“Who are you?” is the question a pilgrimage demands of the pilgrim. In this case, well-known European comedic entertainer, Hape Kerkeling, author of I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. Herr Kerkeling walked the Camino de Francés, the most popular of many “caminos” — roads in Spanish — to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Campostela in the Province of Galicia. Kerkeling began his 775 km trek on June 9, 2001. The Camino has attracted pilgrims since the Middle Ages. It is one of three great walks in Christendom, the other two being Canterbury to Rome and from anywhere to Jerusalem. Kerkeling’s diary of the hike won Italy’s prestigious Chatwin Award for Travel Writing.
“A pudgy couch potato,” he walks up steep mountain paths; down knee-jamming descents; through fog, wind and rain, merciless heat baking the shadeless Castilian meseta; insidious dust, dehydration and dysentery-provoking water, all in search of his true self. He meets a panorama of characters reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: old, young, con artists, nuns, priests, an itinerant academic, a self-declared Peruvian shaman, grandmothers, linguists, gigolos, gays, straights, gold diggers, curmudgeons and a mendacious mendicant.
Along the way he discovers that
Waking up — going to sleep, starting work — finishing work, training for a job — entering retirement. Everything begins and ends, although it is always Now, and everything really does happen in one gigantic moment.
Few things in life are truly significant, and if you take a good hard look at yourself, you realize that the number of strong desires in your life is really quite small.
Sometimes the most rational thing to do is simply to be crazy.
I’m convinced that the daily task of the pilgrim is this: Just be yourself, no more and no less! One tough task.
It is appropriate that this, my final review, is about pilgrims and their trips. My journey this past year through 36 or so “classic” travel books ends every time with Mark Twain’s observation about the benefits of travel.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
Sayonara, for now. May our paths cross again.
Tucker Cox – contributing writer