About seven months ago, my mother and I took on the Camino de Santiago from Sarria, Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. It was one of my favorite memories of last year, and it required much more out of us than we had planned in a number of ways. As many know, the Camino de Santiago isn’t just a hiking trail, but it’s also been an important pilgrimage for centuries. It has served as a spiritual and personal journey for many, so I was excited to dive into The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho.
I’ve read a few of Coelho’s works, including The Alchemist (of course), Veronica Decides to Die, The Witch of Portobello, and a few others. Each has served as a fun way to complement my travels, but I was really looking forward to this read because I had just had a similar experience.
The story begins with Coelho (fictionalized or not?) going through a spiritual crisis, and his mentor telling him that in order to reach his full potential as a human and in the art of mysticism, he must complete the “Road to Santiago.” Coelho is reluctant at first, but he recognizes that it is necessary in order to fully develop as a human being. He meets his guide, who pushes him to think outside his current life and to push the boundaries of his mind.
This is the book that paved the way for his highly-successful The Alchemist, and there are some similar elements that travelers will definitely enjoy. We have all been in uncomfortable situations as explorers—whether it is of a new place or a new part of ourselves. The hope is that we push through our insecurities and that we are willing to gain something through our journeys. It also is a great representative of the classic “hero’s journey,” in which a protagonist embarks on a difficult quest that tests him or her on a mental, emotional, and physical basis.
Much of the story is hidden within allegory, so if you aren’t willing to deal with Coelho’s magical realism, this can be a difficult book to get through. For me, it served as an interesting companion to my own trip down the Camino—I found myself a much stronger person (physically and emotionally) than I realized I was. There were some truly eerie moments on my walk that I couldn’t really explain, which I think attests to Coelho’s work and the magic of the Camino. I didn’t have a guide the way Coelho did, but I found that walking with my mother caused me to re-think where I was in my life and the role we played in each other’s. My mother had served as a guide all my life, but in the end, I finished my walk alone.
I think a big reason why I enjoyed this book was through my own personal experience, so I could see why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. However, I would recommend it to those who have taken on a trip for a personal reason to grow and to change. Travel can cause us to question everything about ourselves, which is what Coelho really captures here and in many of this other works.
Have you read a book that has really resonated with you about travel?