A Certain Cadence

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A Certain Cadence: Gifts from the Camino Portugués

by Ava Kabouchy | Lewiston, ME

Camino Portuguese mileage marker 188.
The author’s backpack, adorned with scallop shell, rests beside the 188-kilometer Camino marker near Barcelos, Portugal, October 2023. Photo by Ava Kabouchy.

“Saint-Jacques avait mesuré notre détresse et nous a envoyé sa grâce.” 
“Saint James had measured our distress and sent us his grace.”

—Jean-Christophe Rufin, Immortelle randonnée, Compostelle malgré moi

What is it that stays with us after the Camino Portugués? The tapping of trekking poles on cobblestones. Passing strangers wishing us “Bom Cominho.” Reuniting with pilgrim friends and deciding to share a pizza.

Once home, we try to share our memories and photographs with others, but hiking the Camino is a lived experience. There is a certain cadence to waking up each day with nothing more to do than reorganize our backpacks and be on our way to accept and share the gifts of the Camino. These are daily patterns from which we never tire.

Who are we, and why do we walk day after day? Our feet are sore. It rains, the sun comes out, and then it rains again. We stop alone or together for a glass of just-squeezed orange juice, tea, or coffee. We pause in tiny chapels and in cathedrals that overwhelm the senses. Some of us no longer believe in the God of our youth, but we reminisce about lighting a candle at church each Sunday with our grandmothers. We light candles again in the churches where we stop for a moment or more. Still, we rarely talk about religion with other pilgrims; such conversations don’t seem necessary. 

We are all pilgrims of one sort or another, traveling the Camino for reasons we wish to share or not share. We choose the Camino over sunny beaches and beds with pressed white sheets. At inns, we spread our lightweight sleeping bags over three-inch mattresses covered in plastic. We get ready for bed quietly, as if in unspoken agreement, and the lights go out at 9 p.m. But that bed and that inn are our home for the night and tomorrow we do it all over again. Each day, each repetition, is a gift from the Camino. 

Botafumeiro swing La Concha 2024 spring, robed men swinging large incense.
Maroon-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes to propel the Botafumeiro, a giant thurible or censer that disperses incense, during a Pilgrim’s Mass at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, October 2023. Photo by Ava Kabouchy.

A hiker I met just before arriving in Ponte de Lima, Portugal, told me that the Camino always gives. He was proven right when another gift manifested in Santiago—the Botafumeiro, an incense burner so large and heavy that a team of tiraboleiros are needed to propel it above the chancel. I looked in wonder at this rare sight and said a silent prayer of thanks.

A familiar question among pilgrims is, “How many Caminos have you done?” This was my third Camino, and there will be more. I will continue to receive the Camino’s gifts gratefully, arms and heart wide open.

Saint James Statue, Santiago de Compostela, gold statuary.
A pilgrim’s arm is spotted hugging the statue of St. James in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, October 2023. Photo by Ava Kabouchy.

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