If I were to be asked, which of my travel experiences had made most impact on my life, without hesitation I would have said that it was my realisation that there are many caminos (paths) that lead to Santiago de Compostela. From Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Bayonne, Seville and Porto, I have walked the paths and there are so many more to discover: from Alicante, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Geneva and further afield. To exhaust the possibilities, I will need the longevity of the Le Juif Errant (The Wandering Jew).
I have copious memories of my various walks over the past few years, occasionally supported by notes and photos, but it is the seemingly insignificant events that stand out for me, such as the vulture hovering above me, the first time that I descended through the foothills of the Pyrenees. Having previously had a serious stroke, at that time I was still not confident about being alone in remote country. And yet I clearly remember starting to feel that I was not alone and that I was being watched over. It is a feeling I have never since lost.
Then there was the long straight dirt road from Carrión de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza. I had started out quite early that morning and I could see no pilgrims on the path. I was lost in my thoughts, when a little bird plopped onto the path, a few metres ahead of me. I stopped and we looked at each other, neither of us moving. It then flew a little further and stopped, as if waiting for me. I followed and also stopped. We soon developed a rhythm – I walked and the little bird kept ahead, always watching me, as if leading and encouraging me. Suddenly there was the whoosh of a large phalanx of cyclists, arrogantly racing by, pedalling furiously and shouting to each other, as if they were on the Tour de France. By the time the dust had settled, the little bird had disappeared. The magic spell was broken.
One of my favourite memories was that of the little blue butterfly that landed on the end of Lotta’s stick and refused to leave it. When Lotta held out her finger, the butterfly popped onto it.
It happened between Hornillos de Camino and Hontanas, in an area where there were a lot of intense-blue cornflowers by the path. At one point, Lotta succeeded on depositing the little butterfly on a clump of cornflowers, but soon as she tried to leave, it flew back onto her stick. Perhaps it thought that she was a giant cornflower, for she was wearing a blue shirt that day.
The little butterfly hitched a ride for about twenty minutes and then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it flew off into the field and disappeared.
It was another of those magic camino moments that will stay with me for ever.