A note for readers: This is the seventh in a series of articles intended to describe my experience of walking two of the many pilgrimage routes that make up Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Although I documented those experiences on Facebook as they were unfolding in October 2023, this is a much deeper look into their implications.
Should you need to review previous articles for context, please scroll down.
The energy of the Camino is a term familiar to pilgrims who walk these routes of Spain. It’s usually used when rational explanation fails, and is often accompanied by a shrug. This term is all I can offer to explain what is carrying me forward to the town of Herias. I’ve swallowed the last of my water, my legs feel like two stumps, I’m sweating heavily, and despite my faith in what has placed me here, doubt is front of mind.
Finally, Herias reveals itself.
The Camino spills out of the woods onto a small plaza. No one is around. To my right is what appears to be a shelter, a covered area behind a wall. I stop and listen. Ever so faintly, I hear the sound of running water. Immediately I wonder if it could be a hallucination, but I follow it to the shelter. Here I find three pipes protruding from the other side of the wall, each spilling fresh water into an open trough. Another well-worn pilgrimage term comes to mind: The Camino provides.
Campomanes, today’s destination, lies but one kilometer north. After a long rest, some wound care, and a few bottles of water, I set off for the final, brief walk to end this crucible of a day that has been my fourth stage of the Camino San Salvador. Penitence will continue, but the suffering is over at least for now.
With one last steep descent into Campomanes, I walk through the town and find a café. I’m not terribly hungry ̶ ̶ which I find odd ̶ ̶ but what I really crave is a Coke. A few of them would be even better, along with some sitting for a while. Reflection is in order.
Over the years, I’ve had some close calls while hiking, mostly due to falls. They usually happen toward the end of the day when leg fatigue sets in. I also had an incident during my first Camino on a long, lonely stretch of dusty trail just before reaching the city of Astorga, when I had some vague sense that I could somehow fail. But never have I experienced what happened along the way to Herias. The road could have taken me. Instead, the road delivered me.
I could be blamed for making poor decisions, but alas, none were made, poor or otherwise. This is not hiking where decisions and choices are part of the experience. It is pilgrimage, where I am to submit and obey and walk in a grace that can appear as something cruel and ungraceful. To borrow another long-used phrase, the Camino is life itself.
Sleep comes easily in Campomanes.
Morning dawns chilly and clear as it has every day since I left Leon, and once again temperatures are predicted to be in the mid-80s. Outwardly, this 20-plus kilometer penultimate stage of the Camino San Salvador is the antithesis of yesterday’s trek ̶̶ ̶ a minor climb to begin, then a corresponding descent to a mostly paved, table-flat valley walk beside the Rio Lena to the bustling city of Mieres.
It is the kind of easy trekking that drives attention inward, where the darker ghosts that have been walking alongside can have their day without the distraction of physical exertion ̶ ̶ ghosts of how I have been in the world, the many sins of omission and commission, the words I’ve said and those I’ve withheld, all of my judgments and false beliefs, and the effects of relationships now forever changed or ended. It strikes me how this pilgrimage, coming as it has toward the end of a long and intense period of solitude and spiritual self-inquiry, presents an opportunity to reframe much of what has been revealed...a finer way forward as new doors are opening.
I’ve carried some objects in my pocket ̶ ̶ talismans, one could say. I’ve empowered them, perhaps anointed them, with unique virtues. I don’t usually place much stock in such things, but it’s fair to say the endeavor at hand does not fall into the realm of the usual. There have been times while walking when I’ve fished them out, rolled them around a bit in my palm, and taken a measure of comfort, or reassurance, or remembrance as I have considered each:
A small stone given to me by a close friend who is a Catholic priest is etched with the image of footprints on one side, and on the other, these words: It was then I carried you. The stone represents faith, and it accompanied me on my first Camino pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees to Spain’s Atlantic coast.
A religious medal inscribed with the words Divine Mercy was given to me recently by another Camino pilgrim, and I carry it because mercy is kind and reminds me to allow this for myself in a walk where the shadows dominate.
A secular tin medal in the shape of a heart, inscribed with a personal offering and given to me by my former significant other, was also with me on that first, much longer walk. It had a different meaning then, but it now carries the energies of grace ̶ ̶ a grace that inspired some words we exchanged just days before I left for Spain, words that had allowed for a far gentler sense of parting than those exchanged during our previous encounter.
Faith. Mercy. Grace. Good companions to have along the way.
After one last stretch of paved walking beside the Rio Lena, I cross a bridge and enter another world of city streets, traffic, road construction, and crowded sidewalks. Mieres comes as a shock wave, jolting me from the reverie of the day’s reflective, easy saunter ̶ ̶ a sudden return to distraction and confusion, if only for a little while.
Next, the end of the San Salvador route in the city of Oviedo, and a shift away from penitence.