An American Pilgrim Talks about his Walk to Santiago de Compostela by Henry Maloney
Pilgrim Henry Maloney poses with the Camino de Santiago statue
Henry takes on his pilgrim persona next to the famous pilgrim statue which dominates the highest and most inhospitable landscape encountered on our walk.

Besides giving an old dog a new trick to try, the trip virtually guaranteed physical and spiritual gains, along with a link to tradition and cultural heritage. First three motivations all satisfied.

In doing background reading about pilgrimages, I was most impressed by Phil Cousineau's book, The Art of Pilgrimage: the Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred (Conari Books: Berkeley, CA, 1998), which my daughter Megan chanced on while browsing in a bookstore. The book suggests that going on a pilgrimage, linked to whatever religious belief, is responding to a call from a higher power. As a Catholic, I felt this call early on.

Henry Maloney walks the Camino de Santiago
An historic corn crib for drying the crop catches our pilgrim's attention.

After reading the information sent me by a small American tour company that specialized in Spain, I decided that their "Footsteps of St. James" pilgrimage was what I wanted: plenty of arduous walking by day with comfortable lodgings, including two historic paradors, in which to relax evenings. Seventy-eight miles in seven walking days seemed about right.

What about the two unpredictable elements: the guides and my fellow pilgrims? If the social chemistry proved weak in either case, the pleasure of the trip would be diluted. Fortunately, Clara and Olga, the two guides who alternated driving the van, preparing the picnic lunches and walking at the rear to assist stragglers, were my kind of trip leaders. They shared an abundant amount of lore but didn't stuff us with facts as though they were preparing us for a mid-term quiz. Like a good sports competition, the scenic countryside spoke for itself and needed little explanation by a play-by-play commentator to enhance our appreciation.

Pilgrims display their walking sticks and poles on the Camino de Santiago

The final variable, the ten other pilgrims, could easily have been a downer, especially since I confess to being not particularly gregarious by nature. It turned out to be one of the strongest components. Simply walking the miles together became a bond, and in a day or two the travelers were relating to each other like old friends, united in a common purpose.

Pilgrims Henry and Sandy demonstrate two ways to tackle the walk: Henry with his traditional wooden stick purchased from a roadside stall on the first day, and Sandy with her set of adjustable metal poles encouraging her to stride out like a cross-country skier.

Seemingly, only two of the group were practicing Catholics, so our arrival at the historic cathedral in Santiago brought, at least, a sense of earned completion, and, at most, communion with a saintly presence.

The walk couldn't have been less regimented. Rabbits discovered other rabbits to speed along with. Those who wished to set a slower pace also paired up. Alison Gardner, by happy chance, fell into my speed zone. Alison quickly became a present-day fire starter in the group, who kindled warmth and illumination along the trail. Her exploratory inquiries into the nature of charisma, the characteristics of benevolent dictators, and the pleasures and pitfalls of seeking perfection, offered pathways for intellectual journeys to complement the hiking.

A Romanesque bridge on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk
In the Parrish of Furelos, this solid-looking bridge boasts original Roman foundations and a Romanesque (9th or 10th century) top end. A herd of cows got the right-of-way over pilgrims crossing into the adjacent medieval village.

Well after returning home, I still dwell on the notion of perfection. I've scored five for five on my goals with the help of fellow pilgrims. Not quite perfect perhaps, but nonetheless so rewarding a walk that I would never choose to repeat it. That in itself is a kind of perfection.

Many holiday makers stay in holiday apartments when walking the Camino in Spain.
They find them a great base to explore the local countryside.

With Balearic Islands holidays you have so much to do and see during the day and even more to experience at night.


Camino Ways logo.With over 10 years of experience on Camino de Santiago walking and cycling routes in Spain, France and Portugal, CaminoWays.com offers exceptional service to clients of all ages and abilities. We also offer creative walking and cycling tours on the Via Francigena (France to Italy) and in Ireland.


Walking The World logo.Walking The World is the world's leading 50+ hiking tour company discovering the world's most magical corners in small groups with a maximum of 16 active travelers. We offer guided trips to 30 destinations worldwide, with our Camino de Santiago tours being a consistently popular choice. www.walkingtheworld.com.


Viajes Mundiplus logo.Viajes Mundiplus is a Spanish travel agency specialized in Camino de Santiago tours, on foot or by bicycle. We provide Quality lodgings, Van support, Assistance en route, Luggage transfer, Travel assistance insurance, and Pilgrims' Passport. www.mundiplus.com.


Spain is more logo.Spain is More knows Northern Spain intimately. We are local experts on traveling all parts of the Camino de Santiago on foot or by bicycle, offering personalized itineraries tailored to individual travelers. Visit our website, www.spainismore.com, for creative sample itineraries.


Follow the Camino logo.Since 2006, leading Camino de Santiago tour operator, Follow the Camino, has specialized in organizing walking, cycling and horse riding holidays along both familiar and lesser-known routes. Our approach to this ancestral pilgrimage respects its spirit and enhances its values, making it more accessible, enjoyable and achievable for all. www.followthecamino.com.


Marly Camino Tours logo.Marly Camino offers several fully-supported options for your pilgrimage walk including the French Way, the Portuguese Way, the North Way and the Catalonian Way from Barcelona. Or join us for a very special 10 night/11 day Journey Within Camino Retreat led by spiritual guide, Maria Blanco. www.marlycamino.com.


Dr Henry Maloney of Troy, Michigan is a career educator in English language and literature at all academic levels from university to middle school. To the great delight of his students, he is still in the classroom as he enters his eighth decade.

Click on picture for an inspiring essay capturing the rhythms of walking the Camino.

Click on the picture to ex-perience a small-group walking tour from Leon to Santiago de Compostela.

Click on the picture to experience an independent pilgrimage walk 751 km across northern Spain.

Click on picture to learn about the 'pilgrim passport' and the symbolic scallop shell.

Link to Spanish Walking Tour article Walking Spain's Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Link to Pilgrim Passport article
Walking Spain's Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

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