During my 88 Temple walk, I met Kondo-san who volunteered to share ohenro for three days including the climb up to Unpen-ji, Temple 66, the temple situated on the highest mountain on the route. He was the most fit 77 year old whom I have ever met. Walking 18 miles, no problem. Downing two ”nama-chu” (medium sized) beers at an izakaya (Japanese pub) afterwards followed by glasses of sochu, no problem. He preferred the nama-chu because the beer stayed cold while drinking – the lower cost per liter of the supersized pour versus the ice cold beer of the medium, no discussion.
We shared thoughts about history. He described how his city, Imabari, was firebombed during WW2 because it was a key port for supplying the army. He was a little boy but remembered the flames lighting the sky. He talked about searching for food and begging in the streets.
He quickly pivoted to his upcoming trip on the Camino with Spaniards whom he had first met eight years before. Every year thereafter, he joined them on the many paths that lead to Santiago. I could feel the camaraderie and deep feelings that he had for these men. He was one of them. Every year they renewed their friendships.
I had known about the Camino but never had a desire to walk it. Here again was someone inspiring me to follow a pilgrim’s path. Was it Kukai’s hand pushing me to Spain?
A year later with Covid raging, Diane LaBelle mentioned that friends of a friend had walked the Camino coastal route. The fire was lit. Alas, Diane could not make this trip. But Laird, my Mt Washington climbing buddy, felt the flame; he’s 78. Through Delta, boosters, Omicron, ever changing travel rules, we had faith or was it forlorn hope that this trip would go. We finally felt relief when our televideo Covid testing session yielded two negative results. We were on our way to experience the Camino – almost three years in the making.