We didn’t know how long it would take us, in how many pieces we’d arrive, or whether we’d get there or give up first. Blisters, tendinitis, achy bones, bedbugs, mountains, oversized packs— 500 miles of chances to be broken.

Across an ocean, thousands of miles away, my friend and hiking companion was sent off with prayers, blessings and well-wishes. My parents told me over the phone how they cried at the send-off, and I met her at an airport in the French coastal city of Biarritz. There were many other pilgrims arriving.
A French man lived in a country house at the foot of the Pyrenees, with the British woman who had found her way there for the camino. There’s a saying, that the camino brings people together and tears them apart. We witnessed both along the way.

The couple had a son, 5 or 6 years old, and we, the pilgrims, traded him on laps at the dinner table while we sipped wine from our hosts. Someone even tasted what the boy had been “cooking” in the kitchen, a little bowl of orange slices dusted in salt.

We slept in a 10-bed room. In the morning the other pilgrims woke me for the sunrise from the patio. Landry the little boy came out to sit in our laps again while the fog and the gold rose from the distant hills and beckoned. We were 6, newly acquainted, all about to set out on the first day of the same cross-country journey that millions of other feet had crossed over the centuries.

“We.” As if any of us understood at the start that “we” were a group, that “we” by the end would be community, friends, family. Each of us set out having told our families back home, our friends, coworkers, and strangers on the train, “I’ll be hiking the camino.”