We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our recent trip to Italy complete, my wife and I began wondering "What's Next?" almost immediately. On a particularly rainy day, she suggested we watch "The Way" which she had saved on VOD. I wasn't expecting much, and as movies go I didn't really get much. It was a pleasant, if not bittersweet, story of a widower coming to grips with the loss of a child who had reached adulthood and passed.
What caught my attention, though I'm not sure if it caught my wife's, was the trail itself. I was an avid hiker/camper in my youth. My wife is not. El Camino is roughly 800 km, or about 500 miles, if started in Roncesvalles, France.
The history of El Camino is quite lengthy, a pilgrimage which preceded even the Christian era. With the growth of the Church, and the incorporation of many pagan rituals and groups within the Church itself, El Camino took on new significance as a means of penance. The attraction of Santiago de Compostela is related to the belief that St. James the Greater's (Santiago) tomb is in the church at that site. The belief was, for years, that the path offered an opportunity for penance and spiritual growth, as any pilgrimage seeks to provide.
There were, and to some degree still are, many paths to complete the pilgrimage. Which is one reason given to the rise of the symbol of El Camino, the scallop shell, with many routes ending at a single point. Other reasons for the shell include the belief that to 'prove' one completed the trip, a scallop shell was required to be taken as a token. Scallop shells also happened to provide other traveling purposes, such as acting as a plate for food, or large enough for a small drink of water. All the stories about the shell relate back to some myths about the arrival of St. James' body to Spain's shores.
El Camino is credited with being a starting point for modern tourism. Travelers on the route were fond of bringing back tokens of their trip, and a thriving business grew up around the pilgrimage route. Food, housing, trinkets, all were available and, along with the rise of more secular lifestyles, material goods seemed to be everywhere on the path. Yet even with the rise of secular belief systems and materialistic views, El Camino became more popular than ever.
One of the first accounts of its popularity is available from none other than John Adams, who traveled the route in reverse as he made his way to Paris. His ship put ashore due to leakage on Dec. 8, 1779. From El Ferrol he made his way along the route, noticing pilgrims all along the way, but also noting the accommodations available along the way, some which he took advantage of. Adams, by the end of his trip, had a less curmudgeonly attitude toward the pilgrims and the Catholics he had encountered, and even regretted that he did not have time to make the pilgrimage himself, since awareness of the trip was very high even at that time.
Today, El Camino is something other than what it was meant to be. It is still, in many ways, a spiritual adventure. Certainly if you are seeking something in yourself, any good trip can provide a mixture of solitude, sociability, nature, and exertion which help to provide an environment that cultivates a spiritual outcome. But El Camino's history carries some relevance and value in the hearts of many of its travelers.
The modern Camino is overrun with development. While many nations, such as the United States, have seen private groups spring up to maintain some degree of wilderness trails (such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy), the same has not yet happened with El Camino. The Spanish state, noticing the original route was the flattest, fastest means of getting from point A to point B, has paved a good portion of the roads traveled. In addition, the growth of modern tourism has managed to reduce reliance on the kindness of strangers or the availability of accommodations of various kinds. But every pilgrimage is what you make it. Some people are not so fond of El Camino (this post from a year ago here at Maggie's on July 2, 2014) for these reasons.
Yet it continues to grow in popularity, even if the spirituality of its path has eroded over the years.
I have determined El Camino is something I will do, hopefully within the next two years. My wife asked "Am I welcome?" Of course. But I noted she was not a fan of hiking, camping, or hostels. I'd love to have her as a companion along the route, but I realize this is not a one-size-fits-all adventure. It just isn't suitable for some people. I'm sure she would love it, if she has the wherewithal to undertake the task, so we'll have to see how that goes.
She then stated "If you do it, you can cross it off your bucket list."
I don't see this as a bucket list item. This appears to be a life-affirming trip. I would expect to learn as much about myself as I do about others on a trip like this. I imagine each time a person travels El Camino (or any similar path), they learn new things. Some trips are 'one and done, been there, done that'. El Camino seems to be more than this kind of adventure.
I walked it Sept-Oct, 2014. Even now, I would find it difficult to fully and adequately explain the experience. All I would suggest to anyone else is that if you feel somehow that it's something you should do, that you are "called" to do, then you really should. It's very likely that on the Way you will learn why you felt that. Buen camino.
A friend just did a good stretch of this, traveling alone. She wasn't in particularly good shape physically, but despite that she said it was life changing. She said she wouldn't want to do it alone again though.