The Meseta on the Camino de Santiago

Reasons to Walk the Camino de Santiago

You 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 containing 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 the Camino routes in Spain each year – and the numbers keep growing.  Pilgrims, as they are called, come from all over the world and put themselves through physical hardship, subjecting their bodies to the rigors of walking between 25 and 30km a day – day after day.  It really is quite a feat in our modern convenience orientated life.

So why walk the Camino de Santiago?

Time Out

hiking on the Camino de Santiago
Having some quiet time on the Camino de Santiago

This appears to be the main reason for most.  Many of us have reached a point in life where we need time to think, time to get away from 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 seem 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 mobile phones.

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 lives, 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 the blisters on your feet.

Apart from looking after your feet, the main challenge is to have your backpack as light as possible.  The first time I walked the Camino my rucksack was 13kg at the start in St Jean; far too heavy.  The next time I had the weight down to 6kg; walking was much easier and I was happier.  Sometimes there are no washing machines, so you hand wash the clothes you wore for walking – I haven’t ever hand-washed clothes at home.

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? I felt a bit lost not walking – I was so used to walking all day every day.

Religious

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Out destination: Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Yes, lots of people 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, the door of Forgiveness in Santiago Cathedral is opened. During a Holy Year, all pilgrims can have a plenary indulgence for the forgiveness of sins – this is dependant on certain conditions. The next holy year is not until 2021, however, 2016 has been declared the Holy Year of Mercy. During the previous Holy Years, the number of pilgrims on the route increases dramatically.

In the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago, you can request a Compostela if you meet certain requirements – walk the last 100km or cycle the last 200km. The Compostela is a Latin document that states you have walked at least the last 100km or cycled at least the last 200km for religious or spiritual reasons to Santiago.  There is a different certificate for those that do not fall into these categories; this is a certificate of achievement for finishing the walk. Most people religious or not ask for the Compostela – it appears personal spirituality is alive and well along the Camino.

Because it is There and I am a Walker

I have walked other long-distance routes, the West Highland Way and the Wicklow Way.  There was never any big deal on why I was walking these – they were there and I like multiday hiking routes.  Getting away from the city and spending time walking in the countryside does wonder for my head.  A long walk on at the weekend has me set up for the week ahead.  A long walk on the Camino has me set up for many months ahead.

No matter your reasons for taking on the challenge of the Camino, most people thoroughly enjoy their Camino experience.  I talked to almost strangers about subject matters that I wouldn’t discuss normally; other pilgrims were the same.  Friendships build as you find yourself walking at the same pace as others; groups form that end up calling themselves a Camino family.  For me, I was especially lucky as I met my wife to be there.

3 thoughts on “Reasons to Walk the Camino de Santiago”

  1. Hi, I walked The Camino in 2013 with my best friend who happens also to be my Daughter Amy. It was my 60 th birthday adventure was going to be a family thing with my son and his wife but they by the time we left at the end of September were too involved in the process of adopting two little boys. So just me and Ayms set off, it was the most amazing, enjoyable and at times painful thing I have ever done. The walk, people we met and the feeling I now carry with me and will for ever get me through all that life has to offer. We loved it, we love each other always will. Stay safe xx

  2. Four members of my family hiked the Camino in 2017. None of us had heard about the Camino but my sister and brother-in-law Vince watched the movie “The Way” and my brother-in-law said “I have to do that!” My sister called and told me I had to go along to keep him from loosing his wallet, loosing his mind, and loosing his way. I had never hear of it. After family discussion, some planning, and very little training four of us did the Camino. To say we were unprepared is spot on. It was a great struggle early on, and we wound up taking one day off for some healing. After a couple of weeks we were somewhat in sufficient shape and successfully went from St. John Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostella and then on to Finnesterra. We had planned on 7 weeks total and we only had one spare day left when we got done. But what an experience and two of us want to do it again. We would do much better now knowing what we would be getting into.

    Bryan

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