The Road to Santiago...
Why Spain? "Why Spain?" is a question he often hears. What better place to walk than in the country where el paseo (the walk) is a cultural penchant. Every evening people gather at the plaza major and walk. They walk around and around, often arm in arm. It's not uncommon to see two men or two women walking along, with their arms linked, deep in conversation. El paseo can also be a courting event. Young single men and women stroll in small groups around the plazas. Often the men and women walk in opposing directions to each other. What better way to catch the eye of a potential novia?
Why Santiago?

"Why Santiago?" is the follow-up question. The tradition of walking to Santiago de Compostela along the Way of St. James is an old and venerable one in Europe. Santiago is the site of the cathedral of St. James who is the patron saint of Spain. Pilgrims converge from all over Europe to visit his shrine which ranks with Jerusalem and Rome in importance in the Christian world. The tradition began over a millennium ago when the cathedral was built. According to church history, the apostle James went to Spain to begin the new church. Some time after returning to the Holy Land, he was martyred and his followers are said to have returned his body to Spain for burial. His burial place has been a goal for pilgrims since the time of the crusades.

Over time a series of refugios or hostels arose which offered the weary pilgrims a place to stay at night. This network of hostels has continued through to the present day. As the idea of the pilgrimage became more and more popular, thousands traveled the route. Villages and towns sprang up to provide food, supplies, and diversions for the pilgrims — a medieval version of the tourist trade.

The first written record of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela, dated 950, was in reference to the journey of the French archbishop of Le Puy. Later, in 1139 a French cleric, Aymeric Picaud, wrote the Codex Calixitinus. This descriptive account of the journey with details of foods, dress, and customs of the people who lived along the way, is accepted as the first published travel guide. In the 20th century, el camino became popular among royalty and celebrities, hikers and adventurers, as well as religious individuals. There are even people who, not particularly religious, develop a sense of the spiritual side of life after facing potentially fatal situations.

During the Franco era the route was altered and modified to make it easy to follow, even by car. However, during the '80s, local historians, religious people, and pilgrimage purists researched the original route and indicated it with hand painted signs, flechas amarillas (yellow arrows). More recently provincial governments and tourist bureaus have joined with various "friends of the camino" to restore the traditional trails and erect signposts displaying a scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.

Why walk so far, so long?

For two years now, ever since he recovered from the anesthesia, Dudley has been compelled to walk the road to Santiago. The trek has been the focus of his recovery. It helped him overcome the chest pain during the early period of his recovery and forced him walk on a regular basis even when tired or discouraged. Walking has helped him lose 50 pounds (another 50 to go) and, more importantly, it has helped him gain control of his blood glucose (sugar) levels, which is critical for a diabetic.

What began as a hope and then a possibility is now a reality. After a successful stress test this past spring, he became convinced that he could walk el camino de Santiago — 500 miles in about 50 days. He's now on his way — the Way of St. James.