A few years back I was fortunate enough to see a movie entitled “The Way”. It was a tremendous movie about walking the Camino de Santiago and “finding yourself”. Emilio Estevez wrote and produced the film. The lead actor was played by Martin Sheen and dealt with the death of his son, while walking the Camino Frances. I became overcome with emotion and was enthralled with the idea of walking the Camino. The movie honours the Camino de Santiago and promotes the traditional pilgrimage. I made the decision that one day I would walk the Camino. Having just initiated a divorce, after 36 years of marriage, I cannot think of a better time than next spring, to fulfill this walk and clear the spider webs out of my brain! “You don’t Choose A Life, You Live One”!
I met Leslie Gilmour who oversees blogs and Facebook pages on the Camino and he gladly submitted this blog post for publication. Please support his links and take the time to investigate his thoughts and writing! Just imagine managing to take a precious month off work. Now imagine spending that time walking 500 miles across Spain carrying all you need in your rucksack, sleeping in hostels every night and hand washing your own clothes. This is the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, more specifically the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port in the south of France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the northwest corner of Spain. More than 150,000 people walk this route every year and the amount of Americans hiking it is exponentially growing year on year. So why do so many people decide to stay away from the beach and walk a pilgrimage instead?
From Ben Nevis, to Kilimanjaro, to Mount Everest we humans just seem to love a challenge. However most challenges appear to be only available for the well off or super fit. The Camino fills that gap. Almost anyone can walk 500 miles over a month and privation attracts many who want some basic living in their life for a while. I have met many like me who were unfit and over-weight that set out on a journey of a lifetime. The biggest lesson, for me, after walking 500 miles was I can do so much more than I ever imagine – however it is done one small step at a time.
Time Out From Life
I met and talked to many along the way who just wanted a rest from very a busy life. Many, it appears, wanted time out to evaluate their life, where they are and where they are going. I was amazed to meet and talk to so many outwardly successful people that were discontent. Walking 25 to 30km every day, not staring at a computer screen all day, not having to juggle competing priorities, is incredibly restful. There are numerous accounts of walkers going home after the Camino and making huge changes to their life. The rhythm of walking everyday, the simplicity of needing very few belongings has had an impact on how I life my life – today I ask myself often, how much is enough?
Yes, in this secular world some pilgrims do still walk for religious reason. During holy years the amount of pilgrims walking any of the Camino route increases by at least 50%. A holy year is when the feast day of St James, 25th July, falls on a Sunday – the next holy year is 2021. By walking during a holy year a believer is entitled to a plenary indulgence – the forgiveness of all sins to date and remission of all punishments for these. Interestingly there have been some appeals to have an additional holy year before 2021 as the last one was 2010 – this was to help the economy of northern Spain, which has suffered due to the on-going recession since 2008. After completing your hike on the Camino you can receive a certificate from the pilgrims office in Santiago. There are two main types of certificate, (compostela), one is secular and is a certificate of accomplishment, and the other is issued for walking for either religious or spiritual reasons. However a pilgrim must walk at least 100km, or cycle 200km, to be entitled to their certificate. This is one of the reasons why so many start walking at Sarria, which is 112km from Santiago.
When I set off on my first Camino in 2004 I thought I would be spending a lot of time on my own. I saw myself walking in the wilderness of northern Spain barely meeting or talking to people. However the Camino is busy and popular. Most days I split my time walking on my own and sometimes walking with one or two others. The nature of the stages means that you travel along meeting a lot of the same people each night in the hostels. Due to the time spent with people or the walk itself, I like many others opened up much faster than I would in my daily life. I finished walking in Santiago with my wife to be, who I met during the walk – that was 9 years ago and we are still living happy ever after – with the usual bumps…
Get Fit and Lose Weight
I suggest this one slightly tongue in cheek. Leaving St Jean I was 15stone, 210lbs. After walking for a month and eating whatever I wanted I had lost 14lbs and I was fitter than I had been in years. This is just a side benefit, I would never suggest losing weight to be the main motivation for the Camino. There are not many opportunities for a holiday that you will never forget. The Camino is one of these. I have heard the Camino described as a once in a lifetime opportunity, however many like me return again and again to walk the same route or one of the many other Camino routes. Leslie has walked the Camino three times and writes on his Camino blog, has free maps you can download, and runs a helpful forum on all the Camino routes.