El Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James, is a network of pathways that lead to the town of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James the Great are buried in the cathedral. Many follow its routes as a form of pilgrimage, spiritual growth, penance, escape, bucket list fulfillment or simply for recreation.
There are many paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela from all over Europe, however the most noted and established path is called El Camino Francés (The French Way). The French Way runs about 500 miles (780km) from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela through the towns of Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León. A typical walk on the Camino Francés takes at least four weeks, allowing for a few rest days along the way.
I've known about El Camino for a number of years. About two years ago I was asked by my sister to accompany my niece on her walk, However, at that time I had just returned from my trip to Cuba and was not really in condition to walk El Camino.
Over the past two years I've often thought about walking El Camino, but different circumstances always seemed to arise that prevented me from starting.
But then last week something happened - everything fell into place. I discovered an inexpensive airfare. I received some funds to help cover the cost of the trip. I found someone to stay at my house so that it would not be left vacant. Some nagging issues with my knee and foot seemed to miraculously heal. So I bought a ticket on Thursday to depart the following Thursday - one week to prepare. I would finally walk El Camino.
I learned that a group called the American Pilgrims on the Camino provided official credentials to walk El Camino. I found their website, filled out a form and within four days I received my Credencial del Peregrino.
While on their journey along the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims carry the Credencial (Credential) - a document with which the pilgrim authenticates his or her progress by obtaining sellos (stamps) along the way.
Sellos can be obtained at most hotels and inns, restaurants, churches, museums, city halls, police stations and at all albergues (hostels). Without a Credencial a person can not stay at an albergue reserved for pilgrims. When registering at an albergue, pilgrims will be asked to present their credential to verify that they are walking El Camino.
In addition, upon reaching Santiago de Compostela, at the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos (Pilgrims' Welcome Office) pilgrims can present the stamped credential to confirm that they have walked their chosen pathway, whereupon they are able to receive a Compostela - a document that certifies their pilgrimage.
Here’s a breakdown of the hike by segments.
The adventure begins...