Date of Trip: April 2014
MY CAMINO PILGRIMAGE April 12-19, 2014
El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St James in Northern Spain is one of the oldest and most important Catholic Pilgrimages dating back to the 9th century.
Today many pilgrims (peregrinos) from around the world walk just the last section of the Camino French Way route from the town of Sarria to the city of Santiago de Compostela, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The Cathedral there holds the tomb of the Apostle St James. By having your credencials (pilgrim’s passport) stamped along the 113 km (70 mile) route and presenting it at the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago you are awarded a Compostela or a certificate of completion.
There are many reasons why people do this walk, some truly are on a religious pilgrimage, others may look at it as a spiritual retreat, some are just hiking and bonding with friends or family, for some it is a historical culture tour.
One can go it alone by researching the route and staying in albergues (pilgrims hostels) along the way, but I chose to do it through a Camino Ways guided tour. I got transport from the Santiago airport to Sarria, my hotels were prearranged and included breakfast and dinner, my baggage was transported each day and I had the comfort of knowing there was a guide for any problems that could have arisen.
Being on a guided tour did not mean having to walk as a group as I really wanted the experience of walking alone with my thoughts and the six of us in this group each walked our own pace so it did work out this way. We all met up with the guide for breakfast and looked at the route for the day, got the info on meeting at a cafe bar for lunch together and directions to the next hotel. Upon our arrival at the end of each day we met for beers and then later for cocktails and dinner. It made for good camaraderie and we had many laughs and good times together.
A walking stick can be bought at the beginning for 4 Euro and is helpful for mucking through mud, stepping on slippery stones across streams or for the long up and downs of the hilly terrain that is a mixture of rocky trails, dirt paths, cobbled streets through small villages, and asphalt roads. The way is well marked by yellow arrows and they are everywhere, on signs, trees, buildings and the road, yet they do need to be sought out as the trail takes many twists and turns. There are also scallop shells that are a symbol of the walk on floor tiles, fences & doors and stone kilometer markers along the way. “Buen Camino” (Good Walk) was how fellow pilgrims greeted each other.
As I walked along I enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the rolling landscape of Galicia, it reminded me so much of Ireland with stone walls and green pastures dotted with sheep and cows. The early morning ethereal fog made the mossy forests seem magically enchanted. I would hear the cuckoo birds call sounding exactly like the wooden ones in those clocks with the door. Cuckoo – Cuckoo. An Irish lady passing me by said it was good luck to hear the cuckoo bird. The freshly plowed fields wafted the manure-y smells of my childhood. The small hamlets had stone houses crouching under sagging terra cotta roofs and picturesque horreos, which are ventilated granaries raised up on stone pillars to keep out rodents.
My itinerary was as follows:
April 12 Transport from Santiago Airport to Sarria – Alfonso IX Hotel
April 13 (Palm Sunday) Walk 23 km (14+ miles) to Portomarin – Pousada de Portomarin Hotel
April 14 Walk 23 km to Palais do Rei – La Cabana Hotel
April 15 Walk 15 km (9+ miles) to Melide – Carlos 96 Hotel
April 16 Walk 15 km to Arzua – Teodora Hotel
April 17 Walk 23 km to Amenal – Amenal Hotel
April 18 (Good Friday) Walk final 14 km (approx 9 miles) to Santiago de Compostela
St Martin Pinario Hotel (Old Monastery right behind the Cathedral)
Went to the Pilgrim’s Office to receive my Compostela and then to the Cathedral.
April 19 Transport back to Airport
We had typical Galician food from each hotel’s Pilgrim’s Menu with hake (white fish), pulpo (octopus), soup, potatoes, plenty of good bread and wines, beef, pork, or lamb and often flan for dessert. Breakfasts were usually ham, cheese, bread, fruit and occasional yogurt. The night we spent at Carlos 96 Hotel in Melide we were treated to a traditional Galician ritual called Queimada. We gathered around a flaming bowl of brandied wine that was ladled up and poured back in to raise the flames while they recited spells to distance bad spirits. Later we were served the hot beverage.
During my walk I was reminded of the story of the Wizard of Oz. Following the yellow arrows was like following the “Yellow Brick Road” and perhaps people were looking to be braver, smarter, kinder or maybe to just find their way home?