It was about three years ago when Erik and I first heard about the Camino de Santiago and we were both intrigued with the idea. Later, when we watched Martin Sheen’s movie The Way for the first time, we told ourselves that someday we would do the walk. Well that time is finally in sight – May 2016.
A Little Background
The Camino has long been touted as a Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Christians have been travelling the route since the 8th or 9th century when the remains of the apostle, St. James, were first “discovered” in Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that his body, or at least parts of it, was brought to Santiago from Jerusalem, where he had been beheaded in 44AD, and since that time, Christians have been making the trek to visit his remains where they rest in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The route was very popular throughout the middle ages, but gradually declined in the 16th century. By the 1980’s, only a few pilgrims were completing the walk each year, but interest was soon renewed when the Council of Europe named it a European Cultural Route in 1987, and it was eventually declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Since then, the number of pilgrims completing the walk has increased dramatically each year, with almost 240,000 people walking it in 2014. In holy years, when St. James Day (July 25) lands on a Sunday, the numbers are even greater.
Despite being best known as a Catholic pilgrimage, the route actually has older Pagan roots. It is said that over 1000 years before Christ, the Celts were walking the route across Northern Spain to Finisterre (literally “Land’s End” or “End of the World”) which is just a few days’ walk past Santiago on the Atlantic coast. There they would perform rituals such as burning their clothes by the water’s edge as an offering to the gods. Many modern day Pilgrims continue their walk to Finisterre after reaching the cathedral in Santiago.
Because pilgrimages generally start from home, there are many routes to Santiago, some of which can be seen on this map. In addition, there are routes from other points in Spain, as well as from Portugal. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which, for most pilgrims, begins in St Jean Pied de Port, just over the border in France.
From that starting point, pilgrims obtain their Credencial or camino “passport” which they will have stamped at each stopping point along the way. This passport allows the Pilgrims, or Peregrinos as they are called in Spanish, to access inexpensive hostel-type accommodation in the many albergues along the route, as well as special Pilgrim meals in the hostels or local restaurants. When Pilgrims arrive in Santiago with the Credencial, they receive their Compostela, a certificate showing that they have completed the walk. Technically, Pilgrims only need to walk the last 100km to receive a Compostela, but many people walk the entire 800 km, and some walk even further.
The route is well marked with signposts, yellow arrows, and scallop shells – the symbol of the Camino, and the route includes trails, dirt or gravel roads, and pavement.
Many memoirs and informational books have been written about the Camino, as well as a number of movies and documentaries. I recommend watching The Way if you want a general Hollywood version of the walk, and there is an excellent documentary that came out in 2014 called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. My favourite short video that gives an overall picture of the Camino was posted on Vimeo by George Torrey.
Erik and I have begun planning and preparing for our trip and with only nine months to go, our excitement is palpable. Over the next few months, I will write about our personal reasons for doing the Camino, our physical and mental preparations, and the equipment we plan to take with us. Join us as we prepare for the trip of a lifetime!
Click here to listen to Episode #2 of my podcast “Kelownagurl’s Adventures: Travel and Fitness into Retirement” to hear Erik and I talk about the Camino.