Long and winding road – the pilgrim’s call

Johan takes a break.

The “Way of Saint James” pilgrimage, or better known as the Camino, started in 812AD when, according to tradition, the remains of Saint James was buried in Santiago, Spain.

Historically, it was a religious walk from one’s home to Santiago, and nowadays, Christian and non-Christians do it for different reasons like self-reflection, self-discovery, for the challenge, or just to get away from modern hectic routines.

What still holds is that you carry all the material possessions you may need for the journey ahead.

I am not a hiker, but decided to do the Camino Portuguese in 2016. Then I got bitten by the bug, and did the Camino Primitivo in 2017 and started the Camino Frances at the end of May.

All of these routes are quite different. The Portuguese way starts in Portugal and for some stretches; one can choose to walk along the coast or in-land.

The route goes through traditional fishing villages, where you will often see people braaing fish at lunchtime. This is one of the shorter routes, at 230km, and also the second-most popular route.

I liked the Camino Primitivo, or the “Original Way”, starting in Oviedo, very much. It is the oldest route, and was first taken in the ninth century. It is a very mountainous route, but because of that, also a route that is very scenic. The route goes through forests and it is not crowded – one can easily walk for a day without seeing people.

The Camino Frances that I’m about to do, is the most popular of all the Camino routes. It is also the busiest route, and starts at the foot of the Pyrenees in the small village of St Jean Pied de Port in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, about 800km later. This route takes about 30 to 35 days to finish. I am very excited to do the walk over the Pyrenees, and in winter the route is closed because of snow and dangerous conditions, but of cause it is beginning of summer now.

For a large percentage of pilgrims the Camino is a life-changing experience. You will meet people on the way, become friends only to realise after a few weeks you don’t even know his or her occupation.

Suddenly, the important thing in normal modern life is not important anymore.

The normal schedule of a day is starting to walk early, following the arrows or Camino signs. While walking, one notices even the smallest thing, which would not be possible while driving. Along the way there are always several “bars” or coffee-shops where you can have a snack with coffee, beer or wine.

After a typical walk of 20km to 30km, you will reach your next destination village. The choice is yours; you can overnight in any town you wish on the way.

The usual overnight places are Albergues, or pilgrim’s hostels. The facilities are very basic, but you will have everything you need, as people are very considerate and respect each other. The normal cost a night is between five and 12 Euros. Some albergues is “donativos” where you pay what you can afford. At restaurants there will always be a pilgrim menu, that will include several courses and, of course, a bottle of wine.

Each pilgrim gets a “Pilgrims Passport” that you have to get stamped every day on your way.

At the end, at the cathedral, you will get you “Compostela” or Certificate of Accomplishment. One has to walk the last 100km to get the compostela.

Along the way you will get some blisters, and you will experience pain. Good shoes and socks are non-negotiable. My bag weighs about 12kg, which can feel like 120kg at the end of a long day…

At the end of the walk you will see hundreds of pilgrims at the square in front of the cathedral, hugging and sometimes crying, overloaded with emotions.

The best thing is to get a place to stay, shower, buy new clothes, get your compostela and go sit on the restaurant table outside on the streets and reflect back on your laborious journey.

“All of us travel two paths simultaneously; the outer path along which we haul our body and the inner pathway of soul. We need to be mindful of both and take time to prepare ourselves accordingly. The traditional way of the pilgrim is to travel alone, by foot, carrying all the material possessions we might need for the journey ahead. This provides the first lesson from the pilgrim – to leave behind all that is superfluous and to travel with only the barest necessities. Preparation for the inner path is similar – we start by letting go of psychic waste accumulated over the years such as resentments, prejudices, and outmoded belief systems. With an open mind and open heart, we will more readily assimilate the lessons to be found along the ancient Path of Enquiry.” – Unknown