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela: Day 1

Day 1 (Tues June 3) Sarria to Portomarin, 21 kilometers We didn’t sleep well at all on the train, but were too excited to care much. Sarria was beautiful. So green and lush, with quaint little stone houses with cute gardens and vines. I noticed a lot of them trained the grape vines to grow up over the first story of windows and right under the second story so they can pick grapes out the windows (just like our family does with our orange tree!). We stopped at a cafe and bought our pilgrim passports and got our first stamp. The passport is what proves you actually did the camino, and lets you stay at the albergues. (basically like hostels, but only for pilgrims—people walking the camino). You have to get stamps in the passport along the way, in order to get your certificate at the end. We started at a pretty good pace. We met a couple from Denmark right of the train, and a mother and daughter from Japan. After we started walking we talked a little with a couple from Mexico. Then probably about 2k into it, we met a couple from Ohio. They’re my age, and we ended up walking with them and chatting the whole first day. We didn’t know it, but that was the beginning of our camino family. It’s hard to describe the spirit of the camino. I’ve done hikes before, and this one was every bit as beautiful as any I’ve done. But it’s a little different because you’re around more people, and you’re in the countryside, and occasionally walk through villages. Your destination isn’t a lake or the top of a mountain, but it’s a church in the middle of a city at the end. But you still get to spend time in nature, and it’s a spiritual journey on so many levels. It began as a pilgrimage where people would walk from their homes in Spain, Portual and France, mostly, in order to visit the Cathedral where St. James is buried. They generally did it seeking some sort of forgiveness or cleansing. Now people do it for all sorts of reasons. Some just do it for the walk, for exercise, or something of that nature, but most of the people I talked to also were seeking some sort of cleansing or healing. Many were looking for healing from the death of a loved one, or a physical healing (one woman from cancer), or healing after a divorce. Others just wanted to strengthen their relationship with God, or find out something about themselves. There are a huge variety of reasons. Their motives weren’t always religious, but I found that most of the people I talked to were religious. I had the opportunity to talk about my religion and my beliefs daily. I never would have expected that in Europe! The first day went really well. I was exhausted by the time we got to Portomarin. It’s a beautiful little village (actually the only village we saw that day) nestled in the hills just above a river. It’s a fairly new village because the river has been dammed up, so it’s now more like a lake, and the original village is at the bottom (like Folsom Lake!). We walked a little aimlessly around the town until we met a man who recommended an albergue to us. We were so tired we just went with the first suggestion. I went and got dinner with our American friends from Ohio (Patrick and Audra). I just love them. She is originally from the Bay Area, and he’s from Ohio. They have 3 kids at home, and they’d sent them to a camp so they could take this trip. After dinner we just went back to the albergue, washed some clothes (you basically just bring 2 of everything and wash your shirt and underwear each day so you’ll have something clean the next day), chatted, used wifi on our phones, and tried to stay awake until a reasonable hour.

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