Spain

El Camino de Santiago

I recently watched the 2010 film The Way by director Emilio Estevez. It’s about a father (played by  Estevez’s own father, Martin Sheen) who travels to France to bring home his son’s body (played by Estevez in flashbacks) who had died while walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). Once there the father decides to complete the pilgrimage himself. It’s not a flashy film, nor does it have a big Hollywood budget one. It’s a simple beautifully done film about a father coming to terms with his son’s untimely death against the backdrop of one of history’s most revered pilgrimages. (Estevez’s son and Sheen had driven the length of the Camino, which served as the inspiration for the film.)

When one hears the term pilgrimage they usually equate it with religious devotees but as The Way  showed, El Camino can be a quest about anything and you don’t necessarily need to be a practicing Catholic to walk it. As a gypsy says to Sheen’s character, “it’s not about religion” after Sheen tells him that he’s not a very religious man. One of the supporting characters in the film was walking it as a means of losing weight so that he could fit into a suit for his brother’s upcoming wedding, while hoping that his wife would find him attractive again. Another character, a writer from Ireland, decided to walk  in hopes to cure the writer’s block he was experiencing since much of El Camino is remote and barren, far from civilization and its many distractions. He was also a Catholic who refused to go into any of the churches along El Camino. “Where I come from, churches have a lot to answer for. Temples of tears. I don’t go in them anymore.” However, upon arriving in Santiago, he actually enters the cathedral there much to the shock of his fellow walkers. “Well I’m here, aren’t I?”

overlander.tv

El Camino de Santiago is the pilgrimage route to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle St. James are buried there after having been transported by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain and buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

laits.utexas.edu

From one of its most popular starting points, St. Jean Pied de Port in southwestern France, El Camino stretches nearly 500 miles to Santiago (another popular starting point is Roncesvalles in Spain). Pilgrims, or peregrinos, as they are known in Spanish carry a document called a credencial, a pilgrim’s passport, that receives an official St. James stamp from each town or refugio at which a pilgrim has stayed. It serves as proof that a pilgrim has walked El Camino according to an official route, and also is necessary if a pilgrim wants to obtain a compostela, or certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.

Besides needing to be extremely fit to walk El Camino, pilgrims should also be prepared for less than luxurious accommodations. Along El Camino, pilgrims stay at hostels (the dormitory kind and not those outfitted with private rooms and en-suite bathrooms like some are today), religious convents, and sometimes even the great outdoors. My favorite line from The Way was when Sheen’s character and his walking companions arrive in the city of Burgos, awestruck with the beautiful parador (a luxury hotel usually located in a historic building such as a castle or monastery) in front of them. It’s obvious they want to stay there to rest their tired and weary bones, but the character from Ireland says what they are all thinking. “No self-respecting pilgrim would ever stay in a parador.” However, Sheen’s character ends up treating all of them to rooms there for the night.

As inspirational as the film was, I’m not sure if I would ever walk El Camino (the idea of walking 500 miles is a tad intimidating). However, I do know that one day I would like to visit Santiago de Compostela and perhaps at least drive a route similar to the ones that the pilgrims walk. When I studied in Spain, I never ventured further north than the capital of Madrid and Galicia is a region of the country I would love to explore. I think that is perhaps what I love most about Spain, its regions are so distinct and unique from each other. Galicia is especially so, with its culture, its food, its language, and as The Way showed, its incredibly striking landscape.

sacred-destinations.com

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Sylvie Hanes
    March 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I walked over the Camino last spring and summer – and the Movie “the WAY” is a true view of the Camino experience.
    I have the movie and saw it before I left for my trip, and because of the scenes at the Cathedral in Santiago I got the best seat to attend the daily mass and the incredible display with the incense holder.

    The Camino has changed my way of looking at things, and I value every moment I spent during my trek. I am looking forward to reading your blog!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    March 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your personal experience! I’ve not come across any personal blogs that recount walking the Camino so I am anxious to check out yours! The movie would certainly inspire anyone to travel.

  • Reply
    owoosh
    March 14, 2012 at 2:07 am

    I will definitely have to check out The Way! Jody & I would probably consider doing the walk!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    March 14, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Lynn-It’s a really sweet and touching movie. I was sad I missed it when it was out in the theaters so I was anxiously awaiting it on video 🙂 It’s at redbox where I got it from. I think if you have the time to commit to walking it, it would be an absolutely incredible experience!

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    April 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    you don’t need to walk all 500 miles, you can just do a portion and the experience is as rich. i walked from Leon to Compostela in 12 days; walking from 5am to about 2pm and resting the rest of the day…it was totally doable, and it was a great experience.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    April 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your personal experience! How incredible it must have been.

  • Reply
    Heather Knight
    April 23, 2012 at 2:36 am

    There are many bloggers who have written about their Camino. My entries are more like journal entries, but if you go to my blog posts from April/May 2010, you can read about my pilgrimage. I am heading back to do the route from Porto to Santiago in October 2012. It’s addictive!

    http://renegadepilgrim.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    April 24, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your blog address! I’ll be sure to check it out. I can only imagine the addicting qualities the camino has on peregrinos. Hopefully one day I’ll be a walker too!

  • Reply
    lisita
    September 5, 2012 at 2:19 am

    So…I just did the Camino this last spring March to May with my now fiance! We started in St. Juan Pied de Port, France and some of our friends we made on the way went all the way to Finisterra! We decided after Santiago, to take a short trip to Barcelona, another amazing place. I think I should finish my photo and blog a little on the trip. It is a difficult, but well worth trip. Little word of advise, if you ever decide to make the trek, go the whole route and take your time. Enjoy the people you meet and every step you take.

  • Reply
    lisita
    September 5, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Oh by the way, the Camino is addicting, we met a guy that has done it 20 times!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    September 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Lisita-thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experiences. I’ve yet to meet anyone in the cyber world who hadn’t cherished doing the walk and took home such incredible memories. Please let me know when you finish your blog posts as I would love to read them. And congrats on your engagement!

  • Reply
    lisita
    September 15, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Thank you! I will definately let you know! Thanks for your interesting and exciting posts!

    • Reply
      Anonymous
      October 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      Hi,
      Can you bike the Camino?

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    October 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I believe you can certainly bike portions of the camino! It definitely seems like a great way to traverse it.

  • Reply
    Patti Maguire
    May 16, 2014 at 2:40 am

    My friends & I are leaving for Spain in a week. We will walk the Camino with a tour company from May 26-June 5 ~ about 100 miles over 10 days from about Leon to Santiago de Compestela. If you are interested in others who have walked, see the American Pilgrims of the Camino website or on Face Book as APOC. They will share their experiences and opinions on all aspects of preparation, training, equipment, etc of the pilgrim life. I enjoyed your blog post. Thank you.

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