The Good And The Bad Of Walking El Camino de Santiago

Tijana Radeska
El Camino de Santiago
El Camino de Santiago

El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St James in English is a road that leads to the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. As a matter of fact, there are more roads that start in Spain, France, and Italy but the main path passes through the north of Spain. The Cathedral is the place where the remains of St James (Santiago) were discovered in the ninth century. Even though today it is maybe the most famous touristic pilgrimage in the world, during the 10th, 11th and 12th, the path to the Cathedral was an important spiritual pilgrimage for the Christians.


Saint James with his pilgrim’s staff. The hat is typical, but he often wears his emblem, the scallop shell, on the front brim of the hat or elsewhere on his clothes (it may have been lost due to deterioration of the painting). Photo credit


Way of St. James pilgrims (1568)

As with most pilgrimages, this one, traditionally starts at one’s home. But since it became such a popular and touristic one, the Way of Saint James consists of a dozen routes to Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and leads to Santiago de Compostela. One can reach the cathedral by walking, cycling, or even riding.


Pilgrims arriving in Salamanca through the Via de la Plata. Photo credit


Map of the Way of St. James in Europe. Photo credit

The pilgrimage is done in July so that people can arrive at their destination on St James’ Day, which is on the 25th of July. When this day falls on Sunday, a Holy, or Jubilee Year is declared by the church. Depending on the leap years, the Jubilee Year occurs once in 5, 6, and 11 years. The last one was in 2010, and the next is in 2021. If you miss it, you can go in 2027 or 2032. The Council of Europe declared the route as the first European Cultural Route in 1987, and it is also protected by UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.


The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Photo credit


Monument of the pilgrims, Burgos. Photo credit

The truth is, through the years, the Way, or the Camino has become so popularized and so visited that it lost its point in a way. It is a clean and neat pilgrimage with no sacrifice of strength and energy. First of all, with so many people on the road, you can’t even have a fear of getting lost, and it feels like a high-school excursion in nature. Second, locals have become so overwhelmed with these “tourists” and don’t “connect” with anyone. Instead, they just improve their ways of earning some money from them.


St. James pilgrim passport stamps in Spain for the Camino Frances


St. James pilgrim passport stamps in France on the Via Turonensis (Tours route) for the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. The World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France lists the major French towns with stamps


St. James the Moor Slayer. Photo credit


You are not deeply into the Spanish forest/desert. Almost all the time, you can feel the presence of everyday life on the road for vehicles nearby. Each time a car passes one is reminded that nothing special and spiritual is going on in the supposed journey. You can sleep in tents, but the thing is that each day you pass maybe ten villages where bed and shower are offered to you for 5 euros.


The modern symbol of the way. Photo credit


A post marking the way. Photo credit


A marker in the pavement indicates the route of the Way of St. James through Navarrete, La Rioja, Spain. Photo credit

So even if you decide to make this route pilgrimage in the “traditional” way, you would constantly be reminded that you are as much safe as when you go from your home to your job. The saddest thing is that you are going to meet a lot of pseudo travelers that don’t even know what pilgrimage is but rather would tell you that they are doing it for fun.

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tijana-radeska is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival