El Camino

Even though I did a lot of stuff in Spain, one of my plans that didn’t pan out was walking some of the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is an old pilgrimage route in the north of Spain that leads to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the region of Galicia. The cathedral in Santiago holds the supposed remains of Saint James, who is the supposed evangelizer of Spain. Pilgrims have been walking this route since the Middle Ages. The traditional path begins in France and stays fairly close to the north coast, which earned it the name “El Camino Francés” – The French Route. But there are variations – some that even come from the south of Spain. I went hiking with a hiking group from Cádiz and a member told me he had hiked the Camino several times – once from France, once from Andorra, and once from Seville.

Lots of people hike the Camino for fun, because they want to see the Spanish countryside, because they like hiking, or because of the Camino’s cultural significance. Those were my reasons for wanting to hike it as well. But there are a lot of people who hike the Camino for its original intended purpose – as a pilgrimage route and to atone for sins. You can also make the journey on bike or horseback. To count as having “done” the Camino, you need to have traveled at least the last 100 kilometers into Santiago, and to prove that you have done it, you get a passport which you stamp at each town or albergue (hiker’s inn) you pass.

I didn’t hike any of the Camino, although I did walk on parts of in where it crossed places I visited. Here is the Camino in Bilbao:

Here is some information about the Camino as it goes through Santander:

And here is the path as it passes through Pamplona:

The “image”, so to speak, of the Camino is the seashell, and the indicators that you are on the right track are yellow arrows – which brings me to a slight digression. Before I went to Spain, I read a bunch of books, most of which I found by typing keywords into library search functions. One of the books I read was “Step By Step – A Pedestrian Memoir” by Lawrence Block. It was a little strange to read a memoir by an author whose works I had never read, and most of the book is about his hobby of speedwalking (*ahem*, racewalking, my mistake), and by the third or fourth chapter I had kinda forgotten why I checked the book out, since it had nothing to do with Spain. But right in the middle, there was a long section about him and his wife hiking the Camino de Santiago, which I guess is how I found the book to begin with. It was really very interesting and not cultural at all, but during their hike they got lost a lot. One helpful Spaniard tried to steer them the right way by telling them “flechas amarillas”, which didn’t help at all since neither he nor his wife spoke Spanish. They finally figured it out, but now every time I see a Camino de Santiago sign, I think “flechas amarillas!” Anyway, it’s a pretty interesting book that really has nothing to do with Spain.

If you do want to learn a little about the Camino and Spain, I would recommend the movie The Way, which features the Sheen/Estevez family – Martin Sheen plays the father and Emilio Estevez plays the son, which probably made the movie even more poignant since they are father and son in real life. There are lots of great shots of northern Spain, authentic portrayals of what walking the Camino is like (the passports, the albergues), and if you’ve visited the area, a lot of, “I’ve been there!!!!!!!” moments. There were some good cultural conversations about Roland and the Battle of Roncevalles, the difference between tapas and pinxtos, and of the significance of the cathedral in Santiago. I would have liked to see more stops, as the characters only stopped in Roncevalles, Pamplona, Logroño (I think it was Logroño – I’ve never been), and Burgos, before heading onto Santiago via a montage. I also would have liked to hear more Spanish! But all in all it was a good movie – I recommend it.


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