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Post The Camino de Santiago
Created by John Eipper on 11/14/22 2:59 AM

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The Camino de Santiago (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA, 11/14/22 2:59 am)

A friend of mine just came back from doing El Camino. It was almost a month-long walk but a very satisfying physical, psychological, and spiritually emotional experience to my friend, who is not a Catholic and had to prepare by walking around the hillsides of Sily-Con Valley.

JE comments: Great to hear from you, Francisco.  I'm not quite sure if walking to Santiago is on my Bucket List, but I'm getting more inspired.  If the budget allows, I'd opt for the luxury version, staying at paradores and the like.  Maybe we should organize an official WAIS junket...?

Another camino, the Camino Real in California, runs past Stanford and straight through your home turf of Menlo Park.  It's walkable, too.

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  • Why You Should Walk to Santiago (Consoly Leon Arias, Spain / Canary 11/14/22 6:53 AM)
    Every year more and more people decide to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. There are many reasons for this. Some of them are religious, but more and more pilgrims are walking the Camino for reasons that have to do with their lifestyle, or their physical and mental well-being.

    Whatever your reason, it is never too late to do the Camino de Santiago. Allow me to share several reasons that will help to encourage you for the first time.

    Regardless of whether the main reason is religious or not, all pilgrims agree that this pilgrimage helps them to find themselves again. While walking each stage, there is plenty of time to reflect and get to know oneself. This also implies a deep self-analysis, which invites pilgrims to analyze their lifestyle and the environment that surrounds them.

    Getting out of one's comfort zone is never easy, and the Camino de Santiago can help you do this. We all build a life process that we repeat every day, as a routine.

    Our perspective on life is sometimes conditioned by our environment. It is precisely on the Camino that we have to find our own reasons to move forward and learn to live in a totally different environment.

    Although on the Camino de Santiago we often encounter physically hard moments, and I have experienced this personally, it will be the personal challenges that are potentially the most rewarding.

    After the first few kilometers, you will notice that the Camino is a reflection of life itself. Each step brings you closer to the end, each step adds up to your goal, but what really matters is not to reach Santiago and embrace the Apostle.

    The Camino de Santiago will allow you to meet new people with whom to share this experience. Discovering the motivations of other pilgrims to do the Camino, and what has led them to walk it, is something worth discovering, because each person carries in his or her backpack a life experience.

    The Camino de Santiago leads you to discover beautiful cities in the north of Spain, but also small towns, with lots of charm and hospitable inhabitants, places we would never see if it were not for the Camino. You will cross bridges, Roman roads, ancient paths, and of course, incredible landscapes. Whichever route you choose, you will be able to enjoy unique places. From the north of the Peninsula, along the French Route, or going into the Cantabrian coast if you walk the Northern Route.

    From the crowded French Route, to the Mediterranean routes of the Peninsula or the Via de la Plata, which crosses Andalusia and Extremadura, you have ahead of you an endless number of roads that will take you to Santiago, and that will show you many different faces of the adventure of the pilgrimage to the remains of the "Son of Thunder."

    Moreover, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela does not end with the traditional embrace of the Patron Saint of Spain, because this gesture is often the starting point of a real personal catharsis, a restorative experience. To this we must add its sublime historical/artistic heritage, the exquisite food of northern Spain, its famous wines, delicious pastries, landscapes, culture, and above all, the hospitality of the locals. That was my experience as a pilgrim. An experience that I would gladly repeat at any time.

    If you need an escape, leave everything behind for a few days to think, relax, live a mystical experience, get away from the madding crowd, and enjoy a tourist experience. Do not hesitate.  El Camino de Santiago, and Spain await you. You will love it.

    JE comments: Consoly, in my mind I'm already packing. But mundane, daily obligations intervene. Drats. Regardless, you should share this post with the Ministry of Tourism!

    If I may dig a bit (it's my job), are the residents along the Camino universally happy with the pilgrims? The trekkers bring their money to be sure, but what about the disruptions, the crowds, the mess, and the general mayhem? Here's a truism: the locals in any tourist Mecca are always ambivalent about their visitors.

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    • Camino de Santiago: Reflections from an Armchair Pilgrim (Sasha Pack, USA 11/15/22 10:43 AM)
      I have to agree with Consoly León Arias that the enduring fascination with the Camino de Santiago lies in the power of the myths that have shrouded it. I think what is most fascinating is the way that the Camino elevates two different myths about St. James the Elder that seem almost antithetical: the peaceful, wandering evangelist who canoed his way to Iberia sometime around 40 CE; and the crusading "moor slayer," who appeared overhead on a winged horse, sword in hand at the (mythical) Battle of Clavijo of 844. The first captures a universalist impulse, the second, a nationalist one. A contradiction? Maybe not. The crusaders of medieval Europe thought of themselves as pilgrims, and saw it as their to duty to protect pilgrims who followed in their footsteps.

      In any case, as Consoly says, the pilgrimage to Compostela is an ancient route. But its initial rise to prominence can be dated to the 12th century, when the ambitious bishop of Santiago, Diego Gelmírez, made the pilgrimage into the centerpiece of his effort to elevate his position in temporal and Church politics. Among other accomplishments, Gelmírez obtained donations from Christian kings and ordinary pilgrims to build a grand new Romanesque cathedral; he established the Order of Santiago as a protection force for pilgrims; he created a public water supply for pilgrims and townspeople; and he gained the support of Pope Calixtus II in converting Compostela into a pilgrimage destination on a par with Rome, or nearly so. And I am leaving out all of his political intrigues in the kingdom of Castile-León.

      The Camino's modern revival began in the 1880s. At a time when many Catholic tourist sites were becoming politicized, the archdiocese attempted to keep the focus on the spiritual and patrimonial aspects of the Camino, along with some aspects of Galician regional culture. Perhaps inevitably, the pilgrimage was nevertheless politicized during the 1930s, featuring many nationalist military parades and other political spectacles. In the middle of the Spanish Civil War, in support of Franco's supposed crusade, Pope Pius XI declared 1938 to be a Holy Year, in which indulgence was granted to pilgrims, even though the criterion that St. James Day fall on a Sunday was not met. Other prominent Spanish hierarchs, including two archbishops, criticized these uses of the Camino.

      The 1960s saw the pendulum swing back to the peaceful wanderer myth. The focus shifted to a discourse of internationalism and common European heritage. Thus in 1988, the Council of Europe granted the Camino a new kind of special status, Europe's "first cultural itinerary," for whatever that is worth.

      I hope to walk the Camino one day, but until then I remain an armchair pilgrim, enjoying it vicariously through others' experiences. Besides the aching feet, the one theme I hear most has to do with the "journey within," the escape from the constraints of community and routine to commune with God, or whomever else. It is personally hard for me to square that sentiment with politics, nationalism, militancy, etc., but I guess that may depend on the time and place and circumstances in which one has lived.

      My favorite bit of Camino de Santiago doggerel: ¡Ay, el noble peregrino / que se para a meditar / después de largo camino / en el horror de llegar!

      JE comments:  Sasha, an excellent historical overview.  Maybe someday we'll walk the Camino together.  Prof. Hilton would be proud of a WAIS-sanctioned pilgrimage!  Anyone else interesting in signing up?  I'm in favor of the abbreviated Lugo to Compostela route.

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  • Walking the Camino, 17 Teenagers in Tow (Silvia Ribelles de la Vega, USA 11/15/22 10:11 AM)
    I hope this email finds you well, in great health and high spirits. I would like to share my experience with 17 teenagers along the Camino last June. 

    My sons attend a Jesuit high school here in Southern California. Two years ago, I offered to plan a pilgrimage to Santiago for the students and also act as chaperone. I said I would do it for free, and they accepted readily. They were absolutely excited with the prospect.

    Strangely enough, none of the Spanish teachers volunteered to be one of the adults to go along, so thankfully one of the theology teachers and his daughter, who works in Campus Ministry, accepted to join. Without their leadership, the trip would have never happened.

    Since I was jobless last year, I had plenty of time to plan the route, find local guides who spoke English, look for a bus service, write a short text for each day and place we visited... It was a lot of work, but I did it with gusto. More than that: with true excitement. 

    The school task was more bureaucratic: they chose the lucky 17 students who ended up going on the trip, made reservations for the hotels I had chosen, and booked the flights. They were extremely helpful in that sense. I have not one complaint. Very much to the contrary. It was nice that they gave me carte blanche  for everything else in that sense.

    The "pilgrimage" was actually a hybrid: we walked for 100 kms (60 miles), between Lugo and Santiago, which is the minimum you have to walk to attain the pilgrim certificate (called "Compostela"). The rest was covered by bus. We started in Santo Domingo de la Calzada and, following the Roman Road that communicated Asturica Augusta with the French border, and later became the Camino de Santiago, we visited Atapuerca, Burgos, León, Astorga, and Lugo.  At this point we left the bus and walked to Santiago de Compostela over 5 days.  We then got back on the bus at Santiago and continued on to visit Oviedo, Covadonga, Bilbao, Loyola and Madrid. In other words, we took a trip in history and art dating back one million years, to post-war industrialization and Frank Gehry, and (almost) everything in between. 

    A lot of the students had never left the US. On our first day in Spain, after a 12-hour flight, and a three-hour bus ride, we went for a walk before sunset along the streets of Santo Domingo de la Calzada to stretch our legs before hitting the bed for some rest. Just seeing those faces when we turned a corner, and they saw, jaws dropped, the baroque tower of the cathedral, was enough payment for all my hard work. Some of them even gasped. It was their first European cathedral ever. Not even Las Vegas has a casino with one!

    But you want to know how the actual walking went. Well, we had three Eagle Scouts among the students, so their idea of walking was very different from that of taking in nature, meditating and finding your inner self. Forget that! We covered 20 to 30 kms a day. It took them 2 to 3 hours to finish. By the time we, the adults, made it to the "albergue"  [hostel], they had been there for 2 or 3 hours, ready to hit the town, no matter how small, all showered and refreshed. All we wanted, the adults,  was to collapse on a bed and take a hot bath (something impossible since we were staying in 13-euro-per-night hostels with communal showers and communal bedrooms). Those who did not complete the 20-30 km day in 3 hours as if they were being followed by a pack of wolves with the rabies,  would stop on the way and take photos, sit down for a snack at a bar, but always, always making sure we, the adults, were as far away as possible from them. We would only, if we were lucky, see the dust they raised as they walked far ahead of us. 

    Every night we had dinner together after walking, as a group. They were always hungry and always tired, but in high spirits. At Melide we had octopus. They all tried it (except for one vegan student), and most of them liked it and ordered it later on. Croquetas were a big favorite, as was tortilla de patata and chicken milanesa with fries, fried eggs and salad. Those who had taken Spanish ordered paella, as their book said it was the typical dish in Spain.  I told them they were doing that at their own risk, and that they would probably get "arroz con cosas" instead. But who am I to tell a 17-year-old what to order when they are starving? I was lucky I came back not missing any fingers.

    When we arrived in Santiago, we attended the Pilgrims mass. We were lucky enough to witness the flying of the Botafumeiro, which they found amazing. After mass, we took our pilgrim passports and received the official certificate. They were all so happy and proud of themselves.  That is something they will never forget. I got each one of them a pin with the Cross of Santiago to wear on their gowns when they graduate from high school. When I told them they can also have a shell in their coat of arms if they ever decide to have one, they looked at me in disbelief, as if it was an old fairy tale of some kind. But I was dead serious.

    I got all kinds of compliments at hotels, restaurants and from tour guides. They all commented on how well behaved, polite and attentive the students were. I could not be more proud of them. 

    Some of my friends and relatives told me I was crazy to take such a large group of young students to Spain, and on a pilgrimage, too. Sometimes I wondered, too, what the heck was I doing in Spain, by myself, with 17 kids (none of them my own). But the gratitude I received from the kids themselves, from the parents, from the school administrators was enough to answer that question. Now the school offers the pilgrimage as part of the international program. And that makes me happy, too.

    JE comments:  Silvia, I am in awe of your dedication. Shepherding students around a foreign locale is a 24-hour job.  You make St James proud!

    Arroz con cosas--rice with "stuff":  I'm going to remember that exquisite dish.

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