Sheila Conlin, http://www.thestar.com/travel/europe/article/1080915–do-you-know-the-way-to-santiago, November 4, 2011
SANTIAGO, SPAIN — Martin Sheen walks the walk in son Emilio Estevez’s new movie The Way, a story of friendship, faith and transformation on the historic pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago. Every year thousands of peregrinos find their own way along this 800-kilometre route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. With a little preparation, you, too, can make the journey.
WONDERING There are as many reasons to go as blisters on the feet of the pilgrims who make the trek: divorce, job burnout, spiritual quests, or simply a desire to hike through the scenic Spanish countryside.
PLANNING The best time to go is spring or fall to avoid the crowds and heat.
ARRIVING Fly to Paris, transfer to Biarritz, take the train to Bayonne and on to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port ( www.sncf.com, French rail). The Camino Frances, most popular route, begins here.
SLEEPING Accommodation ranges from 100-bed rustic albergues to five-star converted historic buildings or paradors. The former often have basic shared kitchens and provide bed, laundry sinks and washroom facilities. They cost $10 to $15, while paradors can cost several hundred dollars. Carry a sleep sheet or light sleeping bag for warmth and protection from bedbugs.
EATING Food is plentiful, but challenging for vegetarians. The coffee is excellent; cafés may be your best option. They serve pastries and bocadillos, crusty buns with famous Spanish dry-cured ham or cheese. At night, look for the Menú del Peregrino, a basic offering of meat, potatoes and cheap wine. Better still, eat like the Spanish and enjoy your main meal and some good wine mid-day.
TRAINING A reasonably fit adult can complete the Camino in a month. Walkers average about 25 km a day and there are few strenuous sections. A few weeks of regular walking and a light workout for your upper body will do. If you’re not used to wearing a pack, wear it around at home, adding a little weight each day.
PACKING Gear is a popular and competitive topic; every ounce counts. Wear trainers, carry other shoes for relief and pack flip-flops for shower duty. Good socks are a must. Carry only one change of clothes; wash daily and hang to dry. Quick dry clothing, some rain gear and a sun hat are important, and add a fleece and toque for cooler weather. As for gadgets, purists eschew them — it is a pilgrimage after all — others can’t cope without. Add a few personal grooming articles, a guidebook and you are good to go. Farmacias are everywhere for drugstore supplies. You need a water bottle for the ubiquitous fountains.
WEB SURFING For more info on the Canadian Company of Pilgrims: www.santiago.ca. For the Confraternity of St. James: www.csj.org.uk