nilesite writes


New York, New York, USA
January 08
The Backpack Press
Pilgrim, writer, photographer, mom, singer - author of "A Marshmallow on the Bus: A Collection of Stories Written on the MTA."


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JANUARY 7, 2013 3:35AM

Small Kindnesses on the Camino de Santiago

Rate: 6 Flag

After walking the Way of Saint James for two weeks, I´m back in Madrid now, leaving shortly for New York.  I have finished the Camino for the moment and will be spending the next month or so, I think, just processing all I saw, all I learned, all I have come to understand.  Pilgrimage is not like vacation.  Vacation in itself means vacating, emptying out, taking a back seat for a change.  Pilgrimage is driven, impulsive, thoughtful, and thought filling.  I need both from time to time.  You can get used to everyone wishing you a Buen Camino, or ´safe travels and a good pilgrimage.´

It´s remarkable how so many days of focussing on small details could become such a blur of experience now.  In our  twelve short days, we walked over 170 miles, averaging over 14 miles each day, and I noticed a single flower, a shiny black beetle, a woman hanging out her clothes on her balcony.  The sum total of these small incidents made each day so rich and unique but as I recall them now, they blur into a long road, a seamless journey.   

Some of the wonderful kindnesses that we met along the way stand out though.  Everyone is kind to pilgrims in Spain.  On our first day, an older man came out of his house, shouting ¨Caramelos!¨  We had passed his door before he had everything set up for pilgrims to take with them.  He had small candies, some fruit, and a stamp for the pilgrim´s passport, or credencial.  As you walk, you are required to collect two stamps per day on your credencial to show where you have been and that you did walk between towns.

As we came into the first stop, Hospital de Orbigo, we were met along the road by a man on a bike who was riding toward us with his dog chasing along behind him.  He told us we could stay with him in his albergue, and that the food there was really good.  We followed his advice and met the loveliest people there.  He played guitar for us after dinner and was up the next morning fixing us breakfast.  When he stamped our credenciales, he wrote ¨Ultreia!¨  It´s the expression of encouragement to pilgrims to get up and keep going to Santiago de Compostela.  His wife took me aside because she noticed I hadn´t finished my dinner.  She was worried I might not be feeling well, but I assured her everything was fine.

In five more stops, we were let into closed pensiones, or small hotels, even though the place was closed.  We stayed in a house with our own kitchen and living room, we slept in a dormitory style room with five twin beds that reminded me of Madeline in Paris, and we spent the night in another where the owner washed our clothes for us.  In each case, we were made to feel welcome, even though it was clear the only reason the pension was open was to accommodate us.

But my single favorite moment was when we were walking through a small town and I had walked ahead of my daughters just to see where the road was taking us.  I stopped in front of a set of vending machines, just waiting, and a man came up to me, fishing some coins out of his pocket.  He leaned toward me and asked if I might need anything that he could buy  for me in the vending machines.  I assured him I didn´t need anything and he smiled and wished me a Buen Camino.

Author tags:

family, spain, travels, religion, belief

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Nilesite, a wonderful story and with all of the financial problems Spain is dealing with it's great to read of the friendly people you have encountered.
My 60-year-old sister-in-law did the entire Camino last spring, and it's affected her in ways she never imagined possible.

If you're interested, a fascinating look at the same journey is Jane Christmas's "What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim" (Greystone Books, 2007).
Human kindness is the way of many people. Too bad it is not obvious at the country and world levels.

Travel is a great learning experience. I'm envious.
design - thanks! Spain deals with its financial problems much better than we do. When folks don;t have so much to spend, they don't charge things, they just spend less. It's healthier.

boanerges1 - I just ordered it! Thanks for the recommendation.

Lyle - I want my children to know so much. It's why I keep dragging them around after me, even though they are all in their 20s now.
I'm so glad you guys completed your journey safely, and that it was so fulfilling. What an experience! It's heartwarming to read about the kindness of people along the way. You make me want to do this pilgrimage more than ever. All the best to you in getting back to life at home and processing all the wonderful things you lived and saw along the "camino"!