After two weeks of walking, I’m slow to get my arms around what it is that appears right before my eyes. Blink and you miss a castle. Look to the left and you pass by on the right a church razed by the Moors only to be re-raised by Christian’s in the 1,200s. Toto, we’re not in North Carolina anymore.
It is some combination of urban and rural, agrarian and ancient, Christian and invader. We have trod from lush, forested hills in the far north to mostly – but not always – flatlands, marked by mile after mile of vineyards and wheat and sunflower fields in seemingly infertile and impossibly rocky terrain. But somehow the Spanish have made the land work for – what? – more than 1,000 years or longer.
It is beautiful – every mile of the Camino. (Even if my photos can’t begin to adequately capture what the eye can see.) Part of each vista is based on knowing, you know, that all those years ago, Romans trod the very rocks you navigate today. Those ruins over there? A hospital for ailing pilgrims. That fortress in the distance? Possibly used by legendary national hero El Cid to fend off enemies. And the still-standing church? Likely rebuilt atop a church demolished by one religion at the expense of another. I keep telling myself to ‘Look up, Dave, look up’ because if you don’t what you miss is your loss.
Some may see the barren hillsides and arid valleys as just that – barren and arid. But this land, this brown dirt, is coated in history. Roman legions and Muslim invaders and later Spanish patriots. They’ve all been here. Even the earliest Europeans – Cro-Magnons and his/her forbears – were here.
And now we’re here, too. Plodding along in modern gear, following in their footsteps, hoping for a glimpse (if in spirit only) of what brought them to Spain and to faith. The Camino brings peregrinos to the path, the way, and now it’s up to us to finish the journey others started so long ago in a country that is mysterious and in a way foreboding yet so very, very real.