people have been encouraging each other with these words for over one thousand years. do you know why? have you heard of the call of the camino de santiago? maybe you’ve already made the journey, perhaps on more than one occasion. maybe it’s a dream you’re hoping to soon make a reality. maybe you’ve never heard about it.
it turns out this ancient route has called millions of people, of all persuasions, for centuries. the number of people completing the pilgrimage has increased considerably in recent times but annual figures are still not beating the middle ages when one million people walked this path EVERY YEAR. my personal fascination with the camino began some years ago when i read paulo coelho’s book the pilgrimage.
i was initially interested in reading this book because it was written by coelho and i had enjoyed the alchemist. i soon discovered that the pilgrimage is full of magic, intrigue and is a commentary on coelho’s personal inner and outer journey as he walks the camino frances, the most popular route of the camino. the camino frances starts at saint-jean-pied-de-port at the foot of the pyrenees, passes the shrine of saint james at santiago de compostella, and ends at a place called finisterre (‘the end of the earth’) at the western-most point of spain.
not long after reading the pilgrimage …
… i travelled through france and spain, where references to the camino kept coming up. in arles in france, i chose a farmhouse out of the city to stay in and learnt it was where the camino trails for pilgrims from france and italy cross, and that the farmhouse is built around an 800-year-old chapel. my host at mas de la chapelle explained, ‘we always keep some beds for pilgrims walking the way, some being in chartres, some in lyon, some in italy. wherever the trails cross, and we always keep a few beds for any pilgrims who may turn up on foot, it has always been so here’. (in spain such places of pilgrim refuge are known as ‘alberques’.)
after arles, i travelled on to st-jean-de-luz, which unbeknown to me neighbours st-jean-pied-de-port – as i already mentioned, the city where the camino frances begins. it was no wonder then that books and maps about the camino and scallop shells kept appearing wherever i went! the more i saw, the more my fascination with the camino grew.
when i got home to wanaka, some people visited the little brown house who had just walked the camino and it just happened to come up in our conversation. if a spiritual afficionado of the camino had been nearby at this point, i am sure they would have told me i must be ready to do the camino seeing as it keeps ‘appearing’ in my life. well, those of you who know me also know that i’m a bit of sucker for myths, legends and the likes. needless to say, the camino is something i now feel very keen to – and even must – do.
mind you, i don’t think you have to be in the least bit religious to be drawn to this camino full of tradition, legend, myth and the opportunity to take time out of your ‘real world life’ and allow yourself to take each day as it comes. for me the appeal of this journey lies as much in the people i may meet on the way and the stories they would share, as it does in the legends, history and myths. it all seems quite an attraction to me. when you read some of the history of the camino, it soon becomes obvious that this journey has been one of significance for many and the trail has long been laid down. the templars, ancient kings, saints and who knows who else have all already tread this path. some people have become so impressed by their experience that has now become their ‘real world’ and they return to walk the route(s) many times or volunteer for months or longer to work at one of the albergues.
are you still with me?
if you are then here is a book for you: call of the camino by robert mullen. in reviewing this book I have to admit this has really got me committed and i am off to buy my walking boots and start breaking them in for my journey. it is noticeable how many excuses come into my head for why i can’t really do it just yet, but there’s a louder voice that asks me ‘if not now, then when?’ life is one big pilgrimage after all – right?
in mullen’s book you discover the history of the camino along with the myths, legends and remarkable stories which have all become part of the many layers of this amazing journey. you will be encouraged to learn some basic spanish and learn some of the stories about the villages, towns, cities and wilderness on the way.
this may be non-fiction but it reads like a story of old, and the narrative draws you in. mullen is an american-born author and computer scientist – he has no particular religious affiliations but is interested in and respectful of those who do. like coelho’s book, mullen’s journey is chronicled through the history-steeped towns and the mountains of camino frances.
i loved call of the camino and am obsessed with starting my own journey now. it would be fair enough to accuse me of being all talk at this stage and i do concede this is true – making the journey is when this will get really meaningful for me.
if you have experiences from your own camino journey …
… or, like me, are planning to do it in the future, please share them with me and our little brown house community. maybe some of our paths will indeed cross on the way?
love cathie xx