El Camino de Santiago

I have walked around six hundred kilometers over the last three weeks or so, and have just over a hundred left to my destination, though from there I intend another hundred to the coast.  I start each day around 6:30 in the morning, and generally walk around eight hours per day.  Blisters, sunburns, and myriad aches and pains.

I have walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago de la Compostela.

It deserves, and has, a library of books about it, but to try to convey some idea, I have put up a couple of posts from this morning’s walk and will try to give a quick summary.

The Camino de la Compostela has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years.  The destination is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where legend says the remains of the apostle Saint James were brought after he was martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD.  “Compostela” comes from “Camino de la Estrella” or “Path of the Star.”  I will let you look up the details for yourself if you are interested, which I recommend.

Since the ninth century (if not far longer) pilgrims have been coming to Santiago.  Doing so earned you a plenary indulgence, freeing your soul of the penance due for your sins.  Over the centuries untold numbers of pilgrims attempted the voyage, many or most dying along the way, either to robbers and bandits, or to the rampant diseases and rigors of the trip.  Before beginning the pilgrimage, people were generally required to write their Wills, since the odds were that they were not going to make it back.

There are many routes, though nowadays the most popular one stretches from the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains, across northern Spain into Galicia in the West.  This, the “Camino Frances” is the one I have taken.  It has passed through some of the most gorgeous countryside I have ever seen, from the beauty of the Pyrenees, through the famous vineyards of La Rioja, across the fabled flatland of the Spanish Meseta, and into the green mountains and valleys of Galicia.

There are a few pilgrims who supposedly escape without blisters, tendonitis, sunburn, or other ailments, but the sleeping places, called albergues, generally resemble triage centers more than hotels.

I pulled out a needle the other night to sew closed a hole that has formed in my shirt under my pack’s waist strap and everyone assumed I was going to use it to lance a blister, which is a common sight in the afternoons and evening.  (You pass the needle through the blister, pulling a thread along behind it, which you leave in for a couple hours to help drain the fluid.)  I have enjoyed that experience too, and if you’re lucky I’ll upload a picture of the results when I have a chance…

Basically, the camino is painful, arduous, and one of the most beautiful and rewarding things I have ever done.  The countryside is stunning, but the best part of the experience by far is the people you meet.  Local people are generally pilgrim-positive, though the poison of Normalcy and the virulence of Money have tarnished this as the pilgrimage grows more popular.  The other pilgrims have been, basically without exception, amazing people.  Though exhausted (or maybe because of it) everyone shares a common bond on the camino, and friendships form every evening, and throughout the day.

I would love to tell you more about it, but I have already taken by far the longest break yet, and the road is calling to my feet, which are throbbing in response (that’s what that throbbing is, right?)

One last note: the pilgrimage is not about just walking.  It means different things for every person, and for me there are several aspects.  The one I specifically want to mention now, is that for me this experience has been in preparation, spiritual more than physical, for my trip to Africa this summer.  Going from the comforts, safeties and assumptions of the “First World” to the poverty and quotidian realities of southern Africa is not something to be taken lightly, or experienced easily.

I cannot properly explain that right now, and must leave it at that.  But, as you probably expected, I do want to ask for your help.  I am walking these 800 kilometers as preparation and in respect for the realities I expect to find in South Africa.  If you would like to help me with my goal of helping in some small way some of the lives I will find there, I would very much appreciate any donation you can make.

I realize asking for sponsorship for something that I have almost finished is not how it’s done, but if I can raise just $5 for every 100 miles I will walk (500 miles) from a dozen people, I will raise $300, which will pay about half of what we still need to reach our minimum fundraising goal of $2000.

So if you would like to donate $25 to correspond with the month of walking I am doing, please click the “donate” button at the top of the page.

Thank you.