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The Ways of the Pilgrim

Actually walking 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela proved “a demented delusion.” But “the Camino” also serves those who sit and those who wait — upon others.

From the first time I heard about it, I had a burning desire to go on the Camino de Santiago. I wanted to be a pilgrim, stripped down to whatever I could carry on my back, trekking 500 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southern France to the final destination of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, which purportedly contains the tomb of Saint James. I pictured myself turning inward, timing my footsteps to my breath, meditating — unplugged from news, my computer, my phone, my fax and, most of all, social chitchat. I wanted the simplicity of the medieval pilgrims who walked the Camino de Santiago (the “Way of Saint James,” in Spanish); I yearned for a month-long spiritual undertaking, over hill and dale, pasture and plain, carrying the iconic scallop shell, which signifies to others that you are, quite literally, walking the walk. Twenty-five years ago, a few thousand devoted pilgrims followed the Way of Saint James every year; today, estimates are in the 100,000 to 200,000 range. They come on foot, bike, and horseback. A few even bring donkeys. Some do the whole wal …

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