In this age of mass tourism when taking a cruise or a package tour is a growing phenomenon, the simple experience of walking by foot along a Spanish Camino is a growing trend. Last year in 2018 over 320,000 people walked into Santiago de Compostela and many more ( like myself) have walked just part of a Camino finishing before Santiago.
In my seven days of walking nearly 200 kilometres between Caceres and Salamanca I have observed just how much this walk can be a test of endurance. Many of my walking mates will be walking the full 1000 kilometres of the Via de la Plata. Every day in the early hour when it is dark or cold or maybe already hot they will pack their small rucksacks containing all of their belongings for about six or seven weeks. Then they will walk perhaps an average of 20 to 30 kilometres each day from one town to the next. They may stay in cheap pilgrim hostels or in more comfortable hotels or pensions. Every afternoon they will wash their clothes, have a rest, explore the town or village and then enjoy an evening meal together. The simplicity of this routine becomes almost addictive so that some pilgrim walkers report difficulty in adjusting to their normal lives once the Camino has finished. These are the hard core pilgrim walkers.
You can also walk one of the many Camino routes to Santiago with a little less hardship. Tour companies offer luggage transfer, self guided tours with booked accommodation and meals and guided tours to different stages of a Camino. But even then you still need to walk along “the way” sometimes up steep hills or along tedious roads in extreme weather and you need to follow the yellow arrows. Not getting lost in this modern age of apps and gps should be a given but I am yet to meet any pilgrim walker who doesn’t get lost at least once every few days. Sometimes the yellow arrows have been shifted or there are two arrows pointing in different directions.
So, walking a Camino is tough but people of all ages appear to love it. I have met many who have walked six or more Caminos. They say it gets into the blood. I have walked three and I can understand the elation of meeting that challenge. That special feeling each day of starting out fresh, then becoming fatigued and perhaps suffering a little but then, the “high” of arriving at your destination.
The pilgrim walkers of today are having a different kind of tourist experience. Many are not consciously walking for religious or spiritual reasons. Even so there is an element of each person embracing a simple daily routine, an escape from high intensity city living to nature and a chance to connect in a meaningful way with fellow travellers.
I am happy to rest my weary feet but I will miss the companionship and humour of my fellow peregrino walkers. And the next time I feel overwhelmed by the pace and pressure of modern city living I will remember how a Camino can provide food for the soul.