A Love Story: How I Discovered Spain

Donald B. Harris | July 2021

The month of July has a special place in my heart because on the twenty-fifth day is the celebration of Santiago, Saint James, the patron saint of Spain. Some of you know who I am talking about since you have walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Galicia or have visited Santiago’s burial site in Santiago de Compostela. It is one of my favorite sites in Spain, and I am also sure it is my son Jonathan’s as well. He walked the Camino as a college student, starting in The Pyrenees. He and his wife returned to walk the Camino together on their honeymoon.

I first learned about the Camino many years ago – 66 years to be exact. I was a newlywed and a brand-new chaplain assigned to minister to the crews of five Navy destroyers. It was my first Mediterranean deployment and our ship’s mission was to navigate from Spain to Lebanon, passing through the Suez Canal to sail on to Pakistan! Quite an exotic itinerary, but what changed my life was my visit to four ports of call in Spain: Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia and Rota.

We were tied up in Valencia during their celebration of Las Fallas, the spectacular annual festival complete with rockets and flaming statues built to be burned in seemingly perpetual bonfires. It was there, walking along the waterfront of Valencia, that I met many Spaniards, including their young ones, and was struck by how open and friendly they were. I felt as if we were all part of one family.

One day I decided to make a quick visit to Madrid. At the magnificent Prado Museum, I saw rooms full of beautiful and emotional paintings by the finest Spanish artists. For me personally, the most meaningful were the soulful paintings by El Greco. So, I asked the attendant where I could see more. He directed me to neighboring Toledo, a city with a medieval beauty. It was there that El Greco lived for several years.

While I was absorbing many of El Greco’s spiritual masterpieces, I happened to pick up a pamphlet talking about the ancient Gothic churches built along the Camino to Santiago pilgrimage route, which was largely unknown at the time. It was then my lifetime adventure began. The next year, my wife Ruth and I rented a tiny Seat 600 car and, armed with the leaflet, spent a month traveling to tiny villages and majestic cathedrals throughout the land. 

In 1965, Spain was still recovering from a civil war where, sorrowfully, brother was killing brother. On our journeys we saw so many widows dressed in black, mourning the loss of loved ones. It was a somber time of great poverty. Yet we were almost always greeted with smiles and embraces of genuine hospitality. And that feeling persists in Spain. I know I will have that warm experience whenever I return.

That is why our family started La Tienda. It has been a way to bond with and to support our generous and hospitable friends in Spain, many of whom we have known for decades. And that is why we chose Peregrino, the Pilgrim, for our house brand. What started as a trip of discovery on the Camino de Santiago 66 years ago continues, as we travel Spain seeking out great products and new friendships in the country that I love.

In appreciation the magical journey of the Camino de Santiago, this year our family set up a foundation to sponsor students to walk the pilgrimage. We hope they will have a life changing experience just as I did.

Tu Amigo,