The idea of walking the Camino de Santiago didn’t happen overnight. We first heard of this ancient pilgrimage route sometime in 2011 when we watched “The Way,” an inspirational movie written and directed by Emilio Estevez. Martin Sheen (Emilio’s real-life father) played the part of an American ophthalmologist who goes to St. Jean Pied de Port following the death of his adult son, Daniel (played by Emilio). Daniel was killed in the Pyrenees during a storm at the beginning of his pilgrimage. Tom’s purpose initially was to retrieve his son’s body but, rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the pilgrimage in honour of Daniel. Tom soon discovers that he is not alone on this journey. He meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with his or her own issues and looking for greater meaning in life. The journey has a profound impact on Tom, giving greater meaning to his life than the “California bubble” that he had known.
In the spring of 2012 we came across information about “A Gathering of Pilgrims” in Victoria for people who have walked or were contemplating walking the Camino de Santiago. We were curious and unsure of what to expect at the gathering. The word “pilgrim” brought to my mind people travelling to a holy place with a spiritual quest or doing penance for sins. I envisioned people wearing brown or black cloaks with hoods or broad hats and holding staffs but, as it turned out, these modern-day pilgrims looked just like us.
The first question the audience was asked at the gathering was “How many of you are here because of the movie, ‘The Way?'” We raised our hands as did most of the people in the audience. The next question was, “How many of you have walked the Camino de Santiago?” At least half of the audience raised their hands. “How many have walked twice?” Many of the same hands went up. Three times? Same hands. The Camino seemed to be addictive! All that day we heard from people about why they make the pilgrimage over and over again and about how their reasons for doing it evolved during their walk. Sometimes at the beginning they didn’t know why they were walking, or they thought they knew but those reasons changed, sometimes dramatically, by the end of their journey. Many said the journey didn’t end in Santiago but continued after their return home. Everyone’s journey was unique and seemed as meaningful to them as Tom’s was in “The Way.
Inspiration also came from our daughter Tania who walked the Camino Francés to Santiago in the fall of 2013. The pictures she took of the countryside, villages, and cities were beautiful. So many good people she met along the way had wisdom to share. Tania discovered more about who she is, what her potentials are, and what she wants to do with her life. She gained incredible courage to follow her dreams and made changes in her life so that those dreams could unfold.
Why did we decided to walk the Camino Frances starting on September 10, 2015? It was my 70th birthday and I wanted to do something significant and meaningful to usher in my 80th decade on Earth. Dave, who would turn 77 in October, wasn’t as enamored by the idea initially but in the end he was anticipating the adventure with enthusiasm almost as much as I. I am grateful that we both felt healthy and strong enough to contemplate doing this.
The question at the beginning was: Would it be a spiritual journey? Dave expected to be a tourist on a walking holiday, taking photos and videos to eventually put into slideshows. Maybe the journey would be something even greater. I knew I was going to enjoy the “outer journey” too – appreciating the beautiful scenery, making new friends, putting my Spanish lessons to use, savouring Spanish cuisine and wines – but I also planned on having an “inner journey,” one that has more to do with the spirit. When our only responsibilities are to walk, eat, sleep, repeat, there is plenty of time to reflect on the purpose and direction of life.