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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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My Pilgrimage

If the accent doesn't give away your nationality, the guidebook does. I noticed this on the road to Santiago de Compostela.

The Germans, by far the largest group of pilgrims I encountered, had their yellow books in tow. We Americans turned to John Brierley's work, "A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino Portugués."

Brierley advised us: "We each feel different emotions on arriving at our destination after weeks of physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. Entering the cathedral can bring tears of joy ... or disappointment."

It took me 13 days to walk from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as a pilgrim.

I didn't cry when I arrived. I did the one thing my blistered feet had begged for since day one.

I sat.

I plopped myself down by a column across the square and barely took in the sight of the huge cathedral said to house the remains of the Apostle St. James.

Good grief, all that walking, and so much of the time felt like just trying to survive. One hundred and twenty miles was no small feat for this fat girl.

Huffing and puffing up and down those hills day after day became routine, but no less difficult. Watching the more agile pilgrims pass me grew no less difficult either.

And as far as I'm concerned, the 405-meter peak between Ponte de Lima and Rubiães, that was a mountain.

Friends would later ask how the trip went, and I would tell them it wasn't fun, but it was worth it.

There's something about a pilgrimage that's unlike a vacation. People get behind you and help move you toward your goal.

For me, it made real the words Paolo Coelho wrote: "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

I didn't know I wanted to be a pilgrim until I finally listened to my college roommate Irene and read Coelho's book, "The Alchemist." That's where the quote came from.

I read the book about 10 years ago. A little research revealed that Coelho had made the journey to Santiago. A little more research made me realize it was something I too wanted to do.

But the dream alone was worth nothing. Getting there wouldn't happen until my friend Sam decided she would walk to Santiago whether I joined her or not. But, by the way, I was welcome to join her.

"Oh, the whining!" my friend Ashot predicted, imagining what Sam would have to put up with. Ashot knew me as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia. He was all too familiar with how easily I could buckle when the going got tough and familiar faces were scarce.

Yet then, just as now, there would be plenty of people to encourage me along the way.

No, it wasn't a fun trip. But conquering the urge to sit it out was well worth a few blisters.

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