On Day 10, as we were leaving the city of Logroño, the Camino went down a long walking path and through a nice park that the city had clearly put some effort into building. I remember a huge playground, and the ground all around it was covered in blue, spongy material that’s safe for kids.
It was somewhat of a miserable day out — gray, cold, windy, and spitting rain just enough to be annoying but not really require an umbrella. There were lots of locals walking on the path for some reason that morning, and I remember this old guy walking the opposite direction towards us. He had his hat pulled down, and a coat with the collar up. He didn’t look very happy, or even friendly, for that matter. But just as he walked by me, I clearly heard him say, “Buen Camino”. We heard that a lot along the way, and I quickly returned “gracias” out of instinct (and tried my best to pronounce it “grathias” like the locals, not “grasias” like the Mexican Spanish I grew up hearing). But then I started thinking about it.
Here’s this guy that doesn’t know a thing about me. He doesn’t know what languages I speak, or where I’m from, or why I’m here. But he knows one thing for sure — I have a backpack on, and I’m walking on the Camino path, so I must be a pilgrim headed to Santiago. So the one thing he knows for sure that he can say, that I’m guaranteed to not only understand but appreciate, is “Buen Camino”. No deep, meaningful conversation needed, just “Have a good journey”. The phrase itself is fairly recent in the grand scheme of things, but people have been walking with backpacks on this path for as long as he can remember — his whole life. And for his father’s and grandfather’s lives too. The city might have moved the path here and there over the years, and it was a nice touch of them to route it right through a beautiful park, but it’s been there in one form or another for close to 40 generations, going back to the 9th century when Logroño was part of the Roman empire.
Walking the Camino is an instant membership in a club with a long history. Nobody approved my membership, I just joined. And he’s a member of an equally important club, the people that support the Camino and all the pilgrims on it. Even if he doesn’t work in a business directly related to pilgrims, he’s part of the community that’s been happily supporting people with backpacks walking through their city for centuries. He didn’t have to say anything to me, and if I’d just been a tourist in some other part of the city, he most likely wouldn’t have. But in that blink of an eye, just as he walked by me and went out of my line of sight, he made a connection with me that tourists and locals don’t get to make nearly as often as they should.
So “grathias”, old man in the rain, “grathias”.