What is the Camino to Santiago?
If we search for its meaning in a book or in the internet, we will find that The Camino to Santiago is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the saint are buried. But this simple and plain concept, stripped out of all context, does not explain why the so-called pilgrims decide to walk more than 25 kilometers per day for a whole month to carry out this odyssey. As if it were an iceberg, the real meaning, what really motivates and urges people to come face to face with this great challenge, hides like a treasure, under the surface.
Many times in my life I found myself facing the same question over and over again “What´s my next destination?“. Having the whole world to choose from, the decision should be one of the most complicated to answer and yet, when I look for it, I always seem to feel it within me. Places have their ways to call for us, they give us signals, they pull like a rope, attracting us. And it was just like that, one day looking for films about traveling, one of the most frequent symptoms of travel-addicts like myself, I came across the movie The Way.
The film revolves around Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) an ophthalmologist from California who one day receives a call from a medic unit informing that his son had died in the Pyrenees, a mountainous area between northern Spain and France. Tom travels to Europe to start the procedures to bring his son home, and it is there that he finds out that he died doing the Camino to Santiago. Driven by memories of him, his lifestyle and his desires to know the world, Tom embarks on an adventure of self-discovery to finish what his son had started.
When the movie came to an end, I still didn´t know it at the time, but the Camino had already left a call inside of me, small, almost imperceptible at first, a call that grew until it became inevitable. My way had begun.
LOOKING FOR a path TO LEAVE my FOOTPRINT
Little did I know when a month before starting my trip to Europe my mother approached me and asked “Why don´t you do the Camino?” I didn´t know that there is not only ONE road, but several, some so extensive that they start in Rome or Paris, much less that not only it could be done on foot, but that the bicycle and even a horse were viable options. It was there where I started my research to find the right one for me.
The French Way is, without a doubt, the most “famous” and crowded of them all. Starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, this is where the great majority of medieval European pilgrimage routes converge, thus being the one with the greatest historical relevance. This will always be the first option for the pilgrim, however I felt that it was not what I was looking for, I needed space, time and solitude to be able to feel effectively what the path had to offer. I was not looking for people, but for myself.
It was then when I came across El Camino del Norte, The Northern Way. More solitary, with fewer facilities, this road begins in Irún, in the Basque Country, next to the French border, and extends mostly along the coast of the Cantabrian Sea. It was perfect, Yasmina Khadra, Algerian writer and novelist, has a phrase that says “You have to always look at the sea. It is a mirror that doesn´t know how to lie “and what a better way to find myself than having one always by my side.
THE DAY THAT I BECAME A PILGRIM
The night before starting the Camino I went to bed and took the computer with me. On the screen I could see the whole map of the Northern Way. From Irún to Santiago, 840 kilometers divided into 33 stages. Some shorter ones of 20/22 km and of course longer ones, one of them even reaches 40 Km. I felt chills running down my body from head to toe. I tried to sleep, but I couldn´t. My mind kept on thinking. “Can I do it? Can I get to Santiago? What if I get hurt in the middle? What if I can´t make it?” The fears of frustration were enormous, they rose up in front of me like a wall, surrounding me, trapping me inside.
I felt a colossal anxiety, I wanted to start already, I had enough with the assumptions, enough with the hypothesis, it was time to face myself, the moment had come to show that fearful self, who had tried many times and failed, that he could do it. It was the perfect opportunity to see what I was capable of.
The following day I grabbed my backpack, left the Albergue and looked at the sky. The moment of truth had arrived. I turned left in the corner and found my first yellow arrow of the Camino, the one that would guide me to Santiago, where my reward was waiting. “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking,” Antonio Machado said, and mine had just begun.