It was his dream. Before he even turned 80, he said that he would like to do the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. There are many routes but he wanted to do the Camino Norte, which means walking at least 100 kilometers. Because of him, we have become a family of walkers and also my mom, his loving and dutiful wife, would not just be with him on the trip, but would walk with him as much as she could.
On April 4, we started to walk. Our guides had told us to just follow the yellow arrows and the scallop shell and it would lead us to Santiago de Compostela. True to April weather in Spain, it rained. And yet, even with the cold (most days at 2 degrees), we walked. And it was on one of those cold and rainy days when my dad caught cold and felt feverish. The next day, he stayed indoors and gathered his strength to walk again. And walk he did.
100 kilometers to go
We got to Baamonde on Easter Sunday. This was where and when we would start the walk of the last 100 kilometers to Santiago, where the bones and the shrine of the apostle St. James lay.
At the beginning of the trip, we were given a pilgrim’s passport. This passport would hold the proof that we had walked The Way, The Camino to Santiago de Compostela. In each of the bars or hostels we passed, we would ask for stampa or sello to fill our credentiales. They would so willingly give us, the peregrines, the stamps. In one bar, the proprietor did not just give us stamps but gave all the peregrines in the bar orujo de café, which is Galician liquor. Also, in most of these bars, the espresso was good. Along the way though, we learned that even if it was an espresso, we needed to share the cup as aseos or servicios were few and far between.
Every morning we would leave our inns after breakfast to walk 15 kilometers. Wherever we were for lunch, we would stop to eat. As we would sometimes be in the middle of nowhere, our guides would cook picnic lunches for us behind their vans. Those were the best lunches. After lunch, we would continue on our walk to finish the 15 kilometers of the day. Rain or shine. Everyone knew we were there for a purpose. Everyone knew we needed to complete this journey—for ourselves, our parents, our God and for those we dedicated our walk to that day.
Each 15-kilometer day we finished brought us closer to our journey’s end. Each end of day, we were taken to a casa, a rurales or an inn. During our 18-day trip, we stayed in eight different places.
It was raining as we set out on that last day. But as we walked into Santiago de Compostela at 5 p.m., the weather cleared. We walked in, triumphant, happy to finally step on the 0.0 marker and gaze at the Cathedral of St. James. We then went to the Pilgrim’s Office where we showed our credencial, were interviewed and where we got our Compostelas citing our Latin names.
Having received our Compostelas, we attended the 6 p.m. mass to give thanks for seeing the end of our journey. We then went on to do the other rituals usually performed by pilgrims. We embraced the statue of St. James at the back of the main altar. And we visited the Tomb of St. James where we each said a personal prayer.
The pilgrims’ mass is 12 p.m. every day. And so, the next day, we set off for mass. We were told that during the pilgrims’ mass the priest would recite the countries from where the pilgrims came from. And when he did say “Filipinas,” I was so excited that I wanted to clap my hands. But we were at mass and no one else was clapping.
We were doubly fortunate that the biggest botafumeiro or incense burner in the world was swung at mass that day. It was a sight to behold as the huge incensory swung to and fro from one end of the church to the other, in synchrony with the Hymm of Santiago. It was truly awesome.
We walked your dream, Dad!
Walking to our hotel that day, my dad, in his quiet voice, said, “And we thought we’d never make it.” I knew he had expressed a fear we all had. That given all the odds, the rain, the cold, the long walks, leaving our families behind and putting our everyday lives on hold for 18 days, we made it. We did the pilgrimage and we reached our destination. It was an individual journey but a collective one as well. It is an experience we share and will not forget for the rest of our lives.
Source and Acknowledgment. Also more pictures at: