Over the past five years young adults involved in Slí Eile have been walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in stages. This year the pilgrimage reached its climax. A ten-strong Slí Eile group made their great entrance into the city of Santiago in the company of many hundreds of other pilgrims. Below are the personal stories of two of the group. If you’d like to know more about Slí Eile pilgrimages, email Slí Eile Ballymun or call them at 01-8625345.
On the Camino to Santiago de Compostela with Slí Eile
by Eeva Sauri
There were ten of us in the Slí Eile Camino group this year. Some of us had experienced the Camino once or several times before this, where as for the others it was the first time.
We started the Camino from Villafranca del Bierzo, the same town where we finished the Camino last year. It was misty as we started walking towards Santiago de Compostela, and the similar weather followed us most of the time during the following ten days.
We became soon familiar with hostel life and early starts. The daily routine was similar to the one we had last year on the Camino. We aimed to reach the destination of the day by early afternoon: Some of the hostels were small and we wanted to be sure to have a place to stay for the following night.
After a couple of hours of walk we stopped for breakfast and had big sandwiches, ‘bocadillos’, at a local bar.
Zélie’s daily reflections accompanied us on the walk through the landscapes of Galicia, which reminded us of Ireland. It was enjoyable to walk through the picturesque small villages and the hamlets along the way.
On the way we met other pilgrims from different parts of the world. Some of them we met various times, as we stayed in the same towns and hostels. In the evenings we gathered together with our fellow pilgrims to share experiences of the day. The streets resounded with music as we sang a few songs.
One of the most memorable days for me was the one when we walked from Triacastella to Sarria. We walked through the town of Samos, where was also a Benedictine Monastery with a hostel. First part of the stage went along the main road. After that the path continued on a smaller road that went through small villages and along pathways in the forest. We had a longer stop in Samos and had our daily bocadillos for breakfast. Some of us went to see the Benedictine Monastery, while the others went ahead to Sarria.
The beautiful scenery and pathways continued as we walked from Samos to Sarria. We walked up and down the hills, and the road felt endless. As we arrived, we were exhausted and some of us had sore feet. It was great in deed to have a rest before the dinner!
As we arrived to Santiago, the sun was finally shining. We were in town well before the pilgrims’ mass, which was held in the Cathedral. The cathedral was full. Some pilgrims had just arrived and had rucksacks with them. For many pilgrims the mass was a touching moment.
We spend a relaxing day in Santiago. We received our Compostelas from the pilgrims’ office and met some of the pilgrims we got to know during the past days. After the dinner at an Italian restaurant we enjoyed the last evening of the Camino out and, once more, had our music session.
The ten days when we walked together, had reflections, shared thoughts and had meals together, made the group bond quickly – just as our Camino group last year. And by the time we arrived to Santiago de Compostela, it seemed as we had known each other for much longer than only a week or two.
I hope that the memories and the spirit of the Camino remain in all of us.
The Camino – Pensamientos de una Peregrina (Thoughts of a Pilgrim)
by Zèlie McGrath
In late May/early June this year I had the privilege of co-leading a Slí Eile group of 10 pilgrims along the final stretch of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We covered some 200km from Villafranca del Bierzo to the great city of Santiago itself and the final resting place of St James the apostle. The physical journey coincided with my own personal thought journey which I have tried now to put into words and share.
The Camino is a veritable feast for the senses – for those who give time to pause, look up and take it in: walking in the open air, surrounded by nature; the green rolling hills of Galicia, Irish-like in its topography; the low lying white rain clouds in bright contrast to the piercing sky blue and vivid greenness of the newly rained on vegetation; the smell of the raindrops on the dusty paths; the crunching of the gravel beneath one’s feet; the metronome of the pilgrims’ walking sticks, all marking their owners’ different paces; the dawn chorus, the sound of a distant lone cuckoo travelling through the early morning mist, the happy frog sounds coming from the various rivers and waterways; a soothing breeze when trudging uphill on a hot sunny day, the sheer relief at taking off ones rucksack, the invigorating feel of a cooling balm on an aching foot, the taste sensation of a well earned dinner…
I found a mesmerising tranquillity in the rhythm, the heartbeat of the walk – walking along alone or with others, in silence or in conversation, prayer, or often song, inexorably being drawn forward towards Santiago – but also drawn ever inwards in to who I am, how I am.
How happy I was! How alive I felt walking alongside the tree hugged rivers, listening to the gushing water as it made its own way along, my feet on autopilot steering their course forward, the weight of my rucksack pressing down on me – a comforting hug containing all the items that I needed- the stick in my hand guiding me through and over streams and muddied pathways, my energy taking me to Santiago – the simplicity of it all… It was a physical challenge but a journey touched with moments of bliss, silence, true friendship, aching beauty, realisations and confrontation with one’s own self.
The Camino is most definitely a challenge – at various levels. For some it involved trying to continue and keep up due to injury or exhaustion – for others it involved trying to slow their pace down to allow for the experience to penetrate. Some found the logistics of living and sharing at close quarters with numerous other pilgrims in bunk-bedded hostels to be enough of a challenge in itself! Some new injuries occurred along the way – and some old injuries surfaced. Bandages and blister plasters, various rubs, lotions and potions were used to sooth and calm and hold together. Ice, elevation and rest were the necessary remedy for some. Along with the physical challenges came the unearthing or acknowledgement of other types of baggage that one may have been carrying, the discovery of one’s own habits and tendencies, all while journeying along. All was part of the Camino journey, all valid parts of each one’s own pilgrimage.
As the group bonded over the 12 days the camaraderie developed into support, the light banter often giving way to deeper sharing and a growth in trust. Our days took on a ritual – walk, food, water, rest, sleep. Things were brought back to basics. We became appreciative of the simple things – a shower to revive and refresh, the sharing of basic meals with a true appetite, clean washed clothes ready for the next day’s walking ahead, a modest bed to rest on at the end of a long day’s walking.
Walking at our own pace, we encountered the outdoors, others around us and no matter how fast or far we walked we inevitably had to encounter ourselves. It became clear to me that it is not possible to outpace the inward journey – no matter how fast I walk, I will have to confront myself one day.
While we embraced the walk as individuals within a group – each member being a separate entity with his/her own reason for taking part – I felt a deep sense of community not just with my group but also with the hundreds of other pilgrims whom we met and with all those countless pilgrims who had walked the same pathways though the ages.
Although everyone had their own reasons for undertaking such an arduous journey, and differed in age, nationality, religious beliefs, personal circumstances, etc., all were united in the exercise of moving onwards, adding a few km more each day towards the destination of Santiago, experiencing the minutiae of each day, the passing moments which if recognised and grasped can bring such richness, clarity or wisdom to one’s life. The Camino is a great leveller; materialism and superficial labels of profession, income and the like become redundant as basic needs and human qualities come to the surface. What’s important is seen in the simple gestures: the sharing of food, a kind word of encouragement along the way, a smile from a recognised face, a conversation in perhaps a mix of three languages.
Our arrival into Santiago for me was a joyful one – the beautiful historical city, full of whispers and memories of pilgrims past and present, the aged cathedral, the packed Pilgrim mass full of joyful faces, peeling noses and blister-ridden feet, the celebration of reconciliation and mass, the reading out of the list of pilgrims who had made it finally to Santiago – from nations as varied as the terrain itself- the huge thurable flying over our heads filling the air with wonderful incense rising ever upwards along with the myriad of pilgrim prayers. Tears were shed at the awesomeness of it all, the occasion, the achievement, the personal journey. I found tranquillity and a sense of quiet at the tomb of St James beneath the main altar – space to give thanks and to ask for whatever was in my heart.
We returned from the Camino and what did we experience? A physical work out? A personal challenge realised? A break from reality? A recharging of the soul? Possibly all of these things and a hundred more. If we can slow down and find our own pace, if we can stop competing and drop the pretences and acts, if we can embrace the experience fully not focussing just on the destination but live the every moment, then the Camino gives us an opportunity and a space to really BE. It simplifies our reality and allows us the space to become detached from our usual distractions.
In the photo taken of our group in Dublin airport when we got back – we were beaming – no other word for it – there in the faces of the group was a light, a satisfaction perhaps, a resolution, or sense of achievement, and while a bit bedraggled and beardy (especially the guys!), an energy is obvious through the lit up eyes and smiles.
For me the more subtle things gained from the Camino have only started to be felt since I return home and back to “normality.” A lingering sense of what I experienced along the Camino, the re-prioritising, the journey within, the lessons learned about myself and others, the happiness and lightness I experienced along the way.
While the physical visit to the Camino in Spain is over the journey continues on. The challenge now is how to incorporate the lessons learned and the feelings experienced into our everyday lives, into whatever reality we find ourselves in. The Camino continues on in the journey inwards towards who we really are, the journey outwards towards others and the journey leading us ever closer to God.
Buen camino a todos…