I was still in diapers when I was issued my first passport. I've always had a passport so the experience has been uneventful compared to someone going through the mug-shot and application process while anticipating their first trip out of the country. After going back and forth to England assisting my mother as she laid her own mother to rest, I let my passport expire. It laid in a drawer for several years with other important papers that I'd brush over every so often when having a sort-out. During that time my travels were limited to within our borders which I didn't mind, after all I was one of those lucky kids who globe-trotted right up to my graduation from an American High School in West Germany.
Years ago I promised my mother, after seeing the British movie, Shirley Valentine, that she too would go to Greece and drink wine on a shore, just like Shirley. More than ten years later I would renew my passport so that I could travel with my mother to Rome where we'd board a Mediterranean cruise that would make a couple of stops in Greece. It was more a relief that the task was completed, than excitement when my new passport arrive in the mail. A year later I would part with my passport to apply for a 12-month visa to India. It returned safely with a large label stuck to a back page which allowed me entry to one of the most exotic places I'd only dreamt of visiting.
If I got excited about anything to do with a passport it was collecting stamps from the places I visited. They're like tattoos--indelible marks saying, 'I've been there.' The Camino Passport is one of the details that stuck with me after seeing the movie, The Way. I can still hear the chunky metal gears rotating as the stamp flips over to leave a permanent mark that he was, she was--I had been there. More than several movies have inspired me to go places, see and do things I might not have had done or seen. But this movie about a 500-mile pilgrimage, I knew even before the end of the film, that I would soon strap by gear to my back and do the Camino.
I spent days researching the details of the Camino, but one aspect I had to know first is when and how do I get the Camino passport or the Credencial del Peregrino, roughly translated the 'credential of the pilgrim.' I don't remember who or how I learned that I didn't have to wait until arriving at the Camino office in St. Jean Pied de Port to get my credentials. I went to the American Pilgrims on the Camino website and filled out my request. I now felt that excitement, the anticipation, the urgency to hold my passport in my hands which would seal my fate as a pilgrim. I had not seen the passport completely just glimpses of it in the movie. A few of the authors who wrote about the Camino after completing it, like Shirley MacLaine, use their passports as the artwork for the inside cover of their books.
Today, I removed the folded bundle of mail from the box and stood in the kitchen leafing through it for legitimate mail versus junk mail. I flipped to a white business-size envelope addressed to me in a flowing, yet precise handwriting. The return address stamp and the thickness of the envelope gave way to the contents. My heart skipped, I took a deep breath and reverently placed the envelope on the table and washed and dried my hands throughly, even though they didn't look or feel soiled. I gently tore open the envelope, removed the letter folded around the passport and set it down without reading it. My US passport is a leathery cardboard paper with blue sheets stapled on the fold. This one is made of sturdy antique white parchment with accordion folds. It has seven blank panels for Fermas y Sellos (Signatures and Seals). The image on the front is an earth-tone dot matrix image of the Puente la Reina (Bridge of the Queen). This bridge is in the first town I come to after crossing the Pyrenees. I open it and my name is written in the same lovely cursive hand and the line next to 'on foot' is checked. I smiled and inspected each page carefully, returning to the second page where The Pilgrims Prayer of the 12th Century is printed over a watermarked image of Saint James.
God, You called your servant Abraham from Ur in Chaldea, watching over him in all his wanderings, and guided the Hebrew people as they crossed the desert. Guard these your children who, for love of your Name, make a pilgrimage to Compostela. Be their companion on the way, their guide at the crossroads, their strength in weariness, their defense in dangers, their shelter on the path, their shade in the heat, their light in darkness, their comfort in discouragement, and the firmness of their intentions; that through your guidance, they may arrive safely at the end of their journey and, enriched with grace and virtue, may return to their homes filled with salutary and lasting joy.
I wept knowing this passport is my invitation to travel down the long Spanish roads, as well as the even longer roads within.