Walking the Camino

One can travel at all kinds of paces, fast or slow, by air, boat, train, car, bike or foot.  For one of our next journeys, I’m hoping to focus on travel by foot, albeit relying on car, plane and train to get to the intended walking route.

I have been fascinated with the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago, which is a historical pilgrimage route through northern Spain. The pilgrimage route became popular, by necessity, during the Crusades, as a substitute for the traditional Catholic pilgrimage to Jerusalem, during the Saracen sieges of the Middle Ages. The Camino’s first “travel guide” was written in Latin around 1130 A.D. by Aymeric Picaud, a French priest. It is estimated that over 500,000 pilgrims attempted the cross-continental journey on foot during medieval times.  At the end of the Middle Ages, the route became much less popular, but has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in the last twenty years.  And the renaissance says a lot about people wanting to get away from it all, unplugged and living at a slower pace, taking notice of the small things in life.

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While there are several routes that comprise the Camino, the most popular is the 500 mile trail from the French-Spanish border across northern Spain to the province of Galicia, to the city of Compostela finishing at the magnificent Gothic Cathedral in Santiago de Campostela.  The journey along this route begins in the French border village of St. Jean Pied de Port, which marks the entry to the Spanish side of the “French Pilgrims’ Road”, across the Pyrenees from Roncevalles. At the beginning of the route, walkers receive an accordion style folded “carnet” or pilgrim’s passport”, identifying them as an “authentic” pilgrim, eligible for entry to any pilgrim refuge overnight along the Camino for a minimum fee. And from there the walking begins.  The walk concludes at the Cathedral with a daily celebration honoring those that have finished their pilgrimage.  The celebrations are said to be quite moving, no matter one’s religious beliefs.

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Pilgrims typically walk about 15 miles a day, give or take a few miles. Walking the trail, a person cannot help but to make new acquaintances traveling at that slower pace.  But even so, people come and go, some resting longer than others. The Camino route is impressive in that it attracts people of all ages, abilities, nationalities, cultures, and religious backgrounds. The main thread seems to be an interest in slowing down, and experiencing life one step at a time. No cell phones, computers, etc. The walk is easier than some other popular walks, with hostels, food and other accommodations in strategically located walking intervals.  And yet, it’s still a commitment, to walk 500 miles, dealing with rain, blisters, and the other necessities that accompany a month long trek. There are small hotels and pensiones in virtually every village and town — roughly speaking, every six miles or so. There are also albergues, essentially bunk-rooms, which lack privacy, but they are very reasonably priced. Most restaurants and bars do a special pilgrim menu.

The walk includes stunning scenery, great exercise, a personal view of Spanish culture, economical places to stay and wonderful food, but none of this is the real reason for walking the Camino de Santiago. For me, as a landscape architect, there’s a certain appeal to being connected to the land and culture in such an intimate way, and of course to getting away, really away.  So one September if you can’t find me, know that I am walking with my husband on the Camino, and I’ll be back before long. It may not be September of 2015, but it will be one September soon.

For more information on the Camino, see the movie The Way and visit HERE.

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