Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Pilgrim's Walk Along the El Camino in Spain

I had a wonderful evening last night.    My friend Yvonne (one of the ladies I went on a cruise with) kindly offered to set up a night so I could meet another friend of hers, Brigitte, who had completed the Pilgrim’s Walk – the El Camino Trail - through Spain in 2002.   Barb, my Collingwood friend, was able to come down to the Big Smoke and join us.  Barb and I are talking about – no, let me rephrase that – planning to do the Camino sometime in the next 3 years.

 You might be wondering, what is the Camino Pilgrim’s Walk? 

El Camino de Santiago or St. James’ Way is a pilgrimage  route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north western Spain, where tradition states that the remains of the apostle Saint James, are buried.  In ancient days people made religious pilgrimages on many different routes throughout Great Britain and Europe.  While the custom of a Christian pilgrimage has been well documented, there is some evidence that the Camino has been travelled even in pagan times.  There has been some claims made that the route was a Celtic death journey, westwards towards the setting sun and terminating at the “End of the World” (Finistera) an the “Coast of Death” (Costa da Morte) and the “Sea of Darkness.”

 Today, there are tens of thousands of people from all parts of the globe who do the Camino walk each year for various reasons.  Of course there are a large group of Christian Pilgrims who do the walk as in penance or just plain devotion.  A good number of pilgrims are not there for religious reasons, some just want to experience a different sort of travel, others  are there for the challenge of a major hike and some do it as their own a spiritual quest, removing themselves from modern convenience and comforts to gain some perspective on life.

 There are many different originating points and they converge at various points along the route.  There are starting points throughout Britain and Europe, although most would consider to have done the entire walk one must begin at least no closer to the end point than the Pyrenees mountains at the Spanish/French border. 

 The trails are sometimes very difficult but the Pilgrim’s walks are well serviced and reasonably safe for travellers, with water, cheap food and lodging at frequent enough intervals.   There are hostels available at the end of every long day and they charge only about 3-7 Euros a day (about $5-16 CAD)  for a dorm style bed for the night.  Pilgrims are only allowed to stay one night at each location and so you need to press on to the next destination every morning with all you need on your back.  No lingering over coffee and cake and “what will we do today” discussions.

 According to Brigitte they have not extended the servicing of Pilgrim’s needs to toilets, so it is not for those who want to be pampered.  It is an all terrain hike which is very demanding and not without inconvenience.

 Pilgrims need to obtain a passport (of sorts) which identify them as a Pilgrim and provide the credential to access the “refugios” (hostels) and obtain a “Pilgrim’s Meal” at restaurants.  Brigitte said that the meals were good and cheap and included either a bottle of wine or a bottle of water.  After a few days most Pilgrims would opt for the water.  The passport is also a record of the places you stayed at and is necessary to obtain a Compostela, which is a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.  According to Wiki, you need to walk at least 100 km to obtain the certificate.  Interestingly, the certificate is considered by the church as an "Act of Indulgence", which means that it can get you to heaven if you did something big on the "no, no" category.  

 The route Brigitte took brought her along 800 km  of trail and this required 30 days of hard walking.  She is Spanish and she did the walk because of her Spanish heritage.  She did it alone, but said she soon met up with people to walk with and had constant travelling companions.   Speaking both English and Spanish she had an advantage, but she said many people did not speak Spanish and just English would not cause us any difficulty.  It was obvious in talking to her how difficult and challenging the route is.  She almost gave up once.   However the other thing that came through clearly is that she was glad to have done it and counted it as a wonderful life experience.  She also said she met a tremendous number of wonderful people who were from all over.  Some of which she still keeps in touch with.

Maybe 2010 is the year I should do it.  When July 25th falls on a Sunday it is said to be a Holy Compostellan Year.   July 25th is said to be the day that Saint James, the patron saint of Spain died.   The next Holy Compostellan Year is in 2010.  Hmm, next year?  A bit soon – I have another adventure I want to do first and that will likely be in 2010 and I need 7 weeks off work to do that adventure.  Will tell you about that one in a future blog! 

To continue with the account of last night’s fun, we 3 women had a great couple of hours chatting with Brigitte over dinner.  We were at to Quotes Bar (at King and Front St)  where I had a reasonably passable steak.  Yvonne’s sister works at the bar and she joined us at 8:00 when she finished.  Once the conversation ran out we decided to carry the party over to the Crocodile Rock Bar. 

The Crocodile rock is very much a ladies bar, and on any one night there are at least 6 women to every man.  It is decidedly heterosexual, and I have heard it called a “cougar bar”.  No matter, women go there to have fun.   Often the dance floor is just women.   While we were there we saw at least  2 limos pull up and deposit a bunch of ladies who were doing a send off for a lady friend bride to be.   The music is great, drinks flow and I am sure there are more than a few ladies who get lucky.   The rest are happy just to get out and dance and have fun with their girl friends.  Such as the case with us 5. 

After a few drinks and a fair bit of dancing my friend Barb and I left – enough fun was had and we older ladies need our sleep!     The evening was  such fun from start to end and I now have a renewed enthusiasm for my  future adventure, my long walk through Spain.  

For More Info on the Camino:

 If you want to hear one account written by a couple of ladies who did the walk:


For all sorts of other information you can go to these sights:


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