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Pilgrimages

A Journey to the Edge of the World – The Camino de Fisterra

The goal of every pilgrim walking the routes of the Camino de Santiago is to finally reach Santiago de Compostela, where it is said that the remains of St James, The Greater are interred. The Camino de Fisterra or the Finisterre Way is a little different though having its traditional starting point in that ancient city. For this reason, it does make this short route very unique.

It is common for pilgrims who have walked any of the other routes to Santiago de Compostela, to continue onto the edge of the world. As history will tell us, this is what the ancient pilgrims would have done too.

The ancient symbol of the pilgrimage

For all who are familiar with the Camino de Santiago, the shell worn by modern pilgrims symbolizes that we are on a pilgrimage. Not only is the shell worn by pilgrims but all along the various routes, this symbol of the shell is a waymarker to keep us on track towards our eventual goal. As long as you have a sign of the shell pointing you in a direction, there is no reason to question your progress. You simply follow it onto your next waymarker. It is what epitomises the simplicity of life on the Camino.

Since the scallop shell is natural to the coast of Galicia, in ancient times pilgrims would walk to the coast to retrieve their own shell to demonstrate the completion of their journey. Unlike modern pilgrims, our predecesors completed this pilgrimage as a penance so it was paramount for them to reach the coast. Today, although there are many pilgrims who undertake this journey for religious purposes, many also take to the trails for their own personal reasons. Whatever the reason, this pilgrimage is beloved by the majority who venture out to their respective adventures.

The references to the scallop shell are many, and for more information on this interesting subject please refer to:

The facts about this route, in a “scallop shell”

For those pilgrims short of time, this route is another great option.

Distance: 89km

Time to end: 4 / 5 days

Endpoint: This Camino includes Muxia as an option for an official endpoint for your journey. Both towns have the 0km marker. Many pilgrims choose Finisterre as their endpoint, and tourists visit the site too making Finisterre a busy little hub. If you prefer the quieter option, then Muxia is for you.

Circular Route: Although many pilgrims will continue their journey from Santiago de Compostela to join the Camino de Fisterra since it is a circular route (Santiago de Compostela – Finisterre – Muxia) it can be started at any of these sites

Distance Certificate: The great news for all pilgrims is that whichever route you choose, whichever direction you walk, your Distance Certificate can be issued at any of the sites too. The Information Centre in Finisterre and the Municipal Albergue in Muxia can issue these. Of course, the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela is the “head office” for this task.

There is no better way to experience a Camino than to have a visual of it. If you are planning a walk or waiting for the time to start your walk check out Efren’s Vlog on this very special historical route.

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Pilgrimages

Pilgrimage

I was drawn to the Camino. I had not had any information on this pilgrimage prior to reading about it in a magazine, despite my many travels into Europe. The more I read up on this historic trail, I learned that the Camino de Santiago, does not consist of just one trail, but of many. In Spain, there are currently 15 different routes, in Portugal, and in France, 7 routes. Upon learning this, I realized that I didn’t have enough years in my life left to explore them all, and so I have set about changing my lifestyle in order to achieve this dream.

My pilgrimage is mostly a religious one. I feel the spirit and warmth of faith every day while I am walking, and while I try very hard to bring this feeling into my normal life, that is life not on the Camino I often fail miserably. I love this feeling of peace and tranquillity that I experience on Camino, and I am aware that for me, it comes from a higher place. I have often thought of joining the church, and while I am on Camino, this thought almost becomes a reality for me.

In historical context, for those who don’t know, the remains of St James the Great are said to be interned at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route, traditionally starting in St Jean Pied Du Port on the French Pyrenees is also known as the Camino Frances. The Way of St James, which is any of the many routes currently sign-posted through Europe, represents one of the most important pilgrimages still today, and during the Middle Ages most certainly a primary route upon which on completion, the pilgrim would earn plenary indulgence for one’s sins.

Traditionally the route begins at one’s home, and so pilgrims from all over Europe during the Middle Ages would have walked the route from their front door. Today, there is controversy as to the starting point of the pilgrimage. In order to receive a Compostela, which is your certificate of distance covered and issued by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago De Compostela one needs to walk at least the final 100km’s. This fixes the starting point for this minimum requirement in Sarria, which is around 112km outside of Santiago De Compostela. There is lively discussion around this aspect of the Camino and that a true pilgrim should have started in St Jean. Outside of Sarria, there is a popular milestone upon which the words saying that Jesus didn’t start in Sarria. While it doesn’t have any historical foundation, many pilgrims talk of this and believe that a true pilgrim walks any of the routes from start to finish. My position on it is based on history. It seems quite unimaginable for a pilgrim in the Middle Ages, who might have had his home in the area surrounding Sarria, to walk all the way back to St Jean Pied Du Port to then start his pilgrimage back to Santiago de Compostela. It is based on this practicality, that I base my own pilgrimage on the idea that medieval pilgrims did – it starts when I leave my door. That door is in Johannesburg South Africa, and it really is a pilgrimage since it takes me generally two or three flights, a train, and a bus to the starting point, which was on the first occasion in Pamplona and the second, Sarria. On my way, my mind is fixed (probably more fixated) on the task at hand and is preparing for the way ahead. I practice gratitude every day these days, and when I leave for a pilgrimage I am filled with so much gratitude that it is difficult to contain and even harder to explain the feelings that overwhelm me.

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Pilgrimages

Just follow the yellow arrows

There is a little town just before Puenta La Reina. I wish I had my guidebook with me so that I could remember its name. As I progressed on the trail, I ripped out the stages, so as to lessen the additional weight that I might have been carrying. In retrospect, I am not really sure that I saved any weight, but what I did do, is deface a perfectly good book. In any event, I was passing through this little town and I became quite mesmerized with the lovely church square in the centre of the sleepy town. It was Sunday. It had lovely benches and play areas for worshippers, and visiting families, and I enjoyed the tranquillity of the surroundings. I walked on, and left town.

A few km’s out of town, I realized that I had not seen a yellow arrow for some time. There are a few rules while you are on Camino and being a responsible pilgrim, I generally take note of them. I stopped and contemplated that I might have taken the wrong road out of town. I had been walking on the main road, and this should really have been a sign earlier on for me to turn around.

Despite the tar road, there were many farms alongside it, and perhaps this was why I had not been alerted to my error earlier. Watching an elderly couple work their farm, I noticed the woman was beckoning to me. I crossed the road, and when I arrived within earshot of her, she spoke quickly in Spanish, and again I was so disappointed that I had not learnt the language prior to arriving on my Camino. It is amazing though that even when a language separates people, you understand the importance of what is being said through the gestures and concern on the messenger’s face. She looked very concerned and so I stood and waited for something to make sense to me.

I gestured to her and using my fingers to demonstrate what I was saying, I asked her whether I should be walking back in the direction of town. I know the word for “town” in Spanish is “pueblo” so I asked used this word in between my English words, hoping for the best. She seemed relieved when I finished my finger demonstration and she clapped and waved my along, pointing to town and also using her fingers to tell me to walk back. So off I went.

Arriving back in town, I quickly saw where I had gone wrong, and really if I had been watching, there was no way that I would have taken the wrong road in the first place. There were my trusty yellow markers, boldly displayed and telling me to walk in the opposite direction than I had originally to leave town, and so I was back on track.

It’s not hard really. The guidebook I had used for information on the towns and to learn the history of the particular area that I might be in. It was also a very useful telephone book for the local albergues in the area. But a pilgrim doesn’t really need this guidebook to tell them where they are going, or which direction to walk. You just need to follow the yellow arrows.

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Pilgrimages

It had been a particularly long day on the Camino

I had set off early and had missed breakfast leaving Arzua. It was nearing the end of my days on the trail and I was feeling a little emotional about the whole thing. When I had started, I hadn’t really grasped the whole experience, but now I was entrenched in the simplicity of it all. I loved the people, loved the environment, I just loved it all. Despite the ache that had developed in my pelvis, I had headed out of town, while emotional, happy that I was about to achieve my goal.

Heading into a forest, the hill that was ahead of me, looked like it could have been walked quite easily. After some of the earlier hills, this one looked like a walk in the park. Forgive the pun. I headed into it, and halfway up, my pelvis was feeling like it had the weight of the world suspended on it. My legs ached, my lungs hurt and I just felt defeated. I stood for a long time, just looking down at my boots, looking at them and the dust that I had collected over the km’s I had already covered. I didn’t want to go on. It was just too much for me.

I looked back thinking that that was the way. I looked ahead thinking that the path forward was just too long, and too hard. Either way, I suppose I was right. I remembered a book I had read on your thought process and recalled how what you think you believe. My mind was totally giving up on me!

From behind me, a soft voice spoke. I couldn’t hear the words initially but the closer she came to me I realised that she was speaking in broken English and recognised a Spanish accent. I felt like a fraud being on this path since my Spanish was just so weak. Here I was, feeling sorry for myself, in this lady’s country and she was speaking to me in my home language. Very well too!

All she said was: the hill levels out just past that tree over there. It’s not far, and then you are on flat ground. She smiled at me and walked on past. She was wearing a backpack, so I assumed that she was a regular on the trail. I think I assumed correctly. I waited a while and watched her trudge up the hill. Even if I had tried my best, she looked like a walker who would outpace me on a flat trail. She reached the tree ahead, turned to look at me and waved, and then disappeared over the rise. Smiling, knowing that she was right about her assessment of the hill ahead, I gathered myself and started up the hill. Arriving at the tree, there ahead of me was nothing but flat road.

My Camino angel had disappeared from my sight, perhaps she was a figment of my imagination, perhaps she just walked really fast?  Either way, I was looking at the rest of the trail with a renewed vision, and I was taking another step closer to living life with gratitude and purposefully.

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Pilgrimages

An introvert on the Camino

What! You are going to walk across Spain, on your own, and then spend your evenings in a populated albergue – with other people! Other people who are highly likely to talk to you! Ask you questions! Want to share their wine with you! Do you remember that you are an introvert?!

Since I am an introvert, this was a conversation that I had with myself. It really did play on my nerves leading up to my departure. How was I going to make it through this ordeal? This ordeal that had the potential to always present itself with social occasions. Social occasions, networking, talking to other people have traditionally always sent me into yellow alert, and have always triggered my self -preservation mechanism to hide out in a bathroom or find a safe spot in a corner somewhere, where I could simply watch people, which is a favourite past-time of mine. But I had to go. So I went.

On my very first night, although the albergue was quiet, the restaurant in the albergue was quite full. I placed myself strategically in a spot where I could see everyone walking through the door and had a good view of the general layout of the space. The hospitalera was wonderful! I suppose she sees many pilgrims on their own, which is common on the Camino, and so she treated me with the care that her years of experience knew how to. Into the second course, a young man and his mother asked if they could share my table. This is normal practice on the Camino, especially in albergues where a meal is prepared for the pilgrims on the trail. That feeling that I had experienced in Madrid on my second time out hit me right in the gut! It happened so quickly, but there was a sense of peace, and I welcomed the offer of company. Strangely enough!

We shared a bottle of wine (I had around a quarter glass, since I can’t hold my liquor anymore) and introduced ourselves and spoke briefly of our plans for the next day, and what brought us to this journey. I listened with such awe as to how this young man spoke of his mother, who was in her 60’s I would think, and the blessing it was for him to spend this time with her. We shared a few laughs and then fell into silence while finishing the remainder of our meal. We watched the going-on’s and then meandered up the stairs to sleep, greeting each other with respect and a good night that we knew we would all have, having walked up Alto del Perdon earlier in the day.

There I was enjoying time with like-minded people, enjoying the time in sharing a meal, and just being who I am, with other people and not feeling like I needed to run away. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of belonging, and all I wanted to do was stay. Stay there, on the trail, with those like-minded people, who held space for me and held it with such care and love. I fell in love on that night. I have been in love before, but this was a different feeling of love. It was love for me! Love for this life, and love for what life held for me.

I am an introvert. On the Camino I am an introvert, but I am ok being with pilgrims. Ok, I am not just ok, I flourish on the Camino.

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Pilgrimages

An introduction to the Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino is a network of routes which all converge in the city of Santiago de Compostela, where it is believed that the remains of the apostle Saint James the Great, are interred.

These routes are popular with walkers, cyclists and tour groups. The individual’s reasons for undertaking this walk, range from personal challenges; to being at one with nature; being able to enjoy a relatively cost-effective holiday and still the most popular, spiritual upliftment.

The Way of St James

In English, the Way of St James is the Spanish equivalent of the Camino de Santiago.

James, son of Zebedee or also known as James the Greater was born in Galilee and was one of 12 apostles. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament.

Being a member of Jesus’s inner circle, he was beheaded under order from King Herrod Agrippa I, and his body was taken to Santiago de Compostela according to Spanish tradition.

The shrine in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela attracts thousands of pilgrims, from all corners of the world.

How many routes are there?

In Spain, there are 15 routes.

In Portugal, one route and

In France, there are seven routes, all of which make up the Camino de Santiago

Focus on the Camino Frances

Arguably, the most popular of all the routes, since it draws record numbers of pilgrims throughout the year. Known for its well-marked paths and easy access to facilities, this route is especially popular for solo travelers, and generally, first-timers will start their Camino experience here.

The route has its traditional starting point in St Jean Pied de Port, which is located in southwest France and at the foothills of the Pyrenees. According to popular guidebooks, the route all the way to Santiago de Compostela, the traditional endpoint is divided into 32 stages and covers a total distance of approximately 790km’s (491 miles). The daily routes are flexible enough and offer regular respite for pilgrims and if those distances seem too hefty, a pilgrim is able to split up stages, since Albergues are located at regular intervals on the entire route.

QUICK FACTS

  • A network of routes popular with walkers, cyclists and tour groups
  • The Camino de Santiago comprises 23 routes (currently marked)
  • The Camino Frances, one route in the network, covers a distance of 790 km’s or 491 miles
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Pilgrimages

A day in the life of a Pilgrim

It really is simplicity in its purest form. To summarise a day: you wake up, put your boots on (since you are generally already dressed in your walking clothes, to save weight in your backpack you are not carrying pajamas and those luxuries) and you walk, stopping along the trail to eat, have a coffee (in Spain I order a café con leche – it really is very energising) fill your water bottle, find an Albergue to sleep at, eat a simple meal, take a welcoming shower and then back to bed. For as many days as you need or plan your walk – it is a repeat of that simple cycle.

While the day is purely simplistic, the process is engaging, invigorating and life-changing. Along the route, you might discover some very interesting aspects of your personality that you never understood. I am not a psychologist, and would never assume to provide guidance on this point, but for me, I learned to accept things that I couldn’t change, to accept things as they are, and to live with gratitude – gratitude for what was the past and gratitude for what is the future.  My future had never seemed clearer.

It was clear to me when I really started to experience the Camino, that I didn’t have the need to restore a broken life. I was not filled with grief for loss; I wasn’t trying to get over a bad spell nor was I trying to right a wrong. While I miss my mother especially, I don’t feel trauma by her physical loss. In fact, when I think of all the people that are physically not present for me anymore, I don’t experience a wave of emotion for their absence. They are ever-present, and I always feel that they are by my side with every step that I take in my life, and on the Camino, it was the strongest presence of them that I had ever felt.

Undoubtedly, my mother would understand why I have gone on this journey. She would probably be able to articulate the reason why I am here at this point in my life, far better than I can. She would say that it is the draw of the adventure of the Camino; the simplicity of it all; and the spiritual upliftment that I experience when I am walking from place to place, and being very far from the noisy world that we all belong to.

We should really all experience this type of day – the simple day, where faith takes you on your journey and delivers you to your destination.

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Pilgrimages

Camino – my pilgrimage.

I was sitting reading a magazine having a pedicure. I generally do this, when I want to avoid opening a discussion with others. I am an introvert you see. I can’t remember the name of the magazine, but I came across an article describing the Camino de Santiago, and how this pilgrimage had changed the author’s life.  I was intrigued!

It took me some three years to go on my first Camino, after reading that article. In fact, I had a pilgrimage planned but postponed it, having to have my second hip replaced. I now have two ‘bionic’ hips. In any event, when I eventually went on pilgrimage, on my first attempt I turned out really disliking it. I injured myself and had to return home to recover. Since I had all the time in the world though, I had resigned my job, I decided to return to Spain after some recovery time and finish this thing called the Camino.

There was something that happened on my return to Spain. I flew into Madrid and was waiting for my train to take me to my starting point, and it sounds like a cliché, but I had this warmth inside me, and I suddenly had this all-encompassing feeling of peace. I have lived an awesome life, but this feeling was so new – I had never felt this before. Here I was, back in Spain to finish something that I had dreamed of for such a long time, and I had such faith that this time I was going to be ok.

You see, it was initially about getting what all pilgrims know as the “Compostela” This is a certificate of completion for the distance you have walked on the Camino. To qualify for the Compostela, a pilgrim needs to walk at least the last 100km, which is verified in the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela. This time around, I didn’t have that on my mind – it was all about dealing with this dream of mine, to see the world, to live with freedom and mostly about trying to live a more purposeful life. I’ve traveled a lot, but this trip was very different – it really was a pilgrimage. And in the end, I discovered that it really was a journey to me, back to myself, and everything I ever needed, I had already