Cavorting Along the Camino de Santiago

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

As we traveled across the Basque Country we came upon the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James, almost every day.

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

We encountered it on mountain tops, along the seaside, on city streets, and across international borders.

Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make a trek on foot along this famous system of trails. The Camino is a catch all name for all of the paths that originate all over Europe and merge as they go until they all reach their destination in the city of Galicia on the northwestern coast of Spain.

A sign points “The Way” through Hondarribia, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

The tradition began over a thousand years ago, when the legend spread that the remains of Saint James the Great, Santiago in Spanish, were buried at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  Just how the apostle ended up on the Spanish coast is a tale that seems to have a few versions.

The stories range from the mundane, with his disciples bringing him back to Spain, to fanciful sagas with the body flying, or sailing on an angel-captained ship. Somehow they all end with him washing ashore covered in scallop shells.

At some point the pilgrims began to identify themselves with the shells as a way to recognize each other, and now it is common to see scallops attached to their backpacks.

We noticed this on our first day in San Sebastián, and then later found the shell symbol used on many markers showing the way.

Read more about San Sebastián.

Many of these pilgrims walk hundreds of miles, over weeks or even months in a physical, as well as spiritual, journey of self-discovery. There is even a movie, The Way starring Martin Sheen, about how walking the Camino affects the lives of those who make the pilgrimage.

Compared with these dedicated voyagers, our experience with the Camino was much less dynamic. We made our most extensive hike one afternoon along Mount Jaizkibel near the city of Hondarribia on a part of the coastal route that is considered to be the oldest of the trails.

This particular path dates back more than 1,000 years and is believed to be the first established route used by religious travelers.

Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative for our hike. It was almost impossible to keep things dry.

Low clouds and heavy rain completely obscured our view of the surrounding mountains on one side, and the Bay of Biscay on the other.

Basically, the only thing we saw clearly was that we were glad we had trekking poles in these conditions.

We did have the chance to meet and speak with some heartier voyagers from Canada who were making the entire trek from France.

As impressed as we were, after a couple of miles we were soaked and ready to opt for motorized transportation. I know, I know, we’re wimps.

Luckily, we had the chance to return to this section of the Camino a few days later on a gorgeous clear day. It was amazing to see what we had missed.

From the ridge we could look out all the way down the coast of Spain and see where it makes a hard left turn to the north, becoming the coast of France. This “L” of shoreline is what forms the Bay of Biscay that stretched out before us.

Our next encounter with the Camino was around the city of Tolosa, high in the Pyrenees Mountains. We followed it along the Oria River through town, and then up into the countryside nearby.

At the end of our journey we had one last rendezvous with the road in Bilbao, the unofficial capital of the Basque region. They Camino runs directly through the Casco Viejo, the city’s old quarter, as an ancient cobblestone street.

It passes several churches, the main one being the Santiago Cathedral from the fourteenth century.

The name is in honor of the Camino de Santiago, because the northern branch of the Way of Saint James was already here when the church was made.

Read more about Bilbao.

All in all we figured that we walked about a dozen miles along the Way, not even close to qualifying as a pilgrimage.

It was enough for us to know that we are glad we did.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the Basque Country here.

See all of our adventures in Spain.

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

This post contains sponsored links.


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