September 24, 2012

Adventure: Camino de Santiago (Part 1)

I first learned of the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) a system of historic pilgrimage routes to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, almost 20 years ago from one of Paulo Coehlo's books. Tradition says that Saint James, one of Jesus' disciples, is buried there.  It's been one of the most important pilgrimage routes since early medieval times.  Some of the earliest records indicate that the route has been traveled since around the 8th century. 
There are different routes to reach the Cathedral in Santiago. The French Way  starts off from the French Pyrenees through the interior of northern Spain .  It’s the most famous and followed route of El Camino de Santiago. Then there's The Northern Way which starts off at the Basque Country follows the northern coast of Spain  (along the Atlantic ocean) and the mountains of Asturias until Santiago. It has breathtaking landscapes and it’s less crowded. Another route is The Silver Way  starting from Seville in Andalusia, and following an ancient Roman route which merges with El Camino Frances in its final part. If you enjoy a good hike then The Primitive Way or Original Way (Camino de Santiago Primitivo) crossing the high mountains of Asturias, is the ideal route. And The Portuguese Way (Camino de Santiago Portugues) from the Portuguese city of Porto.

The pilgrimage to Santiago has been one of my dreams.  In my bucket list, if you would.  Some of my friends have  made the long month pilgrimage, and is something that changes your life's perspective. When my kids are old enough, and I have reached that age where solitude and reflection become permanent guests in your house, I will walk to St. James Cathedral.
For some, it's a reflective walk, consecrated entirely to the spirit and surrounding nature.  For others, is a way to explore afoot the geography and culture of the region.  Both ways are acceptable as long as you take it to heart and know how to transcend your experience.  The road is filled with physical and mental challenges. The views are both magnificent and humble. You might walk past medieval dirt roads and creeks or Roman bridges and centuries old ruins, along side old monasteries, family-run farms, millennial forests, as well as through major town roads, crowded beaches, miles long prairies and rolling hills.   There are rest stops along the way. Old monasteries or abbeys that now cater to the pilgrim, as well as cafes to calm your hunger and thirst.  I love the names of some of these places, such as La Taberna de Gaia a medieval style tavern in Leon, right at the foot of a magical place with breathtaking views. These are places were spirits whisper in your ears, where ghosts might roam free, and where your warrior goes to battle with its ego. At the end, a new man is reborn.  A transformational journey that is worth considering.

I'm speechless amidst all this beauty! I admit that sometimes my adventures are more ethereal than terrestrial, but this is one adventure I would take in a snap. Just thinking that millions of people all the way from medieval times have walked these routes is mind blowing. What sort of things did they experience? What were their loads? These roads tell thousands of stories, nation states were being born, war and peace were clenched in battle with each other, and people's destinies were being forged as they walked these paths. I would love to be part of that. How about you? Would you take this adventure?

All photos by Jose Ant. Gil Martinez used with permission.

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