I had been up most of the night. My stomach was upset from too much of something, possibly the cheese or beer, the night before. My eyes wide open I thought from too much of the monk’s incredible dark chocolate. 😬
I felt like one of those dolls whose eyes open when they are sat upright, except mine opened when lying down. I’d gotten up and walked around at 11 and 1 and 2 and then 343 am. Then, the night sky was beautiful — the stars like diamonds dropped on black velvet cloth. As I came up the stone stairs from the bathroom down below, I decided I would rather hike than try to sleep some more. I decided to pack up and leave.
As I reached the upper level someone else was up. It was Nannette whom I had just met the previous day. She also had not slept.
For her the problem was the snorers in the room. There was one woman with sleep apnea-type symptoms so her breathing stopped for the longest times, and then like someone coming up out of deep water gasping for breath, she would gag, cough, sputter, snort and moan. It was something indeed. Unfortunately for Nannette her upper bunk, in the corner of the cement block room, captured all the sound and echoed it around her head.
So when I said, “I’ve decided to leave,” she said, “I’m coming too.”
We packed up our things, lubricated our feet, donned our boots and left.
We had my small LED flashlight with us. And as soon as we left the lights around the mountain monastery, it was needed, as darkness enveloped us and forest surrounded us.
My light was just adequate, the rocky trail narrow, and in a steep uphill climb. The nice thing about doing this at night was we couldn’t tell that it was going up. Nor could we see any distance ahead of us to anticipate what was yet to come. So, instead, we simply focused on walking in the light, a step at a time, and began to enjoy the journey.
We shared our lives while keeping our eyes hunting for the sometimes elusive yellow arrows which, we noted, are especially hard to see by flashlight at night!!
We lost the arrows about four times before sunrise, ended up in a highway once, and needed to backtrack a bit, time and again, to get on the right track.
Rather than feeling like we had to make our destination, which was in mind, we instead just focused on the journey. It was the journey, the beauty of sunrise peeking through the fog, the loan bray of the donkey, the solitary bark of a dog, cat in our path, these caught our attention.
We met a mother, Dana, and daughter, Djuna, from Washington state with whom we walked for about an hour and shared much with them.
They were doing two weeks of the Camino together before the Djuna entered high school. They were having a great adventure, swimming in the rivers and sea, sleeping under the stars a couple of nights when they found no housing, and bonding in the experience.
One thing I heard from them as they held onto this very relaxed approach to the Camino, was that the Camino was about the experience, the journey, not the destination.
Kat T., from church, wrote that phrase, “life is about the journey not the destination,” into the journal given to me when I’d left. It was a phrase I’ve heard, and perhaps used, but on the Camino I am asked to live it.
I think back to life at home and so much was about the product- the finished assignment, the final report, the message, the product.
But the Camino journey is like enjoying shopping and choosing the best ingredients for a recipe. Enjoying the process of choosing and making, not just the gathered guests enjoying the final meal.
Nannette and I, after about six hours of hiking reached the town of Gernike. We had both been talking about needing a break, before pushing up the next mountain. She’d been saying “Cafe con leche, por favor,” again and again planning what she would enjoy. And I was looking forward to a green tea and more so, “quiero comer algo, por favor!!
We had not been there long when other friends began to join us, (it took less time hiking in the light than in the dark!) who also ordered, ate, piled their packs with ours, joined two tables together and sat down. There we were — Germans, Basque, Italians, Americans — sharing about our adventures, laughing, talking, pausing when the idea birthed.
Several of us planned to push the 6 km up the mountain. There was an albergue with a kitchen available for us to cook in, so we decided to all get something to pitch together for dinner that night.
Spontaneous stone soup.
The plan birthed and took shape. We each bought and carried something up the hill. The journey part of the gift of the meal.
It was the best Italian meal imaginable, too. The line from Susan B. in that same journal came to mind –“Receive all aspects of this journey … with grateful joy.”
And the thing that I have revisited was that it was the day, the journey we’d walked that mattered, not just where we ended up.
It was every conversation along the way. It was the experience of following that flashlight’s beam through the forest. It was the laughing conversation at the restaurant. It was enjoying cafe con leche and snacks. It was the simple parts of the journey that made the day.
Another day Nannette and I had hiked 10 miles along a highway when we finally reached Liendo where we could stop for the desired cafe con leche. After the break at the El Robles bar/restaurant we started up the highway.
The guidebook wasn’t very clear on how to avoid the longest time on the highway. We decided to explore a little. There was this solitary yellow arrow pointing toward the coast, and I suggested we try it.
It took us out of town, away from the highway, onto a dirt path, up this butte some 200-300′ above the community. It was a definite, well-worn path. It crossed through a sheep pasture, with a happy, tail-wagging, sheep dog who barked at us as we passed where he had his sheep resting, up, up, up to this sudden ocean overlook. Glorious!
The air was warm, the wind refreshing, as the route took us up and dropped, us down into Laredo, a beach town and a trek across a beach. This journey was remarkable.
One gift of this way was that as we descended we came across a couple who’d also taken the same journey. These 50-ish Australians, with great senses of humor and lively hearts, caught our hearts. And in the unique way of the Camino we have encountered them again and again, had opportunity to share life and heart, and fallen in love with these wonderful, audacious Aussies. One day we bumped into them as we were leaving a village, and walked together for nearly five hours.
I look back to life in Beaverton and know that I over-emphasized the end, the product, not the journey. I focused on the outcome.
Somehow I hope that in the day that I do return to that life, changed by the Camino, that one change would be that I emphasize the journey rather than the destination.
As I trek up the hills and down into the valleys, here, I hope that I would remember the fact that the steps of this journey are about just that– the journey. Whether I can see the path or not, or can anticipate the ups or downs, or can see the way ahead, or cannot anticipate whom I shall meet, I want to remember that it’s the journey that matters.
As Dave S., another dear brother wrote in my journal, “live in the moment, enriched by every connection… cherish every step, every vista, every doorway you enter.”