The Journey within the Journey
God is faithful. God is good.
On Sunday, May 15th, my oldest son Michael and I set out for Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta to resume our pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. He and I, along with my youngest son Greg began our journey in June 2018 out of St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France. At that time, we traveled for 30 days before Greg sustained a knee injury that prevented us from continuing to our destination of Santiago de Compostela.
In 2019, I returned along with my dear friend Ryan and resumed the journey. Ryan and I walked for 5 days before I received a phone call that my dear Father in Law had passed away back home. I returned immediately to be with my family and my wife Dawn. Ryan continued his journey and arrived safely in the Holy City at the tomb of the Blessed Apostle James.
In 2021, I was invited to return to resume my journey along with a dear friend and small group of pilgrims from a nearby parish. They were starting their journey in O' Cebreiro which was one walking day away from where I left in 2019. Seemed like a perfect opportunity. I booked flights and planned to travel one day ahead of the group so that I could pick up where I left off in Villafranca and then join the pilgrim group in O' Cebreiro. As the dates drew closer, I was struggling to secure coverage for my absence at work. After exhausting my network, I finally accepted that I would not be able to make the trip and started praying about a future date to return.
I feel that the Lord put May 15th on my heart as the new date of travel. I began a journey of physical therapy back in January to mitigate knee pain that was being caused by a hip deficiency. I was growing stronger and looking forward to covering many miles. In March, I was discussing the trip with Michael over dinner and it was decided that he would join me in resuming our journey (Greg is in school and his schedule would not allow for a multi-week trip).
There have been numerous times over the last several months where I have felt less than prepared for this trip. I would get some pain in my knee and think "maybe I won't be ready, maybe I shouldn't go". Each time, I would revisit and pray about the situation and feel called to continue forward. Each time being called to trust the Lord.
The pandemic has had a monumental impact on the Camino, and travel in general. Many accommodations on the Camino now strongly recommend reservations due to more limited spaces due to social distancing requirements. Availability gets more limited on the section of Camino approaching Santiago which is where we would be walking. One of my friends from the pilgrim group I mentioned in the 2021 trip is fluent in Spanish and worked tirelessly to help me email and communicate with the hostels and alburgues over the last several weeks to make sure Michael and I would have beds to find at the end of each long walking day.
The other major impact from pandemic is on how the various countries are dealing with accepting travelers. Michael and I spent a few weeks doing homework on the requirements. There is a great deal of conflicting information from website to website. Our research led us to believe that the information on the Spanish Health Ministry to be most accurate. They require that travelers be fully vaccinated, or show a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel. Michael and I had the initial vaccine doses but have decided to not pursue the booster doses, so we made arrangements to get our PCR tests done within the required travel window.
We arrived at the international terminal on Sunday with our backpacks and all the required documentation for travel. Sunday was our first time flying since pandemic, and there was a great sense of anticipation as we approached the check in kiosk. After scanning our passports, the kiosk directed us to see a ticketing agent. This was less than ideal, as the lines for evening flights were huge. We waited in the queue for an hour before arriving at the desk. It seemed like the line was unusually slow. A lovely Delta airlines ticket agent asked us for our flight info, QR Codes (new requirement for travel), proof of vaccination, and passports. After handing her the requested documentation she began asking Michael if he had received a booster shot within the last 270 days. He replied "no". She then started asking him if he was married to anyone in Spain, and he said "not yet" (love this guy). She was typing and looking for information regarding our travel. In my heart, I knew that there was a problem. She asked me a similar series of questions before she telephoned someone looking for additional information.
As our ticketing agent was on the phone, I began conversations with the gentlemen on our left and right. The guy on my left was trying to board our flight to Madrid, and was in the same situation. The guy on our right was enroute to Germany from Nashville to attend a meeting that has been planned for over a year. These guys had the same understanding of travel protocols as Michael and me. All four of us were waiting on a decision from the ticketing group on what would happen next.
The ticketing agents let us know that there have been changes in the requirements for travel within the last few days, and that they would be unable to board us on our flight (all 4 of us). I inquired about flying and working it out with Spain upon my arrival, and the ticketing agent informed me that if they let a traveler attempt an entry into a foreign country without the proper visa, the airline would be subject to a $20,000 fine.
Standing at the Delta counter...we were at the end of our journey.
Michael and I talked briefly at the counter, and we both had a tremendous sense of peace about the situation we were standing in. We have walked enough miles to know that there will always be things outside of our control, and I knew that somehow, the Lord was standing there with us in this moment.
One of the ticket agents suggested that Michael and I receive a booster shot that evening and fly the following day. My understanding is that the booster would have been needed more than 14 days in advance to be 'effective' and accepted. This isn't a road we are walking.
After grabbing a bite to eat on way, we returned home. Clothes clean, mochilas packed, legs strong. Our spirits are completely at peace, and our hearts at rest. I cannot explain it other than to say that things are exactly as they are supposed to be.
I shot a quick text to my prayer partner while waiting outside the airport letting him know what was going on. As he prayed with his spouse about the situation, he received a vision of the tomb of Saint James, the blessed Apostle. He received a sense that the Apostle was honored by our preparation, packing, and attempt to journey to see him. That he was honored about us attempting to honor him by walking the 'way'.
This morning I revisited the times I have felt scared, underprepared, or unsure of this date over the last several months, and how each time I was led to pray, trust, and continue forward...and I did.
Perhaps the journey towards the journey was the journey itself?
God is good. God is faithful.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Buen Camino dear friends...
Greg & Michael