By  Prof. Andrés Villagrá

Mi camino de Santiago

Do you feel like walking for over 200 miles for two weeks in the hot sun and under the pouring rain, sweating by day and freezing at night, enduring pain but enjoying laughter, and enjoying great food at reasonable prices?
Welcome to “El Camino de Santiago”! I walked the famous “Saint James Way “or “Road to Santiago” in Spain early this summer.” “El Camino” is an increasingly popular activity for thousands and thousands of pilgrims from around the world. Still, there were very few people on the road due to the pandemic. Pilgrims in the Camino de Santiago start this “walk” from any city of their choice and join one of the many routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This region, located in the Northwest Corner of the Iberian Peninsula, is famous for its rain and sudden changes in temperature, friendly villagers, marvelous scenery, and delicious food. Eating local octopus is a must-try!
Pilgrimage to a “holy place” of faith became most popular during violent religious wars in Medieval times. According to the legend, the first “Camino to Santiago” pilgrimage started in 832, when King Alphonse II of Asturias set out to visit the remains of the Apostle Saint James brought to Galicia. Today, churches, cathedrals, mosques, Buddhist temples, and synagogues in Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca, etc., attract millions of pilgrims every year and sustain religious communities along their way.
Typically, pilgrims set out to walk for faith, fulfill pledges or promises, and pray for suffering loved ones or oneself. Similar to enduring walking meditation, the time spent alone on “El Camino” is a time to connect with your inner self in the present, to experience the old and the new, and to test the limitations of the physical body. But don’t be confused! “El Camino” is not an easy task, and many pilgrims abandon their plans during the first few days of walking.

Over the last 1,300 years, the “Way” has been expanding its “reach” as it has gained popularity. New friends I met along the Camino started their walk in Puglia, a region in the South of Italy. Some others came from Switzerland, some from France. They had been walking for a month when I first met them, and we became instant friends. We spoke Spanish, French, Italian, English, and Esperanto. The strangers you meet on ‘the Way” are eager to share their satisfaction, pride, pains, and above all, laughter with you.

Contemporary pilgrimage can take many forms. Some religious mandates are rigorous, while others are laxer. In modern times, some people may walk for months; some may make shorter trips. Group bicycle riding is increasingly popular, and inexpensive transportation services carry your backpack or luggage for a modest price. People prefer to stay in “albergues” or “hostels” where homecooked meals and large shared sleeping rooms are the most enjoyable experience during the walk. In “El Camino,” you may meet friends that may last during a lifetime.

Will I do it again? When you spend 6 to 8 hours walking daily, you become “addicted” to the walking and the adventure of a new day, new friends, new places. Next June, I plan to start my trip in Porto, Portugal, and continue along the Atlantic coast to reach Santiago de Compostela and beyond. Are you ready?