Road to Santiago

Road to Santiago

by guest contributor Myra MacPherson
Photo credit: Myra MacPherson

Okay, so why are we showing pictures of this thousand year old cathedral and its plaza tucked into a corner of Spain – Santiago de Compostela?  Because I had heard from Washington, DC friends how they had walked, were planning on walking or dreaming of walking the Camino de Santiago. An endurance test of walking endless kilometers winds up here at the Cathedral de Compostela where legend has it that the bones of Jesus’ apostle James reside. My curiosity was aroused.


Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela

After a few days in the charming beach town of Baiona, I found myself in the Santiago Plaza, shadowed by the immense granite cathedral. It was hard to imagine the 13th century pilgrims who took this walk as a form of penance. An international polyglot of hundreds of modern day trekkers were crashing in groups with backpacks, dusty hiking boots and exhausted looks, having walked 150 kilometers (93 miles) or more. Bragging rights sometimes ensue over who has walked the farthest; some of the trails take months and are 800 kilometers long. Stalls were filled with religious and other trinkets; wandering bagpipers played Galician music – the Celts were here as well as in Ireland.

Much of Galicia remains less discovered; it’s mediaeval winding streets in other towns and the tapas bars are blessedly filled with mostly Spanish enjoying their homeland. But Google Camino de Santiago and up come 24 million references in a mini-second. Tour guides emphasize and relish the fact that the Santiago Way now attracts hundreds of curious tourists, not just pilgrims. Talk to the people resting in the plaza and you find a satisfaction, no matter the reason for having “done the Camino” as some say.


Erin from Manitoba, Canada had walked for a month three years ago but had a shorter vacation time and walked two and half weeks this round. Reflecting on her experience, Erin said, “I met a lot of people who are really hurting – going through divorce, deaths, loss of jobs. I found that all were on a pilgrimage of some sort–some religious, some searching for meaning, others just to meet people and have an adventure.” As she looked at some of the teenagers in the plaza, Spanish equivalents of boys and girls scouts, she laughed, “You’re dragging on your last legs and they come whizzing by.” She admired their energy and spirit: “You want to hug and hate them at the same time. But they charge you up.” She saw a disturbing change over the three years – “less meditating or reading or writing journals.  A lot are consumed with electronics.”

“The worst part? Getting to a village and finding nowhere to rest for the night,” added Erin. “There are appointed stops along the way and villages are obligated to find you places and if you go to a church they must find a place. But sometimes you can look a long time to find an unoccupied stop.” Like others, Erin’s first stop in the city of Santiago was a hotel shower, not the Cathedral.


A very jolly trio of decidedly middle-aged Irish women had walked 110 kilometers (68 miles). It took them two weeks. They had a different view. “Oh, it was grand,” one exclaimed. ‘We made tons of friends. It becomes your Camino family. You’d meet up again along the way at a rest stop. No, we didn’t find anyone working out their sorrows or bad times or on a pilgrimage,” they laughed and were certainly full of life and good times. “Not us!“  I thought she said ‘we did it for the crack’ and then I remembered the Irish phrase. “We did it for the CRAIC.” It means for the fun.

In medieval times, genuine penance was the reason for such arduousness and criminals were sometimes released if they walked miles to Santiago. They could ride donkeys then and today bicycles are allowed. Me? I’m waiting for the day they allow taxis.