26 jul 2018

Walking the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a popular spiritual journey even in these modern times, as evidenced by the ever-growing collection of camino memoirs on the shelf at bookstores. Having only ready Paulo Coelho’s work, The Pilgrimage, I wasn’t well-versed in the effects the camino can have on a person. Coelho’s book contained spiritual exercises, yet left out blisters, a very intense part of walking the camino.

FLast August 6-September 6th, my husband and I walked the camino, starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, and ending in front of the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. This 31-day journey took us from the mountains of the Pyrenees, to the rolling hills around Pamplona, to the flat expanse of the meseta, and finally, to the green hills of Galicia. Along the way we saw city highlights of Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and Astorga. The rich collection of artwork and cathedrals is a great reason to venture north to these cities. I especially enjoyed the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, which was designed by Antoni Gaudi.. 

Equally interesting, if not more so, were the small towns and villages we visited along the way. Oftentimes the town would have one bar, one store, and not an English speaker to be found. This was great for practicing my Spanish, although different dialects abounded. Each day, after walking 25, 30, even 35 (!) kilometers, we would stop at an albergue. Albergues are homes for pilgrims, or peregrinos, that offer shelter for the night. Usually the albergues had big communal rooms with rows and rows of bunk beds, sort of like an orphanage, but for adults. On average we paid anywhere from 3-8 Euros each for a bunk bed. Sometimes breakfast was included, which was usually served from 6:30-7:30am, and you had to be out by 8am. The camino will make you an early riser if you aren’t one already. The sun gets so hot by 2pm that most pilgrims try to be done with their daily walk by then, which means getting a head start on the day, usually by 7am. A few days of this schedule is pretty easy, but 31 is quite intense.

Along the way we made friends with people from all over the world and tested our strength, both physically and spiritually. The camino brought with it blisters, exhaustion, and sore muscles, but more importantly, we saw a whole other side of Spain, and perhaps of ourselves as well.

The most popular route is the Camino Francés, the route we took. Summers are more crowded, with spring and autumn offering additional peace and quiet. Get yourself a good pair of shoes, a guidebook, and a backpack, and you are ready to go. Bring 3 shirts, 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts, and a toothbrush. Seriously.

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