This photo essay is my humble attempt to convey that privileged experience in all of its wondrous dimensions–fun, delicious, tragic, joyous, arduous, timeless, and sublime. I offer it with the most profound gratitude and as a celebration of a uniquely sacred gathering place, of my fellow pilgrims, and of all those things that make life worth living.
Why Walk El Camino de Santiago?
I walked the Camino for at least five reasons:
(1) to prove I was still vital at the age of fifty-two
(2) to enjoy an epic walking meditation
(3) to reflect deeply on the meaning and direction of my life
(4) to enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow pilgrims, and
(5) to welcome anything else that might come my way.
Saint Jean Pied du Port
En route to Saint Jean Pied du Port, meeting my first fellow pilgrim So Young and getting well wishes from friendly French lady Beatrice and her daughter.
The quaint hamlet of Saint Jean Pied du Port in Southwestern France is the traditional starting point for the Camino Francés.
The first order of business is to check in at the pilgrim’s office, which is staffed by a small crew of delightful and enthusiastic lady volunteers who will get your Camino off on the right foot. It’s also quite an exciting time as you start to meet other pilgrims from all over the world.
There you can get your pilgrim’s passport (credencial), the traditional scallop shell, and a weather report for the next day.
Each pilgrim is expected to carry a passport (credencial) which is stamped and dated each time they check into an Albergue. Since I received my blank credencial in Saint Jean Pied-du-Port, it is written in French.
Day one on the Camino Francés requires a traverse of the Pyrenees… and the mountain weather is not to be taken lightly.
Because a big snowfall was forecast for the next day, the ladies were adamant that we take the low road. The seriousness of their tone and body language left us no doubt that the high road was off limits. You can see the big red Xs emphatically drawn by them on the map below. Incidentally, we later heard that someone had died on the high road, apparently because they ignored the advice.
After packing my credencial and scallop shell, I made a donation, then joined some new friends for a quick dinner at the only open (but cozy) restaurant in town that took great pride in feeding peregrinos.
Day 1. Saint Jean Pied du Port to Roncevalles
And Crossing the Pyrenees
The snow got deeper and air got colder as we ascended. It was no small miracle that we all survived!
Every city and most towns have at least one Albergue. Some are privately-owned, some are run by the local municipality, some secular, and some religious.
The religious Albergues have strict lights out policies. The secular Albergues are a bit more laid back.
Day 2. Roncevalles to Zubiri
Most albergues have a community kitchen where you can cook your own supper.
Here is Tae-Lim Kim, one of my new Korean friends, showing us how it’s done.
Day 3. Zubiri to ???
Animals Along The Way
Alto de Perdon
Camino de Santiago Food & Drink
Cruz de Ferro
Camino de Santiago Animals
Camino de Santiago Memorials
Pilgrim’s Passport Stamps (Sellos)
Santiago de Compostela
It is quite surreal to stand before the Cathedral in person, after seeing it in so many photographs and travel shows over the years. Naturally, there is a predictable feeling of accomplishment (and relief) upon arrival in Santiago, having survived hundreds of miles of physical and psychological pain that only a fractional percent of human beings have experienced and can possibly understand.
Upon arrival in Santiago, take your passport to the Pilgrim’s Office in order to receive your final stamp…
And to receive your “Compostela” at the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago de Compostela, certifying that you have met the requirements for a proper pilgrimage…
Finisterre (literally “End of the World”) was the perfect place to end my Camino.
The colorful harbor, light house, crashing waves, sea gulls, and sea breeze were the perfect backdrop for celebrating life with some of my beautiful Camino family: Kent, Brianna, Lucas, Elizabeth, Lidia, Fiach, MaryJo, and Birgit.
Looking out into the limitless horizon of the Atlantic, one cannot help but reflect deeply on the meaning and direction of one’s life. And to come to the realization that the end of this Camino was not an end, but a new beginning.