It started with a promise. But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know I would resign from my teaching position for this promise. Nor did I know that for this promise I would agonize between my “earthly responsibilities” and some “spiritual quest”. I only knew something was pushing me out of my mundane world. The spiritual quest eventually won out, leaving the “earthly responsibilities” scowling at me. It turned out the quest was to walk El Camino de Santiago, La Vía de la Plata, also named El Camino Mozárabe from Seville to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Many have heard about El Camino Francés; an ancient pilgrimage across the top of Spain. It ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela where Saint James, a close disciple of Jesus is laid to rest in the Cathedral. What many people don´t know (at least North Americans) is that there are many other pilgrim routes across Spain and Europe to Santiago de Compostela. The one I chose, they say, is the oldest and longest: 600 miles. It begins in the southern part of Spain and ends in its northern corner. This Vía de la Plata dates back to pre-roman times, and has always been a major trading, communication, and conquest vein that ran the length of the country. It is also called the Camino Mozárabe because Muslims allowed the Catholics peaceful passage through the Moorish controlled lower half of Spain.
When I looked at the Vía de la Plata route on the map of Spain, I thought of my own Eastern High Sierra and the 395 that runs up the length of California through our Bishop and Mammoth Lakes communities. If U.S. Highway 395 was the Californian Vía de la Plata, then instead of the mix of Romans, Moors, Callaici, Astures and Vacceos cultures traveling up and down, our mix would include Native Americans, Latinos, ranchers, fishermen, skiers, climbers, scientists, hikers, business and service people. Could the same promise apply to our part of the world in modern times? I think it’s worth a try; in fact, I think it’s possibly the only way for all our cultures on our beautiful planet earth to move forward.
Why did I choose to begin in Seville, you ask, when all the movies and books about El Camino spoke of the Northern route? Well, perhaps you have not seen La Giralda, a Mozarabic tower that forms part of the Cathedral in Seville. Or maybe because you have never eaten tapas in the many cafes under the deep, rich blue of the Mediterranean sky while listening to the sounds of passionate Flamenco music. Or maybe because the spring of late March was bursting green and the yet-to-be-discovered Vía de la Plata route was whispering to me; beckoning me to the crossroads of ancient history and converging cultures. I didn’t know that on this route I would stumble across the pillar upon which the promise was written. What I was sure of, however, was that I wanted my first sello, or stamp, in my Pilgrim’s credential to be from the magnificent Giralda.