As we walked and walked bearing witness to Spain's rich medieval history and the warmth of it's people, we met walkers of all ages coming from every corner of the globe. People from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Norway, Sweden, Greece, England, Canada, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, Columbia, Israel, Germany, Denmark, Korea, Japan, China, Andorra, Ireland, Spain, Italy and more. Language barriers not withstanding, everyone united behind a common goal, sharing their stories and life experiences. Some had been walking for months already, like a couple from Sweden who had covered 2000 km or a 67 year old fellow who started his journey on a bike from Poland and had covered 1600 km by the time we all converged at the same starting point, St Jean Pied de Port.
People who came to give thanks for their blessings as well as those looking for the courage to change their lives. Those who came for spiritual reasons and those for whom it became spiritual along the way. They came alone or accompanied by their partners or friends. Some found each other along the way. There were younger couples just starting out, singles looking for partners and others dealing with break ups. Ages as young as little Hudson who at 14 months was accompanying his parents in a stroller and Mr. Lee, who I met on one of the toughest climbs of the journey. At age 77 he had already completed 400 km and was determined to finish in spite of his asma. Then there was the miracle of one 66 year old man from Germany, who was saved from a heart attack by a young American intern. No one knew this poor man who was alone laying there hanging on to his dear life. We were all overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness, hoping and praying for his welfare. Thankfully the ambulance came in time. We heard a few days latter that he was recovering in intensive care. I was reminded of the many shrines along the way dedicated to others over the years who were not so fortunate.
One word about the food and wine "WOW". I'm talking about real cuisine not haute cuisine. I rediscovered the real taste of food. I know now that I will never tire of Hamon Iberico, Gallecian Soup, Cocido Maragato, Pinchos and of course the Tapas. Everything from the grower to the plate, only fruit and vegetables in season, animals grazing freely on the range, and streets signs warning you to beware of the chickens (the size of turkeys) crossing the street. Wholesome, fresh and hearty dishes reflecting Portuguese, Basque, Catalan, Gallecian and Moorish influences, all coming together into a gastronomy that kept me yearning for the next meal in the next town. The fig trees along the way, were my only disappointment, simply because by the time I got to them all the ripe fruit was picked by someone who got there before me. Smells and tastes reminiscent of a simpler time.
So as we sat in the Santiago Airport waiting for our connecting flight, contemplating the 1,500,000 steps taken to cover 800 km, over terrains of all kinds, conquering so many steep hills and passing through 150 villages, I was overwhelmed by feelings of satisfaction and sadness that the adventure was over, while still yearning to get home to my family. My body wanted to keep walking 25 Km per day,but my heart longed for my grand children's embrace.
I am "Thankful" for my feet, who performed like a set top performance tires without pain or blisters. I rewarded them every day with a massage and a healthy application of Vaseline. Thankful for the rain that extinguished those forest fires raging directly in our path, a few days before we were expected to cross them. Thankful that we were not in arms way of the political turmoil resulting from the Catalan Referendum. Thankful for all the family and friends that cheered us on. And especially thankful for my life partner Laura, who continues to inspire me.