The Camino de Santiago
The Way – Camino de Santiago – an 800km walking journey across Northern Spain
With a desire to see more of Spain and an interest in doing something challenging and unique, I made the mental decision to do The Camino de Santiago in September. Hopefully the weather would be ideal and the Way not too overcrowded (as it was known to be in July and August). Physically I lacked the training, but I walked enough to break in my new hiking boots and with a bag weighing 10kg – which was more than the recommended 10% of your body weight, I set off to Roncesvalles with no guide book, map or expectations! I knew little of what lay ahead, nothing of the route and even less of the people I would encounter.
The Camino de Santiago otherwise known as The Way of Saint James, is an ancient pilgrimage and tradition. There are a number of old pilgrimage routes that can be walked across Europe, but I chose the popular Camino Frances that is just under 800km in its entirety and travels from East to West across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims have been walking this route, amongst others, for over 1000 years and it is considered to be one of the most important Christian Pilgrimages since Medieval times.
Most people nowadays have different reasons for choosing to do the Camino including religious, spiritual, cultural or health motivations. You can walk the Camino and you can also cycle the Camino – both being very different ways of experiencing the journey. An average time needed to complete the Camino by foot is a month and by bicycle, less than 10 days.
Before beginning the Camino you have to buy a Pilgrim’s passport, which is stamped in each place you stay. Along the way there are government and privately owned alburgue’s or hostels specifically where the pilgrims can sleep and shower. They all differ greatly in character and design but will generally offer accommodation in dormitory style rooms with bunk beds. It is not unusual to find large rooms sleeping more than 40 pilgrims along the Camino – and your patience is tried and tested from day 1.
People of all ages, nationalities, social and cultural backgrounds can be found on the Camino. Linked by the common bond of having committed to walk every day, there is an abundance of time, free to talk, listen and learn about each other’s stories. Some people have very specific reasons for wanting to walk the Camino and others are looking for meaning in their life or trying to forget significant experiences.
There is an undeniable energy that flows and carries all pilgrims forward along The Way and an openness and alertness to everything happening in the present moment around you. Life is made simple. Every day you get up early and follow the yellow arrows or signs of the Camino that will take you to the next destination. Everyday is different and every day holds new interactions, landscapes and moments to be experienced.
Some people choose to walk alone and in silent contemplation, others enjoy the opportunity and time to get to know their fellow pilgrims and most find that their Camino is made up of a mixture of the two. My Camino passed through many different stages. I found that I began the walk with a mixed group of people, who then dissipated and I met other people along the way. I enjoyed walking alone but my last section of the Camino was spent walking in complete unisome with a wonderful Spanish woman who I shared a strong connection with. My time was filled with laughter and openness.
Some pilgrims could not commit (time wise) to the full Camino and so there were many people only doing sections of the walk and many that returned year after year to eventually complete their Pilgrimage. Many had walked the Camino many years ago and had such life changing experiences that it had become a huge part of their lives and they decided to walk it again and again. Others had strong health motivations or had just been so attracted to the lifestyle and way of being on the Camino that they decided to come back year after year.
What did the Camino give me?
Well…to be honest…the Camino for me has been a representation of my life so far. The varied and ever changing stages and eras, the transience of the wonderful people, cultures and landscapes coming and going from my life. I am determined to always live every moment to its fullest, and always observe and remain in the present. A consistent uncertainty of exactly there the path (way) will take me – but always a consistent certainty and confidence that if you follow your heart (yellow arrow) you will always be guided in the right direction. The journey is what is important – not the destination.
The people, places and lessons you learn and discover along the way will shape who you are and enrich your life.