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The Journey Begins

Why is our train going backwards?

The announcement over the PA system provided no clues. The rapido delivery of the announcer was no match for my college Spanish. Even when she switched to heavily-accented English, the only words I could make out were “train,” “flood,” and “bus.” Thankfully, a young, bilingual British woman sitting across the aisle filled us in.

“The train can’t go all the way to Sarria,” she said brightly, as if this unexpected wrench in our travel plans had won each of us a lottery ticket. “They’re putting us on a bus to get us there.” She smiled, then began gathering up her backpack. Ah, the kindness of strangers.

So begins our journey to walk The Camino de Santiago, Europe’s renowned pilgrimage route, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Way of St. James or Camino de Santiago derives from a medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of apostle Saint James (also known as Saint Jacob) are buried.

Since the 11th century, the popular pilgrimage route has been highly traveled, with kings and queens, knights, saints and regular people like us, and from many different nations, making the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago.

About 15 years ago, Kent and I watched The Way, a movie about a father who travels to Europe (spoiler alert) to retrieve the ashes of his estranged son, who’d died as he’d just begun his pilgrimage to walk the Camino. The father decides to walk the Camino for him. When the movie ended, Kent and I sat in silence in the dark theater as the credits rolled across the screen. Finally, when the lights went up, we turned to each other and agreed that walking the Camino was going on our bucket list.

And in about an hour, we’re going to check one more off that list. We’re in Sarria, getting ready to begin walking 10-13 miles per day in order to reach Santiago de Compostela in a week. Our journey pales in comparison to the nearly 500 miles that thousands of other pilgrims walk each year, over the course of multiple weeks, carrying their backpacks, sleeping in hostels or under the stars. Not us. We’ll be camping out in comfortable country inns every night, sleeping in soft beds. Our backpacks will be transported ahead of us to each stop along the way. Our 100km trip is the shortest allowable length of the Camino that, once completed, will get us the coveted Compostela, the certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims for completing at least the final 100kms of the Way of St James. The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has been issuing the pilgrimage indulgence since the Middle Ages.

Not only were we inspired by the movie to take this trip, we also were inspired and encouraged by our friends Christine and June, who walked this same path a few years back. June and Christine shared with us their lessons learned, as well as their extraordinary travel planner, Paul at Walks in Spain. I’m not sure we’d have done it without their support and counsel, so I’m super thankful for their guidance and encouragement. I’m also thankful for my kids, who are house and dog watching while we’re away.

Through the centuries and for many, this journey offers a chance for self-reflection as well as an opportunity to meet and walk in community and solidarity with other like-minded pilgrims. For us, having delayed this trip three times during the past two years (thanks, Covid!), it’s all of that, and more. It’s a chance for us to imagine new possibilities: for ourselves, for our 47-year-and-then-some relationship, and for the world at large, which has changed so rapidly and significantly in the past few years—in ways good, scary, and just plain awful. This walk is a great opportunity to dream big and imagine better.

In between blisters, seeing the Spanish countryside, meeting new friends and hopefully gaining new insights, I’ll be providing some updates on our progress. As always, I’d appreciate any insights you’re willing to share, or simply your good wishes and positive energy for a safe journey. Buen Camino!  


  1. Buon Camino!
    I cherish my memories of hiking the Camino – once with my BFF and once with my daughter- and I can’t wait to do it again!

    Wishing you beautiful sunrises, delicious food in rural villages and only a few blisters 👣

    • Lisa: Did you do the entire walk–twice? Wowser! And, what was your favorite city/area/part of the trail and/or memory?

      • No! Not the whole thing. We walked the portion that you are doing in 2015. And then Maaeve and I walked 100 km of el Camino Portugues in 2017, starting point at the Spain/Portugal border.

        One of my favorite memories was watching my new HS grad hike up hills ahead of me-bravely walking into her future. Much like you described.

        And grabbing a Spanish tortilla from a roadside stand to eat as we walked

        • I’ve read that the Portugal to Spain hike is magnificent. When we’re done here, we’re heading to Porto, and then Lisbon, so we’ll get to experience a little bit of Portugal, too. We’ll have to compare notes over a glass of vino when I return.

          I can only imagine what it must be like to do this trip with one of your kids. How wonderful—-a special and lasting memory for both of you for sure!

  2. Savor the time and experience. I look forward to hearing about your journey! We should have blessed your feet and knees and backs before you departed!

    • Thanks Meg. Please feel free to bless our feet/knees/backs from afar. God knows we need it!

  3. Jill & Kent,
    Have a wonderful, and safe, trek!

  4. Whoo Hoo!! SOOO excited to see you on your ‘way’. We wish you a wonderful, inspiring journey and know that we are with you all the way. Can’t wait to witness whatever you post of your external journey – your internal journey will be a delightful unveiling. Buen Camino, dear friends!!!

    • And we can’t wait to share our “internal” journey with you and June–perhaps over some Spanish or Portuguese wine this summer?

  5. Buen Camino to you, Dear Friends! I share Christine’s enthusiasm for your trip and can hardly to wait for your progress reports along the way. Speaking from our experience, I have no doubt this journey will somehow have a significant impact on the rest of your lives, individually and together. Thinking of you as you walk this sacred path and feeling gratitude for being invited along via your updates.

    • Thank you for your kind thoughts and words, June. We wouldn’t and couldn’t have done this without you and Christine!

  6. Traveling mercies ❤️

    • Thanks Cheryl (and one of my favorite Anne Lamott books, btw!).

  7. Best wishes to you and Kent. May you find wisdom and joy on this pilgrimage. Keeping you in my prayers.

    • We’ll take your prayers and we’ll be on the lookout for wisdom. Joy, we’ve already found (and it’s only Day 1!). Thanks Margie!

  8. Have an amazing journey! Love you guys

  9. I can only imagine this journey will take you to places known and unknown physically, emotionally and spiritually. How cool is that! And I know both you and Kent will embrace it fully reflecting and acknowledging all you will discover mile by mile… Cheers to you my dear friends.
    Bendición y feliz caminar,

    • We’ll do our embracing, reflecting and acknowledging best, Dee. Thanks!!

  10. Excited for your travels. I look forward to hearing about this trek when we connect at end of May. I am off to Hawaii on Tuesday and hope to have a few adventures myself! Have a wonderful trip.

    • You’re bound to have some great adventures in Hawaii. Is it whale watching season there? I hope so–they are magnificent creatures. The dolphins, too. Enjoy your time and we’ll swap stories in a few weeks!

  11. That’s awesome Jill and Kent. Have an amazing time. What an experience!

    • Thanks Gary! We’re having a blast so far, even if we’ve discovered some new aches and pains we didn’t even know we had!

  12. Wishing you glorious sights and insights.
    We’ll enjoy sharing your journey via Jillosophy.

    • Thanks Janet. It’s a real challenge to put into words what we’re seeing, hearing, feeling and experiencing, but I’ll do my best to offer a glimpse into this incredible experience. Thanks for following along!

  13. I can already smell the paella!! Happy tramping and can’t wait to hear about all you encounter! Remember that while you are mindful of schedules and destinations, take time to look around you, in to nature, and see whatever creatures/ flowers/ bugs are on the journey with you- they themselves offering you encouragement and mercies. March on dear friends!

    • You’re reading my mind (as usual). We had the best paella of our lives in Madrid, before we started the walk. It was a place Lauren took the family when the Munros visited Spain in December. The exceptional food and the incredible, personal service was the closest thing to Heaven City that we’ve experienced since the last time we ate at your former restaurant. I’ll fill you in on the details when I get back. It was a memorable night!

      We are definitely experiencing nature (did I not send you a picture of a lion??), and I’ve made it a point each day to be present and really “see” everything and everyone that I can. The countryside is beautiful, as are many of the people–natives and pilgrims/peregrinos–we’ve met along the way. Like Jerry Lewis says/sings: “You’ll never walk alone.” Pretty accurate here. While there have been times when it’s just been the two of us on the trail, if we wait for a few minutes, a pilgrim/peregrino will invariably come along, sometimes dozens of them. Like the 30 or so Spanish teenagers we kept bumping into (literally) today. We first came across them early this morning, with a priest leading them in prayer before they started the walk. Nice kids, but I’ve got to say I’m relieved they’re not staying at our hotel tonight!

      Thanks for your traveling mercies. I hope you’re feeling better in every possible way. Love you!

  14. Jill,
    I am so grateful that you are “on the sacred path”!
    I’m eager to learn what your open heart will experience and what difference your journey will make for you, and for you and Kent.
    Traveling. Love. Open Hearts. Open Minds!

    • Feeling so grateful for this experience, and for friends who understand and encourage “openness.” Gracious Karen!

  15. Wishing you both a wonderful journey and no blisters!

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