Apr 062012
 
Old man in medieval pilgrim garb: brown cape and wide felt hat adorned with scallop shells

My journey to India and Ladakh was the best thing that ever happened in my life. Not only some of my greatest dreams came true, but it opened up a whole new World for me, both physically and metaphorically. In travel, I was home – and I was free. Very often I remember it, and wish I could be there once again, traveling around , limited by nothing but my imagination.

After coming home, I had to realize that I was right: I’ve born to be a traveler. And this also means, I just cannot stay in the same place for too long without losing my freedom and happiness. I have to travel, again and again. Sometimes the journey is only within, but sooner or later I have to leave behind the lands I know for another adventure. So I decided to go on a very special journey once again. I decided to walk the El Camino de Santiago, the most famous pilgrimage route of the World.

Camino Galicia stone

Stone marking The Way

Why the Camino? There are many reasons behind the decision. One being a book: before my journey to India, I was reading Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, the iconic novel that made the Camino famous and popular once again. I was charmed by the ancient road leading through beautiful historic landscapes.I wanted to walk in the Pyrenees, the mountains I decided to visit few years ago, I wanted to see the medieval city of Roncesvalles, I wanted to embrace the freedom of traveling once again, and wanted a new challenge: after I walked for seven days in the Himalaya, which almost brought me to my knees, forcing me to endure great pain and push my limits, I wanted to do something more challenging. The Camino might not be such hard on the body as the wild Himalayan paths over 4-5000 meters, but is much longer.

The Camino’s main purpose is being one of the main Roman Catholic pilgrimage routes, so most who travel The Way do so for – at least partially – a religious reason, while each year more and more people complete it as a way of tourism. But I am neither a Christian nor a tourist. Still, this path has special power, it vibrates with the energy of the thousands of people who walked it during the ages. I think one doesn’t need to be Christian to undertake such special route as a spiritual journey. I hope that this lets me feel true freedom once again, and also to understand myself better, challenge myself and push my limits further. Walking alone can be a spiritual experience, as I learned that in the Himalaya. Also, I always wanted to travel Spain and the Pyrenees, and this route is really beautiful.

The El Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James is not a single road, but a network of paths starting from all around Europe, unique paths merging into each other until finally reaching the city of Santiago de Compostela – like the Amazonas of pilgrims, travelers, tourists and adventurers. On most parts, bu especially in Spain, the route is marked with the image if a scallop shell, the symbol the Camino, origination from the St. James legend. There are many main routes. Maybe the most popular is the Camino Francés, the French Way which starts from a few major French cities, including Paris.

Map of the Camino Frances

Map of the Camino Frances

Coelho started his journey in San Jean Pied de Port, a small city in France, close to the Spanish border, which become the most popular starting point for the Camino Francés. From here, Santiago de Compostela is about 770 kilometers. Traditionally pilgrimages were completed on horseback or on foot, but today bicycling is accepted too. So, for me, this means 770 kilometers of walking, through one to one and a half month. In theory, it can be completed in 29 days, but I don’t intend to rush, I would rather enjoy and explore some of the places along the way.

Old man in medieval pilgrim garb: brown cape and wide felt hat adorned with scallop shells

"Peregrino style" - medieval pilgrim garb

And for those who did read or hear about my Himalayan journey, it might not be a surprise that I rake an unusual approach. Instead of walking with big backpacks, aluminum rods and sport gear as most people do nowadays, I am pretty inspired by the old pilgrims: My plan is to bring nothing, but a small bag worn across the shoulder, simple generic clothes, and the distinctive marks of medieval pilgrims: a hat, a cape, a long wooden staff, a calabash gourd drinking bottle and scallop shells worn on the clothing. Though for many these are religious symbols, for me they symbolize the respect towards the old pilgrims and traditions. Also, traveling with an absolute minimal gear has dual purposes. First, I learned in the Himalaya that one really doesn’t need much – I had a huge bag and most of its contents turned out to be useless. Second, undertaking a journey in a simple way, while leaving the luxuries of our modern life behind is a great way of spiritual cleansing.

So if everything goes well, I will quite resemble a medieval pilgrim. I already got used to that people think ‘m crazy, so it will be nothing new.

And finally, I have some extra plans, if this all works out. One is that I should take a lot of photos on the way, so after I come home I can write about the journey here, as I do about India, and add the photos as well. The other idea is that if I manage in some way, before I come home I will try to visit Andalusia, home of the famous, beautiful Andalusian horses, and a few remaining caballeros, or Spanish knights. The caballeros are known to have unique and special knowledge in horsemanship, and with some luck I might even be able to learn something.

The only great issue is – not surprisingly – money. Even though I believe that if one is willing to let go of the luxuries, it can be undertaken much cheaper than most people do, it can still be costly, especially the first part: getting from Hungary to my starting point, San Jean Pied de Port in France.

Technically I am already late, as my original idea was to go in the spring, and right now I see no chance I could do that any time soon. But I am committed, and takes whatever it takes, I will do it this year, and no later than late summer, or maybe as late as September. When I decided that I go to Ladakh next year, it seemed impossible too, but I managed. And I am sure I will manage this too, even though I am in late. But in the case of Ladakh, help came just in the last moment.

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