23: unidad y soledad

Last night we met up with our fellow pilgrims – everyone we’d met in the last day of the journey we told to meet us in the main square at 7pm. So we met the four Spanish guys, Julio Ferrer, Heidi, the Italian Romano, Ronald and Roland and some Germans, two of whom we hadn’t actually met before Santiago. It was, we felt the perfect way to sign off, and to pay tribute to the family of pilgrims we had become on the way.

Our plan for today was to reflect, write in our journals and soak up the atmosphere of Santiago. It was going to take a bit of readjusting to not get up pull on a backpack and walk, to not have a destination for the day, so we were going to be kind to ourselves. But it seemed that everywhere we turned we bumped into fellow pilgrims who wanted to stop and chat and drink coffee with us. Of course this was fine – but unexpected. To be in a strange city and to find someone you know walking the streets is a slightly disconcerting feeling.

In the afternoon we were enjoying the emptiness of the streets as people headed indoors for siesta. I wanted to take a photograph of a particularly windy narrow street and was waiting for it to completely empty when into the frame wandered two Spanish guys who we had met two days earlier at the albergue at Briallos, Emilio and Pep. We said hello and they invited us to join them for coffee. They’d been doing the camino on bikes so I never expected to run into them a second time. We had a lovely conversation, talking about politics and literature and personality tests and the camino. They asked us what our theme from this camino has been and I said ‘Community and solitude’ – ‘unidad y soledad’ in Spanish.

I thought the pilgrimage would be about solitude, soul-searching and introspection, and there was plenty of that, but I was surprised to find it was also about community, that the people we walked with were more important to the journey than the road itself. And that even once the road had been walked to its end, the camino of the people we’d met continued.

There did come a point of exasperation though – we saw people more often in Santiago than we had done on the road and so we found ourselves slipping into a church and sitting on the pews, just to grab a few minutes peace, the vital soledad to balance out the unidad.

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