Camino de Santiago, 2011 (part 1)

And four years later, I went back. I suppose something so epic — walking over mountains, through valleys, across Roman bridges, and passing under the shadows of the granite spires of Gothic cathedrals on an 875km pilgrimage from the Spanish-French border to the tomb of the Apostle St. James in Santiago de Compostela — when completed feels like such a monumental accomplishment that the idea of repeating the journey seems ridiculous and unnecessary. First of all, you have nothing left to prove. When you can claim to have trekked across an entire country (and I don’t care if Spain is smaller than several American states, it’s still wildly impressive to “walk across a country”), there is little need to subject yourself to the downright disgusting mid-summer Spanish sun for such a deathly period of time ever again in your life. A pilgrim friend quipped over a beer at a bar in León: “If I have the choice to avoid suffering, I chose to do so.” (Aitor, stricken with tendonitis, would not take another step on the Camino after stopping in León.) Finishing the walk is an act of determination and perseverance so great that doing it just once makes a definitive statement about your character.

The exhaustion and stress that your body is subjected to on the Camino is extreme, and I cannot imagine many doctors recommending a 500-mile blister, cramp and bedbug route for any reason. The first time I walked it, my right thigh went numb, and four years later the feeling hasn’t fully returned (in fact, I believe I aggravated the situation this year). Needless to say, nobody gets out unscathed, and those who do are surely “weekend pilgrims” who walk no more than five days, or “posh pilgrims” who have their backpacks taxied from one destination to the next so that they can walk with light shoulders and an extra bounce in their step — but we can hardly consider these walkers to be pilgrims at all. The fact of the matter, though, is that those of us who walk the entire way, who push the limits of our physical  frame and emotional strength, who, in short, endure the most pain, often walk the Camino multiple times. Beyond the architectural wonders and magnificent landscapes, the Camino de Santiago provides the pilgrim with the opportunity to reconnect with a primitive survival mindset in which food, water, and shelter are paramount, and anything more is an unexpected pleasure. Perhaps for this reason I walked again; when you reach the point where checking your email and updating your fantasy soccer team are your most pressing matters for the day, it´s time to take a step back. Or, in this case, a couple million forward.

Here is the first batch of my selection of photos from the pilgrimage, with several more entries to follow. Enjoy!

somport

Somport mountain pass on the Spanish-French border, and the Aragonese starting point of the Camino

camino de santiago rockpiles

Cairns along the Camino de Santiago in Aragón

town on camino

A hilltop town on the Camino de Santiago

olive tree shade

A lone olive tree provides much-needed shade from the blistering Spanish sun

santa maria de eunate

Santa María de Euante, a Romanesque gem

town on camino

Pilgrims, vineyards, and a town on the Camino de Santiago

shadow and town

Entering a town along the Camino

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~ by lincolnbrody on August 14, 2011.

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