The Camino de Santiago, also known in English as the Way of St James, is a pilgrimage hike that takes place over a couple of days or weeks and can start at any point in France, Spain or Portugal. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It’s also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organised tour groups. Dina do Couto from travel company Camino With Me gives useful advice for those wanting to take this journey.
Camino With Me has partnered with PinkDrive, which will give pilgrims a choice to raise funds for breast cancer as they walk or ride The Camino. PinkDrive is an indispensable and tangible breast cancer Public Benefit Organisation powering South Africa’s first mobile PinkDrive Mammography Unit and PinkDrive Educational Unit throughout our country, driving home the fact that ‘Early Detection Will Help Prolong A Life’.
Why do it?
In today’s modern world, it is good to slow down and take a journey back in time, while at the same time feeding and growing your spirituality and religion and also finding your space and your meaning as you walk the path of self-discovery.
Your Camino will be well assisted and welcomed by local residents with rest house along the way as it was many years ago when St James was spreading Christianity in Spain in AD 44. Some believe that we all eventually travel to Santiago, whether in life or in death. With the increase in pilgrims over the years, the need for development has increased, so albergues, hotels and guest houses along the path are easily available and accessible. There is no starting point to your journey to Santiago.
A little about St James (Santiago)
Saint James is the patron saint of Spain and, according to legend, his remains are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The name Santiago is the local evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctu Iacobu, ‘Saint James’, (with San Diego also being a derivative of Santiago). The traditional pilgrimage to his grave has been the most popular for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Ages onwards.
The Acts of the Apostles record that ‘Herod the king’ (traditionally identified with Herod Agrippa) had James executed by the sword. James the Greater is traditionally believed to be the first of the Apostles martyred for his faith.
The remains of the Apostle were transported from Jaffa Port (in Palestine) all along the Mediterranean and the Iberian coast. And this journey finished by the confines of the Western world, were he used to preach the gospel. This is known as the Traslatio. The remains of St James, followed by his disciples Teodoro and Anastasio, and guided by an angel, arrived into the Estuary of Arousa, and continued through the Ulla River up to Padrón. It docked on the Roman port of Iria Flavia.
Where to go?
It is entirely up to you where you want to start from. Some pilgrims take an annual pilgrimage and start off where they last ended and will cover the distance they have the time for over a period of years. Other pilgrims choose a full route and cover the 790km on the traditional route over 35 days. There are many routes all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela.
It’s not a matter of how long, it’s a matter of how many kilometres you can cover in a day, how many days you have available and how fast you want to walk. Remember that you have to walk 100km or cycle 200km of the Camino de Santiago in order for your credentials to be stamped.
Best time to go?
The best time weather-wise would be late August to early October. The hottest and busiest time will be June, July and August. April will probably be raining and cold. November, December, January, February and March are cold months especially in the north of Spain. Most albergues will be shut and some routes will be too dangerous to walk during these months due to rain and snow.
The cost is entirely up to your requirements and how you choose to do your Camino. I have stayed in albergues that have cost me R203 (12 euros) per night and where I have shared a dorm with 10- 20 other pilgrims and have eaten pilgrim meals that have cost me R170 (10 euros) for a three course meal.
Other times I have shared accommodation with friends and shared a hotel or hostel room at a cost of R510 (30 euros) per pilgrim – R1018 (average 60 euros per room) – and have had my own shower. I have stayed in monasteries that have cost me R850 (50 euros) per person per night – I highly recommend it. I suggest at least a one night’s stay in a Spanish Paradores, a luxury hotel or at accommodation in castles, palaces, convents, monasteries, fortresses and other historic buildings.
Accommodation along the route and close to the path of the Camino is also available. Some hotels have transfer services available. Hostels, hotels, rural homes or guest houses are usually rated by 3 star and they are well kept comfortable and tidy.
– Dorm sharing with other pilgrims: between 10–20.
– Private room: neat and tidy and usually has shared bathrooms. Albergues don’t offer breakfast. Hostels, Hotels, rural houses and guest houses usually include breakfast but very seldom include lunch or dinner.
Before deciding to do the Camino consider the following questions:
1. What do you want from the Camino? A get-away, family holiday, finding yourself, solitude etc.
2. How would you like to do the Camino? You can walk, ride or even run it.
3. How many kilometres per day would you like to walk/cycle/run? Check to see how many days you have available.
4. Reasons for doing the Camino? Religious, spiritual, cultural, sightseeing, team building or gastronomy. Your Camino routes and accommodation can be arranged and booked for every requirement.
5. How would you like to do the Camino? Group, alone or with a friend or friends, guided or unguided.
6. What type of accommodation would you prefer to stay in? Albergue – shared or private room-, dorm, hostel, hotel, rural home or guest house.
7. Where would you like your accommodation to be situated along the Camino path? On the path or 1–4km from the path?
8. How would you prefer to walk? Slower to enjoy it or quicker to finish before late afternoon?
9. Do you walk with walking poles? Seriously consider walking with poles even if you are fit enough to walk with ease. The poles alleviate 33% of pressure off your feet and legs and there will be less chance of blisters and falling or tripping.
10. Do you want your bags to be transferred through? There is a service available throughout the Camino. These services are cheap and reliable and I suggest using them throughout your Camino journey. This service can also be used at certain times only if you decide that you want to carry your bags most of the Camino to Santiago.
11. On a scale of 1 -10 how would you rate your walking fitness? Preparation is necessary for the mind and body. Once you are physically and mentally prepared, you will have time to wonder as well as get the experience of a lifetime.
12. Do you need Camino gear or help with your gear? A good comfortable tried and tested pair of shoes are the most important item on your ‘to pack list’. There are plenty of hiking shops available that will be willing and able to assist you.
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