Why Don’t You just Walk Forever On The Camino de Santiago?

Why is this really cool?

The Camino de Santiago has a long and fascinating history that dates back to about the 8th century.  Not many things in this world can make such a claim (except maybe… cool rocks).   It had outrageous implications for the development of Spain and all of Europe because like any great migration, it amounts to taking human ideas and scrambling them around to new places; leading to new inspirations, innovations and inventions, and rapid spread of culture.

History

In short, a really long time ago in northeastern Spain a farmer discovered what he considered to be the resting place of St. James the Apostle in the middle of his field.

Apparently this Saint James guy was some kind of Rock Star because the farmer was like,

       “Holy F**k Guys!    Come check this $%@t out!”

And all of Chrsitendom was like,

         “Holy F**k! We’re Coming!”

Amapola, spanish poppy, growing along the Camino during summer

Amapola, spanish poppy, growing along the Camino during summer

Pilgrims marched from all over the world to visit the site, most of them traveling on foot with no more than a walking stick and a gourd for water. They all got together and decided to wear brown cloth in order to look priestly and feel all the more pious (but I’m sure they really were very pious, it’s a long walk after all.)

It did not take long (like 200 years) for various routes to be established with inns, churches and hospitals along the way to accommodate the weary pilgrims.  If you ever make the walk you will understand the need for hospitals…

a monument to the pilgrims

a monument to the pilgrims

Many people still make the journey today, although not just for religious reasons.  The Camino has developed into one of the great long walks of the world.

The old farmers field has been replaced by the city of Santiago de Compostela, where there now stands a grand cathedral at its heart.  Pilgrims can pay homage to their patron saint, attend mass, or just marvel in awe with there new friends at how far they walked to get there.  Nowadays, the brown cloth robes and water gourds are rarely seen; they have been replaced with Deuter and Osprey packs, nalgenes, and gortex. Walking staffs are actually still quite popular.

The Cathedral at Santiago

The Cathedral at Santiago

It’s also of note that only about half of the people on the route nowadays are actually doing it for religious reasons, many people just like to enjoy the walk through the countryside.   On the other hand, most of the pilgrims do have amazing life stories, and though their reasons may not be religious, there are often some damn interesting conversations to be had.  Even 1000 years after its invention the Camino is still bringing interesting people and different cultures together! How wonderful!

There are many routes to take to Santiago.   The different Caminos are marked by painted yellow arrows and scallop shells. However, the number of markers and signs vary from so-many-that-you-could-never-get-lost, to  so-few-you-are-totally-screwed.  It all depends on what route you take.   I will briefly mention the few with which I have experience.

The Camino Frances

This is the traditional route. Here is where you will find 90% of the pilgrims. It starts in St. jean Pied de Porte in France and marches 550 miles over the Pyrenees and across the northern Spanish countryside. Someof the major sights include, Leon, Burgos, a fountain of wine that you can drink from without signing a liability waiver, and a lot of big piles of rock with crosses at the top. The route also goes through Pamplona and if you time your arrival (between July 6th-14th) you could watch some crazy F**kers run with the bulls at the festival of San Fermín, or even run with them yourself!

signage on the Camino Frances

signage on the Camino Frances

A majority of the hike is made on dirt trails or on the edge of small country roads through fields of wheat and wine vineyards. There are cafes and pilgrim hostels (albergues) in small towns every 2-15 kilometres, and plenty of interesting people with whom to socialize.

The Camino del Norte

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

Probably the second most popular route, but it still has significantly less people.   This route generally starts in Iruña on the northern Spanish coast, which hugs the French border. It then meanders along the northern coastline towards Santiago.   Some sights include: San Sebastian, a beautiful euro-coastal surf city; Santillana del Mar, a UNESCO site preserved as an old as F*** historical roman village; lots and lots of places to drink Cidra which is the local alcoholic apple cider that the northlands are famous for.

The cafes are fewer and farther between, often leaving you to walk 18km between towns.  So bring extra grub!

It is much easier to get lost, as the yellow arrows are harder to follow and there is hardly a line of pilgrims to follow.  The locals will likely know the way if you would be so inclined as to ask. We got lost twice.

The Camino Primitivo

This makes its claim as the oldest of all the routes and The Original Way.  It is about 80 kilometers and links the Northern Camino to the Camino Frances, from Oviedo in the north to the town of Melide.

bomber lunch at (a) grandmas house

bomber lunch at (a) grandmas house

The arrows are hard to follow, and asking for directions is useless because the locals don’t really know this route exists. We were lost for at least one whole day, and numerous other times… or maybe we were lost the whole time.                   

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