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Monday, 05 May 2008

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle - Page 4

Written by Cameron Karsten
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I came to Le Puy after being inspired by a book written by Paulo Coelho entitled The Pilgrimage, which chronicles the author’s mystical quest along The Way of Saint James (Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle) or El Camino a Santiago de Compostella – its commonly referred-to Spanish equivalent. This lengthy pilgrimage from France across the Pyréneés and traversing Spain is rough, challenging, cultural, and it is isolation from the external world for le pelerin (the pilgrim).

Inside, they instructed me to rest, as I was fed dried prunes, apricots and dates, and filled with a sweet syrupy drink labeled Mente—or mint. They asked for my information—the basics such as name, age, country of origin and the start of my pilgrimage. And then, to my surprise, they found me my night’s accommodation. The one behind her small countertop called up the local Hostelling International Youth Hostel and reserved a bed. With a stamp in my créanciale I was off, satiated with the ease of knowing I’d have my first bed and shower in weeks.

One fantastic characteristic of youth hostels is the common interest among all guests. The hostel in Cahors, along with all the other gite d’etapes (or guest lodgings for pilgrims along Le Chemin throughout France), houses mainly pilgrims. In my ten-bed dorm room, the five other guests were also pilgrims, three French and two from Holland. Having cleaned, showered, and organized our gear in preparation for the next day’s continuance, I thought of a fellow pilgrim—neither French nor Danish, but another German. His name was Tobias.

We met over a meal one night in the small town of Livinhac-le-Haut by the River Lot. I had spent the afternoon walking with Tobias and we instantly bonded. As we continued to talk that night underneath the plastic shelter of Camping Beau Rivage’s restaurant, rains lashed the ground while brilliant flashes of lightning lit the darkness. Thunder roared across the horizons like distressed phantoms, causing the electricity to flutter, and the energy of the evening rose. He inquired about my solitude.

“The whole way you will walk alone? All the way to Santiago de Compostella?” “Yes,” I replied. I then relayed my reasoning.

Tobias paused after I finished. He was respectful and heard my desire to be alone and learn from this solitude, but I could see he was thinking. At last he responded, nodding his head, but in that moment I could not grasp his words full power: “You can't learn everything by yourself.”

Tobias was right. In the days following, for the first time on all my travels I began to experience true loneliness. In the past, there were moments when I was overcome with being alone, but it was not a sense of missing someone— it was missing the gift of companionship. Albeit, while walking the last three days into Cahors, my mind struggled with a loneliness that only grew sharper as my feet moved onward, rising and falling over the rocky terrain of southern France’s Lot region. The heat intensified in this dry climate as dust rose and my mind burned. I missed family. I missed friends. I missed the lifestyle I knew, and it all twisted me into the struggle of confusion. Already I had been on the road for four months, walking from Dublin, Ireland to London, England; and now the question arose: When would my journey end?

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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