Hans Peter Kerkeling, an overweight, happy-go-lucky German television comedian, makes his way to France and the last point of The Way of St James in France. His goal is to go on a pilgrimage; he plans to walk the 400 plus mile route of the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain and finish his trip at Santiago de Compostela's cathedral. Of course, he doesn't tell his friends and family that! They'd think he'd gone crazy!
What begins as a 'lark' soon becomes one man's journey of reflection and self-discovery. Hape Kerkeling comes to discover that attitude is what it's all about. His fatigue is conquered by singing at the top of his lungs or giving in to the exhaustion for a bit so that he can sit by the side of the path and enjoy a cigarette and cafe latte at a wayside cafe. Journeying such a long route is about setting aside time and schedules, living in the moment, becoming more forgiving of what his body will/won't stand and what his mind will/won't endure.
Yes, long journeys with uncertain outcomes become more than distances covered. Hape's book, while part travelogue, part memoir, and part 'advice/research' read for anyone contemplating making the pilgrimage along The Way of St James, becomes much more. It becomes a map of the psychological change and philosophical growth that Hape undergoes, as he makes his way from one point along his path to the next. Along the way, he meets and is changed by numerous people. Some help him make strategies for physical survival and comfort. Some challenge his mind with spiritual and philosophical ideas that change him in subtle ways. Some help him to laugh at his foibles and follies. Some enrage him to the point of standing up for others in his world. All of them serve the purpose of begging a question, "Are our paths pre-ordained by some higher power or mere chance ?"
I loved this book. It approaches the idea of making the pilgrimage along The Way of St James with humor, pragmatism, and just a bit of mysticism. Hape is a changed man at the end of his pilgrimage. The book he has given us is a great read. He doesn't play down the rigors of the trip. In fact, he is brutally honest about the geography of the the Way, the dangers and annoyances of certain parts of the path, and the specific needs that a pilgrim has. In balance, he also marvels at the beauty of the countryside, the romance of certain villages along the way, the generosity of the Spanish people, and the fun of getting to know fellow pilgrims. The effect leaves us with an idea of how wonderful it just may be for us, should we dare to take up the pilgrim's staff and step out onto the path.