Travel Right
  The Road to Santiago
by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965–67)

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Travel Right

Solvitur ambulando.
It is solved by walking.
—St. Augustine

WE WERE PILGRIMS THIS SUMMER, my husband Chuck and I, walking from Le Puy en Velay in France, over the Pyrenees and on to Santiago in the northwestern corner of Spain. We started in Le Puy because the Bishop of Le Puy was one of the first pilgrims in the year 951 — and it is a thousand miles from Santiago. It would take us a while to get there. Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That was the journey we were on.
A pilgrim can start anywhere. Jerry began in Geneva; Gerhard started in northern Germany; Hans and Karen stepped out their front door in Austria last April and arrived in Santiago in mid-July. Susan put her flat up for sale in England, took the chunnel to France and began walking. Jean-Jacques has left his home in Egypt, every year for the past three to walk an étape, a stage of the road to Santiago. He walked for two weeks this summer and will get there next summer — one more étape to go. Jean-Pierre was walking for the poetry, he said. Christine left her home in Sweden, her husband and two twenty-something daughters, told them she was going to France to begin walking to Santiago. She had been ill for 15 months before she left, sick with daily debilitating headaches, so exhausted she couldn’t get out of bed most days, hospitalized for weeks. No diagnosis and nothing helped. She didn’t know how long she would walk, how far she would get, but on May 10th she began walking, alone.
This was our family of the road, our fellow pilgrims. There were many more of course, Pierre, Alain and Eliane, Dante, Doug, Jean-Pierre, Stephan, Guy, Jerome, Bartholomew, the Argentinean brothers Roberto and Pedro, Thierry, Lona and Lotte from Denmark, Drew, Rob, Orling — from the Dominican Republic. Orling means ray of light which describes her perfectly.
There were three great pilgrimages for Christians in the Middle Ages: to Jerusalem, to Rome and to Santiago. The pilgrimage to Santiago began in the mid-tenth century and at the height of its popularity in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, more than half a million people from all over Europe made the pilgrimage each year. It almost died out in the 18th century, but interest was rekindled at the end of the 20th and last year 179,944 people walked to Santiago.
Thousands of people make this pilgrimage but we walked alone most of the time, in others’ footsteps, but just the two of us walking through meadow after meadow of wild flowers, across pastures held in by ancient, unmortared rock walls, with vistas of fields and farmhouse, sheep, cows, horses, in every direction; through sun-dappled eucalyptus forests; through waist high grass that left us soaked to the skin.

Walking: the 2nd day
     The mornings were stunningly beautiful. Most days we rose before dawn and were on the road between 6 and 6:30, walking on high plateaus, down plunging gorges, along country lanes, in shadowy forests, through hamlets and villages and every morning we said to each other, “Isn’t this amazing? Have you ever seen such light? Look at the sky — or the meadow — or the glistening leaves — or the sun rising and the moon sinking!”
     We were enveloped by birdsong. The sweetest voice of all was the cuckoo, far at the edge of the forest, every morning. We didn’t feel that the day had truly begun until we heard, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!” At night we watched the swallows dip and dive around the church steeple, hundreds of them, dark shapes against the dusky sky in every town. In Spain, we watched the storks rearrange themselves in their nests atop almost every church steeple. More than once we met unaccompanied cows on the path. Somebody had opened the barn door and said, Go, to the cows. Go to the pasture, you know the way, and they did. And early one morning, somewhere in France, we met twenty horses in the woods, walking alone, single file, on their way to their pasture. We stepped to the side of the path and they walked silently by, the colts hurrying to cover their fear or shying away from us, mares and stallions trotting confidently by, heads held high as if we were only ghosts.
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