DAY 34: A Walk Down Memory Lane
“I started out in Melbourne as a manager at Footlocker…” Dad began. I settle in eagerly to the walking rhythm of the Camino de Santiago del Norte, my feet pounding on the tar road in a tempo that has become second nature in these last 34 days. With the open highway stretching out before us, I listened bright-eyed to the words that transformed our natural environment of an azure Eucalyptus forest and instead enveloped us into the past. The indigo horizon that was pin-pointed by the bulky silhouettes of other Peregrinos (pilgrims) and their backpacks was the perfect setting for a long talk.
Ahead of us, I notice a mother and daughter duo decide to go their separate ways, promising to meet up with each other at a checkpoint in two days. I watch the daughter straighten her backpack and then pick up her pace. Throughout the next hour, she becomes a purple and yellow speck on the horizon. Her mother smiles, talking with a variety of other pilgrims that criss-cross around her but the droop in her shoulders is unmistakable.
I frown as I think of my family. We are constantly in each other’s company… having been squashed into small hostel rooms throughout South America, having driven through 31 states of the USA in an eight meter (27 foot) Motorhome (RV) and now camping on the Camino de Santiago del Norte. A lot of people might think that this is a sure recipe for disaster. A family together 24/7? What a nightmare! In fact, I had been posed this very question on my first live TV interview on Australian National Breakfast Television just a few weeks before commencing our Camino journey. I remember the questioning voice, almost incredulous after I had responded that travelling, had in actuality, brought us closer together.
The queries continued: Yes, we were always together. Yes, there were four of us. No, we didn’t tire of each other’s company and no, we hadn’t wanted to strangle each other due to a lack of personal space. Not even a little bit? Really? How strange.
The truth is that having a connection with my family as we travel, has been an immense blessing and one I am grateful for, knowing just how rare it can be in this modern world. I know that for a majority of people the reality is that they are separated from their families, not just physically, but emotionally. School, work, extracurricular activities, business trips, are all the ‘norm’ of our society today. Yet they conspire to keep us apart. Being away from each other for a minimum 8 hours of the day is considered completely and utterly normal. The sad thing is, due to the stress and pressure that comes with school and work, it can get to a point where there is no longer a family living in a house, but four individuals, each consumed by their own needs and worries. I know this because we too were once on the verge of this slippery slope.
During all this time together, travelling the globe, we have gotten the chance to talk. A lot. And I can say without a doubt that a significant key to staying strong together throughout these five years of adventure and uncertainty, has been this: our conversations. Open, long, and free flowing conversations where we can talk about what’s troubling us, laugh at jokes, ask for advice and tell stories. And now walking long days on the Camino de Santiago, there is no exception.
We round a corner of the path and there on the edge of the road, a barrier between dirt and tarmac is the sign we had been waiting for. A murmur of exhilaration rose from the pilgrims around us. My feet suddenly find a few extra bursts of energy to reach the stone marker, the number 100 etched into the side. This only means one thing: 100 kilometres to go!
My excitement is quickly diluted with a pang of sadness knowing that in just four days our Camino journey will be over. Walking this path had been my life for the past 34+ days. A wonderful, gruelling concoction of breathtaking views and blisters, of perseverance and Peregrino Menus, of early mornings and erratic weather. A slight shiver crawls up my spine. What will life be like afterwards?
Time melts away as we continue walking and I discover a different side to my Dad. A life led before my brother and I. I listen in a trance at the ups and downs, the rollercoaster rides and the simple joys that he experienced. My Dad and I laugh at the mishaps and smile at the triumphs as we walk onwards through minuscule stone villages, past the enchanting 14th-century church of San Alberte and through the bewitching woodland that surrounds us. What was initially supposed to be a short story to distract us from the weight on our backs, turned out to be a 3-hour long tale that took us over 15 kilometres, and 15 years of my Dad’s “working” life. One year for each kilometre. A walk down memory lane with the lessons learnt in the past, giving us guidance for the future.
The story comes to a close as we step out of the forest and into the charming village of Miraz. It is tiny, consisting of an Albergue (Pilgrim Hostel), two cafes in dogged competition and a handful of stone cottages. We immediately make our way to the hostel, our legs acting like tracking devices set to find the nearest bed. Out the front, we sign our names to the list of arrivals and then strike up a conversation with the kind Austrian/Canadian Hospitalier, Ingrid. We are instantly made to feel welcome with her bright smile, hilarious jokes, and upbeat personality. Within a few moments, we are sprawled across the stone steps of the Albergue, deep in conversation. Ingrid distinguishes herself as a ‘Peregrino Hospitalier’ and it immediately shines through, in her understanding of our journey and of those she has made a vow to care for. She knows the trials and reflections the pilgrims’ faces on the long walk of The Way and she shares with us her stories that both inspire and entertain.
As the day boasted a shorter walk than usual, we had the rare luxury of relaxing in the midday sun and taking the time to get to know those who share the path with us a little better.
Midday soon turned to afternoon, as Ingrid’s co-Hospitalier arrived. Tim formally checked us in and stamped all our passports while welcoming us with his pleasant Anglo-Spanish accent.
In the kitchen, we met Delf and Rolfe, two German brothers who had steadily been walking the Camino together for the last five years, taking time off work whenever they could to fly South and continue their Norte route. Now in four days, they were finally going to reach the end. I smiled, knowing that travel was bringing them closer once again after their separate jobs and lives had pulled them apart.
The next pilgrim that entered the cozy quaint abode was Jess, a student from Australia studying to become a Doctor. The Camino was a final adventure for her before coming to a temporary standstill while she studied. It was wonderful to hear a familiar accent echo through the kitchen and we chatted excitedly while the scent of our early dinner wafted through the room.
While we conversed with everyone, the majority of our afternoon was spent with Ingrid. We relaxed and allowed ourselves to forget that time existed at all. We spoke of my upcoming book Dawn of the Guardian and Ingrid was fascinated by the story and vowed to be the amongst the first to buy the book. True to her word, she was and continues to be one of my most generous and caring supporters and a great friend. There, in the sunny garden of the Albergue, it was as if we had known each other our entire lives.
It reinstated the knowledge within me that our discoveries along our journey have not just been wonders of the world but familial bonds. Not just of blood but of a new type of family. A travel family. These days family connections are all too often severed by the habitual lifestyle that is expected of us. But the bonds you make as you travel don’t ever fade. They are with you forever even if you never meet again. Even if it was only for a few seconds on a crowded metro, a few days together in Peru, or a few hours along The Way.