It is three weeks since my arrival in Santiago de Compostela and I am still finding moments when I look back at my experience of El Camino with moments of great disbelief. Even at the time, I felt that aspects of the journey were surreal. It seems like such a contrast with my present reality and the sensory overload of living in a major metropolis, such as Toronto. Why is that? Trying to make sense of it will probably be an on going process for some time to come.
When I was walking the Camino Frances, the walk was the central activity. That was all that I had to do. From this perspective there existed no Toronto and no outside world. Even better, there was no news, good or bad, unless one happened to glance at a television monitor in a restaurant. So the 'world' had become smaller and more intimate. There was the walk, there was nature, human interaction with whoever you might encounter on the path and there was mealtimes. These experiences took on a greater intensity. One could emotionally be moved by a story in someone's life that in the 'normal' world would have no impact.
Mealtimes would take on a greater importance. This was partly due to the appetite that one would build up after a long day's walk. However, there was the added importance of breaking bread with fellow story tellers. Can I believe that the white wine that I downed with such relish along with three plates of boiled octopus, seasoned with cayenne, sea salt and olive oil was the most delicious culinary experience in my life? It was certainly good, but in the context of the Camino it was excellent.
For me an encounter with a group of school children in Ponferrada took on greater emotional charge. With their natural curiosity for all things, they explored the cathedral, tried desperately hard to behave within the parameters laid down by their teachers, and were fascinated by their meeting with this strange, possibly mad, pilgrim on an eight hundred kilometer walk. Would I have been equally affected by an encounter of a group of school kids visiting a significant monument in my own own home town?
I believe others were affected equally deeply by their experiences of the Camino. In the same city of Ponferrada, I met a pilgrim to whom I described my experiences at the Cruz de Ferro. He was visibly moved by my description of this visit.
El Camino works in a special way to sensitize us in a world that lacks sensitivity and connection.