“To get up in the morning, taking up your backpack and start walking, feeling safe and relaxed, day after day, . . . . “ Is this possible in modern day life? Yes, on the Camino it can be! More than 2000 years ago the Romans built the Via XIX, a military service road from Rome into the Iberian Peninsula. When apostle/disciple James (Jakobus/ Jakob), brother of Jesus, became pilgrim and walked this road to Monte Santiaguiño where he first preached Christ’s great lesson of unconditional love and forgiveness, he helped to write the first pages of Christian history. After martyrdom, his mortal remains were returned to rest in Libredon, now known as Santiago de Compostella. According to author John Brierly the many variations of the Camino de Santiago have emerged as the most popular Christian pilgrimage routes in the world today. The modern-day pilgrim has hi-tech support (smart phone, credit card, free Wi-Fi, etc), but whether you become a “peregrino” (pilgrim) for religious, spiritual or recreational reasons, the essence lies in going on foot, alone (you may find that you are never alone). The extended periods of silence will open up space to reflect on your life and its direction. In June 2019, for us this pilgrimage became reality; flying out of Cape Town to Portugal, where we got our first stamp at the Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). Following the yellow arrows and characteristic Camino signs which clearly mark the way over mainly cobble stone, narrow alleys, roads, forest paths and even highways, we proceeded along the Portuguese coast. Walking at an average of 15 km per day, we reached the Spanish border, crossing the river Minho into Galicia. From there along the Spanish coast line to join the central Portuguese Camino at Redondela, and then, after 280 km, reaching the Praza do Obradoiro (golden square) in front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella. A spiritual experience of a life time, exceeding all expectations and providing relief for body and soul. Taking advantage of the extended European summer daylight, we walked for 5-7 hours in the morning, settled at our daily destination during the early afternoon, and then proceeded exploring and experiencing the local environment during the remaining 6 hours of late afternoon/evening daylight.
We visited stone age taverns, cathedrals, churches, chapels, a wealth of historical and modern-day landmarks, parks and botanical gardens. We explored super mercados, attended fado performances, enjoyed pilgrim’s meals and slept in restored wine cellars, monasteries or just in modern municipal or private albergues.
Highlights? – walk for 2-3 hours in the hot sun, then enter one of many places of worship along the route, sit down on a bench, have a sip of water and experience the ambience. We were fortunate to have time to take the bus to Fisterra, a coastal town which symbolised the “end of the world” for ancient pilgrims and where they shed their clothes and swam in the sea before returning home. From there we walked along the Costa da Morte to Muxia where the stunning sunset on the rocks below the Nosa Señora da Barca Sanctuary symbolised the end of our physical journey.
We are all on our own Camino’s, we carry our burdens from one day to the next and the journey is seemingly never-ending. Fortunately, His yellow arrows are everywhere to guide us. Pilgrims often say: “don’t despair, the Camino will provide . . . “
Dieter & Lola Geiger (Walking the Camino is more than worthwhile and highly recommended. For more info contact the Confraternity of St James of South Africa).