The Camino de Santiago, aka the Way of Saint James, is a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.
Experiences and Thoughts on the Camino de Santiago – Photo Courtesy: xtberlin @ Pixabay
Many people walk this route for religious reasons, but many others do it simply seeking a challenge and are there for the experience. Whatever your reason is, walking the Camino will almost certainly change you and help you become a better version of yourself.
In order to help you embark on such an adventure, here are some facts to bear in mind, that will help ease your journey.
Meeting Fellow Pilgrims
Meeting new people is one of the major benefits of the Camino de Santiago. People often disclose their deepest thoughts to complete strangers on this walk. Sometimes, people meet someone who they stay in contact with for the rest of their lives. You’ll feel close to strangers partly because you’re sharing the same goal: trying to reach Santiago de Compostela.
Many of the people you will meet have gone through a big change in their life. Walking the Camino de Santiago is a good way to contemplate the past and the future. You will meet students or people who have recently retired. Maybe you will meet people who have survived a health crisis or a divorce.
You can also interact with the locals and learn their customs. Try to absorb their traditions and language. It will make your journey worth remembering.
However, if you want to be alone and not talk to anybody during the Camino, you can do that as well. Just choose a path that is less popular and enjoy your solitude and silence. Being by yourself can be very calming and comforting.
To Each Their Own Camino de Santiago – Photo Courtesy: Ulli Paege @ Pixabay
You should prepare properly for the trip. Don’t take this lightly, as sometimes people get injured and don’t finish the Camino. Start walking at least 2 months before. After a while, start walking with a backpack. It’s important to know how your body reacts after a few hours of walking and climbing with a backpack.
Walking also has various health benefits. It can strengthen your muscles, lower the risk of heart disease and increase your confidence. Start slowly and have in mind that the Camino de Santiago is not a race. Take your time and explore.
Different Routes and Challenges
For centuries, the symbol of the Camino de Santiago has been the scallop shell. You can see it everywhere along the way. Its relevance may have derived from the pilgrim’s desire to take home a souvenir. Many believe its individual lines symbolize the different routes to the tomb of Saint James.
Their length varies from about one hundred to a couple of hundred kilometers. It can take you up to three months to get to your final destination. This might sound frightening but have in mind that it’s not impossible.
The most popular one, the Camino Francés, is a 780-kilometer (485-mile) route that starts at St. Jean Pied du Port in France. It’s your best option if you want to meet many fellow pilgrims. The Camino Portugués is the second most popular route. It starts in Lisbon or Porto and is ideal for a more rural experience.
If you don’t have much time, you could take the Camino Inglés. It has 2 starting points: ports A Coruña and Ferrol. It’s nice as a solitary experience. The Camino Primitivo is the oldest route and the most direct road from Oviedo to Santiago.
Camino de Santiago: A Village on the Horizon – Photo Courtesy: Staffan Andersson @ Flickr
The Camino will challenge you: physically, psychologically and spiritually. The physical challenges come first. Your backpack may feel too heavy, or you will get tired of walking all day. Perhaps you’ll get blisters.
Then, the psychological challenges follow. You may get bored walking all day. You could walk for hours and see nothing but endless fields. At the end of the day, you’ll start questioning your life and decisions you’ve made. That will be your spiritual challenge.
You’ll learn that you don’t need much to be happy. You will feel grateful if you have a nice meal and a light backpack. You’ll learn to set smaller but achievable goals: to climb just one more hill or to walk a little further.
When people reach the Santiago cathedral, they are usually overwhelmed with happiness. Some feel peaceful and surprised by their achievement, while others feel relieved. No matter what you think at the beginning, it is almost certain you will finish this walk as a better version of yourself.