By Kay Newton
It is 7 am, the sun is about to rise and for the past two hours I have been steadily climbing by torch light. I find myself standing on top of a windswept Spanish hill, panting, back aching, wet with sweat and legs like jelly. I wonder what on earth I have got myself into. I am not a political refugee; I do not have to do this. The pain is real and it is my choice.
It was also my choice to take a bed in hostel dormitory the night before and fail to get much sleep – I am not used to half-naked bodies, the smell of sweaty socks and snoring. Everything feels familiar and yet so alien. I am struggling to get into the simple routine of walking, thinking and eating.
About 800 km on foot with a nine-kg backpack, averaging 25 km a day! I must be mad and yet the sense of achievement and the stunning views that await me at the top of every hill have me grinning from ear to ear.
I lived in Spain for over 30 years but it’s only recently that I heard about the popular pilgrim journey of Camino de Santiago. Although I have thought about walking the Camino Frances route, there’s a great deal of difference between thought and action!
The Way of Saint James is a journey that allows the participant not only to walk up to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela following different physical paths, it also allows them to take time out from their busy routine and transform their inner life journey. Some walk with full packs, others have their packs shipped ahead, others cycle. I have even met one pushing a supermarket trolley!
In 1971, fewer than 500 people received their Compostela certificate, even though it was a Holy Year in the Roman Catholic tradition. As church attendance plummets, the popularity of walking the way has increased. Last year 278,232 people received their Compostela.
There are many theories as to why pilgrimages are popular today. The Frances is often described as 10 days of physical pain, 10 of mental anguish and the final 10 days of spiritual awakening. In today’s hectic style of life, the Camino is a way of connecting to nature and the things that truly serve you.
In the second week of September 2017, I started off on the Camino Frances – beginning in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and ending in Santiago de Compostella in Spain.
The most beautiful part of each day has been my Camino family. The people you sit next to at the communal evening meal, or share a few kilometres together. The local people who greet you with “Buen Camino” as you pass their door. We are all one in this together and that is very special.