May 28, 2013

Bucket List: El Camino de Santiago

When I was in first grade, a couple of women came to our class to tell us about Australia. They talked about where it is, the climate, history, culture... and passed around Aussie dollars so we could check them out (and also try to tear them, since their money is less paper-like than ours). I still remember sitting on the floor with my classmates, turning the brightly colored bills over in my hands, gazing at the little pictures that were so different very foreign-looking to my six year old self, and thinking... I have to go to this place. This is the same sort of feeling I got after hearing about El Camino de Santiago.

El Camino Routes (click to enlarge)
El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) is term for any route leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Of the many ways to get there, the most popular (and so the one with the most services for travellers), is the Camino Frances (the French Way):

El Camino Frances (click to enlarge)
It's about 780 km (484 miles) long, and includes a hike over the Pyrenees Mountains in France (which sound pretty incredible in themselves).

In the Pyrenees along El Camino de Santiago
Photo by Neil Cummings
Many walk El Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, and the walk is generally termed a pilgrimage--though not necessarily of any particular faith. I like the way this blogger puts it:
The trip is meant to follow the footsteps of the Apostle St. James, who made the journey himself with nothing more than the clothes on his back. He preached Christianity in Spain, and eventually was martyred for his actions. After being put to death in Judea, his body was miraculously transported back to Compostela, where he was (and still is) buried and revered.
Variations of this pilgrimage have been followed ever since, and especially in the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela was considered to be the most famous destination in the world for pilgrims.
But as with all spiritual texts, much is left to interpretation. In fact, many of those who walk the Camino today don’t even do it for religious reasons. The largest demographic of pilgrims that come to Santiago de Compostela now are Japanese Buddhists.

Read more at 

A scallop shell marking the path of El Camino
Photo by William Bereza
When hiking El Camino, the path is marked by scallop shells (the lines of the shell symbolize the many paths that lead to one destination). It's also a tradition to carry a shell along the trek and leave it at the end. Most of the way is paved, which I think is much harder than walking dirt paths, but it doesn't seem that travellers generally need to carry as much as, say, a hiker in the backcountry. Nights are commonly spent in Albergues (hostels), and meals are bought either through the albergues or elsewhere in the villages (pilgrims are so common that many places seem to offer special deals for them). These places also stamp a sort of passport that travellers of El Camino carry (called a pilgrim credential). These stamps serve to record your path and, if you choose, to get a certificate of completion from the Cathedral de Santiago.

Pilgrim Credential
The more I read about El Camino, the more stories I find about incredible international friendships, helpful locals (those that go out of their way to help travelers are often called Camino Angels, much like Trail Angels on the Appalachian Trail), and life-altering experiences. Like Australia, it may stay looming out there, dream-like for a while, but it's just one of those adventure that we can't pass up.

To learn more about El Camino de Santiago and get inspired for your own adventure, check out these:

    No comments:

    Post a Comment