The Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago, is a traditional Christian pilgrimage that dates back to the 9th century. There are many routes, but they all converge on the cathedral in Santiago where the bones of Saint James the Great are thought to reside. The route “par excellence” is the Frances route that starts in St. Jean Pied du Port, France and goes up over the Pyrenees and down into Spain. It’s about 500 miles long.
Nowadays, a willingness to cover some distance on foot seems to be the only requirement to become a pilgrim. My wife and I opted for a minimum Camino that includes just the last portion of the Frances route.
After walking 102 kilometers on the Way from Sarria to Santiago, we got our “compostelas”, spent some time sight-seeing in the old city, and then continued on to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Finisterre, thought to be the “end of the land” in medieval times. We walked a total of 192 km, about 120 miles.
We were hiking from marker to marker, cafe to cafe, inn to inn, carrying a change of clothes and a few personal items, minimal food and water, no sleeping bags and no tent. No baggage.
My brain had stopped spinning on the usual stuff after the first 20 miles or so, content to be doing just about nothing. Our days were filling up with very simple things.
As novices, we were slowly increasing our daily mileage from 6 to 15 and had discovered an early afternoon rest was useful, so when we ambled by a Galician farmer’s mowed field with a nice shady tree near the path, we spread our rain gear on the soft ground and dropped onto it with our packs under our heads.
After walking for miles, it was luxurious to just get off our feet. There were no bugs to bother us and the temperature was perfect.
I munched on a few Choco Flakes, sipped some water, took in the green field, the animals, and the poofy clouds gliding by in a blue sky. I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
I fell asleep right in the middle of my epiphany.
When I woke up later it took me a few moments to realize where I was. I heard the chatter of pilgrims moving along the path just behind us.
We said, “Hola”.
They looked around and were surprised to spot us on the ground behind the shrubs and tree, but quickly smiled their approval .
“Hola! Buenos dias!”
Our vocabulary was pretty much used up. Time to get walking.
Incidentally, you don’t “hike” the Camino, you “walk” it. Not sure what the difference is, but it’s probably part of the subtle magic that works on you while you are on the Way.