El Camino de Santiago
El Camino de Santiago is a very different type of journey from the Appalachian trail and Pacific Crest Trail. It is nowhere near as difficult, but it can be every bit as interesting.
There are several different routes that “pilgrims” on El Camino take. But by far the most popular is the Camino Frances. It begins in St. Jean’s Pied de Port in southern France. The first day the pilgrim does a 4,300 foot climb over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles in northeastern spain. Believe it or not, that first day is the most difficult day a pilgrim will face. The pilgrim then experiences the delights of the Basque country, with their white stone houses and red roofs. Don’t worry–the terrorist group, ETA, does not attack pilgrims!
The Camino passes through the “meseta” which is a desert-like flat area, known for its broiling heat in the summer. Pilgrims–make sure you have a wide-brimmed, dorky hat like that worn in the desert on the PCT to protect you from the full wrath of the sun.
The best part of the Camino is the Galician region. It is eerily like being in Ireland, with the Celtic people, slate wall fences, and lush landscape. The everpresent hills provide beautiful landscapes. The Camino ends in Santiago de Compostela, which is where legend has it the body of St. James is buried. An enormous cathedral marks the spot. July 25th was the day of his martyrdom at the hands of King Herod, and that is the day of huge pilgrim festivities. It is a national holiday in Spain, and the most important holiday of the year in Galicia.
Finally, I highly recommend that pilgrims continue on 60 more miles (90 kms) from Santiago all the way to the sea at Finistierre (“end of the world”). It is beautiful and historic, as this is where many of the conquistadores set off for the New World. The first view the pilgrim gets of the Atlantic is one for the ages.
Probably the best thing about El Camino de Santiago is the number of different people one meets from all kinds of different countries. By its very nature, a pilgrimage is a more authentic way to travel, and it is impossible for people to maintain their shields all day. Meeting strangers comes naturally, and I still stay in touch with many of them. You learn that people from Germany, France, United States, Scandinavia, and Asia really can get along quite well.
Another attractive feature is that pilgrims don’t have to carry anywhere near as much weight on El Camino de Santiago. Because most pilgrims sleep inside every night at the albergues dotted all over the Camino, it is not necessary to bring a tent. Nor does a person have to carry a lot of food or water. Thus, your backpack should never weigh over about 20 pounds (9 kilograms).
El Camino–on an adventure scale–rates somewhere between the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and a conventional trip–probably a little closer to the former. This allows people who might not feel capable of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail or PCT to do El Camino which runs 500 miles, and can be done in 5 weeks. Americans are just discovering it, so now is a good time to stick your neck out. Last year saw almost 200,000 pilgrims on El Camino. It may be the trail of the future.
The two best known books written on El Camino de Santiago are The Camino by American actress,
Shirley MacLaine and I’m Off Now, by German comedian, Hape Kerkeling.
by Bill Walker
Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail
Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail