Camino de Santiago

In the next couple of years I plan to walk the Camino de Santiago. The following are notes I pulled together for myself which might be useful to others who are considering walking The Way of Saint James.

I am considering integrating this pilgrimage with the 30 day spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. It might be that the Camino de Santiago will be too social for the Ignatian exercises and that I am trying to pack too much into a single trip.  Doing the spiritual exercises as a walking retreat might be best done on the quieter Camino Ignaciano.

For a bit of background, check out 2000 Years of the Pilgrimage which starts with the life of James and ends in the 21st century.  In the 14th century, the starting point of a pilgrimage was people’s front door and the end point was the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral which is reported to hold the remains of the Apostle James. Over time several common routes developed and then were forgotten.  In the 1950s there was a renewed interest in the pilgrim routes and a program to welcome pilgrims was developed.  Across the world, numerous associations sprung up such as the American Pilgrims which has numerous local chapters including one in Northern California.

While the Camino de Santiago started out as a Christian pilgrimage, devoted Christians now represent a small portion of the >300,000 people who travel along “The Way” each year. For people used to the” typical” long trails which are primarily in the wilderness, it might be useful to read What you can expect from the Camino de Santiago and Ten Reasons not to Hike The Camino de Santiago.

Spiritual Preparation

IN PROGRESS… will be updating this section shortly.

Gary Johnson’s Devotional Companion for Camino de Santiago

The Art of Pilgrimage: Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau

There is a thread I started about combining the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius with walking The Way of James. Serval people provided useful advice and pointers to useful resources which I will eventually incorporate into this post. 

Practical Issues

Any of the guides listed below will provide nearly all the information you will need to plan a journey along the Camino de Santiago. A good starting point would be the online planning resources from the Village to Village guide.

Nearly all the land along the routes are privately owned. It’s harder to find a camping spot than a bed in a alberque (hostel for pilgrims), hostel, or hotel. I would recommend forgoing the typical back country backpacking gear (tent, stove, sleeping pad, etc) and plan to use alberque for sleeping. If you are using albergue rather than higher end hotels, I would strongly recommend bringing a silk sleep sack which has been treated with Permethrin and ultralight down quilt for warmth which will be lighter, cheaper, and  more compact than a sleeping bag which provides the same amount of warmth. You can often find reasonably priced down quilts on ultralight massdrop.

Likewise the availability of food means that you typically don’t need to carry more than snacks in your pack. The only exception is that if you are entering a less populated area on Sunday or Monday,  every place with food might be closed. In these cases carrying a meal or two might be advised. Of course, if this happens, you could just treat it as a day of fasting.

I have some general notes about Travel and Pack light. Let go of the baggage you carry day to day and live in the moment. For people who are used to luxury, comfort, and ease, don’t just prepare yourself to “rough it”, but embrace a simple and more communal experience. To get a sense of what it’s like walk the Camino de Santiago, read through Slow Walkers 2007 journal.

Guide Books and Apps

There are a variety of guidebooks and applications designed to help people successfully navigate the Camino de Santiago. All the guidebooks provide information about the route itself and places to stay. Some provide a day by day schedule. Others provide information which allows the pilgrim to decide were they want to stop.

  • A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley is the classic english language guidebook. It breaks the path into discrete stages. Many people follow his stages woodenly which typically means that the villages listed at the end of each stage will be more crowded. Brierley includes selection about ‘the mystic path” and “personal reflections” which can be enriching, but annoy some people, especially people wanting a purely practical guidebook for a long hike. Available only in paperback.
  • Village to Village Guides by Anna Dintaman & David Landis available on Kindle, paperback, and has a good online supplement
  • Wise Pilgrim is a very practical guide which is reported to be the best  iOS/Android App. The full content is available as a Kindle and Paperback book.  Much of the content is also freely available of their website. Has booking.com links for any of the lodging that supports online reservations.
  • Camino Guides by Gerald Kelly  is available as an iOS/Android app, Kindle, paperback, and a downloadable PDF. Gerald also makes a free version of the PDF available (which is missing maps and historical background). 
  • TrekRight Camino Guide is well regard iOS Guidebook application.
  • The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook by David M. Gitlitz won’t tell you anything about the modern cities, hostels, or amenities but will give you an in-depth look into the history of the path you are walking.

Resources

  • santiago.forwalk.org is a very well done website. They have a number of “pre selected” routes / stages with information about what services are available with pictures and links to make reservations.
  • Route Planner which lets you choice start/end locations, and then select the villages you want to stop in  (lists type of accommodations but no description of them). For these selections the website can generate a number of files including a path to be viewed through google earth, gps waypoints,  and a schedule in a nice, spreadsheet readable table
  • caminodesantiago.me is a very active online community run by Ivar Rekve, a resident of Santiago de Compostela.
  • TrailJournals: Camino de Santiago is a site which originally was used by long distant hikers for the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail but now hosts journals for other trails including the Camino de Santiago.
  • American Pilgrims; Internet Resources is a great list of other resources that are freely available on the Internet.

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