In Search of Santiago

A personal journey along the Camino de Santiago

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Tomas had a profound impact on me when I first met him in 2015.

But Sharing Camino friends later, with others, might not always work.

If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you probably have your own friends as well as mutual friends. And your friends are probably quite different from your partner’s friends. …

I’m sure the same happens on the Camino. You ‘click’ with others of a certain type.

But what if you walked your first Camino alone. And your second with your ‘life partner’? And along the way you dropped in to visit a really good friend.  This happened to me last month.

Would Pat like him? Or just think he was some ancient weirdo that she could not really engage with? That was my dilemma.

But I took a chance. And a degree of risk. After all, introducing those with whom we’ve formed strong bonds, is really a reflection of us too, isn’t it?

For the sake of telling the story I’ll change names and places to avoid hordes of people seeking out Tomas. I’m not sure he would appreciate all the attention.

I met him during my first Camino last year. I walked a very slow Camino. I mean really slow.
It took me 40 days to get from St Jean to Santiago. And even then I had to jump forward a day to make up time.

But it was the walk of a lifetime. Sure I was injured. I was actually carrying injuries at the start that were caused during training. The dreaded Achilles tendonitis. But I coped.

Some days were like heaven. If you have walked a Camino yourself, you’ll know what I mean. Life just seems so damned good! I felt on top of the world Probably the happiest in my life.

But other days were the pits. Walking alone perhaps added to the gloom. Pits of pain and despair. Wondering why I was doing this? Should I go home? Was it all worth it?

There were a few days or part days like that. More than a few actually. And 2 or 3 ‘bad’ days in a row were really hard to snap out of.

But something always did snap me out of it. Either a self-inflicted ‘kick up the backside’ or sometimes an incident or a ‘Camino Angel’ (1) changing the mood dramatically.

I called these my Camino ‘moments’.

They were often moments of great peace and enhanced spirituality. Or moments involving places of immense beauty or often through chance encounters with others along the way….

And so it was when I met Tomas. …

It was during the last 100 km of the Camino Frances. My injuries had got worse. I was down to walking only 10-12 km per day and was eager to finish and go home. Every day was painful.

And every day I was trying to come to terms with how the ‘final 100’ was so different from the earlier stages of the Camino Frances.

I was trying to embrace the difference.

The crowds, the heightened level of commercialism, the hordes of ‘whooping’ cyclists.

And I managed. …. on the whole. I accepted that this section was just different and was to be appreciated for different qualities and experiences.

And Tomas was part of that learning process. I met him in the last few days. I won’t say where.

I saw him from a distance. He looked as old as the hills themselves.

Weathered by who knows how many winters and summers.

I was having a tough day when I stopped to spend time with Tomas. But I was drawn to him in some way. Perhaps the sense that he would somehow share with me the wisdom of the ages or make everything better like a welcome hug from a dearly loved grandfather. Yes….we hugged. Tomas is like that. And we spent quite a while enjoying each other’s company.

I left promising to visit him on my next Camino and with my spirits soaring all the way into Santiago.

And so a year passed. Almost to the day.

I was now walking my second Camino. This time with my wife Pat.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to mention Tomas or not. Maybe just ‘drop in’ and see if she enjoyed his company as much as I did.

But then I was no longer worried about what she might think of my old friend. After all, who wouldn’t love Tomas? OK, there was a small amount of trepidation. What if she thought I was weird being drawn to a friend like Tomas?

And then I could not remember exactly where he lived! But I knew I would recognise the place as soon as I saw it. And him.

So I told Pat about Tomas as we were walking. “I think we’ll meet Tomas today I told her. But I was wrong. It was the next day….

I spotted the curve in the path and knew this was where he lived.

“He’s just around that corner” I told Pat. “You’ll know him when you see him” I told her. And she did….

“Is that Tomas” she cried out, her face lighting up with joy. We were still 200 meters away …. “Yes”, I said. “That’s him”.

I spent a moment with him getting reacquainted and then introduced Pat.

I sat back and just watched…. After all, who could not love Tomas. And she did too. It was that obvious.

And she got a hug! A long lasting one that she didn’t want to break from. I took a picture of them together.

Her spirits lifted. Just like mine had the year before. She was almost skipping along the path and for the first time…. started talking about our ‘next’ Camino.

It was almost as if by meeting Tomas, she now understood what the Camino is really all about.

Tomas must have seen hundreds of thousands of pilgrims pass by. And I’m sure quite a few got hugs just like we did……

I asked Pat what it was like hugging Tomas.

She thought for a moment, and said. “It was like hugging God“. And you know, that’s exactly what I felt. Last year and this.

I’d love to know how old Tomas is. If I had to guess? 200…. you see Tomas is a tree. A huge, strong, beautiful tree.

 

Note.   This story took place during our Camino of May 2016

(1) Camino Angels’ is a term that is frequently used by Pilgrims walking the Camino to describe complete strangers who seem to appear at just the right time with just the right help that is required. 

    5 Comments

  1. Powerful stuff… ‘Tomas’ could be anything, or anyone, that brightens up your day – I’ve had chance meetings in life (itself a ‘journey’) that have made me think “yes, that’s the way to go, or the decision to make” – and invariably things have got better. Maybe its an inner power within us all that is there to guide us through life, but we only call upon ‘Tomas’ when the chips are down !

    • Good way of looking at it. I think journeys like this, walking the Camino, are very much an ‘inner’ journey, and we discover some amazing things, even if we don’t fully understand them. Maybe it’s called ‘faith’ of some kind?

      • Maybe that’s what you went in search of on the Camino, finding it in others, or indeed your ‘inner self’…

  2. Hi Rob
    That is why we need to get out to nature more often>
    That is where ‘God’ is ..

    • I have no doubt about that !

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