Walk This Way

Notes from a journey on the Camino de Santiago. /

John Steinbeck once famously described Cannery Row as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” And the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain, might be similarly described. The Camino is a rotten sock, a throbbing blister, a lingering burn, a Pyrenees-pass, and a table of strangers, atheists, and religious devotees who learn to share a peaceful meal. The Camino is a disagreement about the perennial questions and the meaning of it all: pain, prayer, solitude, communion, of whether it is sane to think there is a higher Way. The Camino is an awkward communal bathroom, a forced pre-dawn wake-up, a rickety top bunk, and a cacophony of snoring. The Camino is the belligerent German who drinks all the table wine, the esoteric spiritualist whose feet never touch the ground, and the grieving widow who walks to mourn her loss. The Camino is a swirl of faces and intentions and infirmities, all aiming at a single end.

For us, we were two old buddies hitting the road. Every other year we took a long hike, and this year, we felt the Camino calling. We’d heard reports about the trail’s burgeoning comeback; an estimated 200,000 pilgrims were now walking it every year. Both of us were in states of transition—geographically, vocationally, spiritually—and little sounded better to us than a long, unhurried walk.

In the end, the Camino was all we expected and more. Indeed, so much so that when we returned to our home cities, we started emailing each other notes from the journals we kept along the way, in hopes of capturing the essence of the trail.

On paper, the Camino de Santiago (or “Way of St. James”) looks like an unerring ...

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Issue 44 / March 17, 2016
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