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CARPE DIEM: WALK THE CAMINO


There is a defining moment when you either seize a dream and make it happen, or let it pass forever.


For me the dream had been to walk the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. There are many routes across Europe leading to Santiago, but the most popular is the Francés. This is a 500-mile trek from France over the Pyrenées, through Basque country and up into mountainous Galicia, ending in the historic center of Santiago where you enter to the tune of bagpipes and turn the corner to see the gloriously overwrought Romanesque-Gothic-Baroque basilica, signaling the end of your long journey and, for many, the beginning of a bright new path.


For what had begun in the Middle Ages as a way for the faithful to obtain a plenary indulgence by walking to the shrine where it is believed the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried, has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a backpacking adventure, New Age experience, and life-changing journey popularized by many books and films, notably "The Way" with Martin Sheen.


There's plenty of time. Right?

I learned about the Camino while I was on a month-long food and wine pilgrimage of Spain with fellow food writers. As we drove from Pamplona to Rioja's wineries and Basque "cathedrals of good eating," the yellow arrows and scallop shells marking the pilgrim path intrigued me. The more I learned about it, the more I wanted to walk it. What a terrific adventure, I thought. One day.


When you're 30-something, there are lots of days ahead. But one day I started "death cleaning," the smart, Swedish art of re-assessing a lifetime's accumulation of things to consciously choose what to take forward into a pared-down lifestyle. It is not morbid, but an oddly satisfying process. I came across a box of newspaper stories I had written and on top was an article about the Camino from that Spain trip. The date? Thirty years ago. I opened another box, filled with binders of slides I had taken to accompany travel stories. The first sheet I pulled out? Images from Santiago de Compostela.


That was the moment I knew.


If I didn't do it now, I would never do it. I also knew this would be the one thing I would regret not having done when I really was dying and not just decluttering.


And so I did it. I blocked off three weeks, researched and planned, packed and repacked less into a backpack and flew to Spain. I walked a portion of the Francés, from Leon to Santiago, arriving to the tune of bagpipes on my birthday.


It was a terrific adventure.


Time spent away in a different landscape changes you. It shifts the energy so you come back with fresh motivation to pursue new things, like old dreams.


What adventure have you been putting off?















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