El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is an ancient pilgrimage trail, a five hundred mile long walk that meanders across northern Spain. The name translates as: "the Way of St. James of the Campus of the Stars" as the trail winds beneath the Milky Way (the campus of the stars). The original Celtic version of the Camino concluded at the city of Finisterre, the "End of the Earth" at the Atlantic Ocean. Sometime during the Middle Ages the Camino was co-opted by the Catholic Church, re-created as a way to do penance, to walk off one's sins. As an official holy walk to the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela, Catholic pilgrims would have stayed in refugios (refuges) all along the trail. Eight hundred or more years later there is still a tradition of serving the pilgrims. Pilgrims are accommodated in all variety of albergues (hostels) and offered a "pilgrim's menu" at many restaurants. The bedding is rudimentary, the washing facilities are varied at best, the food, basic and boring, but that said, the Spanish people are warm, welcoming, and deeply spiritual, and I desperately wanted to go.
Years had gone by since I first decided I would some day walk the Camino de Santiago. I didn't know why I was so drawn to the idea, just that I was. From the first moment I read actress Shirley MacLaine's book about her Camino experience I was intrigued, I felt the call to go on pilgrimage. But it was always a "some day" dream. Everything Shirley MacLaine said about the Camino made it sound like a life-changing experience. Even the tough physical grind, the 12-15 miles per day hike, called to me. Everything (except the wild dogs) sounded like a made-for-me adventure: a spiritual quest, a silent retreat, a connection to centuries of seekers, a walk through history...and all while passing through an ancient and breathtakingly beautiful part of the world.
I spent years with the Camino nestled in my unconscious, only to have it pop up in the form of gentle nudges from the Universe, God, Spirit, or whoever is in charge of gently nudging. I would spot another book on the shelf at the library or at a garage sale: on the Camino, on ancient pilgrimage trails, on the Knights Templar. I mentioned my desire to my next-door neighbor, a high school Spanish teacher, only to delightedly learn that he had taken students to the end of the Camino, the city of Santiago de Compostela.
I met people who knew people who had walked the Camino. My ears and eyes were subconsciously on high alert so a Camino/pilgrimage reference would not pass me by. But, still, I had not gotten serious, not until 2011, the year of my 60th birthday. The story of what happened and how it happened still surprises me. I choose to see it as a masterpiece of planning by a Higher Power (complete with a very motivating threat!). Let me share the story with you and see what you think.
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