What does “Pilgrim” mean? Well.. quite simply a stranger. A pilgrimage is a stranger walking to a certain destination and also often a mental walk, a kind of exploration of yourself. “Buen Camino” – “Good route” – is a salutation, used extensively along the routes, usually meaning “good luck”.
Walking or doing a pilgrimage exists in almost all cultures. The Christian routes start at various locations in Europe and usually end up in one of the holy cities: Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela, where St James the Great, one of Jesus’ apostles was buried, according to legend.
One of the reasons for walking is to get deeper contact with oneself; another is to seek the sacred. But there are many other reasons, such as pure adventure, and cultural and sporting reasons. Some of us have important choices to ponder. Others want to process grief or just walk together with other people in a nice social community. I faced a new situation: my work was finished and next step was to retire. I realised that I would face new challenges, but I didn’t know what. Doing nothing wasn’t an option.
Only a few people have walked a very long distance in one stretch. Holy Brigitte from Sweden was one of those in the 1300s. In modern times, the pilgrim Rolf Enander from Linköping walked the entire way from his home in Sweden to Santiago de Compostela, taking seven months.
Many start with the French route as I did and which I want to walk again. Six months later I started the Silver Route the Via de la Plata in Sevilla. This route is culturally the oldest in Europe. It coincides partly with the old roman route, the ”Calzada Romana”. The last stretch of the route to Santiago de Compostela can either go via Ourense or continue north to Astorga. The Via de la Plata is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
After the Via de la Plata I walked: the Arabic route, the Camino Mozárabe; the Camino Portuguese in Portugal, the beautiful Atlantic north coast route the Camino del Norte and in spring 2011, the hot and very dry plateau route, the Camino de Levante. I also walked the Camino Aragonés and the Camino Primitivo in spring 2012. The Camino Aragonés starts in France and the final part leads over the Pyrenees, and further on along the Aragon River. Finally, it joins the French Route. The Camino Primitivo is the oldest pilgrim route in Spain and it also finally joins the French Route. The weather was really bad in spring 2012, so I decided to repeat the Camino Primitivo in spring 2013. So I did, this time with much better weather.
Today, the Pilgrimages are very popular. I was told a couple of times that the number of pilgrims has doubled during the last seven years. This means today more than two hundred thousand walkers or cyclists per year reach Santiago de Compostela. I was also interested to know how the infrastructure on the French Route has changed with increasing numbers of restaurants and more accommodation. My impression is that the Camino life has been improved in many ways, mainly with better service. The route is more comfortable and enjoyable to walk but still with some challenging sections. The French route is beautiful: it may be not the most beautiful route in Spain, but socially is considered the best.