The Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago, otherwise known as ‘The Way’ or Pilgrimage has been walked for more than 11 centuries. People as well known as Napoleon, Charlamagne, Francis Drake, Walter Raliegh and several Popes have all done this walk across the north of Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela in the region of Galicia. It is believed that the bones of St James (San Tiago) (San Jaques) are buried there under the Cathedral. James was reported to be the follower of Jesus Christ, who had gone to spread the gospels after the death of his Messiah. These days it is walked by people, like me, who are not religious, but do and can respect the traditions of our forefathers, despite the bloody history we have witnessed. (particularly in the name of God and Christianity) Over these 1100 years as you can imagine, millions of people have gone to do their respective pilgrimages, to seek some divine forgiveness from their sins and repent before returning home. Back in the day, they would travel in from all across what is now Europe, or arrive by ship from other continents and then begin their ‘Way’, struggling day to day hardships and eventually reach Santiago if their faith and will were strong enough. They would no doubt return the same way, on foot, back to their homelands. These days of course the many that come only walk in one direction, and the Camino Frances has accommodated all of these Pilgrims, who then return by air sea, car and bus.
There was a custom attached to walking the ‘Way’, (actually many) but in particular the carrying of a burden from your home, which you would leave on the Camino and return without it. It usually took the form of a rock, something large enough to be a discomfort but one that reminded them of their sins. They would then leave this closing in on Santiago de Compostela at the place known as Cruz de Fero, and carry on walking until Santiago where they hoped to be absolved of their sins. Some then walked the further 90 something kilometres to the west coast, where they would bath in the Atlantic ocean and become clean from their sins and toils (often this was the only bath they took on the whole journey…) and then go to Finestera where they would symbolically burn some item of clothing. This must have been very costly as few people had many clothes anyway…
Some of these traditions are still observed, not necessarily by religious people only, but in a way, the Camino comes to those to have done it, to mean so much more than just a walk. The most commonly chosen path, from St Jean Pied du Port in France, crossing the Pyrenese into Spain at Roncesvalles over the top of a mountain then along the Meseta at over 800 metres above sea level, all the way to the coast is a journey of some 850 km. It will take a normally fit person about 5 weeks of daily walking, the rest of us about 7/8 weeks. So this is anything but, just another walk. In this day and age there are far more facilities available to us, the men of old would have slept in poor accommodation or out in the open air. The most common of these places to stay today are the Albergues (Gites)(pilgrims Hostels) But obviously in larger towns there are all the luxuries your money can buy. These Albergues offer a bed (you bring your own sleeping bag) and bathrooms, sometimes cooking facilities if the villages or towns don’t have restaurants. I’m not kidding you when I tell you that it is often very basic. BUT, and here is the great BUT, you can not possibly ignore, the closeness it gives you to other people. Out walking you can see no-one all day, or a hundred people, but when it comes time to bunk down, you are in a ruck. Like the scrummage on the Rugby field… I’m kidding again… But there are people and you will have to adopt new ways of tolerance and understanding, and I for one recognised and welcomed this intrusion into my space.
Why would any sane normal person do this to themselves?
Good question, one for which I have an answer…. (You probably realised)
Though it might not be one you welcome. Are you ready? Do you want to know what it is?
O.K. then, I’ll tell you my observations.
You are bored with your life, can’t seem to get any further. Friends don’t get you, you feel like a stranger in your own town, so to speak. Things don’t add up any more, and dare you say it least admit to yourself, you’re not happy. You thought you were, you have all the things that the world has told you that you should collect to ‘Be’ happy. You have a job, but it doesn’t fill you with great joy. Life is threatening to make you blow a gasket, and the world seems to be falling apart from greed everywhere you go. Things were so much better when we were kids, we had none of the stresses of the modern world and we remember ‘being’ happy.
Well then. For all the discomforts, the poor quality mattresses, the cool water showers and the snoring of others in your dormatory, you will receive some of the best personal training that you’ve had in your whole lifetime, since childhood, to refocus on the importance of stuff, things, people in your life. Just imagine, the Mother-in-law won’t seem as offensive, friends will become more dear to us, and the items that we take for granted everyday, will be the luxuries we once dreamed they would be. Our Wives, Husbands Children will be far more important to our happiness, or the relationships we have with them, than any other people or material things. We will want to go out weekly with our wife who we loved once, for a meal, for an evening away from the routine, because we will see just how loyal she has been to us all these years, when other more exciting offers came along. We will make better use of our time with friends instead of coming up with lazy excuses to avoid them, because we will re-know that they are the reason for us to be happy, not the new laptop or car we just treated ourselves to. And we will be more understanding of the neighbors rowing about the very same things, because we once did that and have let it go..!!
We all could become stronger, more useful members of society, and sharers of more that we are dreaming of being with our new found freedom from stress. Walking this kind of distance in a couple of months can do something more for us than help us with unwanted calories, it can save our lives and give us new reason to go on. It can give us the ‘time’ we need to reflect on the past, and choose again what we want from our future, by becoming far more ‘in-tune’ with ourselves and what is important, living in the present moment. It can quite literally show you how to get the best out of your life…
You may not believe me, of course. Try asking someone who has done it, you may find that you know many, but they will be amongst you. Changed if not wholly, then perceptibly. My experience has been so dramatic that I went back and did another the following year, to really get to grips with all that I failed to achieve from the first attempt to rid myself of the negativity and stress that my life had become. I wrote a book about the inner journey that came as a direct result of this Camino, and for a small fee (ALL MONEY GOING TO CHARITY) you could buy and read it.
Selling my book is not my aim from this account, it is there if you need more information. My aim is to BE the change I know I can be, by doing the things that I dreamed that I could, and am doing that now, with this website and my future projects. Why not read about them and help me, and in turn yourselves by sharing your stories and real life experiences with the project,
Walking has helped me to get focused and become a more responsible member of society, and it can help you too. Join with me in the project and lets create a better world for our children and generations to come, and be happy ourselves by doing this. True happiness comes from within, there are no shops selling any of it. The faster we realise this and bring out that happiness through our awareness, the better for us and our families and in turn the world of people upon planet Earth.
Peace, Love, harmony.