Reviewed by John Last
Ottawa author Guy Thatcher, a former officer in the Canadian Forces (Tank Corps, helicopter pilot), is a widely traveled man. As a capstone to his travels, he has walked the entire Camino de Santiago. He first walked the Spanish segment from Pamplona to Santiago, a westerly route inland from the south shore of the Bay of Biscay. He returned three years later and walked the French portion, the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, from Le Puy in the Massif Central, South-West to Roncevalles across the Pyrenees, to Pamplona. Walking the Camino, even the Spanish portion, is no walk in the park. It is about 700 km from Pamplona to Santiago, and a more demanding and stressful 875 km from Le Puy to Pamplona.
Guy Thatcher was in his early 70s when he walked the Spanish part of the Camino and entering the second half of his 70s when he did his second walk. He has written two lovely books, Journey of Days, and Journey of Days Continues, about his walks, about the people he met and places he passed though; but mainly about the people.
He struck a particularly unpleasant year of atrocious weather for the first half of the second walk. His description of this is daunting. I’ve been a walker all my life, have walked large distances exploring bits of country and a good many cities in Europe and the UK, and to a lesser extent in USA and other parts of the world. Insofar as I know my way around cities in Britain, Europe, America and Asia and a few famously beautiful rural regions, it’s because I explored them on foot (on a bike in New York). In a limited way I’ve explored Shanghai, Beirut and Bangkok too, constrained by absence of street signs in an alphabet I could read. But all my walks were puny compared to Guy Thatcher’s. An advantage he had is a good grasp of desirable languages, French, German, and enough Spanish to get by.
There are mouth-watering descriptions of many beautiful places he saw, often illustrated with his own photos. Readers with itchy feet will enjoy these two books as traveler’s tales. I enjoyed these. But I was much more impressed, often much moved emotionally, by what he said about the people he met along the way.
Guy Thatcher’s two lovely books about his walks on the Camino are at their best when he writes with empathy and insight about the people he met along the way, his fellow walkers (pilgrims) and some of the unusual people who maintain the lodgings for pilgrims that are located at strategic intervals along the way. He has great capacity for developing these insights and writes movingly and with compassion about some of them. He has obtained their permission to publish these often intimate details, and deserves high praise for the skillful, sympathetic way he has written about people, some of whom had experienced great travail and personal sadness. Some had suffered profoundly, from unexpected bereavement, loss of their entire family, incurable illness, other deeply depressing life events that left painful scars.
About halfway through his second walk Guy Thatcher, not a particularly religious man, finally figured out why he was walking the Camino. It was to understand better both himself and the human condition, and large philosophical questions about why we are here and what is the meaning and purpose of life. I hope Guy Thatcher will next write a memoir about his life, the lessons he’s learnt, and what he has come to understand about the meaning of life. I would find his thoughts on these questions helpful as I try to clarify my own ideas about these large questions.
I highly recommend these two books. Thatcher's two books were published originally through the now defunct General Store Publishing House. They are now available from his website. http://www.guythatcher.com.