“When in doubt, just take the next small step.”
– Paulo Coehlo, The Pilgrimage
Me, contemplating what next
Putting one foot in front of the other and taking the next small step is something I’ve been doing a long time. It’s no secret that hiking is one of my favourite things to do when I travel. It’s also one of my favourite things to do on weekends. There’s something about it that just feels so liberating!
I love the way walking the trail frees me from all those mundane distractions. This clarity and the incredible and unexpected landscapes that I discover are the main reasons why I love trekking.
So, after months of wishing, planning and asking a million questions on the Camino de Santiago, I’ve finally made plans to begin my own pilgrimage.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino is a pilgrimage route that has existed in Spain since the IX Century, when the remains of Saint James Apostle were discovered to be buried in Santiago de Compostela. peregrinos (pilgrims) travelled to Galicia from all over Europe to see it.
Nowadays, there’s an entire network of routes coming from all over Europe to converge at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The most popular way, the Camino Francés (or French Way), was declared the first European Cutural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987 and inscribed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993.
While The Camino has been the subject of many books and films, its popularity probably increased dramatically after the release of Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way, in 2012. Last year, almost 250.000 pilgrims walked reached Santiago – roughly 65% choosing the Camino Francés.
Not me though.
I’m doing the Camino del Norte, or Northern Way – see red route in the map above.
Out of all the routes – why the Camino del Norte?
While significantly less-travelled and more challenging than others, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that the landscapes are worth the challenge. Starting in Irún (a small town in Gipuzkoa, Basque Country), the trail follows the rugged northern coast of Spain, combining coastal walks and mountain hikes.
The entire route from Irún to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) is a +800 km (roughly 500 miles) trek, which most people complete in between 30 and 40 days. The thing is: I don’t have so much time available on one go (in fact – not many people do!), so I’m planning to complete my pilgrimage in smaller episodes.
This time, I’m planning to trek from Irún to Oviedo (roughly 490 km – or 300 miles). This might seem irrational at first: Why not start somewhere halfway to Santiago in order to reach the final destination? First and foremost, Because I’m stubborn – and really really want to, eventually, do the whole thing. But also because it’s summer, and I am excited about seeing more of the Northern coastline – maybe even dip my battered feet into the cold Cantabrian Sea.
After all, the Camino is not so much about the destination, but about the journey!
One of the many things that I love about the Camino is that there is no right and wrong way of doing it. Some people walk the entire +800 km in one go, while others complete theirs by going back year after year. Some stay at albergues and camping sites, others book hostels and hotels on the way. Some go solo, others go in groups – heck, there are even organised tours in case you can’t convince your friends about the fun in walking +20 km per day but don’t really want to do it on your own, either.
Why I’m walking the Camino
People walk the Camino for many reasons – and they’re certainly not always religious. I’ve got many little reasons to walk it. I do it for the challenge and the adventure; to get out of my comfort zone. I walk for the solitude; for the opportunity to unplug, appreciate the present moment and gain some perspective. But then, I also walk for companionship; to meet new people on the road.
I am really looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks thinking of nothing else than taking the next small step!