I get that question now and then. “Why are you walking the Camino de Santiago?”
Good question. The simple answer is: “Why not?” Or perhaps: “Because it’s there.”
That may come across as a bit flippant, so I’ll try harder. But I suspect you may not like the answer. Truth is, I don’t quite know the full reason myself. I hope to find out on the way. Perhaps if I tell the story you’ll get an idea of how it came about.
If you’ve been following this blog you would have read my account of our first visit to Santiago de Compostela. That’s where it all started, exactly 10 years ago during the Easter of 2004. I looked at all these people walking and something in me yearned to do what they were doing.
The next little nudge came in 2009 when a friend walked the Camino. I read his account and talked to him about it. Then I started reading more Camino blogs. Then another friend walked the Camino and blogged about it. It was just as if the Camino pushed itself into view, and it was getting increasingly difficult to ignore it.
At the beginning of January 2011 I wrote a blog post (in Afrikaans) looking forward to the new year and expressed this wish at the end of the blog:
“Miskien gaan my blote doellose reis ‘n pelgrimstog word. En dan is daar natuurlik ‘n jarelange droom, om die “Jakobsweg” te gaan stap. El Camino de Santiago, ‘n pelgrimstog na Santiago de Compostela. Wie weet, dalk gee ek die eerste paar treë op daardie roete vanjaar.”
Loosely translated, this means: “Perhaps my aimless wandering will become a pilgrimage. For years I’ve had a dream to walk the Way of St James: El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Who knows, I might take the first few steps on that route this year.”
In January 2013 I blogged a picture of my hiking shoes and announced my intention of walking the Camino in the year I reached a certain “milestone birthday”, but even then I could only hope to slip away from work for a week or two to walk a small section.
So how come I can take a full 6 weeks off work to walk the whole way this year? The short answer is that I needed the “time out” from work. It just so happened that I sold my shares in my business and there is enough time to do the Camino now. So there you have it. Call it a sabbatical if you like.
People talk about the “Call of the Camino”. Those who have heard it will know exactly what I mean. It’s a whisper at first, a fleeting thought which is easily dismissed. But soon it is incessant. It starts to fill your mind. Invariably conversation turns to it. You read books about it, seek out other pilgrims. Dare to call yourself a pilgrim, even. Fancy that!
But then again, is it that fanciful? There is a sense in which we are pilgrims the moment we decide to leave behind a life of certainty and start a journey of discovery into the unknown. One source describes a pilgrimage as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance”. I know that in the strictest sense it is a physical journey to a real place of significance, but I think that the journey starts long before your feet hit the dusty roads. It starts inside your head.
So in just over a day I’ll board a plane to Bordeaux, travel on to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and start walking. Simply one foot in front of the other. Those feet have got some catching up to do, because my mind has a little “head start.” Sorry, couldn’t help slipping that one in.
It would be such a joy to have you join me on this journey.