Modern Pilgrims Follow Ancient Path

The 500-mile Camino de Santiago route takes pilgrims through cities, small towns, and across some of northern Spain's most beautiful countryside. Retired Honolulu judge Mike Town and his son, Alex, trekked 200 miles from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, including a walk through Triacastela.

An arduous journey on foot by father and son imparts a sense of grace in northern Spain

By Mike Town / Special to the Star-Advertiser

NORTHERN SPAIN » How about walking a pilgrim trail more than 1,000 years old across northern Spain with your son? Fun? Hard work? Inspirational? Memory maker? Yes to all. Having retired after 31 years as a trial judge in Honolulu and about to turn 70, I hoped to feel God’s hand on my shoulder. I hoped to get a sense for what the next season in my life might bring. And I wanted to honor St. James (Santiago) one of Jesus’ first and most enthusiastic disciples. (His remains are said to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.) Of course, food, adventure and culture were key to the trip as well.

Charlotte Bronte suggested that a pilgrim must be “firm, faithful and devoted, full of energy, zeal and truth.” Little did I know! This pilgrimage was difficult, risky at times, and filled with wonder, new sights, insights, sounds, tastes and relationships. For me, life lessons are way more important than taking it easy.

My son, Alex, age 26, and I walked 200 miles of the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage from Leon to Santiago de Compostela. We flew from Honolulu to Madrid, rode a bullet train to Leon at about 150 mph, and began our trek inside the walled cloister of the Basilica de San Isidro at about 3 mph. We walked 12 to 20 miles most days for the next 13 days. We walked through picturesque cobblestone towns, down trails that resembled stream beds at times and over misty mountains. Blisters were inevitable so we all helped each other as have pilgrims for centuries. But no hair shirts for us, thanks.

We stayed in farmhouses built in 1100 A.D., small hotels and hostels. We ate locally grown and prepared foods including paella, freshly made soups, salads, vine ripened pears and apples, as well as main dishes (fish, octopus, chicken, pork, beef and lamb). Of course, we rehydrated regularly with locally produced juice, cider, wine and beer, even grappa. The Spanish people were inviting and accommodating, as were our fellow pilgrims

who were from Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Chile, Australia, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.

At the end of the day, I would contend that life is a pilgrimage, which no planned itinerary can or should predict. God has the last say if you are a believer. Others might simply call it plain old fate or a roll of the dice. I learned a pilgrim must stay in the moment ready to receive, and not dictate tempo. It worked for us as we walked in the cold morning bundled up, pared down by noon, often visibly steaming, went up and down thousands of feet of elevation and rested at the small, well-provisioned tiendas and stops along the way to visit with our fellow pilgrims.

My extended family followed us on Facebook, wondering, “What are Dad and Alex up to now?” I certainly appreciate that family is forever, yet I expanded my definition to include my fellow pilgrims, as we resembled a modern-day spiritual “tribe” at times. God indeed kept his hand on my shoulder when I least expected it.

When Alex got sick and we thought about abandoning the Camino, a local doctor laughed and told us this is a typical Camino virus and treated him successfully. Along the way we heard welcome words of encouragement: “Buen Camino!” (good walk), “Animo!” (courage), “Ultreia!” (onward) when things got tough. When my left calf cramped painfully, I started to despair, yet it smoothed out within several hours. Raw luck? A small blessing? Who knows?

My blisters paled in light of some other pilgrims’ toes, feet and knees. And to see a 60-year-old nun from Japan walking the Camino slowly with grace, meditation and a heavy backpack gave us inspiration. We got to Santiago after a rainy day and three of us, Alex, Linda, a wonderful sports trainer from Australia, and I joined hands and skipped into town. Yep, we got in the moment, grace descended gently and we laughed heartily. I’m ready to go again. Buen Camino, Animo, Ultreia!

Mike Town is a retired Circuit Court judge for the state of Hawaii and avid traveler.

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