The Camino de Santiago Compostela, in English known as the Way of Saint James, constitutes a network of pilgrims’ ways across Europe, leading to the shrine of the Apostle Saint James the Great, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the Northwestern part of Spain.
Over many years, thousands of Pilgrims (Peregrino’s) have followed these routes to Santiago de Compostela as a form of a spiritual path or a mere retreat to grow further spiritually. Whether you have lost a loved one, encounter life difficulties, have pressing decisions to make or just enjoy the calm effect of nature, the Camino de Santiago Compostela caters for each and every Pilgrim. Hiking and cycling enthusiasts are amongst the Pilgrims following the yellow arrows and shells along the hundreds of kilometres.
Pilgrims are not only recognized by their backpacks but also by the walking sticks or canes, often made from wood, resembling the old walking cane used by Saint James, and the white scallop shells with the red Saint James cross painted on it, often affixed to their backpacks. Along the way, Pilgrims greet one another with “Buen Camino” translating to “Good way”.
Many tour companies exist who can assist you in planning your Camino. However, more often than not, Pilgrims arrive by airplane in either Santiago Compostela, Biarritz, Madrid and other airports and take trains, shuttles, buses or taxis to the starting point of their Camino, on whichever route such a Pilgrim has elected to walk. It is not necessary to book and plan your Camino route before-hand. Most Pilgrims walk daily to the next town, approximately 15-25 km per day, depending on each Pilgrim’s fitness or ability and sleep in local albergues for a mere 5 Euro a night. Often this includes a Pilgrims meal too.
If you do not feel up to sharing a dorm room with other pilgrims, it is advised to book your stay beforehand on booking sites such as www.booking.com for instance. If you plan accordingly, you can map out your route along the way you have chosen, and book and pay your room with the option you choose, ensuring that you do not have to sacrifice your comfort or sleep! No one willingly wants to be sleep deprived with a snoring fellow Pilgrim in your midst if you can afford not to! For people who are concerned about their luggage and perhaps suffer from back problems, you do not need to be concerned at all!
Once you have planned your route and booked your stay, simply go to www.pilbeo.com and enter your route. You will get notified on the progress of your luggage and you can even track it with their app, downloadable in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. For a mere 5 Euro per day, they transfer your luggage for you. You therefore only require the necessary daily backpack and your Peregrino Passport.
The Peregrino Passport or Pilgrim Credencial is your record of your route walked. To obtain your Credencial certificate in the Peregrino Office in Santiago de Compostela, you have to walk at least 100 km and obtain two stamps each day. These stamps are readily available at churches, albergues, bars, restaurants, hotels and even police stations. Over the kilometres you walk, this becomes your treasure. Upon presentation of this passport, you will receive a certificate confirming the distance you have travelled. This marks “the Way” you have walked.
The Camino de Santiago Compostela was the inspiration for the 2010 Hollywood movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen as Tom, whose son Daniel dies whilst attempting the walk from Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port across the Pyrenees. With fellow Peregrinos joining Tom along the way, he follows Daniels’s way with Daniel’s backpack and gear and discovers the true meaning of life. This is a truly inspiring movie and a must-see!
Whether or not you want to walk all the way from France, Portugal, Germany or Switzerland, the Camino de Santiago Compostela is a bucket list item not to be missed. For many years you will relive your Camino and your stories will start with “on my Camino”, inspiring you to walk it again and again. Personally, my husband and I will be walking our third Camino this coming May. We will blog about it on our Facebook page Francois & Michélle’s Camino adventure @FranMichaCamino.
May you find your way to Santiago de Compostela too.