In the past, I’ve often wandered aimlessly between cities on my trips abroad, with times spent hiking and walking sporadic and sparse. While wandering in such a way had value in some way, I found that for me it was neither financially sustainable nor, more importantly, a personally enriching way to travel about. By walking around and hitchhiking, camping at times, even WWOOFing, I can meet as many people, see as many great wonders, travel longer, and learn more about myself than I could any other way, it’ll just be uncomfortable at times.
One way of traveling that’s always interested in me is the act of pilgrimage, journeying to somewhere specific in a slow, methodic way and meeting fellow pilgrims on the same journey. My thought is that walking will be a experience of mental, spiritual, and physical, allowing me to think deeply about things and providing a remedy for the increasing back pain I’ve had over the past several months. In particular, the Camino de Santiago has been something on my mind the last few years and is one of the more well-known pilgrimages out there. The Camino is a general term describing people who walk to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on any of a number of paths starting as far away as Eastern Europe, the goal being to visit what many believe to be the resting place of St. James. Although it eventually became a religious devotion, it started as a pagan ritual of journeying to Finisterre to the west of Santiago de Compostela, which to many people in medieval times represented the end of the world due its location as being the westernmost point of mainland Europe. In this sense, the Camino–and perhaps all pilgrimages–is an act of renewal, of rebirth, and it is with that mindset that I too am embarking on this path as soon as I can at the end of July.
Most pilgrims walk the final 60 miles to Santiago, while far fewer walk the length of Spain starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port near the Spanish-French border, which is about 500 miles. But since I’m starting in late July when this lengthy route would be a little too crowded for my tastes, I’m starting in south-central France at Le Puy-en-Velay, which is about 450 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port–and one of the routes historical French pilgrims have taken, known as Chemin du Puy. As though 500 miles wasn’t already enough, by starting in Le Puy I’ll be walking a total of what looks to be a little over a 1,000. This way, I’ll avoid some of the crowds but still experience the many wonders to be found along the Camino Frances (as the route that goes from Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port to Santiago is called). However, I’m not stopping since, although power of Santiago de Compostela is surely significant, the symbol of rebirth represented by the end of the world resonates and so my final destination–if there is one–is Finisterre, the Atlantic Ocean, another 70 miles past Santiago. The first pilgrims going to the ocean would often burn their clothes they walked in, or go into the water naked. I’ll probably do the same.
Here is an image I found showing the general route from Le Puy to Santiago de Compostela. I’ll be going a bit further to the ocean to Muxia and finally Finisterre.
I don’t know how long it will take, and I guess that’s part of the point for me–taking the time to walk through beautiful countryside, old towns, quaint villages, saying hello and goodbye to fellow pilgrims along the way, slowing down and breathing in life.
After the Camino, I’d like to say I’ll be spontaneous and go wherever feels right, and right now rural Turkey sounds pretty nice to me, but the unstable political situation there makes that unlikely. In particular–and at this point it would be fair to laugh at my walking over-ambition–I had hoped to walk the Lycian Way in Turkey, a 300 mile trek through mountains and ancient Roman and Greek ruins along the Mediterranean Sea. Please look it up, and even if you don’t, I’ll be sure to tell you more about in the future should I be able to go that route! While the Lycian Way is on my mind, I also hope other opportunities present themselves along the way which allow my path to get altered–a new friendship, a burgeoning romance, anything. One thing is certain–it is very uncertain where I’ll go after my Camino at this point, but it will be somewhere, and it’ll likely involve walking.
Until then, Buen Camino!