Getting the Credencial del Peregrino   Leave a comment


Written December 15, 2011

Tonight was graduation and I was thrilled to hood Dr. Larissa Mercado-López and to see so many of my undergraduate students receive their degrees. We had our final exam earlier in the day and Vicki Grise came and talked about her book, Blu, which the class read earlier in the semester. The joys of teaching at a University! A year ago, I missed graduation because I was in Spain waiting to begin my walk.  As I ponder retirement and leaving the University, I realize how much I will miss such rituals as final exams and graduation ceremonies, markers along the path! Students are completing the first stages of their path, las etapas primerizas.

A year ago, on December 15, 2010, after my morning walk, I went to the Cathedral where I had been told I could pick up the Credencial del Peregrino. Because Toledo is on one of the Caminos a Santiago, some pilgrims will begin their walk right there in Toledo. When I was told I could secure the documents, I proposed it to Becky who agreed. Getting them in Toledo made our Credenciales even more special. After looking for the office, and asking at the gift shop, I was told that I had to go up two flights of stairs to the office where the person who issued the Credenciales was situated. I walked in and finally someone asked what I needed; she was a middle aged woman dressed as if she were a nun, that is, the new nuns with the conservative shoes and dark skirt and a white blouse with a dark navy blue cardigan, not the old style nuns with the long habits in chocolate brown, or white, or even black and the wimple. This new-day nun offered me some water and I declined. She finally pulled out the packet of documents and had me fill out the blanks on the inside of the front page–date, name, address, and then she stamped it with the first sello. A priest walked in and she smiled and told me that he could sign them. So, she called out to him and he came over and greeted me and signed wishing me “Buen Camino!” I would hear that so many more times in the next month and a half!

Usually they charge 5 Euros per credencial, but the woman who-may-have-been-a-nun let me have them for one Euro each. The Credencial is a foldout “passport” that is stamped along the way, each night,by the hospitalero of the albergue or whoever is the caretaker of the hostal or casa rural where the pilgrim stays. At the end, the office in Santiago will use the credencial to ascertain that the pilgrim merits the Compostela, a document in Latin that attests that the pilgrim completed the pilgrimage. Along the way, we heard stories of how some people pay to have someone’s credencial. Why? I asked, would anyone do that? Well, for one to presumir, show off that the person walked. But they didn’t? That’s right! So, Why? I persisted. No one had an answer.

After my adventure getting the credencial, I returned to Lisa’s apartment and did some laundry hoping that things would dry, as I prepared the backpack with all the essentials for the trip. I knew I would leave behind all my cosmetics including shampoo and moisturizer, but I was still deciding on what clothes to take. I folded and stacked what I would be leaving behind in Toledo. Then I went for dinner at Roman and Maria’s home. María Capdevila is the reason I go to Toledo and to the UCLM for my class every summer. We met at one of the Congresos de Literatura Chicana held in Sevilla or Malaga almost ten years ago. She and Roman bought a condo in a new building slightly out of the old part of Toledo but within walking distance from Zocodover. Their  two tots are adorable: Pablo, teething, was a bit cranky and Candela was the big sister talking up a storm and singing in English and Spanish. Showing off for me. The gifts I brought were a hit. I took pictures and enjoyed the kids until it was time for bed–the usual wailing and complaining ensued. In some way I sense that Maria and Roman would love to go on the Camino with me, but with their two little ones it is impossible for now. They talk of marriage in May, but I won’t be in Toledo until 2 weeks after their wedding day! My friend Viriginia is gone to Malaga with family. So is Yzbezda–but she’s gone to Morocco with her boyfriend. I had a chance to meet with them earlier and now, I am leaving; they promise to be here when I return.

It is a clear day. Cold. But clear. I hope tomorrow will be a good day too because I will walk to the train station with my backpack! I go to bed and read a few pages of La Lacuna and know that I will not finish it; I will leave the book with Lisa. What else will I leave behind? My fears? My trepidation? My insufferable doubts? I want to be in the present with neither fear nor guilt. Just BE.

Now, in 2011, looking back, I realize that indeed I was about to embark on a transformative experience. As I told Vicki as we had lunch after she visited my class–El Camino changed me. It changed my life.


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