Henry takes on his pilgrim persona next to the famous pilgrim statue which dominates the highest and most inhospitable landscape encountered on our walk.
What induced a 73-year old, semi-retired, high school English teacher to go on an extended hike across northern Spain? There were three triggering motivations, all of which were cinches to reach fruition. However, once I had made the commitment to go, I realized that I was also dealing with a couple of wild cards over which I had no control. Their outcome would be critical to the success of the trip.
I first learned of the Camino de Santiago in the January-February 2001 issue of Modern Maturity magazine, through an article on actress, Shirley MacLaine. Because I had little interest in Shirley’s recollections of earlier incarnations along her walk, I skimmed over the main theme but felt drawn to the subtext: a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James which has attracted persons of faith for well over a thousand years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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. 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 the picture below to experience a small-group walking tour from Leon to Santiago de Compostela.
Click on the picture below to experience an independent pilgrimage walk 751 km across northern Spain.
Click on the picture below for an inspiring essay capturing the rhythms of walking the Camino.
Click on the picture below to learn about the ‘pilgrim passport’ and the symbolic scallop shell.