This is a new blog I have made for my cousin and I to report on our upcoming Camino plans. You can follow the whole thing chronologically or click on the author to see our posts separately.
It was about 5 years ago that I first heard of the Camino de Santiago – a pilgrimage hike through Spain that terminates at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St. James are kept. Then I watched the movie The Way and I was hooked! When some family members began discussing the possibility of walking the Camino with me, I went into full “planning geek” mode: making lists, bookmarking websites, watching gear reviews, subscribing to YouTube channels . . . I even made a Pinterest page.
After a few years of planning, disappointing realizations, and determined re-planning, my cousin and I finally solidified our plans. On January 18th we settled on a plan and committed to going on Camino in Spring 2020!
The Camino de Santiago (“The Way of St. James”) is pilgrimage route through Spain that has existed for over 1,000 years. It came into existence when the King of Asturias, Alphonso II, walked from Oviedo to Compostella in the early 9th century (between AD 820 and 830). He did so to follow up on a story: A hermit named Pelagius had followed a vision of a field of stars to an ancient tomb containing what was thought to be the bones of St. James the apostle. The area became known as Campus de Ia Stella (“Field of the Stars”) and a monastery was built there. Miracles began being reported at “Compostela” – and a cathedral was built there to house the relics. Then pilgrims (peregrinos) began “walking the Camino” following different routes across Spain to visit it.
The first pilgrims came from the areas of modern Germany and France in the 10th century, and by the 11th century the Camino Frances (“French Way”) was established and equipped with a series of pilgrim hostels known as albergues. Throughout the middle ages, the Camino was one of the three most important Christian pilgrimages in the world. (It did not hurt that Compostela, along with Jerusalem and Rome, granted a plenary indulgence to pilgrims). By the 12th century, pilgrimage infrastructure became well-established. The Camino even had its own “travel guide” – the Codex Calixtinus – written around A.D. 1140.
After peaking in the Middle Ages, Camino pilgrimage slowed down for various reasons (war, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, etc.). Soon it was nearly forgotten. The Camino is said to have been brought back to life in the 1980s when a priest named Father Elias Valiña began campaigning for the Camino throughout Europe. He marked routes with the famous symbol of the scallop shell, and eventually others caught on. The Camino was eventually declared a UNESCO World Heritage trail, and pilgrims began flocking to The Way once again.
Today, up to 300,000 pilgrims make the walk into Compostela each year.
One’s Camino really begins from anywhere and ends at Compostela. As long as pilgrims can prove a 100km minimum journey (indicated by stamps in their peregrino credential – a “pilgrim passport”), they will earn their official certificate of completion known as the “Compostela.”
There are, however, several standard routes with the infrastructure to support the numerous pilgrims who wish to undertake The Way. These include the Northern Way the Portuguese Way, the English Way, and the Camino Primitivo. However, when most people think of the Camino de Santiago, they have the most popular route in mind: the French Way, or Camino Frances. This route runs about 800km (500 miles) starting from just inside France at the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
For two primary reasons, I could not walk the Camino Frances: time and money.
After much research and reflection, I had to face the reality that even if I could save up the money for such a trip (I guessed about $3,000 for F&L, airfare, and gear), I simply couldn’t bail on my family and job for six weeks. Since it will likely be quite some time before that situation changes, a shorter route is the only option. I’m not about to spend the rest of my life saying “I walked the Camino…almost.” But given that there are lots of shorter routes and that the first Camino was about 300km, I don’t feel like it is “cheating” to forego the Camino Frances.
The difference between an 800km epic journey and a 300km trek is huge. It cuts the time from 6 weeks to 2 weeks and drops F&L costs by over 65%. Totally doable. The shorter routes are generally more difficult, though, because they lack the infrastructure of the longer, more popular routes. So, for example, while the Camino Frances requires an average of about 20km/day to complete in six weeks, much of it is on flat (often paved) paths, and one has opportunities to stop early for the day due to the sheer number of albergues available along the way. Something like the Camino Primitivo, however, requires an average of 25km/day of rugged, mountainous climbing to complete in two weeks and has fewer possible stops. I actually find these factors appealing because I am not interested in being a Camino “tourist” spending hours walking through cities or along interminable highways filled with cars and crowds. Of the 300,000 people walking the Camino each year, more than half are on the Camino Frances. That means a daily fight for beds, showers, tables, etc. No thanks.
For many pilgrims, a big part of the Camino charm is meeting people and sightseeing. I get it! I spent a month in Europe doing that very thing and it was amazing! It’s just not my goal for this trip. I’m not doing the Camino expecting to form new friendships or gain life-altering revelations (although I’d welcome both). I just want to hike and have a good, authentic pilgrimage experience.
My cousin agreed, so that’s the plan for now!
She and I are starting this blog section to help us focus and stay excited for the journey. We’ll each write our own articles from our own perspectives. We’ll be posting general thoughts, plans, gear reviews, exercise reports, Spanish lessons, or whatever else crosses our minds until the big day. After that, hopefully a trip journal!
For me, Spring 2020 feels far off right now, and I have a lot to do between now and then if I want to do the Camino right.
Until then, ¡Buen Camino!