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Three Caminos: Thoughts on the Road to Santiago

Length: 236 pages2 hours


Would you do this in the latter half of life? Would you take a chance that some illness, not so long ago conquered, might return at the most unwelcome moment? Would you risk the chance of injury and find yourself at the side of the road, nursing a blister or a tendon, and would you go on despite the pain?

Would you do this in a country where you do not speak the language, knowing you might lose your way and not knowing where you might spend each night?

Do you hesitate? Consider, if you will, that your days might find you a little closer to nature than what you’ve known before. You might start your day with the chanticleer’s cry, and your path might cross the path of stately cows, a gentlemanly bull, more sheep than you can count and a horse whose ancestor carried Coronado on his search for cities of gold. Birds, too, will keep you company — impertinent magpies, storks nesting in their church towers and, high above, vultures on the watch for death.

And there will be other pilgrims, too, sharing the same adventure on the road to Santiago, walking the same way that millions have walked before you for a thousand years and more. And as you walk with them you will each share your stories as pilgrims always do.

Yes, you just might do it and you might find yourself a somewhat altered person at the end of the long, long road.

Three Caminos is a collection of essays written on the road to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I made these journeys over four years, walking along the old ways that pilgrims traveled in the Middle Ages. I did it three times because once was not enough.

I made these journeys to Santiago when I was well into the latter half of life but yearning for a life longer still. I had overcome a near-fatal illness and firmly believed these long walks might serve to heal both body and spirit, and in fact they did.

The way to Santiago is called el Camino in Spanish and le Chemin de St Jacques in French. Many people begin in France, crossing the Pyrenees, then moving on to Pamplona and heading ever west. But pilgrims can start anywhere they like along this road, or they may take a parallel path farther north and walk along the coast, or they may start in southern Spain or in Portugal or they may begin in Oviedo to the north and walk the Camino Primitivo, or they may start even farther north in Europe, or indeed wherever the pilgrim walks out the front door and into the world.

Most of the essays were set down at the end of the day, having walked fifteen to twenty miles and some days even more. My body may have been worn down by the effort of the day but my mind was still full with the thoughts that carried me along the road. My thoughts were a mirror of my life, reflections on my childhood and early years in the places where I had lived and worked, then the long middle passage of life and the caring for my family.

These journeys also led to reflections on history and literature, love and friendship, and all the things that fill a long life. And among the thoughts along the road was the hope that life will be longer still, and perhaps long enough to do it all again.

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