This past summer my daughter Emily and I walked an ancient pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago which translates as the Way of St James. This pilgrimage route transverses the width of the northwest Spain and has existed for over a thousand years. It leads to the city of Santiago de Compostela where legend holds that the remains of St. James are buried.
So what was a day in the life of a pilgrim like? Let me take you on a typical day. Waking at 5 am became intuitive. It was easy to do when sleeping began by 9 pm the night before from the fatigue of walking 15 miles even after an afternoon siesta. Quietly, we’d tip-toe out of the dormitory with backpacks readied the night before so as to not wake sleeping pilgrims (once 90 pilgrims in one room!) Breakfast of yogurt and fruit in the kitchen unless it was in earshot of the dormitory, then we’d eat outside with our headlamps not to disturb sleeping pilgrims. And then we’d walk and walk and walk some more. Leaving before sunrise assured us finishing our walk before the strong sun and heat of the afternoon.
Aside from food and drink everything that we needed, all 16 lbs, was carried in our backpacks. The list: one change of clothes, 3 extra pairs of socks, poncho, toiletries, first aid, flip flops (for showers), micro-fiber towel, light weight fleece, long sleeve shirt, wide brim hat, sleeping bag liner and sheet, comfy sandals for touring and guide book.
Along our pilgrimage, we walked through tiny hamlets, medieval villages and historic cities. We walked through row upon row of beautifully manicured vineyards and miles upon miles of crop fields of wheat and barley, with an occasional golden surprise of acres of sunflowers. We walked on cobble stoned roads, ancient Roman roads, earthen paths, asphalt and cement sidewalks. We crossed over Roman bridges where knights, kings, queens, emperors and saints traversed before us. We walked on flat terrain, hilly terrain, up mountain sides and down. You name the path, the terrain and the landscape and we walked on it and through it. The same footpaths that millions of pilgrims since the middle ages have traveled before us.
Throughout the day, every couple of hours we’d break for snacks and lunches. Sometimes they were at tiny cafes in a village, a shady spot or a grassy patch or even the dusty path itself. A respite may include other pilgrims, sharing the day’s happenings and destinations, or a quiet rest just the two of us.
With our guide book, plans were made the previous night with expected kilometers to walk, where the cafes were for food and drink and which hostel we’d stay in at our destination. We relied on each other. Emily and I were great companions; keeping pace with each other, both emotionally and physically. Well, maybe once or twice I had to ask Emily to slow the pace a bit; young legs!
Upon arrival and check-in, our pilgrim’s passbook was stamped documenting a day on the pilgrimage. We chose our bunks, usually Emily top and me the bottom. Then we showered, hand washed our clothes, hung them to dry, bought food at a local market to cook for dinner, breakfast and some snacks to carry for the following day. Back to the hostel for siesta. Ah, siesta. We loved siesta and our bodies needed the restorative rest. After dinner, we’d walk around the town or city we were in, relax and chat with the other pilgrims we’d come to know or get to know new pilgrims.
We lived in the present, taking care of our basic needs: food, water, rest, clean clothes, and we walked. Life as a pilgrim was simple. Everyday, about 15 miles per day for 480 miles, Emily and I walked. After 31 days of walking we arrived at Santiago Compostela, at the cathedral of the resting place of the tomb of St James, the apostle. Our pilgrimage complete or has it just begun?
Emily and I dedicated our pilgrimage to the Pygmies of the DR Congo as they seek land where they can continue their indigenous lifestyle. If you would like to learn more about our pilgrimage and read our posts from when we were walking, see our blog. Many thanks to all our friends and the families who supported us along the way.
Donna and Emily at Santiago de Compostela