Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (21.3km/13 miles) is a relatively flat walk through farmlands, with huge sky vistas, small towns and their churches: Azofra (Parish Church of Nuestra Senora de los Angeles), Cirueña (The Parish Church of St. Andrew) and Santo Domingo (The Cathedral Santo Domingo de la Calzada). The cathedral in Santo Domingo is famous for its “miracle of the chickens,” a somewhat gruesome tale that I’ll link here.
If you’ve seen the movie The Way, you know that walking the Camino is as much about community as it is about one’s personal spiritual journey. And if you haven’t, don’t worry, you’ll get the gist here. There are four main characters: Dr. Thomas Avery—played by Martin Sheen—a somewhat staid dude walking the route in honor of his dead son—Emilio Estevez, who pops up every now and then; Joost from Amsterdam, walking to lose weight and make his wife fall in love with him again; Sarah, a Canadian ostensibly walking to quit smoking but really fleeing an abusive husband and her own past; and Jack from Ireland, a writer with writer’s block.
The Martin Sheen character clearly wants to be left alone to brood and walk the miles and try to understand why this journey was important to his son, but he’s not doing very well on his own. (If I remember correctly, he rests his backpack on a bridge and it falls into the water below, which has got to be Camino 101 level.) Anyway, it’s only when the rag-tag bunch of travelers hitch their wagons (it’s a metaphor; there are no wagons) to him that he begins to open up to them, embrace his and their humanity, and truly experience the beauty of the Camino.
To be honest, as characters they’re all fairly annoying.
But to be honest, so am I.
We made our plans for the Camino as a foursome who has spent a lot of time together but never actually traveled together. (In pre-pandemic life, we had talked about a short camping/hiking trip in the spring, and of course… COVID-19… and it never happened.) On the Camino, we would have met more pilgrims in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and walked with them—at least, ended up in the same cafes and albergues as them—each night, our group shifting when someone was sidelined for blisters, when someone was sick, when someone was feeling especially adventurous and decided to push on ahead to the next town.
We would have built our own little band of pilgrims, looking out for each other, following each other on Instagram, making connections that lasted beyond the Camino.
In real life, I’m not seeing the same people I used to see, before the pandemic and the world went on lockdown. I’ve only been in my car a handful of times since the university where I teach switched to remote instruction on March 13, and I’m still on the same tank of gas with 70 miles remaining, according to the dashboard gauge.
Every day, I walk. When Will isn’t working, we take the dogs for a morning walk before the heat of the day descends on us—a short, slow loop to the nearby park with a rat terrier who occasionally needs to be held because things like sprinklers scare her, and an aging beagle who needs to wear orthopedic shoes to keep his footing on the sidewalk. At night, we walk again, just humans this time. Once or twice a week, we reach out to others—my mom, our friends—for human connection, and we walk.
It’s not the Camino, but it’s a journey together.
We have begun tentatively seeing others—Will is back in his office; we’ve invited small groups to our large backyard for wine, firepit, and talks. We’ve visited with Will’s family twice.
I’ve been on social media more, and despite the times I foolishly try to correct or inform a stranger and end up in a comment spat, I’ve been grateful for my friends there, too. A ‘like’ or a smiling emoji isn’t the low bar for human communication anymore; it means something in this moment.
I see you.
I care about you.
You matter to me.
I’m not a big texter—I’m more likely to turn off notifications or put my phone on do not disturb for vast swaths of the day—but I’ve been exchanging messages with a few friends and family members regularly: a morning check-in, a newsy update, pictures of our dogs.
And then there’s the world that happens on Zoom. Sunday night Treick Zooms, with my parents, three sisters, one to two nephews and the occasional appearance by my chubby-lovely great-niece in Guam. Wednesday night writing group Zooms, far-ranging, laughing-crying, wine in hand. EG Zooms (can we do another, please?) and Zooms with friends far away. I’ve joined some Monday afternoon writing workshop Zooms, a monthly book club Zoom that rose from the ashes of COVID-19, a Friday night anti-racist book group Zoom that is reading its way through White Fragility and having the hard conversations.
Occasionally, there will be a sighting of a masked friend at the grocery store, or someone from church (thank you, Janet!) dropping off a book on my front porch, a friend walking her dog at the same time I’m walking mine.
Wherever (and however) you are, you find your people.
Paula Treick DeBoard