El Camino de Santiago – A Personal Pilgrimage

This year is special year for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago for it is a Jacobean Year – celebrated when a saint´s feast day falls on a Sunday.

The story of El Camino de Santiago, named after Jesus’ apostle James ( Santiago in Spanish), starts in 44 A.D., the year in which the apostle is believed to have died.

According to legend, although Jesus and his apostles lived in the Holy Land, once Santiago died, his body was transported to Galicia – which like Palestine was also part of the Roman Empire and where he was buried.

Over the subsequent centuries the location of the tomb was lost as the Iberian Peninsular saw the upheavals of the fall of the Roman Empire and waves of invaders such as the Pagan Visigoths in the 6th century and Islamic Moors in the 8th.

It was not until the year 813, a traveller stumbled across and rediscovered Santiago’s tomb. The bishop of Iria, Teodomirio, claimed it was the tomb of Santiago.

When the powerful King Alfonso II of Castille, was informed of the discovery, became the first pilgrim to reach Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrimages became an important part of medieval life and Santiago de Compostela became the most important destination after Jerusalem fell to the Saracens in the
12th century.

Pilgrimages declined until the 19th century when they saw a resurgence in popularity and rules established for the modern pilgrim which stand to this day.

To celebrate and enjoy a phenomenum that has endured centuries, we team up with travel blogger, Daniela Villalobos, who set off this summer to experience the Camino first hand.

“All pilgrims wanting to complete the Camino, all of which I had to adhere to get a pilgrim passport that you must get stamped as proof of completing the Camino.

The rules are listed in the passport:

  • You must do the camino on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or by sailing, with the purpose
    of religion or reflection.
  • If you’re doing it on foot, you have to do at least 100 km, if you’re doing it on bike, you
    have to do at least 200 km.
  • You must get your pilgrimage passport stamped at least twice in a day to get validated at
    the end of journey.

Simple enough, right? So, as soon as we got our passport we were ready to start the pilgrimage to Santiago.

Shells are a very prominent sign along the Camino to lead pilgrims to the city of  Santiago de Compostela. Shells have had a meaning for a very long time regarding the Camino. In the past, when pilgrims had to cross many towns to get the city, many times they were mistaken for thieves and they were attacked by townspeople. But, pilgrims started wearing shells to say that they were not thieves and were only

walking in that town to complete the pilgrimage. Although today the shell serves little to no purpose, many pilgrims, including myself, hang a shell from their backpack to continue the tradition.

The trek that was coming was gonna be total of six days where we would do 125 km (77.67 miles). The Camino that I was doing is the Portuguese trail along the coast and I started in Baiona, Spain, although those who want a longer trail can start in Portugal. Let me just say, I started out cocky, I was sure that it would not be as hard as it sounded. Now that I’ve done it I can confidently say it is much harder than what it sounds like. Every day we walked between 15 and 25 kilometers (9.3 to 15.5 miles) and it was usually closer to the higher end. It was one of the hardest things I have
ever had to do in my life.

The biggest thing to remember in the Camino de Santiago is that more than enduring physically (even though it is very important), your mind has to be even stronger.

Every single time I wanted to give up under the blazing sun, my mind would tell my legs and my feet “shut up!”. My mind knew that even though my legs and feet were
throbbing in pain, I could make it, and I would make it. Every time I wanted to give up I would think about how long and far I traveled to experience this and that my goal
was to get to Santiago de Compostela no matter how hard it was.

The first three days were the most painful, most of the people in my group had huge blisters on their feet that made the Camino 1000x harder, the process of your body
getting used to walking so much is hard as every muscle aches. Once I reached the fourth day, my body had finally gotten used to the walking and it started feeling a
little easier. By drinking a lot of water and a eating a snack and power gummies every hour, I would get to the next destination every day. But, I can’t stress it enough, “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate”. One day I got very dehydrated and I felt awful once I got the destination, without water, the Camino is very difficult.

Although there was pain, tears, and frustration there were also moments that made it all worth it. Whether it be a crazy man working in a woodshop teaching us all about the history of Europe, to people clapping in the street as we reached the city, we met and interacted with so many different characters.

In my group for the Camino, we were a total of 21 persons. Interacting with every single person and getting to know them better was an extremely positive experience for me. When you complete such a challenging task with a group of people, you are able to bond and become closer.

Even people that were not in my group and I just got the chance to meet for thirty seconds or thirty minutes, they left an impression in how I view the Camino. I thank every single person that I interacted with on the Camino because they made it all worth it.

On day six, when I finally reached the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela it was extremely rewarding. Knowing that I walked those 125 kilometers in only six days, and that my mind refused to let my body give up, was very fulfilling. The excitement in the air is indescribable. Many people in my group were crying and I could not stop smiling. Although it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, it was an unforgettable experience.

Although the Camino de Santiago was only six days for me, the Camino is a metaphor for life. All the ups and downs, all the times you might want to give up, all the arguments and apologies. The Camino showed me that one day might be the worst but the next day could be the best. I learned a lot while doing this trek and it prepared me to continue on this crazy journey called life”.


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