Around the World

To Be a Pilgrim – Walking the Camino de Santiago

Sep 2022 | By Catherine Daley

The Camino de Santiago is one of the most celebrated pilgrimages in the world, dating back to medieval times. In recent years, the popularity of the pilgrimage has significantly increased, with 277,913 certificates of completion handed out in 2018 and 347,578 handed out in 2019. In 2020, the numbers dropped to 53,905 during the pandemic, but they are expected to increase dramatically once we can travel again.

Personal and Spiritual Reasons

After going through a divorce, selling her house, and launching her kids into the next phase of their lives, Nan decided to walk the Camino.

She was in her late 50s and felt overweight and out of shape. Initially, she tried to keep up with others, but soon noticed that those who were fit underestimated the toll that it took on their body. “Then I remembered why I was there,” says Nan. “It wasn’t a race or a competition. I slowed down and did it my way. I likened it to the tortoise and the hare.”

The first time that Kevin walked the Camino was in 2014 with a group of eight pilgrims lead by Sue Kenney. He was working through some major trauma in his life, and the Camino marked the last chapter of his recovery. “Whether there for spiritual reasons, finding oneself, or religious reasons, respect for each person’s reasons reigned supreme,” says Kevin.

No Rules, No Expectations

Kevin embarked on a second (and longer) pilgrimage with his partner, Michael, in 2019, and he’s still hoping to do the entire route. “We typically set out between seven or eight in the morning,” says Kevin. “Some days we’d walk as little as 10 [kilometres], and some days upwards of 30 or more.

Nan started in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, and walked for a total of six weeks. She averaged about six hours a day, depending on how she was feeling.

You Meet All Sorts

Originally referred to as refugios, pilgrims’ hostels are now more commonly called albergues. Each year, more are opening up. While most of them have bunk beds, some still have mattresses on the floor. For those who may prefer a more-comfortable alternative at the end of the day, there are many small hotels and B&Bs along the way.

Kevin says that there were times when he was craving solitude, but if he’s talking to someone about their first Camino, he recommends that they try the albergues as a way to fully experience it. “So many nights ended with spontaneous events that I cherish to this day – from singalongs and dancing, to everything in between,” says Kevin. “Magic happens at the albergues.”

Nan loved hearing stories about why people were walking the Camino. One woman was walking for her son who passed away and had always wanted to do the walk, so upon completing the walk, she had her certificate done in his name.

Coincidentally, Nan also met a young hostel worker who went to school with her son. She, too, describes magical evenings with characters from all over the world.

The End

Pilgrims start their journey in different places, depending upon the time that they have, and the route that they’ve selected. Most people finish in Santiago de Compostela. This capital city of Galicia in Spain is believed to be, by many, the place where St. James is reputedly buried. Here, you receive a compostela (pilgrim certificate) if you have completed 100 kilometres (62 miles), or more, on foot.

This quote was shared with Nan, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, but spiritual beings on a human journey.”

Alternative Paths

Guided tours are also available. Jane booked with Camino Ways, and joined a group of 18 from all over the world. Most meals and accommodation were pre-booked and they moved your bags for you. On her second walk, some of the original group agreed to meet the following year. Their third, and final, leg of the Camino was scheduled for 2020, but has now been postponed until 2022. “I can’t wait to go back,” says Jane. “The scenery was magnificent, the camaraderie and discussions were energizing, and we laughed a lot.”


Book Recommendations:

Jane found that many people used the guidebook called A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, as it’s updated regularly.

Sue Kenney’s book My Camino has encouraged hundreds of people to walk the Camino, and November 2021 marked the 20th anniversary of her first walk.

Also inspired by his Camino experience, Kevin Craig wrote a book for young adults called The Camino Club. Six wayward teens are given an ultimatum after getting in trouble with the law. They can serve time in juvenile detention or walk the pilgrimage route with court-appointed guides. Realizing that they really don’t have an option, they set out on a journey that will help to shape who they become.