The Camino: Memories of a Pilgrim with no Direction 1

A week from now I’ll be embarking on an adventure that I promised myself I would never do:  The Camino de Santiago (the St. James’ Way) on a holy year, that is, when the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, as was the case this year.  I’m not saying this because I am a cynic, at least not too much of one, but because of a simple number: 250,000.  That figure represents the estimated number of humans, young and old, planning on descending upon the city of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain for annual pilgrimage this year.  250,000!  250,000 knuckleheads clogging up the beautiful countryside of Galicia.  Every living creature is going to be there.  It is without a doubt the absolute worst time in the world to do it.  But there you go, two friends of mine and I are going to go for it.  I am such an idiot.

 On the other hand, there is something to say for all of this and that is the Compostela, the diploma that they give you for meeting the requirements of the pilgrimage, is a kind of general pardon for your sins and it is worth twice as much on a holy year, kind of like scoring an away goal in the Champion League in soccer.  You see, traditionally, during a regular year, if you made it to Santiago with everything in order, the good people at the office there could produce a paper that reduces your stay purgatory by half.  That may sound attractive, but all the sinning I have done up to this point in life and I am sure I have a near eternal life sentence waiting for me, so 50% wouldn’t quite do.  

 But if you complete the journey on a holy year, word has it they free you of all charges.  It’s like one of those “Get of jail free” cards in Monopoly.  Then I can keep the certificate for a future time like, for example, when I die and have it buried with me so that when I reach the Ministry of Celestial Affairs I can say in a cocky tone, “Here’s my card, guys.  I’m going in.  Hallelujah!”  

 There is another factor too: the next holy year won’t be for another 11 years (not seven, wise guys.  There’s a thing called leap year.”) and who knows what kind of shape and condition I’ll be in by then.  

 In order to avoid the masses of humanity, we have decided to skip the main route, known as the French route, and have opted for the Portuguese option.  In Spain, it starts in a border town called Tuy and runs some 115 kms (that’s about 70 miles) to the steps of the cathedral.  So, we’ll see with what and whom we run into on the way.  My friends tell me everything is going to be fairly open and smooth, but with a crowd the size of Woodstock invading the region, I am not entirely convinced.  Still, I’ll try to look on the positive side for once, and wait and see.  We’ll find out in just a few days.

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