What follows is a day-to-day journal kept by Bonnie Clapp as she and I, her husband Nick, walked 1100 miles from Le Puy-en-Valey in central France to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain, and then on to Finisterre on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean – in medieval times, the end of the known world. The route was, one-in-the-same, le Chemin de Saint Jacques, el Camino de Santiago Compostela, and the Way of St. James. For a thousand and more years, pilgrims had trod its path to the tomb of the Apostle St. James, cousin of Jesus. And their journey was guided by scallop shells – with today, thousands marking the way.
Excellent English guidebooks – written by Alison Raju and John Brierley – describe the Camino’s terrain, and offer insights into its history and traditions, as well as practical advice as to currency, useful phrases, not getting lost, and the like.
What follows is different – it is a sample trip for people of a certain age, ability, and inclination. In our late sixties and mid seventies, Bonnie and I keep a reasonable pace, a few notches above pokey, but well shy of hot-footing. 10 miles/16 kilometers was our ideal day, longer if we had to, shorter if we would be staying in a town with sights to see. As well, we shortened our distance if the going was steep (as crossing the Pyrenees). Beware too fast or too far! Quite a number of hikers set goals of 30-35 kilometers a day, wreck up their feet or take sick, and have little choice but to call it quits and head home.
To get up to speed, we eased into our journey with a 5 ½ mile/9 kilometer day, then an 8 mile/13 kilometer day, and then an 11 ¼ mile/18 kilometer day. And as for days off, we preferred relatively few, and then in cities with lots to see or do. There’s a momentum to the walk, and it’s hard to stop. We favored a scattering of afternoons off.
Given a choice of accommodations, Bonnie and I were partial to a moderate level of comfort, a step or two up from the dormitories (gites de etap in France, alburgues in Spain) favored by the under-thirty crowd. When possible, we preferred a room to ourselves in chambers de hotes in France and casa rurales in Spain. That said, sharing space was okay when, once a week or so, there was little choice.
Until very recently, the Camino’s pilgrims were on in years. OLD. In countries the breath of Europe, they were done farming, crafting, or soldiering. For folks who had hardly traveled to the next village, it was time now to see and experience the world beyond. Time for a great adventure – as it still is!