Historically speaking, the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James is one of the most important Christian Pilgrimage routes in existence. Dating all the way back to the 9th century, pilgrims from all over the world have walked for months – often braving harsh weather conditions, landscapes and physical pain – in order to arrive at the great church in Santiago and pay homage to St. James.
So what is it that would possess someone to undertake this arduous journey, and do so voluntarily at that? Are they gluttons for punishment, or have they somehow been called by something larger than themselves?
Let’s take a look:
Well for starters, religion and paying homage to St. James no longer appear to be the sole purpose of walking the Camino. Don’t get me wrong, you will still find many pilgrims who walk for religious intentions, and to imply the walk isn’t a religious or spiritual experience is wrong – very wrong! However, today’s modern pilgrimage has evolved, and those who walk it and their reasons for doing so, are just as diverse.
You see, today, due in large part to the internet and films like “The Way”, the pilgrimage is as popular as ever and with people of every age, nationality and belief system. As you hike along the paths and meet fellow pilgrims, they will tell you all about the different reasons why they undertook the journey – usually without mentioning anything about spirituality. You will however, hear about their divorces, midlife crises, unemployment, health problems, physical challenges and for many – a growing dissatisfaction with life in general.
Whether the pilgrims are aware of it themselves or not, they do have one thing in common – they have all been called and they are walking to connect with something much larger than themselves. And although initially embarking on the Camino for some other non-spiritual motive, by the end of and during the trek, they come to find something very unique about themselves. They come to the realization that they are very spiritual beings indeed!
It’s hard for anyone who has ever undertaken the journey to put into words, but there is something very magical about the Camino de Santiago. In fact, many people say that it has a life and energy all its own – and I, for one, am in total agreement! The best part? It doesn’t matter if you walk 100 kilometers or 800 kilometers, you will experience this other-worldliness and you will find answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had.
While on the Camino you will encounter other pilgrims and countrymen (or women) that will renew your faith in humanity and the sweetness of life. And whether you ask for it or not, when finding yourself struggling on the Way – as if by some divine force or intervention – an angel will show up on the path beside you, ready and willing to assist you in some form or fashion. Thirsty and out of water? Someone will magically appear and give you one of their bottles. Need a rain poncho? They packed an extra one just in case.
The Camino abounds with these type of synchronicities and there are just too many to write them off as mere coincidence. It is obvious, even to the non-believers that there is a power or force much greater than themselves at play. And “things” showing up at the right time aren’t the only miraculous events that occur. Time after time, no matter how many kilometers or days walked – you will reunite with the same pilgrims at various points along the path. Those are the pilgrims that you remember the most, as they are the ones who will deliver those special messages or life lessons to you.
It’s no accident that people have been drawn for centuries to undertake the journey and its popularity is increasing as more of us are becoming aware of it. Ask anyone who has ever walked the Camino about their experience, and I guarantee you, not only will their face light up with a huge smile, they will tell you it was and is one of the best things they ever did in their life. (Then they will probably encourage you to go!)
So if you currently find yourself at a personal crossroads, possibly disillusioned with life, wanting a unique physical challenge and vacation – or, just happening to stumble upon this story – the Camino de Santiago may be for you. And how will you know if or when you should go? Well, it’s pretty simple really – as a fellow pilgrim named Tom so eloquently (and amusingly) stated, “When the Camino calls – you go!” Loosely translated: It’s a calling you will feel deeply in your heart and you won’t question it. You will just know – believe me.
Are you ready to find The Way?
**A Personal Footnote of Gratitude:
In the remote chance anyone I encountered on my journey reads this, I want to say thank you to all of the pilgrims and people of Spain who inspired me on my inner journey and assisted me along the way. Your kindness and generosity was greatly appreciated and will always be remembered. Thank you for the bandages, medicine, moose cream, walking stick, tangerines, strawberries, meals, kafe con leche, wine and of course – beer.
A huge “danke” to all the Germans who so patiently helped me with (and corrected) mein Deutsche. Thanks to my British buddy Ian for making me peas and instant mash for my birthday when we got snowed in. And, a very special heartfelt gratitude to my Lithuanian pal “Lithy” who helped carry my backpack that first day up the mountain – I couldn’t have made it without you! You are truly an Angel.