For those unfamiliar with hiking opportunities available around the world, perhaps one of the most famous is the Camino de Santiago, often called The Way of St. James. Starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the hike moves though most of northern Spain covering over 500 miles ending in the religious city of Santiago de Compostela,where legend has it that the Apostle James is buried. Santiago has become the third most visited religious destination after the Vatican and Jerusalem. Thousands of pilgrims, as they are called, trek The Way for a journey that can take upwards of 30 days.
My wife and I and another couple decided that we would follow The Way. But because we are of the “senior set” the four of us decided on starting our journey in the city of Sarria, which is approximately 73 miles from Santiago. Sarria is a popular starting point because it allows pilgrims to qualify for a certificate that verifies they traveled at least 118 kilometers. I am happy to say that we finished the journey, made it to Santiago with only a few blisters and some aching knees, but an inner pride that we still had the human capacity to qualify as legitimate pilgrims.
Now before I leave the impression that our little group of senior pilgrims accomplished an extraordinary feat, let me bring a level of honesty to our hike through Spain. First of all we broke up the trip into nine days of walking 8 miles; we took our time enjoying the beautiful out of the way places of rural Spain. Each night we stayed in the Spanish equivalent of a bed and breakfast where delicious dinners were served with plenty of wine. Rather than lug thirty pounds of stuff on our backs, we traveled light and had our luggage carted off to the next bed and breakfast. Granted we did all of the walk but never did over 10 miles a day, finishing around 3 in the afternoon and then enjoying R and R with a bottle or bottles of the third R, Rioja, the staple red wine of Spain.
Of the many highlights of The Way was meeting so many wonderful pilgrims from around the world, from England to Germany to Mexico to Korea to Australia to Ireland. Wonderful conversations were had as we compared notes, learned about each others country and never talked politics. It is impossible not to be relaxed and live for the moment along The Way. When we ended our journey at Santiago de Composetela we arrived in time at the enormous cathedral for the Pilgrim’s mass, thousands of like-minded walkers worshiping together and venerating the statue of St. James. Even if you are not a believer, the site of fellow pilgrims giving thanks is uplifting.
We qualified for your certificate of The Way, rested for a few nights in a hotel built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela in 1509 as a hospital for those pilgrims in need of medical attention, and then began our long journey home. Walking The Way will always be a vacation to remember, an adventure, a religious experience, a time to enjoy the simple beauty of the Spanish countryside. If your knees are in good shape I highly recommend The Way.