The body pains transformed into a familiar and manageable throb by the end of the first week. Our minds felt clearer. We didn’t need the constant distraction of a destination or stories from our fellow pilgrims, though they still helped. We could let our thoughts wander, imagine the lives we might choose to live after the pilgrimage was over.

Every night we pilgrims met in a limited number of the town’s albergues to shower, eat and sleep. We shared stories, tables, meals and medicine. We learned each other’s alarm tones and snoring patterns in dormitory-style, bunk-lined rooms. We walked together in different constellations and memorized each other’s motivations.
The sound of strangers’ “Buen Camino!” followed us as we passed through new towns. It made us feel like welcome visitors, travelers who were part of the scenery. The locals nodded. They knew us. They’d seen us. The face of one pilgrim echoed the face of every pilgrim, filled with physical and spiritual aches, hopeful and determined.