For over 1000 years, pilgrims (peregrinos) have been drawn to the Shrine of the Apostle St. James in northern Spain’s medieval city of Santiago de Compostela. The routes know as “caminos” or ways originate all over Europe.
Today, walkers, hikers and bikers travel the same paths as those before them, with little change. As tradition dictates, travelers carry their belongings with them and at the end of each day, seek out one of the albergue guesthouses or hostels that have been in operation for centuries. Meals can be prepared communally or purchased. No reservations are accepted, but the pilgrim always seems to be cared for on his journey. A pilgrim passport is carried and stamped along the way. Completing 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the Camino will earn the pilgrim the coveted Compostelo certificate, once they reach Santiago.
I’m not sure exactly when Mr. Wiz* actually started to become interested in this adventure. It might have been when he first saw the movie “The Way”, a wonderful father/son story about the Camino, starring Martin Sheen and written by his son, Emilio Estevez. Initially, I chalked up his sudden interest to just another bucket list item, but he was utterly captivated. When he first presented the idea to me that we should plan to walk 500 miles through Spain together on a 1000-year old route, carrying backpacks and planning where to stay as we traveled along, I was intrigued.
I am not known for my sports prowess, but standing at the top of that mountain, after trying out my first hiking boots gave me a wonderful sense of exhilaration. And as Mr. Wiz helped me down from the three foot, plaster mountain in the shoe department of the REI store, I felt downright giddy.
In preparation for walking the required 15 miles per day, we trained by walking…and walking and walking. Whether we were chatting, focusing on the new parts of town we were encountering or side-by-side in our own thoughts, I was surprised how enjoyable it was. I had finally found a sport that I was good at: walking!
Researching the Camino and planning how to make it happen became our new hobby. Fortunately, pilgrims before us have chronicled their personal journeys down to every detail. So, except for the question of whether we would ask our employers for six weeks off or plan to retire early, we felt quite unintimidated. Mr. Wiz “bit the bullet” and announced he would retire exactly twenty years to the day he had started and I followed right behind him.
We signed up for Spanish classes. Between Mr. Wiz’s memory and my pronunciation skills, we did quite well. My Dad would have been so happy to know that I would soon be exploring the home of his ancestors.
Excel spreadsheets were initiated and updated, research continued and plans were set:
- September 13, 2016: fly from Austin to Paris.
- September 14: From Paris, take the bus to Montparnasse Train Station, then the train to St. Jean Pied de Port, which is the starting point for the most popular route via the Pyrenees and northern Spain.
- September 14 & 15: Stay in St Jean.
- September 16: Start the Camino. We are giving ourselves 30 days plus 5 bonus days to walk the 500 miles.
- October 22: Meet Big A* and JC* in Porto, Portugal.
- October 25: Take the train to Lisbon, Portugal.
- October 29: Return to Austin.
I’m not concerned with what I won’t have with me (stylish outfits, jewelry, makeup, nail polish, hair dryer). I have a feeling that the Camino will provide us with exactly what we will need.
*See “Cast of Characters” in About Section