I’m Off Then: Losing and finding myself on the Camino de Santiago
Hape Kerkeling: Translation Shelley Frisch
Simon & Schuster
Trade Paperback/0 pages
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". . . more like a travelogue than an account of spiritual discovery . . ."
Think Jay Leno, alone and unrecognized, walking with pilgrims from all over the world. That what you have in I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding myself on the Camino de Santiago, an account by well-known German comedian Hans Kerkeling about his 375-mile walk across Spain.
For centuries people have traversed this European trail that begins at the foot of the Pyrenees in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where pilgrims who have walked at least 62 miles of the trail are presented with a certificate and their sins are forgiven.
Kerkeling says his primary incentive was to “find my way to God and thus to myself,” but his narrative primarily focuses on the “loony” characters he meets, his own musing, and of course, the many discomforts he endures.
Admittedly a “couch potato,” Kerkeling has a slow start and even resorts to taking public transportation for some of the arduous portions of the trail,. But as he continues his one-and-half month trip, he increases his pace and is able to walk up to 20 miles in a day. One comfort he is determined to enjoy is a clean bed and water so he avoids the free lodging along the way in the “spartan and jampacked” pilgrims’ hostels (refugios).
His free-flowing writing captures the oddities around him in a serious and sometimes humorous tone, with flashes of comedic genius in his descriptions of his fellow pilgrims. Among the characters are a panhandler who works the trail, a drunken shaman dressed in designer clothes, a German couple whose fights become legendary among the pilgrims and a Brazilian woman who tries to hit on him. Kerkeling notes that many families send their daughters on the pilgrimage in hopes they find a husband.
This book reads more like a travelogue than an account of spiritual discovery. His descriptions are so vivid you can almost taste the awful food he had to eat, experience the dusty roads, intense summer heat and the killer traffic on part of the trail. Kerkeling mostly trekked alone until near the end when he is joined by two women he’d encountered at various points along the trail. The three cultivate a friendship which the author claims was the best gift he gained from his pilgrimage.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla