Recently, author and fellow member of American Pilgrims on the Camino Kurt Koontz graciously forwarded me a copy of his new book about the Camino de Santiago, A Million Steps. I have walked various parts of the Camino de Santiago, one of the three great pilgrimage routes of the world, four times and so am quite familiar with the subject.
There are many, many books in print about the Camino de Santiago. They range from the ridiculous to the sublime, covering everything from profound spiritual awakening to cavorting through the Spanish countryside. Every once in a while one captures, at least to me, the essence of the Camino de Santiago – the personal journey.
A Million Steps is clearly about Kurt’s personal journey. From the title, which is his estimation of how many footsteps he walked from San Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, to the daily-diary style, the reader gets a true sense of the people, places and experience that is the Camino de Santiago.
Most Americans have never heard of the Way of St. James, El Camino de Santiago. Despite the fact that people have been traversing the routes for more than 2000 years – first as a trade route and later as a pilgrimage route- it has remained largely a well-kept Spanish secret. And for most Americans, who furiously seek out the parking space closest to the doors at the mall, the thought of walking 500 miles anywhere is more foreign than the Spanish language. But more and more, in large thanks to the personal accounts of famous and soon-to-be-famous authors like Kurt Koontz, the Camino de Santiago is a secret no more.
Like so many pilgrims, Kurt kept daily notes in a journal, jotting down the names of people and places, his impressions and emotions. Those extensive notes, along with relevant photos, provide an excellent account of the highs and lows of the pilgrim experience during the 30-day journey. Chapter titles such as “Camino Wine”, “Arrows and Signs” and “Taxi Temptations” lead the armchair pilgrim through some of the most familiar and memorable aspects of the Way. I don’t think there is a pilgrim alive who at some point on the journey, did not gaze longingly at a taxi, bus or train wishing to be on it going anywhere – as long as it meant not having to stand on your own feet.
But more than just writing a memoir of an amazing walk, Kurt opens his heart and allows us to share deep personal insight. To me it is one of the reasons to walk the Camino “alone”. ( I put the word alone in quotation marks because on the Camino it is a relative term – a topic about which you could write volumes.) In our incredibly busy world of electronic “connectedness”, the Camino provides an opportunity to disconnect, to quiet your mind and life and to take stock. From the outset of A Million Steps, Kurt makes no secret of the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects of undertaking the Camino that drew him to it. Through the progression of days, he shares his thoughts in ways that allowed me to empathize, to smile and made me nod my head in recollective agreement.
A Million Steps is an easy read. It is neither ethereal nor ponderous, but rather a down-to-earth account of one man’s journey and his existential burdens to which many of us can relate. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is contemplating walking the Camino de Santiago. For those of us who have walked it, A Million Steps is a marvelous way to revisit the journey. Finally, if walking across Spain to the tomb of St. James the Apostle is not in your future plans, you can still enjoy the journey vicariously through A Million Steps. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Full Disclosure: The author provided me a copy of his book to read, but all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz ISBN: 978-061585-292-8 Available in paperback at www.amazon.com