People say that the Camino finds you. We believe this to be true. Both Alan and I were aware of the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, in Spain. I even have a friend who took some amazing photos on a vacation once. But neither of us had never heard about the pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela until right before we moved to France.
We were (and would be still if it were available here) major Rick Steve’s junkies, our DVR was full of 30 minute episodes from his trips all over Europe that we would watch over two or three nights – I kept falling asleep at about the 10 minute mark each night. During an episode when he was in Spain, he mentioned the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and the French Route from St. Jean Pied-du-Port. We found the episode interesting and then promptly forgot all about it in our rush to finish our pre-move checklist and goodbyes.
Upon arriving in France, we noticed that the little park up the street where we walk Kiara had signs that we couldn’t quite figure out. Blue background with yellow lines joined at the left and radiating out like a child’s drawing of the sun, or rather 1/3 of it. For weeks we couldn’t figure it out and eventually tuned it out as an oddity.
The other thing we noticed around the city was a stripe of white over a stripe of red. This pattern is found everywhere and with rather odd placement. Posts, railings, trashcans, trees, power poles, corners of buildings. It can be found painted, as reflective tape or decals. We reasoned that perhaps it had something to do with parking or some other obscure city ordinance that we would never figure out.
Then two weeks ago, a construction crew was putting up a large signboard in Kiara’s park on the path that follows the Aude River. A few days later, we wandered over to take a look at it. It is a signboard that explains that the Arles Route (Arles to Toulouse) of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela runs through Carcassonne. The sign has great graphics showing the route through town.
We were both surprised to find out a couple of things: 1) the Camino doesn’t start just in St. Jean Pied-du-Port (there are a lot of starting points all over Europe) and 2) it literally runs right in front of our apartment.
I remembered a month ago while sitting in the window seat and having my morning coffee that a hiker with a scallop shell on his backpack walked up the street. I knew that the scallop shell meant that the person was walking or had walked the Camino from the Rick Steve’s episode I had seen a few months earlier. I figured that he had done it once before and thought “cool” and promptly put it out of my mind. Seeing him made total sense after seeing the signboard.
Alan did a little Google research about the Camino and found that Emilio Esteves had done an Indy film in 2010 called “The Way.” I found it in iTunes and downloaded it. We watched it last week and it took less than an hour for us to look at each other and say “Let’s do it.”
As I mentioned earlier, they say the Camino finds you and for us that is definitely true — since it is literally right outside our front door. So rather than waiting for “someday” we’ve decided to listen to the universe and go for a walk.
Currently we’re planning a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 500 miles over mountains and plains from St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France to Santiago, Spain.
There are three pilgrimages that all Catholics are encouraged to make in their lifetime, St. Peter’s in Rome (which we’ve done — in addition, the Bishop’s Office in Rome also encourages you to visit all four of the major basilicas while in Rome — you’re there any way — so we did in 2011), Santiago de Compostela (which we are planning) and Jerusalem (which has been on both our wish lists for sometime).
The Camino de Santiago can be done as a religious or non-religious pilgrimage. We discussed it and decided to do this as a religious one — technically religious/cultural. Alan isn’t Catholic, but I have been since my first breath, albeit non-practicing most of the time. I think God will overlook my absences since we’re usually on pretty good terms regardless of whether or not I sit in a pew on Sundays.
Pilgrims are given a special passport — a “credential” — that you get stamped along the way and a “compostela” upon arrival. The paper and printing methods have changed but the design of the document has remained unchanged for over a thousand years.
All pilgrims are encouraged to carry the symbol of St. James (who is buried in the church in Santiago) which is a scallop shell, we are getting a special one for Kiara for her carrier. We will have ours attached to our backpacks like all the other pilgrims. Additionally, Camino charms are sold in many of the towns along the way — Kiara will probably end up with new jewelry too.
There are auberges (pilgrim hotels) along the way which charge very little for dinner, a bed, breakfast and a place to shower, usually between 5 and 15 euro ($8 to $18 roughly). Most have washers and dryers so that you can keep your clothes clean on the journey. A few do not allow dogs, hence the need for the tent!
Our route will take us through the Pyrenees mountain range, starting on day one! We want to complete it in 5 weeks so we’ll need to hike an average of about 15 miles a day with a day of rest once or twice along the hike, but since we are retired we’re not too worried if we need extra time.
We have spent the last two days purchasing good hiking shoes, tent, sleeping bags and packs. We’ve loaded them up and weighed them. We are astonished at the new fabrics and technology in design that keeps everything weighing very little. Alan’s pack weighs under 20 pounds, mine weighs under 14. It’s still boggles my mind a bit! Kiara will be coming along in her special chest carrier that we purchased while we were still in Reno, I will be carrying her sweater, blanket and food. The plan includes letting her walk a little each day so she can do a “mini-Camino” or as we call it, a “Chi-Camino.”
We are now setting up a training schedule for the next 10 weeks, working up to the 15 miles a day that we’ll need to average in order to complete our little walk in five weeks. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela from St. Jean Pied-du-Port is 800 kilometers or roughly 500 miles.
Alan will be posting additional information in the next few days for anyone interested in learning more about the Camino. We are batting around ideas about how to do updates along the way, or whether we should just do one big update when we arrive home, we’ll let everyone know what we decide before we leave.