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The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a trip that is said to affect the mind, body and soul. In Medieval times, pilgrims would walk from their homes to the cathedral in Santiago, where it is believed that St James’s remains are buried. Now, many centuries later, modern day pilgrims are still choosing to walk, cycle or take a horseback ride along the UNESCO route and embrace their own Spanish adventure. We spoke to Professor Marc Grossman, author of The Guide For The Spanish Camino about what makes this trail so infectious.
How did your interest in the Camino start?
My wife and I have always enjoying walking and after many a holiday exploring the numerous trails we have at home in Australia and New Zealand, we wanted to do something different. As a language teacher, I wanted to put my language skills to good use and combine that with my passion for walking, so in 2007, we set off on the Camino for the first time. Following that first experience, we have returned numerous times, and in 2009, I published a 100-page book, The Guide For The Spanish Camino, which allows budding pilgrims to properly prepare for their upcoming journey.
How necessary is it to prepare for such a trek?
Extremely! Though we are used to walking long distance, we needed 15 months to prepare for this trip. Not just physically, but logistically and mentally. Whilst on the road, we met many ill-prepared pilgrims, who probably didn’t enjoy the journey as much as we did. That being said, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to finish the trail, but it does require extensive preparation.
Something that surprised us was how useless and outdated the maps we had were. So we returned again and again, not just to re-experience the Camino and write a book, but also create a one-stop guide walking map.
What are your top tips for making sure you have a great experience?
You need to remember that this is not a race. It’s all about pacing yourself and taking the opportunity of the silence around to contemplate. The Camino is not a walk in the park, you do need physical and mental preparation. And my golden rule: pack lightly and only the necessities. Less is more; more is misery!
Describe the trail – what sort of sites and scenery are you likely to come across?
I wish I could say that there were sweeping landscapes at every corner, but at times it’s actually quite a monotonous trail – ideal for introspection. That being said, we came across several mountain passes that were stunning. What I particularly enjoyed were all the picturesque villages we came across and the people we met along the way. Though we all came from different walks of life, we shared the same passion for the journey along the Way of St James.
Who walks the Camino?
Whilst there is a religious side to this walk, it attracts atheist and non-believers too, who want to challenge themselves and make use of this time to self-reflect, make new acquaintances and experience something unique.
Who is the most interesting person that you met on the walk?
This is an impossible question: too many interesting people. I’ve reflected deeply on this question and I’m going to say that it was me. I discovered more about myself over 33 days of intensive walking.
What was your favourite route?
The classic Camino Francés [Pamplona, Burgos, Leon] – it has everything and more. It has the infrastructure and an incredible range of people both as support and as pilgrims.
What was your favourite moment on the Camino?
Meeting the Spanish blind group walking with their 90 per cent blind guide and their two support dogs. One of the five walkers was wearing a cheeky t-shirt that had the words “Too much sex causes your eyes to go bad” printed upon it.
Main image courtesy of Turespaña
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