The Way of St. James

Nuts and Bolts

When: Anytime of year is possible. The most popular time is in summer, however hostels can be overcrowded. Spring and fall are a bit quieter with better walking temperatures. 

Where: Any path that leads to Santiago de Compostela is considered a pilgrimage, but the most popular route is the Camino Frances running through northern Spain.

Why: Self Discovery, spirituality The Confraternity of Saint James American Pilgrims

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How To

A section to help you prepare for your hike. Click below to read more…

Five ways to piss off a Pilgrim

PEREGRINO is the Spanish word for pilgrim, often referring specifically to anyone who walks to Santiago de Compostela in North-West Spain. Every year the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) iscompleted by around 200,000 blistered and sore, soul-searching Peregrinos. They walk 20 to 40 kilometers a day, go to sleep at 10 pm, wake up at dawn, and through the course of walking 800km, develop a certain type of openness and honesty along the way. So tread lightly on their exposed souls! 1) Tell him “How hard can it be? You’re just walking. ”Oh the dagger! First of all it’s not just walking. Walking 25 kilometers a day for 30 days while carrying a 10 kg backpack can turn your feet to ground beef. Furthermore, your hips and knees are at particular risk for damage and inflamation. But even if we ignore the physical toil, the mental challenge is enough to give a potential pilgrim pause. For a month, your living and sleeping quarters are shared with up to 50 people in the Municipal Albergues, meaning you have a serious lack of privacy. Yet that may matter little to others who carry on like they were at home, farting and screwing with the social decency of a rabbit. And then there is the Meseta (plains), between Burgos and Leon, where it’s as flat and interesting as a piece of plywood. Here boredom can worm its way inside your tired pilgrim mind. You may even start to sing, because, damn its boring. I don’t know the words to a single full song, but that didn’t stop me from butchering about 60 of them, from Bohemian Rhapsody to Warren G’s...

Ultimate Packing Guide: Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spring

It has been 2 and a half weeks since returning from my 31 days on the Camino de Santiago, a good time to reflect on the packing job I did. Since I made the trek in spring time from March 17th to April 18th, this guide will be most helpful for those pilgrims walking during spring and fall. That being said, much of the information is season indiscriminate so for those traveling in Summer or Winter, you will be able to glean some helpful info...

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Andrew’s Experience on the Camino de Santiago 2014. Click below to read more…

Camino Epilogue: Santiago to Brussels

If you give yourself 15 minutes to do something, it usually takes all day. But if you give yourself all day, well then, a lot of times it only takes fifteen minutes. This was a quote from a video that Stephanie, my girlfriend, was showing me inside our luxurious hotel room in Santiago de Compostela. Luxurious, mind you, because of its comparison to sleeping in albergues with up to 40 people  – 10 percent of which are always heavy snorers – for the last 32 days. The video was about training horses, but not in the traditional way of training them which involves aggressiveness and “breaking them”. This was the famous and ever so soft “horse whisperer”, not unlike the character played by Robert Redford with the same name. He was talking about going slow, not forcing the horse to develop trust, but providing the framework conducive to that state. This especially rang true for me on the Camino. I have constantly wanted things “now”, the impulse only being diluted by fulfillment. I thought about slowing down on the airplane ride home to Brussels as well. I used to love boarding an airplane, where you could check not only your physical luggage, but your work and social baggage as well. The heyday of flying, if you ask me, was when you couldn’t be reached by anyone in the world that wasn’t on the same plane as you. But we are hungry for outside stimulation; we slop to it like a pig through mud to his trough. Now, even planes are equipped with Wifi and our worries can easily reach up...

31st Day: Azura to Santiago de Compostela

If you expect a brass band to be playing when you arrive in Santiago exulting your most excellent achievement, you will be sadly disappointed. I didn’t necessarily expect that, but I expected some knowing looks from people as I passed them on the street, or maybe a head nod of respect from a shopkeeper as a I made the final walk through the side-walked outskirts of Santiago. I guess it’s a case of my hubris again, but I was a bit miffed that I didn’t at least get a solid Buen Camino during the last 3k. Most likely it has something to do with the fact that 200 thousand pilgrims receive a compostela every year, so giving out nods left and right might get a little cumbersome after a while. Originally I hadn’t planned on making it to Santiago yesterday evening. When I left in the morning, I planned on stopping in O Pedrouzo, about 20 kilometers away from my starting point of Azura and then walking into Santiago the next day. I was determined to take my time. I had spent the last two days clicking my poles on the ground at a hurried pace to outrun the other pilgrims to the Alberuges (hostels) by the end of the day. They say that the real Camino starts when you get home; meaning all the lessons you have learned along the way need to actually be implemented. I would be damned to forget to slow down before I even got to Santiago. Matt, Sven and I arrived in O Pedrouzo around 2 pm for a late lunch, or right...

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The way of St. James

or El Camino de Santiago in Spanish, refers to any pilgrim route that culminates at Santiago de Compestela, a church in northern Spain. Traditionally, pilgrims make this by non-motorized means, either hiking, biking or even by horseback. There are many routes all over Europe that can be taken; some marked paths start as far off as Italy and Austria. Some still start their trek from the doorstep of their homes as ancient pilgrims did. This is made possible by the network of routes that funnel together much like a river system, where smaller routes meet up together to form bigger ones. Still others decide to make their way to the border between Spain and France and start their journey there. If you wish to start the Way of St. James at the border, there are two main trails that you can take. The French Way, unarguably the most popular route, starts at St Jean Pied-de-Port and runs 800 km through the Pyrenees, the vineyards of Rioja, the Castillian meseta and the mountains of Galicia.  The Northern way(s), which hugs the north Atlantic coastline passing through the cities of San Sebastian, Santander, Bilbao and Oviedo, is less popular allowing for a quieter hike. Some even start on the Northern way and then cut down to finish the pilgrimage on the French Way. (Map source: Wikipedia)

The Story

of the Way of St. James is as follows. St James was a disciple of Jesus and was given the realm of Spain to evangelize after his death. Eventually, James’s luck ran out and he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in Judea, becoming the first apostle to be martyred. After his death, his body was placed in a stone boat on the Mediterranean which was then “carried by Angels” to northern Spain. Here the local queen, Lupa, found the body and had it placed in a tomb and carried inland. Subsequently, the tomb was forgotten until a hermit, Pelayo, found the tomb 800 years later and it was transported to present day Santiago. Spain was facing a war with the Moors, so the discovery of the body was made at quite a fortuitous time. The American, John Adams, on a trip to Europe recounts what the locals told him about the origin of the pilgrimage:

“In the time of the Moors, the People made a Vow, that if the Moors should be driven from this Country, they would give a certain portion of the Income of their Lands to Saint James. The Moors were defeated and expelled and it was reported and believed, that Saint James was in the Battle and fought with a drawn Sword at the head of the Spanish Troops, on Horseback. The People, believing that they owed the Victory to the Saint, very cheerfully fulfilled their Vows by paying the Tribute. ….Upon the Supposition that this is the place of the Sepulchre of Saint James, there are great numbers of Pilgrims, who visit it, every Year, from France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, many of them on foot.” John Adams

The Popularity

In 1987, the Way of St. James was named as the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe (UNESCO). The popularity of the Way of St. James has increased steadily since then. The website of UNESCO goes on further to say “There is no comparable Christian pilgrimage route of such extent and continuity anywhere in Europe: the other two pilgrimage routes, to Jerusalem and Rome, are only recognizable in a very fragmentary fashion… It passes through five Comunidades Autónomas and 166 towns and villages, and it includes over 1,800 buildings of historic interest; in many cases the modern road runs parallel to the ancient route.” In 2013, 215,880 pilgrims were registered with Santiago de Compestela as completing at least a 100 km trek to the church, 4.7% of which were US Citizens (the spikes are due to Jubilee years). The most popular arrival months are May through September, where the number of pilgrims ranged from 25 to 46 thousand in 2013. In comparison, April last year saw only 11,533 pilgrims arrive at Santiago de Compostela. Furthermore, the Northern Route has only about 1 pilgrim for every 11 on the French way (13,393 pilgrims vs. 151,761  pilgrims in 2013).

Number of pilgrims on the Way of St. James since 1988

The Reason

Officially, the church requires each pilgrim that wishes to receive a Compestela or certificado to select between three different reasons for their pilgrimage: “Religious”, “Religious and other” or “Other”. However, it may be more beneficial to seek out the reasons from the pilgrims themselves. Many set off with the intent of a spiritual connection. Others, like the German comedian Hape Kerkeling, have used it as a road to self discovery. Still others, like Brazilian author Paul0 Coehlo, found universal platitudes about the human experience. If you are looking for further reading, try I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Kerkeling or The Pilgrimage (Plus) by Coehlo. 

“The Camino becomes a walking meditation, you feel in tune with nature and I myself felt protected (by god) You learn to ‘go with the flow’ and not so much impose your own will on the happenings of the day. you start to realize a lot of your worries are your own making.” Mark Shea

“My pilgrimage can be interpreted as a parable of my path through life. It was a difficult birth – which is literally true in my case. At the beginning of the route – and in my childhood – I had trouble hitting my stride. Until the middle of my path through life, no matter how many positive experiences I enjoyed, I experienced many twists and turns that sometimes threw me off-course. But at about the midpoint of my journey, I started moving cheerfully toward my destination. It almost seems as though the Camino has seen fit to grant me a little peek into my future. Serenity might be a goal worth pursuing.” Hape Kerkeling

‘We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.’ “We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes.” “When in doubt, just take the next small step” Paulo Coehlo

Follow my Path on el Camino de Santiago

In March, I will be walking over 500 miles in 35 days on the Northern Way. Pretty pumped to get started. Click Subscribe to get updates of my adventure.
About the Author: Andrew Delmenhorst
Originally a cheesehead from Wisconsin, Andrew has lived and worked in Europe for over 6 years. He came to Germany under the guise of obtaining a European MBA from the Mannheim Business School (he really wanted to satisfy his wanderlust). After the program, he worked five years for a large Multinational company, putting in the hours during the week so that he could travel on the weekend. He speaks English and German (Some people say he speaks more of a Denglish), has traveled to 28 countries and has lived in six of them.  One of his travel goals is to attend every World Cup until he dies. He currently writes full-time for Passport Chronicles and calls Brussels, Belgium his home when he is not on the road.

The Challenge

Whatever the reason for completing the Way of St. James, you should inform yourself on the physical requirements before you set-off. Below is a short video that gives a good idea of the physical task that awaits those along el Camino de Compostela.