Published on September 2nd, 2014 | by Jane Tilley0
The Camino De Santiago
A Hike For All Reasons
By: JANE TILLEY
Whether you are an intrepid hiker, a hopeless romantic, an avid historian, or a lover of nature, this 800 km walk is for you.
The Camino de Santiago is a 1000 year old “road” spanning northern Spain from the border of France to the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela. It was one of the three major Christian pilgrimage routes during the middle ages. Today, it is the most popular long distance trail in Europe, leading the traveler over the peaks of the Pyrenees, through rustic villages and dense forests, across rolling fields, and into soaring cathedrals.
To walk the entire Camino is, indeed, an odyssey requiring a minimum of six weeks of steady endurance walking. However, many “pilgrims” choose to walk only the last 200 kms into the city of Santiago de Compostela. This is the option that we chose. We walked 25 kms each day and were, by day’s end, dusty, tired, and absolutely TRIUMPHANT. There are companies which organize a week’s walk but this is expensive and definitely not necessary. We planned our own itinerary, the distance to cover each day, and the accommodation at night. The route is clearly marked with signs, yellow arrows, and by shells (the shell is the symbol of the Camino). These shells are found on trees, buildings, crossroads, and are even embedded in the pavement and sidewalks. You just need to follow them and keep heading west.
We began our adventure in Lugo, a city founded by the Romans in the first century and which today boasts the most extant Roman walls in western Europe and also a magnificent medieval cathedral. This was just the beginning of all the fabulous architecture, art, and history that awaited us along our route. Each city, town, and village was a feast for the eyes offering stunning stain glass windows, soaring gothic ceilings, portals, sculpture, artifacts, and history. The scenery, wine, and Galician cuisine were added bonuses.
The end of the journey is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In medieval times, it was the most visited pilgrimage site in the world and today it is a World Heritage site. It is a breathtaking vision, best approached in the late afternoon while it is glowing in the splendor of the setting sun. It is so magnificent that the weary, hurting pilgrim can hardly believe it to be real. At 7pm, each day, a “Pilgrim’s Service” is celebrated in the cathedral. All are welcome regardless of faith, creed, or colour. And all attend! Most have been walking for weeks to experience this very moment. Of course, the service is completely in Spanish but it matters not if you can’t understand the words. The language is irrelevant because the service is all about affirming life and being “one” with all the hundreds of people in that place, exactly then. Everyone is unified by the physical and spiritual struggle to have actually arrived.
In the course of a day’s walking you actually march through centuries and become more and more aware of the presence of those who had trod the path before you, so long ago. And so it was that we gradually began to understand the power of the Camino and the spell it has cast over pilgrims such as Charlemagne, Dante, Chaucer, and even Pope John 11.
All along the route, you meet dozens of other “pilgrims”. People you will never see again in this lifetime share their joys, sorrows, and hopes with you. They come from all over the world for profound reasons and sometimes just for the challenge of physically walking the Camino. But in the end, everyone is transformed by the experience.
Some of the lessons my husband and I learned along the way:
We are all on the same path but travelling at our own rhythm, in our own space. Accept everyone. The shortest day can be the most tiring. Not everything is as expected. Slow down to allow spaciousness into our lives. Look and really see. We all need the camaraderie and support of other wayfarers. There is beauty through the exhaustion and the pain. Language is always overcome by genuine friendliness. You only need bare necessities. Finally, DON’T QUIT!
We have forgotten the calluses, the exhaustion, the long days, the thirst, and the weather. We can’t wait to return and walk the other end of the road. Another time!