-A journey, esp. a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion:
-Any long journey, esp. one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, such as to pay a journey to a sacred place or shrine.
-A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.
CLASSIFICATION OF PILGRIMAGE SITES
- Monuments – structures left o the landscape by earlier civilizations
- Artifacts – moveable objects created by earlier civilizations
- Megalithic Tomb. Built of large stones; burial chamber(s); roofed in stone; on an earthen mound; known as Dolmens, Cromlechs or Druid’s Altars. 4 categories:
- Court tombs (open court at entrance) used for relig. Ceremonies – face east, burials cremated; Before 3000 BC
- Portal Tombs – 3 or more stones w/ a capstone; usually Domlons (150 in Ireland) 2500-2000 BC
- Passage Tombs round mond w/ passage into chamber. Neolithic age c4000-200 BC often faced w/ white guartz; found in concentrations (300 in Ireland) e.g. Newgrange
- Wedge Tombs; chamber that narrows and lowers – face winter setting sun. 400 in Ireland (100 in Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland) Early Bronz Age, after 2000BC
- Mounds, Carins & Barrows; Circular mounds; various sizes thru varying ages; usually burial mounds
- Ringfords 30-40K, most numerous; Neolithic to Mediaeval. Circular 25M to 50m in diameter; some oval or D shaped. “Rath” very common in Irish townland names.
- Stone Forts. When the bank is a stone wall, then they are stone forts. Many have steps.
- Hillforts and Promontory Forts – forts constructed on hills. Usually Iron Age. Often became defense strongholds.
- Stone Circles, mostly mid-Ulster and Cork/Kerry, also elsewhere; 180 in Ireland; Cork/Kerry best ones 4 to 17 m in diameter and p to 17 stones. Usually combined w/ alignments and burial areas; appear to be for rituals. Astronomical theories discredited
- Standing Stones. Widespread. Varying height, max 5m. probably multi purpose – phallic; some have male and female pairs.
- Ogham Stones; old writing mostly Cork, Kerry, Waterford.
- Holed Stones; small number of stones have holes perforated through them.; unclear as to purpose but connected to folklore re; fertility, childbirth, love making. Hands clasped through holes to seal love bargains.
- Petroglyphs, contain concentric rings, spiral and circles. Believed to be for ritual magical purposes. Associated w/ Bronze Age folks.
*Buriel Tombs – Newgrange – pilgrimage aspect. While the astronomical significance of many of the sites has been discounted (at least as anything more than rudimentary astronomy), Newgrange appears to be an exception....
NOTES ABOUT THE ALBUM
Few events change one’s life as deeply as a sacred pilgrimage—a journey that recharges the spirit, returns us to wholeness of mind and body, and brings clarity to our relationship with the divine. On Celtic Pilgrimage, Irish harpist Áine Minogue uses instrumental music and rich lyrical poetry to capture the full emotional spectrum of a pilgrimage. From the initial fears of unknown territory and the longing for home, to the new perspective and the rediscovery of joy we gain when the journey is complete, these eleven moving selections lead us on adventure in sound to remind us of the sacred road we all travel.
With Eugene Friesen on cello; Steve Gorn on Bansuri flutes; Scott Petito on keyboards, bass, and guitar; percussion by Chris Carey; and overtone singing by Baird Hersey.
A personal letter from Aine
I have always loved old places or even land that had an old feel to it. It was inevitable that having visited and loved so many sacred sites that the Camino de Santiago, which runs through the Celtic area of Spain known as Galecia, would eventually make the list. This one was different, it involved a bit of walking. The route stretches a full five hundred miles. My journey began 300 miles from Santiago in Burgos, an accident of language and train schedules. It ended in Finesterra, (tr: "end of the world") the more ancient end point by the sea.
In between was the journey or "Celtic Pilgrimage," one I've seen written about many times but rarely expressed through music. In Ireland, pilgrimage has never really gone out of fashion and although not a common practice today, pilgrimage is making a resurgence in the modern West.
In any tradition, pilgrimage honors the sacred and powerful nature of places. It provides a direct means for connection to miraculous events and people. Often physically and emotionally taxing, it is thought to be a humbling and transformative rite of passage.
The three patron saints of Ireland, the well known St. Patrick, St. Brigid and St. Colmcille, each have their own pilgrimage sites, some dating to pre-Christian times. The tradition of climbing the mountain Croagh Patrick, often barefoot, has never waned. People continue to visit the site of Patrick´s Purgatory. The pilgrimage sites of St. Brigid, a very complex ¨saint¨ connected to the Celtic Goddess Brigid, are numerous, if not as well known. Brigid´s wells can be found throughout Ireland, containing waters that are believed to have curative powers. St. Colmcille was himself a pilgrim monk.
During the Middle ages, the three primary pilgrimage destinations were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago in Northwestern Spain. There are several routes across Europe that lead to Santiago, however, the five hundred mile “French” route beginning in St. Jean Pied de Por, just over the French border, has remained virtually intact for over 1000 years and is traversed annually by over 70,000 pilgrims of all faiths from all over the world.
Originally I envisioned Celtic Pilgrimage as a sort of travelogue, a musical diary. But as often happens when one undertakes a journey, preconceived notions must be abandoned and the path itself becomes the destination. I find that although the outer pilgrimage is complete, my inner pilgrimage has not ended. Will it ever? I invite you to follow the footsteps of the countless pilgrims that precede us and to begin your own sacred journey.
"May the longtime sun shine on you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide you on your Way."(From 'Blessing' Celtic Pilgrimage, Traditional Celtic Blessing)
A PERSONAL EXPERENCE
This album seeks to express the physical & spiritual landscape of a pilgrimage across Celtic sacred spaces, most specifically the Camino de Santiago, arguably the most active pilgrimage route in the world.
During the Middle ages, the three primary pilgrimage destinations were Jerusulem, Rome and Santiago in Northwestern Spain. There are several routes across Europe that lead to Santiago, however, the five hundred mile “French” route beginning in St. Jean Pied de Por - just over the French border - has remained virtually intact for over 1000 years.
My own journey began 300 miles from Santiago in Burgos, an accident of language and train schedules. It ended in Finesterra, the more ancient end point by the sea.
They say that everyone has their own Camino and one of these day I may well share that journey in words, as opposed to just in music (Celtic Pilgrimage).
I can however share practical tips with you;
what to bring;
where to fly from and to;
where to start with research.
Then, when you get back, you can tell me your Camino stories.
What I can tell you is that it's virtually impossible to come away from this walk unchanged.
A friend asked me – “is this some kind of a flailing thing?
No it’s not.
Many cultures have had the wisdom to pass on the value of walking a distance for several days at a time to a specific site. They would have walked to the place of a saint of holy man/woman. Newgrange has been around since before the pyramids. Stonehenge, Avebury, some of the most ancient monuments on the planet were and continue to be pilgrimage sites.
Why go on one? It’s a little hard to explain. Suffice it to say that walking day after day, with everything you need (or are going to get) on your back, without the encumbrance and anesthesia of life’s pleasures or distractions simply does something to you.
The facades of life’s trappings are left at home. Everyone looks pretty much the same, light clothes, a hat and a backpack – nothing to hide behind. No one cares much what you do for a living. This eco-system is interested in where you started your journey; whether you intend to go to Finisterra; (more on this later) and who you met…
The facades of outer ‘personality’ tend to disappear. You’re likely to meet your dinner companions brushing their teeth in the hostel at 6a.m. the next morning, so there’s just no point in being wildly charming…. It’s too exhausting to keep up. So another façade drops off.
When you remain facadeless for long enough, there’s nothing to stop what’s inside from spilling out…. Years of long forgotten memories tend to come back over the longs hours in the Spanish sun.
People spend time in anger, grief and even extatic states. But, mostly you’re just walking, and when you get to a certain point in the walk, by a certain time in the day, you start to let everything go. That is, unless you want your head to explode.
You simply cannot walk day after day, without finally doing the thing that the universe has always been asking you to do – to just drop into your body and be on the earth one moment at a time, with no more thoughts running through your head, but just the desire to put one foot in front of the other, one step and one moment at a time.
I joked to a friend of mine who is a philosopher/religious scholar ‘you should do this thing – I didn’t have a spiritual thought in five weeks.’ He congratulated me on my ‘post spiritual’ status but asked if I would pray for a friend in any event!
Were it not so extraordinarly grounding, it would have been almost disappointing…. It was really simple, eat, sleep, put one foot in front of the other, go to a holy place every day for a few minutes, light a candle; do some little thing for a fellow traveler, and mind your own business after that as best you can… That’s it! Yeah, pretty much – that’s it. The big answer to the big question.
The path to divinity was paved with the practical consideration of being in a body, a physical body that seemed to need a fair amount of attention and that knew it’s own limits and possibilities without too much interference except to do the best I could. A physical body that I needed to take care of so that it didn’t fall to someone else to do my own work.
‘So, is this some kind of Catholic thing of something?” another friend asked.
It is for many, but most of the pilgrims I met were not. Many of the folks on my path happened to be Buddhists, some were of no faith. There’s an unspoken rule on the Camino that you don’t ask anyone “why’ they’re doing it. It’s considered too personal. But, you make friends. And, such things get discussed.
I met a man who was going home to die; another to cease dying and get into the joy of living again after a prolonged period of grief. Many couples intending to marry walk the path together. They feel if they can walk together, they can probably live together for the duration. Many people made big decisions on the Camino.
No, it’s not a flailing thing or a Catholic thing or any thing. I couldn’t tell you why I decided to do it – I could only say that I felt ‘drawn’ to it and got slightly annoyed when people questioned me. “I just wanted to.” That’s the answer.
All that said, if you feel 'drawn' to the Camino and wonder if you can do it alone, perhaps this information may be of help to you. I can tell you that if anyone had told me (after having spent a fair amount of my adult life with chronic back-pain) that I would walk 350 miles, I would have said they were insane. There's an old saying "patience will take a straw to Jerusalem on a snail's back."
There are people who do the Camino over a ten year period, going back each summer for ten days and doing five miles a day. (over ten years - that's 500 miles) Seventy Thousand people travel the Camino path each year and I'm pretty sure that they're not all ultra-fit. There are the very old who only do a few miles. And the ultra fit who can cover twenty-five miles in a day.
When I returned from the Camino, someone asked me if it is true that it is really grueling. Yes, it's true. It can be beyond difficult, and take you to limits you didn't know existed. There is pain, both physical, spiritual and emotional, but it is doable. Even those who find they have to leave the walk tend to leave the experience having gained something. Some have considered the humility of having to walk away to be the wisdom they gained from The Way.
All that said, along with the birth of my wonderful son, it was a major highlight of my life. And, yes - in both cases - I forgot the pain:)
As they say on the walk "Buen Camino" (Good Camino).
FOR THE TRAVELER
By John O Donohue
Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.
Equipment list for walking the Camino
(El Camino de Santiago)
This is exactly what I needed, no more and no less.
I won't ever try to tell you Not to bring more.
We all do.
Then, we make a trip to the post office to send it home ;)
Got most of my stuff at REI (rei.com)since it's a favorite. Great US Company! (nope, not on commission ;)
Temps in Spain in Summer on the Camino are really high by day. It's a good rule of thumb to buy gear that has SPF protection built in. In terms of backpack weight, for women - no more than 10% of bodyweight. And since the camel pak (for water) carries 1 1/2 litres, things get fairly exact. I'm counting ounces here - so here goes:
THE BIG STUFF (See links below to each specific product)
* On road shoes - runners or boots, your choice, broken in
* Backpack (see links to videos below for packing info)
* Backpack cover (for the plane and in Galecia, rains a lot)
* Camel Pack (water container fitted into the backpack, get valve on mouthpiece to avoid leaking)
* Sleeping Bag Liner (silk, not the mummy shaped ones - uncomfy)
* Convertible pants (trousers to Shorts) X 2
* Shirts (sun protection, long sleeved if light skinned) X2
* Fleece Jacket (X1) cold early morning, late evening
* Lightweight wool socks (X2)
* Light weight undersocks (X2 or X4)
* Rainjacket (merrell is a favorite brand in this instance)
* Lightweight travel towel ( X1)
* Hat (with built in sunscreen. Consider one that covers the back of your neck
* light nightshirt for bedtime (I used an ultralight dress)
* off road shoes (you won't be on the trail all the time)
THE SMALL STUFF
First aid kit: http://www.rei.com/product/753285
Add to kit: Mosquito repellant (just a few sample size sachets of cream) only needed it one day.
Earplugs (for sleeping). (bring extras for fellow pilgrims - you'll make friends fast;)
Blister kit (second skin, needle & thread (trust me, take it), extra bandaids
Sunscreen; separate one for your face (travel size) (pack in front pockets of backpack so they're near at hand. I applied sunscreen about 5 times a day!)
Lots of zip lock bags (in case rain gets into you backpack and for the showers at the hostels).
Shampoo: Initially, use for soap, shampoo and washing clothes, then buy as you go.
Safety pins for pinning laundry to back pack to dry as you walk (bring a dozen, great for hanging clothes on line, etc.)
Travelsize toothbrush & toothpaste
Lip gloss (so you still feel like a girl after several weeks of walking)
Compact camera (preferably shock proof and water proof)
Small notebook and pen
PURCHASE IN SPAIN
Magnesium tablets (ask for the Farmacia)
Small pocket size pack of tissues
Wintergreen or some muscle helper
Sunscreen and shampoo, etc. as needed.
Rule of thumb (If you're crossing the Pyrenees, you may need boots)
For all else - runners/sneekers/trainers should do just fine. You can ask around and go with what you think will work best for you.
How to Choose Hiking Footwear:
Breaking in Hiking Boots:
Consider (protection for toes, waterproof for use in the shower, do they dry overnight, could be used with backpack for short distances if feet get seriously overheated.
CHOOSING THE BACKPACK:
Finding your torso and hip size:
Adjusting the fit of your backpack:
How to Hoist a Loaded Backpack:
How to pack your backpack:
Opinions vary. I happened to like the heavy stuff around my hips and lighter stuff up top. I found if I put the heavier stuff between my shoulder, it threw me off balance. This video's advice seems better suited to men than women. A good rule of thumb for women: Where do you carry children? If low on your hips - Put the weight there. If against you in your middle - put it there. You already know your weight center….
Lots of great ones. Osprey is a favorite around here.
Yip, after all that, the backpack is Not waterproof. (water gets in through zippers)
You'll need this for air-travel and in Galecia where it tends to rain a lot.
The lightest ones you can find.
Supposedly, there's an entire art to walking with poles. Frankly, I found none of it useful. However, it's tough to make it to Santiago without them. It's dem downward hills!
The 'camel-pack' i.e. a big bag of water goes inside the Backpack. " Look Maw, no hands." There is a flexible 'straw' of sorts that hangs down over your shoulder, so when you need a drink - it's readily available.
NOTE: Whatever camel pak you decide on, make sure the mouthpiece has a valve, otherwise, it's likely to leak.
SLEEPING BAG LINER (Silk)
I was advised that I didn't need a heavy sleeping bag unless traveling during the colder months. These come in the shape of a mummy sleeping back. go w/ the rectangular one - it really helps - much more comfy.
The lightest one you can find; for getting up in the middle of the night in the dark; in case you start on the road before or during sunset; for reading after lights out.
Don't bring a handheld - too heavy; your hands will be busy with other things (e.g. while walking - with walking poles)
CLOTHES NOTE: All clothes should have built in sun protection (applies to hat also)
Convertible pants (X 2) (can upzip bottoms; inbuilt sun protection)
(perfect - lots of pockets. Built in sunscreen if you don't feel like applying sunscreen.
Shirts (X2) (in built sun protection)
(if you're very light skinned, consider long sleeves. I got short sleeves and regretted it - applied sunscreen 5 times daily!)
Fleece Jacket (X 1)
(be careful - stuff can fall out of the pockets. Use your convertible pants for pockets)
SOCKS. Almost as important as the shoes in terms of blister prevention.
heavy socks (X2)
Light undersocks (2-4 pairs) worn underneath heavy socks
Don't buy this. Buy the Merrell version. Be sure it has zipped underarm ventilation.
Travel towel (X1)
(don't panic, you'll get used to it)
FAQ; WALKING THE CAMINO -
Everything you need to know about walking the Camino
I was fascinated by the idea of walking the Camino.
While I was told there was a lot of info online, I found that much of it was either in Spanish or geared towards European residents.
This FAQ is a compilation of information that I would like to have had access to during my own research process. Once you get on the road, there are lots of other pilgrims to guide you on your way.
I think this info may prove especially helpful to women traveling alone, particularly those who don't speak Spanish! Hopefully, it will be of help to anyone wishing to travel The Way.
PART I: PLANNING
There are 6 Camino Routes that I know of. The most commonly travelled one for walkers is the "French Route." It starts at Saint Jean Pied de Por on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains and continues westward across Northern Spain. It ends in Santiago. Many people go on to the coast to Finisterrae (more on this later).
WHO CAN GO?
Absolutely anyone. I met people of all faiths from Zen Buddhists to atheists.
The walk was and still is a Catholic pilgrimage route, however, I never heard religion discussed.
Pilgrims are invited to attend services at the monasteries (there's usually a municipal hostel option also (more on hostels later) but everyone seemed 100% comfortable. It really didn't matter. If there's any one thing that might stop you doing this pilgrimage, this should absolutely not be the one.
DO I NEED TO SPEAK SPANISH?
Few, very few of the Spanish folks I met spoke any English. I spoke absolutely 'nada' Spanish. In a way it was nice, since I could zone out. If I had to do it again - I would learn the names for food items. It's a sad day when you find yourself clucking like a chicken to express your desire for eggs! More importantly, I found myself eating the same thing repeatedly, mostly because I didn't know what was on the menu!
You'll meet people from all over the world. Some speak English, some don't. It had its moments, but overall - it was fine.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO GO?
The Camino is becoming more and more popular but not so much in the early stages of the journey. However, the month of August in Galecia (last 200kms) can be extremely crowded. I went in July and August as my schedule allowed.
Ideally, late Spring or early Fall is a really nice time to go, so you can walk in the middle of the day.
In the height of the Summer, it's best to get out of the sun in the afternoon.
Please note that many of the hostels that house the pilgrims only open during the summer months.
A great many close during the winter. People do the walk in winter.
You just need to do more research to find out exactly which hostels are open.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Kilometers vs. Miles.
kms. vs. miles 5 miles = 8 kms. (a km is 60% of a mile).
Quick tip: converting kms to miles.
100kms = 60 miles (in you head, figure 50% or half of 100 (50). Then figure 10% of 100 (10). Add them 50+10 = 60! Well done!
Europe is all kms - you may as well get used to it!
The Ten Year Plan:
I met one person who was doing the route over a ten year period. Every year she took ten days off and walked fifty miles (yes, five miles a day for ten days!). She would return each year to the point at which she had finished the previous year. It's different. However, it demonstrates that there are a variety of ways to do this!
Three year plan:
I met 13 Italians who were on a three-year plan. The walked from St. Jean Pied de Por to Burgos the first year. Burgos to Leon the second year (when I met them. In truth, they rescued me one day when I got lost!). They intended to walk from Leon to Santiago the following year. They had corporate jobs, so this worked with their holiday schedule.
Eight week plan:
This seems like a reasonable amount of time to me to walk the entire route. Many people do it comfortably in five, usually very fit humanoids under the age of 25 who always appeared to be in a hurry!
Shortening the Road:
St. Jean Pied de Por:
The 27kms from St. Jean Pied de Por to Roncesvalles is, I'm told, the most difficult and perhaps most beautiful section of the Camino. However, I decided before I left for Spain to skip that leg of the journey.
It was the right decision for me. By the end of the journey I could have managed this section but not at the beginning. I started reeeallly slowly (6km on day two - yes, that is sad!).
You still get a really early starting point here but avoid that really difficult leg from St. Jean.
You Can Start anywhere:
The truth is - you can start at any point on the Camino, but the official 'unofficial' starting point is St. Jean Pied de Por in Southern France. (800kms/500 miles from Santiago, the end point)
The vast majority of people only do the last 100kms. The reason: In order to get your 'Compostella,' from the church in Santiago - you need only walk the Final 100kms or 60 miles in to Santiago (to be clear, not any 100kms - just the last 100 into Santiago! More on this later) .
TRAINING FOR THE CAMINO?
How much and for how long?
Well that depends, mostly on how much time you can spare for the walk.
I didn't train. Or, to be more precise, I trained along the way; started out really, really easy and built up over the course of a few weeks. If you're planning on packing it in, in terms of time and milage - in honesty, you can't have it both ways.
Long story short - lots of time, training not such a big issue. You can train as you go.
If time on the Camino is an issue - training is Very important.
NOTE: The people who seem to get the most out of the journey are those who don't set deadlines.
Deadlines can lead to injury. Also, I spent extra days in some of the major cities and towns to see the sights. It made a huge difference to feel my way along and stick within the confines of what I was able to do, as opposed to plotting our a course and trying to stick to it. You may also need days of complete rest. If your muscles start to feel like cement (and they can), you simply need to stop and take a day off.
SAMPLE TRAINING SCHEDULE:
NOTE: You'll need to have gotten your training shoes (sneakers) and backpack (more on gear later)
NOTE: Galecian mountains don’t require heavy walking boots. Pyrenees might. I met people who did it both ways. I wore runners and they were great. (see the Gear section). Just remember - the socks are almost as important as the shoes.
Ursula, who was in her 60's had 9 days to do 210kms.
Here is her training schedule courtesy of her son, who is a professional trainer.
An ounce on the back is 3 lbs on the foot
Ursula trained over 2 months. She got up to 1 hour daily quickly during the first month and then increased to 2 hours daily (she did miss some days)
The 2nd month, she walked with her backpack. The suggestion is that you gradually increase the weight in your pack) (more on 'packing your backpack' later)
I didn't train. Or, to be more precise trained along the way. I knew I had loads of time and frankly never thought for a moment about making it to Santiago, but just really wanted to try it.
By way of full disclosure, I do aquasize (aerobics in the water) a few times a week and would be in fairly good shape, but was not a great walker and generally considered myself non-sporty and frankly, a bit of a wimp.
Encouragement for the injured:
I had had a back operation (for disc trouble) several years before and spent many years with chronic back pain. When I set off for the walk I had a tight IT band (the band that goes from your knee to your hip .. not good). This disclosure is to let you know that walking the Camino is not like walking the Grand Canyon or other such sporty adventures! "Pilgrims" walk fairly slowly. It's not power walking. In fact, it'll probably be the slowest you'll ever walk. One step at a time....
Encouragement for the generally unfit:
A week or so before starting, while trekking close to my home with all the 'gear' and a full backpack while taking a break, I thought I would die! Panic ensued! Take heart. It's very much about pacing yourself. One lovely retired gentleman from Hungary (without a word of English) were on the same trajectory for the first week or so; we were 6-10 km a day kinda people! It's amazing how fit you can get over time and what your body can do.... Bit of a revelation actually.
CAMINO ADVICE THAT REALLY WORKED.
* Hydrating constantly, starting days before you get on the plane. Saves muscle pain esp. in the early days.
* Buying a Camel Pack (water bag with a long straw that goes in the backpack. Make sure it has a value so that it doesn't leek). (1 1/2 liters)
* 3 Liters of water a day (4 is tempting but too much, or so they told me!)
* Stretching a lot and stretching at the right time. About one hour after getting on the road when the muscles are warmed up (not before you start). At any point you're waiting around for some reason - stretch.
* Using walking Poles (more on this in 'gear'). Positively could Not have done the walk without them!
* Only carrying ten (10%) percent of your body weight on your back (including water!). (if you follow the 'gear' recommendations, it can be done). For women in particular, this is crucial.
* GOLDEN RULE: An ounce on the back is 3 lbs on the foot . I witnessed the greatest difficulties (feet esp). with those folks who could not seem to lighten their load.
* Taking a magnesium soluble table daily (available at all Spanish pharmacies) Farmacia (remember this word Farma-a -see-ah)
* carrying wintergreen or some form thereof for daily use.
* 'Only do What you Can' (not what you would wish, not what you think you should, what you "can") "Your Body Knows Best"
HOW TO GET TO YOUR PREFERRED STARTING POINT:
From the US: You could fly into
* London (Stanstead) and get a Ryan Air (ryanair.com - great prices) flight to Biarritz (southern France seaside town)
ryanair map to travel points to and from Santiago: http://www.ryanair.com/site/EN/dests.php?flash=chk&pos=MYFLIGHT)
* Paris (take a train to your chosen starting point along the route)
* Lourdes (take a train to your starting point)
* Ireland. Then Ryan Air to Santiago. Then take a bus "backwards" to your chosen starting point. (Good if you're doing the last 250k or less)
* London (Then take Ryan Air to Santiago)
PART II - WALKING THE CAMINO
HOW WILL I KNOW WHERE TO STAY?
As mentioned, there are tons of hostels (Alberques) along the way for the pilgrims. The Way runs through several provinces. Each province provides a brochure listing the hostels and the approximate distance between each one, so you can plan, or at least tentatively plan your day in advance. Sometimes, they list the number of beds in each hostel, so you have a good idea in advance which ones may fill up early in the day.
The costs of a hostels ranged from 3 to 6 Euros (Summer 2007). Many of the monasteries were 'by donation." In Galecia, (the last 200 kms) all the pilgrim hostels are free, however, Galecia can be quite crowded esp. in July and August. Therefore, be sure to budget in a few nights at a hotel. (25-35 Euros on average). Don't forget to get your credentials stamped at the hostel, even if its full. (you'll need to show the folks in Santiago that you 'walked the walk').
There are a great variety of hostels. Some are owned and run by the towns; some are private; some are run by religious orders. The hostel in Santiago sleeps 500 people. Some hostels sleep 8. Some have coin operated washing machines and dryers (don't depend on this thought); and various other goodies. Some have almost nothing. Some offer hot milk and cocao or coffee and some bread and marmalade for breakfast; some don't do any of that. So, it's really the luck of the draw.
Almost all close at 10 p.m. and they lock the doors. So, you need to be in. Because everyone is up so early, most people are asleep by 10p.m. Someone is always sleeping or trying to sleep in these places, so most people really keep the volume down in the sleeping areas.
NOTE: You are only allowed to stay one night in a hostel unless you are ill or injured. There are a few exceptions. For example, In Leon, the monastery allowed me to stay an extra couple of nights (wanted to explore the city) for the princely sum of 6 Euros per night.
STAYING IN TOUCH WITH HOME - INTERNET
I rarely had to go more than a couple of days without internet. Leave the iPhone at home. Internet is often available at the hostels (sometimes you do have to pay to use them), and there are often internet cafes in the main towns and cities.
A NOTE ON DAY 3 OR 4
A lot of people experience day 3 or day 4 as difficult. (some people can spike a fever. For me, it was as if my body was breaking into a new phase) I say this, not so you will expect it, but that if you experience day 3 or 4 as challenging , just know that a turning point is ahead. I also found day 7 difficult and had another turning point at the 3 week mark.
WHAT IF I GET INJURED, SICK OR NEED HEALTH CARE?
All the hostels are used to people suffering with minor injuries such as sore muscles that require ibuprofen, ice and rest. However, if you have a serious issue, there is health care. Having spoken with other people on the Camino, the understanding tends to be that pilgrims get free health care. The word is that there is an odd case, in very big city hospitals where you might have to pay, so you may want to check with your health insurance provider regarding foreign travel before you leave.
Most injuries that required a medical visit were usually the result of people failing to take care of blisters (refusing to lighten their backpack) and eventually needing to go an antibiotics. Many people suffer with tendonitis that can become very severe. Again, much of this can usually be avoided by proper training in advance, going at your own pace and/or resting when you need to. People in a hurry tended to be particularly prone.
THE LAST 200KMS (GALECIA)
As mentioned, this is the most crowded section of the Camino, especially during July and August, when all the school and college kids are walking the Camino. In Spain, many employers look favorably on applicants who have had the strength of mind and body to walk the Camino, so be prepared! The college kids often get up really early and arrive at their desired hostel by 10a.m. If you're getting up a few hours later; by the time you get to the hostels, they can be full.
THE CAMINO "TRAP"
Many people call this the great trap of the Camino; to spend your entire day focusing on the destination. It can defeat the purpose. I made a decision to go with the flow, and while I did end up sleeping on four chairs one night - I never regretted that decision.
In truth, even thought the last 200 kms were crowded and often, not to put too fine a point on it - annoying, they also held the greatest lessons. When I got to Galecia, I questioned why I was joining a 'crowd,' and some of us longer-term walkers seriously considered leaving the trail.
Early on in the walk, I could go a few days without meeting an English-speaking person. I could find an empty church to sing in every day. Above all, I had a deep sense of privacy. I fear that I may be making Galecia sound unpleasant. It's truly lush, green and beautiful, and it made me really appreciate the gift of water.... It was also eerily similar to the land around North Tipperary where I grew up....
But, wasn't this supposed to be a contemplative experience; a walking meditation? Perhaps it held the greatest lessons for me because it was more reflective of everyday life? People struggling, vying for beds and space; trying to stay meditative in the middle of all that was difficult. The ability to pull back from the 'rat race' or 'bed race,' which, for a while felt like a rip tide, was difficult. The young (college kids) found it virtually impossible. So, up they got at 4 a.m. and ran for the hostels....
I often found myself flat-out angry when I would see the parents of boy scouts toting hair-dryers into hostels that were really meant for walking pilgrims (To be clear, no pilgrim with a jot of sense would carry a hair dryer! It would be the equivalent of a camper carrying a power drill!
Long story short, please know that the Camino you experience in the last 100-200 kms may be very different from the experiences of those who started the journey at an earlier point. That said I've met people who did the last leg and thought it a life-changing experience!
I met a few women, who ended their walk just before going over the mountains into Galecia. They did not want to deal with the crowds. (They had walked from St Jean). Instead of going on to Santiago to get their certificates, they decided to make them for each other! Yes, there are many ways to walk the Camino.
Overall, my friends from Asia told me they spent around 2500 Euros. (2007) This included flights and the full cost of the journey (St Jean to Santiago).
The European students told me they spent 1200 Euros for the journey (St. Jean to Finesterrae). That included, food, lodgings and whatever else they needed. That sounded about right to me, although, in truth, I haven't a clue what I spent.
I can tell you that meals (Breakfast 3-5 Euros; Dinner 8 t o10 Euros; and lodging; 3- 6 Euros nightly; free in Galecia, last 200 kms) was extremely reasonable. Spain in the Summer of 2007 was cheap! The understanding is that many of the pilgrims do not have a great deal of money and the Way is structured to meet their needs for the most part.
The greatest cost for me was the gear. I needed good gear to make it work (good backpack, walking poles, sunscreen clothes, etc.) Many people may have a lot of the gear already (see gear section), and the college kids were really casual about all that stuff.
Yes, there are bank machines in the major towns and cities, but you would be surprised at the towns that Don't have them! Also, if a town on your list has a lot of hostels - don't assume it's a big town and that it will have bank machines. Many of us learned this one the hard way! Just before going over the Galecian mountains, there is a small town with three hostels - and absolutely nothing else! We assumed that since there were three hostels in a town that it would have a bank.
FINAL DAY: GETTING TO SANTIAGO
The tradition is that all pilgrims (of all faiths) go to Noon mass on the day of, or after their arrival in Santiago. It's really worth it, even though it can be crowded. Santiago is beautiful. All the museums and monuments are free and it's expected that people will spend at least 2 days there. The hostels allow for this. The modern section of the city is nice, but the medieval section, including the cathedral is absolutely beautiful! Worth a visit even if you're not walking the Camino.
GOING ON TO FINESTERRAE
Finesterra is about 50 miles (80kms) beyond Santiago. It marks the ancient end of the journey and literally means "end of the world." And, to the ancients, it was. They followed the Milky Way to the sea. They believed that this point marked the true 'beginning' of the pilgrimage since one was about to start the pilgrimage of life anew. To mark the occasion, they burned their clothes and swam in the waters there, as a type of ritual baptism.
Most of us just burned candles (have you seen the cost of the gear!) and dipped a toe or two in the water!
It's a lovely spot and has lots of tourists (sometimes they take photos of the pilgrims!).
The symbol of the Camino is the shell and the ancients used to collect them here on the beaches as a souvenir to bring home. (didn't see any on the beaches, but no shortage in the souvenir shops)
I walked it, but in truth, it's somewhat tricky since there aren't that many hostels and they're far apart. That said, wouldn't have missed it for anything. It's considered a 3 day walk, one of those days is a 35k day. By the end of the journey I was able for it, but it was still difficult. It can rain a lot in Galecia, and I found a huge difference between walking in the hot sun (with really loose muscles), and walking in much cooler, rainy weather - much harder on the muscles.....
Also, I had stopped for a few days in Santiago, and it took me a little while to get going.
For some reason, I didn't feel 'finished' when I got to Santiago. Once I got to Finesterrae, I felt I had completed the journey.
Some pals simply took the bus to Finesterrae (from Santiago) so they could enjoy the sea for a day. If you can't walk it, I would highly recommend taking the bus. It seems to me that all pilgrimages should end at the sea. Regular busses run between Finesterra and Muxia; Finesterra and Santiago, and Muxia and Santiago
GOING ON TO MUXIA
Another ancient stop on the journey, Muxia marks the spot where the ancient pilgrims used to meet their ships to sail home. It's a really tough walk from Finesterra to Muxia and I certainly didn't feel up to it. I was told that the signs were quite hard to follow and it was easy to get lost. That was the real deal-breaker for me.
I recommend taking the bus to Muxia!
SANTIAGO TO FINESTERRAE ONLY
I came across some folks who did this, mostly as an experiment to see how they might like the Camino. They often think it will be less crowded that the final 100kms in to Santiago. This is certainly true, but the people I met seemed a little lonely. Not as many people take this journey and those of us that do have usually formed strong friendships along the way and we're celebrating together.
That said, people often take a few days and do short points of the journey at any two given points between St. Jean and Finesterra, so Buen Camino!
WHEN THE WALKING IS DONE
It was suggested that I take a few days by the sea before returning to my life. It was great advice.
The bus drive back to Santiago (from Santiago and Muxia), after having walked for weeks, was positively jarring! I cannot image what it would have been like to have had to hop on a plane immediately. The speed of the bus seemed crazy; we were missing the details; what was the hurry anyway? You get the idea....
I was blessed to be able to take the time to ease back into life. For those walkers I kept in touch with, the reactions to the return to everyday life varied from 'the Camino blues," to euphoria. My experience was that I saw everything through new eyes. My overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude especially for my health and the grace to have been able to complete the journey, when many younger and stronger than I hadn't. It seemed to me that I had everything, but that I had 'carried too much on my back' for too long. I resolved to travel lighter in the future. I like to think I have kept to this.
I did find consumerism really difficult and found it hard to walk into shops. It all seemed like a form of insanity. And, even now, I find gifts of a material nature hard to accept (except chocolate - give me all the chocolate you want!). Outside of food, I don't need another thing! Managed to develop quite an aversion to material things. That said, I love my clothes, a decent car, and of course - my harp! But, that's plenty!
THE EMOTIONAL PROCESS
The prevailing wisdom is that as you walk the road and you're left only with the 'voice in your head,' you will meet you past, so to speak, as you walk the Way. There's a school of thought that speaks to the idea of holding ones memories in the body on a cellular level. When some of those cells get nudged from the exertion of walking along, they can bubble up. Based on my experience on the Camino, I would tend to agree with this idea. I was told that everyone has the exact experiences they are meant to have.
I've truly expressed enough of this through the music and the album (Celtic Pilgrimage). I had no idea I had so much say about all this until I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). So, I'll look forward to hearing all about your journey and all the fruits it has brought to bear in Your life..... Buen Camino! Aine M.
ANYTHING TO WATCH OUT FOR
Everyone I met on the Camino was lovely. However, it's not Disneyland, it's Spain, and is filled with all sorts, much the same as any place else in the world. I felt safe and many women traveled alone.
As in any spot in the world - don't get into a car with a stranger, even if they claim to be 'official' or attached to an Alberque. Even when you're really tired - remember, the same rules of safety always apply.
Most of the people I met in the hostels (not the private ones) had been on the Camino and were volunteering their time during their summer holidays to help out pilgrims. It can be easy to assume that this wonderful intent applies to every single person along the way. Be smart - use your noggin! And Buen Camino!