“To Pilgrim” – A journey in search of a higher plane. Our pilgrimage was the Camino De Santiago, a 650km trip from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France to Santiago in Spain. We completed 250km over 10 days.
We were told on our first night that every pilgramage should include some suffering. We are unclear why anyone needs to suffer in life (still are), however when in Rome…. Our suffering included 3 days of heavy rain complete with hail, gale force winds at the top of the Pyrenees Mountains, thick deep mud, loud interstate highways, towns with limited access to beer and wine, snoring roomates etc… Despite this “suffering” we met amazing people, enjoyed very social evenings, walked through beautiful ecosystems and quaint old towns (including Pamplona), and had a “right and proper” incredible time.
One highlight was the evening the 21 year old Australian chef offered to cook dinner for about 12 of us and we would provide the wine. Spanish, Danish, Canadian, Australian, Columbian, Austrian and French was heard around the table as we devoured a delicious risotto and multiple litres of wine! If this is what suffering is all about, sign me up for the next round!
Our pilgramage included 25 km a day without the inconvienience and suffering of carrying our worldy goods on our backs as we had them taxied from town to town. We were an exception on the Camino as most people schlepped aproximately 7-10kg of stuff and seemed less than impressed with our higher ideal of not carrying anything. After a few days however, they saw the wisdom of our ways and we became known as the practical pilgrims.
Each night you recoup in monastaries or churches typically run by wonderful volunteers. These volunteers were also tasked with ensuring all pilgrims were evicted by 8:00am each morning. For this task, Gregorian chants, bells, lights turned on, and general mayhem was used to achieve success.
We experienced 2 miracles while on the Camino pilgrimming. The first was the miracle of the never ending flow of wine from a fountain (Fonte). As you can imagine, I was quite excited to walk to this paticular fountain especially after passing through km after km of vineyards. We arrived to the unlocked gates but to our chagrin the fountain was not flowing. After I stopped whining and realized that the fountain was attached to a bodega (Spanish for Winery), I began to suspect the miracle of the wine was not quite so miraculous and subsequently doubted the possibility of miracles happening at all. 2 hours later, as Heather was contemplating the use of the front page of the guide book for an emergency bathroom break because we had no real toilet paper (it was in the taxi with the rest of our stuff) I heard the sound of a heavenly choir, the sun broke through the clouds shining directly on the path and low and behold there stood a roll of toilet paper. This roll was 75% full, crystal clean, and dry as a bone standing right there in the middle of the path. I took this as a sign that miracles are possible and this Holy Roll is still in use today (it doesn’t seem to get any smaller either). Clearly divine intervention…my faith in miracles has been restored.
You may be wondering why pilgrims have walked this route for over 1000 years. My take is Spain was not thickly populated with Christians at about 600AD. The Pope was concerned that the advancing hordes from Turkey may use Spain as a stepping stone to the rest of the Christian world. This was a problem as “sales” were low from Spain and the revenue had flatlined for the Church. Meanwhile in Santiago, St. James’s bones were found and miracles were happening all over the place. Like any good business man, the Pope jumped on this prime opportunity and told everyone to go and visit the bones in Santiago. All the towns along the way benefitted by having stone masons, artists, and engineers etc… help build more infrastructure (churches) and in turn expand the churches influences throughout Spain. Overall this management strategy has been profoundly effective as even today over 100,000 people a year “do” the Camino with estimates that each pilgrim spends $1,500 while doing so! The difference is that today this cash is diversified to include shoe sales, blister remedies, massages, and of course beer and wine!
Our decision to go on the Camino was made in the spur of the moment because we had heard how wonderful it could be. Our experience can only be described as a highlight of our year long adventure as we met incredible people and saw a beautiful part of the world – one of the best last minute decisions ever. For those in the know: “Buen Camino!”