When the Camino Calls

Signage along the Camino de Santiago in Laredo (Manuel/Flickr)

Signage along the Camino de Santiago in Laredo (Manuel/Flickr)

One does not choose to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain; the Camino chooses the pilgrim.

Most who have walked the path over the last 12 centuries firmly believe this. When the pilgrimage comes to its end, they’re convinced that choice had been merely an illusion.

My wife and I are U.S. born educators who have lived in Panama for the last 13 years. Last April, we took a group 10 international high school students on a 67-mile pilgrimage, starting in the town of Sarria. We walked along gorgeous paths through the winding hills of Galicia for six days, all the way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This is where the faithful believe the remains of Saint James the Apostle are buried.

Transcendent is the only word I can use to describe our pilgrimage. Walking the Camino brought out the better angels in every single one of us. Of the countless trips my wife and I have taken with students, the long hike to Santiago de Compostela was, by far, the most inspiring.

When we reached our final destination, my wife and I were firm believers that in spite of our recruitment efforts, the students had really responded to the Camino’s call.

And then the Camino called me again, saying that I now had to walk nearly 500 miles starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, and trek all the way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

This time, however, the Camino said that I had to walk alone. And my wife, Erinn, understood this perfectly.

Four branches of the French Way, the most popular of the Camino routes (Vivaelcelta/Wikimedia)

Four branches of the French Way, the most popular of the Camino routes (Vivaelcelta/Wikimedia)

Although Camino experts advise new pilgrims to go with an open mind regarding expectations, there are many things I hope to gain during this second pilgrimage.

I’m aware that the journey will take a physical toll, bringing discomfort and pain to the body. Yet I also know that the experience will feed my soul, and that it will fuel my writer’s creativity as I ponder my next novel, which involves the Camino de Santiago.

I also know that the long walk will give me time to reflect upon what has happened in my life thus far; and I hope that my journey to pay homage to Saint James will help me reconcile with the mistakes I’ve made, help me absorb the losses I’ve suffered, and teach me to be grateful for the many blessings I’ve received.

And, in something that’s of great importance to me, I intend to gain greater insight into the Spanish side of my Latino culture.

Throughout the seven weeks that I’ve allotted myself to complete the pilgrimage, I will be reporting as often as possible on my experiences — the places, people and stories I encounter along the Way.

The pilgrimage starts on Friday, September 18, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. I hope you will grace my journey with your presence as a reader.


Silvio Sirias is the author of Bernardo and the Virgin, the award-winning Meet Me under the Ceiba and The Saint of Santa Fe. You can follow him on Twitter @silviosirias.