I hiked sections of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain in late April, setting off from Bilbao and working westward on the Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo and Camino Frances trails to Santiago de Compostela. I didn’t do the full pilgrimage of staying in albuerges or hostels, getting a pilgrim passport stamped at each stop or walking the last 100 kilometers into Santiago to get a pilgrim certificate. A bus transported us and our luggage between cities and towns and we stayed in comfortable hotels each night.
But I did hike nearly 50 or so miles over seven days and I did follow some rituals of the walk. I tied a scallop shell, the symbol of pilgrimage, to my backpack and greeted fellow hikers with “Buen Camino!” On a beach in the Asturias region, I picked up a rock to carry on the walk.
“The rock is a symbol of our frustrations, sorrows and sins,” said our guide. “You carry this rock to Santiago and when we travel to Finisterre on the last day, you throw it in the ocean. It means you have let go of your frustrations, sorrows and sins at Land’s End.”
I searched the beach and found a smooth, oval, off-white stone to carry as a symbol of the sorrow of losing my husband, Perry, a year ago. I also picked up to meditative stones to bring home, a red-flecked rock with a perfect indentation for my thumb and a brownish green stone striated with red stripes as its companion. Along the way I picked up pieces of quartz as mementos.
On the anniversary of Perry’s death, I was on the Camino Primitivo trail in the middle of green pastures with cows dotting the hills. Trees arched to frame the muddy trail and wildflowers bordered each side. A light mist made the mood seem mystical as we walked along a stream. According to our guide, the Camino trail had been traveled for centuries by pilgrims, even pre-dating St. James and Christianity. Celts traveled this path known as Via Finisterre in search of Land’s End and the sun’s resting place.
I thought of Perry who introduced me to hiking when we were in college. I thought of how I learned to love the wilderness and the meditative nature of walking from him. I could hear his voice urging me on when I was tired and I missed his slow and steady pace that used to guide me.
On the sixth day of the hike, we reached Santiago de Compostela amid much jubilation in the middle of Praza do Obradoiro and gazed at the massive cathedral. The next day, we drove to Finisterre and hiked to a beach on the shore of Costa da Morte, facing the Atlantic.
“Costa da Morte was a sacred place for the Celts,” said our guide. “They believed that the souls of the dead lived on in the afterlife beyond the horizon.”
I fished out the oval stone I had carried in my backpack since Asturias. I fingered its smooth surface and egg-like shape one last time and said a silent thank-you to Perry. Then I threw the rock into the surf.
Rest in peace, dear Perry.
May your soul live on in the afterlife beyond the horizon.