At the start of the pilgrimage the walkers were striding out energetically calling out to each other cheerfully, but as the days passed smiling faces turn to grim determination as we see ever more of the pilgrims succumbing to aches, strains & blisters and eventually shuffling & limping along. By the time we are in sight of the city of Santiago de Compostela we pass a thin line of the walking wounded. It is no coincidence that we counted 12 farmacies along the Caminho into town which leads to the cathedral, all doing a brisk business in knee & leg support bandages, slings, plasters, crutches and prosthetic limbs !
At km 82 we passed a blind man tentatively walking the Caminho, he smiled as we passed calling “Bom Caminho”! His Portuguese helper was describing to him the landscape they encountered as they walked. These two were real pilgrims.
One of our main concerns was getting enough stamps every day into our Pilgrim’s Passport, issued in Valenca. To validade our 6 day walk a minimum of 2 stamps were required each consecutive day in order to receive the all important Pilgrimage Certificate issued & signed by the cathedral. We had heard that failure to obtain the mandatory 2 stamps would mean we would have to go back and start all over again with a fresh passport, but that could just have been a ploy to make us keep going….
From afar we caught glimpses of the gothic towers of the ancient cathedral, the third most holy shrine in Christendom. All of us were now filled with anticipation & excitement as we surged into the huge square in front of the cathedral mingling with happy fellow pilgrims all bursting with emotion & spontaneous hugs & smiles for everyone. We could see a cross being raised in front of us by a group of around 100 teenagers jumping up & down in unison as they sang their college anthem.
I read that in the 17th Century pilgrims, on arrival at the cathedral in ecstasy, stripped off their worn & smelly robes in the square and burnt them (a shedding of the old life) and donned clean vestments issued by the church. I briefly thought of reviving this ancient tradition but hesitated as possibly this was not in keeping with Rotary’s mantra!
All 10 of our Rotary pilgrims agree that our journey has been a moving experience. We all have spent our professional lives working in diverse parts of the world and perhaps taken the very simplest things of life for granted. This novel experience is one which will be with us for the rest of our lives.
On our journey we were accompanied virtually by the school kids from the various Silves Sul Schools giving us constant encouragement and cheering their school mascots which each of us carried. Their daily messages of FORCA helped us on our way to reach our goal. All 10 of us are now proud possessors of a certificate in Latin as genuine pilgrims having trodden the Portuguese Way from Valenca to Santiago de Compostela.