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Truth along the Camino de Santiago

Dale Zurawski

On a difficulty scale of one to five, the hike on our week-long pilgrimage was rated a four or a five. Looking out the window of the bus to the trailhead, the intimidating mountains of northeastern Spain gave us reason to worry. Since I had done little research on our walk starting in San Sebastian, we turned to our guidebook’s description for this section of the Camino de Santiago. "The most physically demanding stretches of the Northern Caminos are the opening stages.”


My husband and I were wrapping up a three-month, around-the-world trip celebrating our joint retirement and 60th birthdays. The pilgrimage was a time to reflect on our lives as retirees. I knew I wanted to write but not what to write- or even why. The pilgrimage, I hoped, would provide some divine insight. 


My first revelation came early-- I knew I was not doing this again. At 60, my joints were too worn to handle long stretches in the Cantabrian Mountains. No one day in the first week of October stands out. They were all 8-10 hours of hiking on cloudy, rainy, sunny, or windy days. Our route skirted around towns, winding instead through forested areas.


We met only six other walkers in six days of trekking. I decided to hike a few days in silence—that would, I thought, get the divine inspiration flowing. But the only clarity that pierced the low-grade discomfort in my muscles and grinding joints was a nearly constant prayer for another rest stop with food and wine.


Strangely, the few other pilgrims we met didn’t seem to be struggling. An American in his 40s, wasn’t even tired. A 60-year-old Australian lady and her walking mate, 62, had done this Camino twice. Three older Spaniards we met walked the Camino de Santiago annually. They were joyful, full of life, and, by the time we reached lunch spots, they were already there with wine in their hands and a toast for us.


My second revelation came on the last day. At the end-of-the-trail marker in Bilbao, we bumped into the three Spaniards again. It turns out there were five of them; one was a relief hiker and the other a driver. I had discovered some misrepresentation.


My final revelation came a year later. Sitting at my keyboard, the thrill of a long-sought insight rang true. I can’t claim the pilgrimage brought me divine inspiration, but it did clear my mind of clutter. I realized seeking out truth in your writing, if only for a travel article, is a valid pursuit.

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