Guest blogger Hollis Duncan walks across Spain …
My best friend, Thompson, and I walked the Camino de Santiago together in July 2004. We walked 813.3 km (505 miles) beginning in Pamplona and ending in Finisterre on the Atlantic coast of Galicia.
Although the Oficina del Peregrino in Santiago de Compostela will insist that you acknowledge “Spirituality” as one of the reasons for your pilgrimage before awarding you a Compostela, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to walk 28 days anywhere — never mind across a country as spectacular as Spain — and not have a spiritual experience … of some kind. Although many do not set out on a spiritual journey, the Camino ends up being one anyway. Quizá sea la magia del Camino de Santiago.
Along the way, Spaniards of every shape and size shout Buen Camino at peregrinos (pilgrims) wishing them a pleasant journey. Los peregrinos amble over mountains, through big cities, remote villages, across the hot, pancake-flat Meseta of central Spain, and finally, through the lush hills of green Galicia.
For every story I could tell ten more about all of the things we experienced on our way to Santiago. How I found a seashell on the beach at Finisterre and proposed to my beautiful girlfriend Luisa the night we finished, or how many charming churches we saw. Or about all of the amazing food we ate — jamón, chorizo, pulpo (y caldo) a la gallega, pimientos de Padrón, queso, aceitunas, y pasteles. Or the people we met — Gábor, a Hungarian hiker-converted-cyclist; les Québecois; John the Dane; the Americans Dave, Anne, and a power hiking couple from Mt. Diablo, Ca.; and the Austrians who led us by a mile with their trekking poles.
When you arrive in Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago and strain your neck looking up at la catedral más bonita de España, maybe, if you’re like me, you will notice your arms covered with goosebumps; your hairs standing on end as straight as little ropes!
That’s when I had an epiphany. Although I thought finishing the Camino at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela would represent the end of my journey, I realized the opposite was true: this was not the end of my journey but only the beginning …
El Camino is a metaphor for life — for our respective paths, the roads we each choose to take on our life’s journey. Some follow well-worn paths; others take less-traveled routes. No way is wrong, but everyone’s Camino is different.
On the Camino, there are many lessons to be learned. One of the best bits of advice we got was — despacio (slow down) — which fellow pilgrims and Spaniards alike kept telling us; after awhile we heeded this advice and traveled as far, but with fewer aches and pains and much more enjoyment.
I leave the ending open … to invite others who have walked the Camino de Santiago to share their experience; also to ask readers what other Caminos are out there? What epic walks / adventures have you done, heard about, or are planning to do that rate right up there with the Camino? Can’t wait to read your responses!
Buen Camino … a todos
Hollis Duncan is an independent graphic designer based in New York. He and his wife, Luisa, who is from Santiago de Compostela, are moving to Barcelona this summer.