Sunday, December 4, 2011


By Cara Bertoia
The Camino De Santiago has attracted pilgrims for more than a thousand years. The path across Northern Spain leads to the tomb of St. James in Santiago, a beautiful walled city. In medieval times so many Pilgrims were said to be cured by walking to Santiago that it became the most popular of the three major pilgrimage sites, including Rome and Jerusalem. As recently as 2005, 93,921 people walked the Camino, some in search of a cure, but the majority for the love of walking.

Never having walked more than five miles in a day, I was surprised when my husband asked if I would walk the Camino, to hear myself say "sure," and committing myself to walk 500 miles. This was to be truly the hardest and yet most rewarding experience of my life because it taught me anything is possible if you have the right attitude and good health. Having immersed myself in historical novels when I was young, following this path by foot was truly like stepping back in time. Most important, it gave me confidence about what I can accomplish in the future.
A Well Deserved Rest After A Hard Climb
To begin our journey, my husband and I flew into Madrid, and then took a bus to Roncesvalles, a picturesque mountain village on the French border. This is the official beginning of the Camino in Spain. At the monastery there, we received the Camino Passport, which is stamped by hotels and churches all along the way. Pilgrims must present their stamped passports in Santiago to receive The Certificate de Compestela proving that they walked the Camino.

The Camino walk is not a tour. Pilgrims arrive independently and walk in small groups or on their own. The Spanish government, which helped revive the Camino in the '80s, provides a series of refugios - hotels along the way, as well. The refugios, or hostels, are strictly first come, first-served - and unisex, a new experience for most Americans, but quite common to Europeans. If a dormitory is not your style, a charming hotel room with all the amenities was less than $50 a day.

The Camino is designed to pass along medieval paths and roads and to bypass major roads and highways, so most of the day is spent walking through beautiful woods and fields. One passes through three or four villages a day that look as they did in the tenth century. There are also major cities such as Pamplona on the route, which are great places to take rest days.

The most amazing aspect about walking the Camino was in meeting the people along the way. Most were from Europe, Australia, and Brazil. Although our Spanish was rudimentary, we had no problems communicating. While over 50 percent of the walkers were between ages 30 to 60, many were over 60. The numbers of women, many of whom walked alone, reinforced what I felt about attitude. Most were world travelers with interesting careers. To the Europeans, walking is no big deal; it's an intrinsic part of their lives. And walking the Camino is very safe, partly because the Spanish people believe it is good luck to befriend a pilgrim. We are still in touch with friends we made on this Journey.

An average day on the Camino would see us waking up early, packing our backpacks, putting on our hiking boots, picking up our walking sticks, and being on our way. After walking for a few hours, we'd stop for thick Spanish hot chocolate and a pastry. Later we would lunch on fresh bread and ham to fortify us for the next five miles. We would reach our destination around 4 p.m., having walked between 10 and 15 miles, check into a hotel, and then soak in a tub. Around 8 p.m., the restaurants would open and we would enjoy a typical pilgrim's meal, consisting of three courses and a bottle of wine - all for less than $10. After a long day's walk, nothing could have been better. And it was great not to hear the word "diet" for six weeks!

The Camino changed our lives in so many ways that are hard to express in words. We have made a video of our journey and would be pleased to tell you about it.
Please go to to find  our movie 'Camino de Santiago a walkers guide' or
Click here to find our movie at Amazon

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