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Walking an ancient pilgrims' trail, scientist savors ...


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Walking an ancient pilgrims' trail, scientist savors world's variety

By Chuck Martin
Enquirer staff writer

Norma Lewis of Pierce Township is feeling fresh and invigorated after a long summer walk. Lewis, 66, walked the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain by herself, beginning June 6 and finishing her 539-mile journey July 16.

The Camino ("road") de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage trail used for more than 1,000 years by those who believe the bones of St. James the disciple are interred in a cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Lewis' route took her from Roncesvalles, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains near the French border, to Santiago. She then walked another 54 miles to Finisterre, at the edge of the Atlantic.

Lewis, a research scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency in Clifton, decided to walk the Camino two years ago, when she read a book written by actress Shirley MacLaine ("The Camino: Journey of the Spirit," Atria, $11.80), who also walked the trail. Lewis began preparing for her trip in February, by buying her equipment, training and boning up on her Spanish.

Question: What did people think when you told them you wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Answer: Basically, there were two different opinions: They either thought it was great or they thought I was crazy.

Q: Why did you decide to do this?

A: I have an adventure streak and I like challenges ... I love walking. I love hiking. I thought this sounds so much better than the Appalachian Trail. I don't have to carry cooking gear or a tent and there's a lot of camaraderie. I got to see different cultures.

Q: But you didn't make the walk for religious reasons?

A: No, but I was open to see what would happen ... I'm not hung up on institutional religions. I went into all these majestic cathedrals (on the trail). But I liked the simple churches better. One day I saw this wonderful tree. To me, that tree represented a more beautiful cathedral than any of the man-built structures I saw.

Q: You say every politician in the world should make this walk. Why?

A: Because it's a good experience to have a mix of different nationalities and cultures and a common bond ... For whatever reason, we were all striving to reach this (goal). It didn't matter what status you were in life. It didn't matter anything other than enjoying each other as human beings. You were eating together, sleeping together, meeting various people constantly. It was the first time in my life I was exposed to such a variety of the world in one place.

Q: Would you recommend making the walk to others?

A: You have to be somewhat of an outdoor type. There were people walking that were not. But they had a strong drive. To do it, you have to have tenacity, a drive.

Q: Will you walk it again?

A: Yes, but the next time I would enjoy doing it with someone else. I would also enjoy doing another trail. Part of the stimulation of keeping going is not knowing what's ahead. The unknown. So I'd like to venture into some other areas.

Q: What was your most memorable moment on the Camino?

A: I think it was finally seeing the ocean at Finisterre.
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