I’m so close to the end, it just doesn’t seem possible.
My head and my heart feel so full of thoughts and ideas that I hardly know where to begin.
The Camino is the perfect actualization of the idea of “Ask and you shall receive,” but not from God, from your fellow pilgrims.
“Can you grab my hat?”
“Can you get my water?”
“Do you have a euro?”
I have asked my fellow sojourners these questions at various times in the past five weeks. Strangers all. And the questions were always answered with an unconditional “Yes.”
I have been asked to adjust ponchos in the wind, to pick up hiking poles, to watch packs while the owner makes a quick dash into the woods for relief and, yes, to lend a euro to someone whom we both knew I’d never see again.
And I, also, had done all without a moment’s hesitation.
We are all strangers passing alone on a long journey together.
I saw a person without legs biking the Camino. He was riding a recumbent bicycle powered by his arms.
I saw a blind person walking the Camino. He had two companions hold each end of a long – 10, maybe 12 foot – bamboo pole, one in front of him, one behind. The blind pilgrim walked in the middle, one hand on the pole, and the three of them walked along, chatting, fully loaded packs on their backs.
What a long, strange journey it’s been.
I arrived at the small town where I planned to get my cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast. The two lane road butted up against the narrow sidewalk of the bar and was just at the receiving end of a blind curve.
As I put my backpack down, I heard the loud squeal and angry honking of a heavy eighteen-wheeler, braking just in time for a car that had blindly entered the road. My fellow pilgrims and I looked in the direction of the noise but, hearing no crash, thud, or cries, returned to our activities.
The doorway was crowded as people entered and exited. It was a beautiful morning but threatened to get extremely hot in the full sunshine of the cloudless sky.
I noticed something odd as I headed for the entrance.
A chicken was strutting in front of the doorway.
Chickens and dogs had been the most common domestic animals I’d seen on the Camino. It was fitting that I should see a chicken one last time before reaching the metropolis of Santiago. But I worried about this one wandering into the road. The road was clearly problematic for cars and no doubt for pilgrims (the Camino continued on the other side). I’d be foolish to take bets on any chicken crossing this road.
Yet, I was transfixed by what I saw next as I waited for the bird to move so I could get my coffee.
A pilgrim leaving the bar picked the chicken up. That’s when I noticed the string on the bird’s leg. The man put the bird in the top pocket of a backpack which was leaning next to the doorway and which the bird was tied to.
The bird went in – plop – not protesting, with its head sticking out and happily looking around.
Another man came out and lifted the pack to help his friend get the pack on without losing the bird. Then he put on his own. They belted themselves up and, apparently in good spirits from a good breakfast, carefully yet nonchalantly crossed the road.
The chicken was bright-eyed and alert, almost cheerful, as it looked around at the world from the top of the pack.
Poultry in motion.
I stood there, pondering what I had just seen. The chicken literally crossed the road.
Why were they carrying a chicken? Did they find it? Was it a pet? A gift? Had they been carrying it for a long time? Did they always travel with a chicken? What did the bottom of his pack look like? What would they do with the chicken when they got to Santiago? Take it into the Cathedral? Take it home? Set it free? Eat it?
I had walked for 38 days. I had only about 48 more hours on the Camino.
I thought I had seen everything the Camino had to offer.
But the day would still be full of surprises.