Reasons to Walk the Camino de Santiago

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Pyrenees 19 guidepostYou have to be fairly motivated to walk the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain – as it is 800km.  Usually 800km with your rucksack on your back with everything you need for a month.  Sleeping in hostels with strangers, communal showers, and no privacy.

To many this does not sound like a holiday or a good use of their precious time, however more than 100,000 people walk one of these routes each year – and the numbers are growing.  Pilgrims, as they are called, come from all over the world and put themselves through physical hardship subjecting their body to walking between 25 and 30km a day – day after day.  It really is quite a feat.

So why walk the Camino de Santiago?

Time Out

This appears to be the main reason for most.  They have reached a point in their life where they need time to think, time to get away from their life as it is.  Many times I asked pilgrims why they were on the Camino and the simple answer was just getting away from everything.

And on the Camino you do.  The pace of life is slower, you are not subjected to advertising, and social media and the internet seems like another world.  Imagine for a month not being in a taxi, a car, bus or any other mode of transport – only walking.  You don’t have TV, ubiquitous email and cell calls.

There seems to be little that compares with walking for a month.  People come out the other end often wanting to make changes to their own life, and having a sense of being refreshed – being washed clean of the daily cynicism that can surround us by hearing too much news.

I went more than a month, twice, without my daily morning check of email and news sites, something I find almost impossible at home and this does not cover the changes in my life since walking the Camino de Santiago.

A Challenge

And it is.  The real problem is not walking 25 or 30km, it is doing this day after day.  You discover if your boots really do fit, if they don’t you learn very quickly how to repair your feet of all the blisters that grow.

Apart from looking after your feet the main challenge is to have your backpack as light as possible.  The first time I walked my rucksack was 13kg starting out, far too heavy.  The next time I had this down to 6kg and life was much better and I was happier.  Most of the time there are no washing machines and you hand wash what you wore that day in the evening.

If you manage to just walk in the day and not think about all the days ahead, walk at your own pace, do your own Camino – there can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end.  However there can also be an anti-climax.  What next, is often a common thought?  What no more walking?

Religious

Camino PhotosYes, people do still walk the Camino de Santiago for religious reasons.  There are “holy years” on the Camino where the feast day of St James falls on a Sunday.  During a holy year a special door in the Cathedral in Santiago is opened and all pilgrims can have an Indulgence for the forgiveness of sins. The next holy year is not until 2021, during the previous ones the amount of pilgrims on the route increases dramatically.

In the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago you can request a Compostela if you meet certain requirements.  A Compostela is a Latin document that states that the person has walked at least the last 100km or cycled at least the last 200km for religious or spiritual reason to Santiago.  There is also another certificate for those that do not fall into these categories that states the achievement of finishing the walk – most people religious or not ask for the Compostela – it appears personal spirituality is alive and well along the Camino

No matter your reason for taking on one of the Camino routes most people enjoy the Camino.  I talked about matters to strangers that I wouldn’t discuss normally, and others were the same.  Friendships build as often you find yourself walking at the same pace as others, and groups form that end up calling themselves a Camino family.  For me I was especially lucky as I met my wife to be there.

Posted in Camino Thoughts
20 comments on “Reasons to Walk the Camino de Santiago
  1. Lyle says:

    Yes, people do still walk the Camino for religious reasons.

    Actually I think if you look at the official stats, and add up “Religious” and “religious + cultural”, you end up with around 90%.

    This isn’t the impression you get chatting with people. Maybe people don’t reveal their deepest motivations lightly.

  2. skypilgrim says:

    “Solvitur ambulando” (Walking solves all). While that may not be literally true, there is great historical evidence (Aboriginal people, Kurds, Bedouins) that humans on the move are happier and more peaceful. Because while moving, the point is to have less possessions, not more. And the battle over scarce resources is the root of so much human conflict.

    The Camino is a great example of a mobile international community; its basic format should be studied and replicated worldwide.

  3. Lois Tuffield says:

    Hi! I walked from Pamplona to Santiago in May this year. My reasons were more spiritual than religious. It was a pilgrimage of thanksgiving. I’ve just published a small book about my experiences, and would very much like to give details of it here. Am I allowed to do that? Or do I need to pay for advertising?

  4. Ciaraan says:

    I have my Compostela and would like to consider volunteering could anyone comment, Thanks

  5. Steve Barnard says:

    Hi, I walked the Camino last October with my 22 year old son. I hadn’t seen him for 1 year as he lives in China. We set off from SJPDP and took 23 days to reach Santiago ! What better way to spend quality time together ? Memories last forever!

    • Leslie says:

      Now that is one of the best reasons ever to walk the camino.

    • nicky says:

      My dream would be to walk together with my family. We live in such a fast paced world-and being together seems to be impossible.I can only imagine how wonderful your walk with your son was.And how great a gift it was for both of you. Congratulations for getting there and doing it!

  6. Jesse says:

    I just came back from the Via Lusitana and it was great. I went for religious reasons and experienced God in a very real and vivid way. I saw the compassion of God in the many gifts I received along the way. I can’t tell you how many times while I was walking that strangers came up to me and offered drink and food. I saw miracles, I saw humanity at its finest! It changed my life and I for one am happier for it. Two hours before I left for Lisbon my cell phone went completely dead. I took it as a sign that God wanted me to be free from all distractions. And I was! I was better able to absorb and appreciate all the things I was about to experience. A little back story… I own a salon and some rentals. When I left I was experiencing turmoil at the rentals and chaos in my business. When I returned, all had calmed down and tranquility has beset my life. This was yet another camino miracle. I came back with a new resolve. At Fatima there was a poster which read “do not be afraid”. It was huge, that day I hadn’t eaten, there was a storm I was walking in, and I had no idea where I was gonna sleep. Yet I said ok I wont be afraid. By the end of the night I was fed, dry and sheltered from the storm that raged outside my albergue. Walk the camino, do it as soon as possible, and I say walk it alone. I know that I got soooo much more out of it that the couples that I met. To all the pereginos, past, present, and future, Bom Caminho! Next year the Primitivo!

  7. Nao says:

    I have walked from SJPP to Santiago de Compostela in May 2010.
    Religious reasons took a big part in my mind, but also walking was another big reason. And in fact, I have enjoyed walking of 800 km very much. Everyday new hiking trail was laying in front of me, met and talked with many peoples from different countries, attended the mass at evening.
    And those peoples helped my walk very much as a fact, which I felt that God was always walked with me.
    I still remember those happy days.

  8. M Nugent says:

    it began as a dare. July 1993 myself, my brother and two friends challenged each other to meet in St. Jean de Luz France on July 1 for a bicycle trip across the Pyrenees all the way to Santiago to Compostela.
    Day after day on this ancient pilgrimage route passing many obviously sick and devout people, there was lots of time to think. And thinking evolved into contemplation.
    When the journey ended and I received my “compostltellane” certificate and went to mass in the magnificent cathedral, as tradition demands, I bowed my head touching my forehead to a stone set low by the door. In order to maintain balance I placed my hand on the wall and into an indentation made but millions of hands of pilgrims from centuries before.
    A very moving moment. A wonderful experience. before.
    A very moving moment. A wonderful experience.

  9. Andrea says:

    My Camino Frances in 2011 not only allowed me to experience time out, time within and time to meet complete strangers….cementing new friendships. Recently, I was reunited with a Camino friend in South Korea. We had spent the week walking the Mesta together, and almost to the day two years later, she shared her family, friends and culture with me in her country of birth. We both know that our lives will always be connected as pilgrim sisters even though we live so far apart..USA and SAfrica…

    • Lois Tuffield says:

      I walked the Camino for the first time last year when I was 65. I’ve written up a brief account of how I prepared for and ‘endured’ the experience. The title is ‘Do You Know The Way?’, and it’s available on Amazon in book form and on Kindle. You may find it helpful.

  10. Andrea says:

    May sound crazy, but I plan to walk the Camino for my 50th birthday which isn’t until July 2015!

    The timing works well for the month’s absence from home and I figure my 50th is an ideal time for my first pilgrimage. I’m so looking forward to all of the special blessings this will bring- closer to God, relishing our planet, enjoying the company of other people from everywhere and God willing new friends.

    I enjoy reading your posts/adventures/accomplishments and in the meantime will train/prepare for mine so that I too can share.

    Can’t wait!

    • Barbara says:

      Andrea

      I am going to walk for my 67th birthday in September 2015. Maybe we will meet each other. Go you young thing and have fun.

      Buen Camino
      Barbara

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Barbara,
        Celebrating your 67th on the Camino- I applaude you! You’re awesome!
        My plans have changed, I now plan on walking a part (125km) of the Camino beginning this July for 10 days with my daughter and then returning the year after.
        Very excited- maybe you could go sooner also.
        Anyhow- it’s nice to begin practicing our walking now

  11. Errol van Rensburg says:

    I walked the Camino for the first time in 2006 with my brother. My youngest daughter, age 18, at the time, was very taken with the idea. She always joked that we would do it together. Unfortunately she was murdered, by a family friend, in 2009. In 2011 I walked it again, for her.

    • Barb says:

      I am so sorry for your loss Erroll. Many say why the need to walk 500 miles now and your posting should be a sign don’t put off until tomorrow that which you can do today. Life is really too short. I plan the walk September 2014. Hope I can meet you if you walk this fall.

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