Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inspired To Do “The Way”

Shaun Growney passes on advice for those wanting to do the Camino

In December 2007 I went on an Advent Retreat in Pantasaph in North Wales led by Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham. In the course of the weekend, he told us that he had made the pilgrimage from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela (El Camino or The Way) that summer. It was a journey of some 30 days and as he was then a sprightly man of about 67, I, at only 63 was inspired to do the same.

The idea came back to me when, 2 months ago, I went to see a preview of the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. It was wonderful – great filming and a story that lifts the spirit beautifully. And of course, all my 4 year old enthusiasm returned immediately. I thought – I really must do it. So I started finding out what I would need to do to make it happen – how to get there, how to get back, what I would need to bring. Would I need to book accommodation? What would it cost? How arduous would it be? And so on....

Books and Guides about the Way

I began by looking at the web-site of the movie itself – . It’s well worth exploring this site to find out more about the making of the film, but it also has a long list of very useful links, one of which led me to . From this site I followed links to a bookshop selling a number of guides and maps and so I treated myself to one of them – Camino de Santiago – Maps by John Brierley (£9.99 from ). This little pocket size volume is brilliant giving details of everything you would want to know in the form of an itinerary for each stage of the way, including heights to climb or descend, street maps of towns and villages and choices of accommodation at the end of each stage.

Different routes

From this I learned that there are actually a number of different “ways” starting in various parts of France and Spain, but the most popular and the one detailed in the book (and in the film) is the Camino Francés. This starts in France at Saint Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenées and takes the pilgrim into Spain across the mountains and thence to Pamplona (where Bishop Edwin had started from). If you choose to start from Saint Jean de Port there are 33 one day stages each covering some 20 - 30 km each (average about 24km per day) with a further 3 stages if you want to walk beyond Santiago all the way to the sea at Finisterre (literally – the end of the earth).

Having looked at the map, it would seem sensible to miss at least the first stage of the journey unless you are an experienced mountaineer as St Jean Pied de Port is at an altitude of 170 m and you have to climb up to 1280 m. (4160 feet - more than the hike up Snowdon!)

Where do I start from and where do I stay?

Obviously, if you can’t afford 30+ days off to do the walk, or if you think the whole journey would be too much for you, you can always start from a point further still along the route. To qualify for the Compostela certificate you have to walk at least 100km, which means starting from Sarria or before. For example, Peter Moran from the SION Community did The Way in 2009 starting from Burgos which is a mere 508 km (316 miles) from Santiago. He flew Ryan Air from Stanstead to Valladolid, and then got a lift to Burgos with friends who lived in the neighbourhood (but you can get there by bus as well). He then took just over 3 weeks to make his way to Santiago. This works out at 18 to 24 km (11 to 15 miles) per day.

Peter’s plan was to walk about 5 or 6 hours each day with a view to arriving at his overnight stop early in the afternoon. This gave him time to find a bed for the night and to look around for places to go to Mass or Adoration and to eat. Most of the time he stayed in “Refugios” which are quite basic hostels with shared dormitory accommodation at around 7 Euros per night. So ear plugs are recommended to deaden the sound of snoring and other nocturnal noises from fellow pilgrims. You cannot book a bed in these places in advance which is why Peter chose to arrive early - to ensure getting a place. If you prefer a little more luxury, there are many 2 star and 3 star B&B style hotels on the way and Peter did use these occasionally when he needed to rest and take care of his feet.

When you begin the walk you get a pilgrim passport, which is stamped at each place where you stay for the night. At the end of your journey you present this document to prove you have done the walk and your name is then officially recorded in the book of pilgrims and you are given a hadwritten certificate as a souvenir.

What are the travel choices and costs?

Another link from the camino website brings you to where you can find out about package holiday options or get some clues about organising a DIY pilgrimage. For example, one entry from the web-site is as follows: “If starting in Pamplona, the nearest airport is Zaragoza and travel time from the city centre to Pamplona by direct bus is 2 hours. Almost equidistant is Bilbao. Travel from the city to Pamplona with a change in San Sebastian, is about 2 ½ hours in total. Santander is an option – slightly further away, but long distance buses are limited and require a change taking 4 hours to Pamplona. All three arrival airports have a limited service from London, however Madrid is well served from airports throughout the UK and an excellent long distance bus service operates to all major cities taking 4 ½ hours with one change en route. “

The web-site offers package holidays ranging from £654 (for 7 nights + 2 star hotels) to over £2000 (for 30 nights + 3 star hotels). There are the usual supplements for singles and if you want your heavy luggage taken ahead for you each day, this would cost up to £340 per bag. DIY pilgrimages should be a lot cheaper. If you want to go by train instead of flying (I love long train journeys), you can get an overnight sleeper to Pamplona or to Burgos or even straight to Santiago (and then get a bus back along the route) from Paris. It probably wouldn’t be cheaper than air travel but check the prices at .

What to take

Peter Moran advises travelling light. His back pack was around 10-11 kg. This seems wise. Good well broken in boots are essential of course and warm clothes too for the evenings. Then you would need sun protection, your guide book and perhaps a bible and other devotional reading. But, as Peter said, “do remember, it’s a pilgrimage, not a retreat”. For him, surprisingly, the first part of the walk was more about taking care of the body than the soul.

Meeting others

Peter also pointed out (and this was true of the film as well) that the people he met on the journey were from all sorts of backgrounds. Not all were Christians or even believers. Yet, as in the film, all were seekers, willing to share their stories and to listen to his - and ready to give a helping hand when needed.

Enda Devine did 200 miles of the Camino last year in the autumn. His abiding memory was of the presence of God. He comments “Even if you are walking by yourself, you are never alone because you feel the presence of God with you and in the beautiful around you.”

Source: Good News Magazine

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