Ciao, my name is GIORGIO PERLUIGI and I’m from Rome. I am a photographer.
This is a simple diary of my journey to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English as The Way of St. James. For more than 1000 years pilgrims have been walking along the Camino, which starts in St. Jean Pied de Port and finishes in Santiago de Compostela about 780km later, after traveling the breadth of Northern Spain. Careful, I didn’t do the whole trip, only a part, the last 100 KM.
It’s seven o’clock in the morning. Half of the pilgrims have already left the albergue - a pilgrim’s hostel you only get access to with a pilgrim’s passport, called Credencial – others rise just now from their beds.
The noise of people packing their stuff drifts slightly to the ears of those still sleeping. It is a private hostel with around 20 places in a big room. It may cost a little more, – a bed in an albergue is @ 5 euros, private ones cost between 7 and 9 euros – but that’s worth it, the less people, the greater the chance to sleep at peace instead of staying awake because of snorers. This night, I really had a good night. As I wake up, I take a last glance at two women from Germany, they are still sleeping. We have talked a lot, shared a lot – I hope I will see them again.
I start walking through the city of Portomarin, at the bend of the road lies a dead dog. I cross a small bridge over a big river – as many pilgrims walk by on a fast pace. It seems like a mass walk. We are less than 100 kilometers from Santiago, the end of our journey. Many Spanish pilgrims are on their way, trying to complete their last part of the travel, to get the famous Compostela.
The certificate you get it’s the only proof you need that you have walked the last 100 kilometers toward Santiago. I did it. Here is my name!!!
I still remember other parts of the camino, especially when you walk ‘solitario’ (solitary, that is how they call it), alone with the nature, later in the day, late afternoon when most of the pilgrims already arrived at an albergue.
As my foot hurts because of a blister, I can’t walk fast. But at least I still can walk – unlike the girl I met some days ago. She continued walking with an infected blister until she couldn’t go on anymore – than she had to go to the hospital. I had to help her out – she was stranded in a hostel in the mountain and didn’t speak Spanish at all, not even enough to call a taxi, nor did she have enough money to pay for it.
The Camino leads through a forest, then after a while, it continues next to a national road. That’s how the camino is – sometimes it leads you through incredible nature, lonely fields, mountains, tiny roads and then it just goes for kilometers on asphalt, through big citys or next to major traffic roads.
Sometimes the midday sun burns your skin and makes you tired and groggy. Then all of a sudden, you find yourself walking through thick layers of fog, freezing – and without a chance to get a glance at the fantastic mountains and nature that surrounds you.
As a pilgrim, you just follow the yellow arrows.
The more you walk, the less you think about it. It seems like your life is reduced to those simple questions and little things: where will I pass the night, will I get a bed, when and where my next meal will come from.
Even when little things become important, there are still people who need to plan everything, to keep looking in their guides for nice albergues and good places to eat – most of these people, during my Camino were german, I have to confess. The yellow guide that they carry with them, is very famous among Deutschlanders, extremely popular. But there are also people that don’t have a guide at all like me. So, I decided to follow a german guy called Thomas. He is my guide, he knows good places to sleep. He is a great pilgrim.
Some people walk for catholic reasons, others for sports, nature and holiday, some come in groups, some walk alone. But everyone walks. Lots of them have a special reason to come: a break-up, a dismissal, the death of a loved person or any other event that changed their life abruptly.
And while they walk – sometimes alone, sometimes talking to people – they can throw away some of the “dead’ weight that they carry around, especially in places like the Cruz de ferro. The cruz de ferro is a cross in the mountain behind Foncébadon. In this place you are supposed to leave a stone or something else as a symbol for the ballast you leave behind, getting lighter spiritually as well as physically, getting a chance to think about their lives.
The Camino (www.spanishsteps.eu) may be about nature and sports, but what really makes it special are those many special and different people you meet.
The last kilometers of this day are tough, and today we walked for about 25 K. Fortunately I meet a British guy – while we talk, I forgot about my feet and accelerate my pace. Thanls to him, I finally arrive at Palas de Rei, a small city, where I rush to get beds in an albergue.
I take a little rest first, then take the obligatory shower. Same procedure as every day after the arrival – you rest or shower, then wash some clothes by hand and hope they will be dry in the morning. Then you look out for dinner. In the bar next to the albergue I meet again Thomas sitting outside with an American girl and a Spanish guy. In the evening we have a pilgrim’s menu in a restaurant – with soup or salad, chicken or fish and a desert, wine included. I really liked this group and I became friends with them. We exchanged numbers and took appointments for the next night. Even though we arrive in Santiago at different times, we meet at the pilgrim’s mess and have dinner in the evening. Even after the Camino, we promised each other that we would stay in touch – that’s why I am writing this article now – for Thomas the german guy and all the other pilgrims that took the road @ El Camino de Santiago.
PS: to qualify for a Compostela you have to complete at least 100km if walking or 200km if you are on a bicycle.
Her some reflections on my adventure.
A pilgrimage is the essence of life translated into an experience that, depending on the person, lasts for a long or a little time depending on the person. Arriving at the destination is the saddest part; arrival means death, the end of life. This path you take, like life itself, is paved with people you meet, then lose track of, but maybe meet again further down the road. As in life these encounters are scattered and include people of every age and social background, from a doctor to a person who is unemployed, to a factory worker, to a retiree. You will find everyone. The whole world is there. Similar to the essence and purity of life, this experience is made of simple things that are much closer to the origins of man than to anything else. Nothing is there to distract you. Rarely do you find lively cities; instead you pass through fields and through towns that have at the most 50 people living in them.
Above all the solidarity that exists between the pilgrims is unique and cannot be found anywhere else. They are all bound by something profound and animalistic, perhaps, the plan according to which we were born but have since forgotten. In the evening you don’t need to worry about dressing in elegant clothes and you’re not faced with the dilemma of “We’re on vacation. What should we do tonight?” In the evening everyone spends time together and goes to bed early, then wakes up at dawn to depart once again. The beautiful thing about all of this is that most people find themselves there because of some internal motivation that has nothing to do with religion. I met very few pilgrims who were religious. Maybe this is the true religion: a shared respect and willingness to help each other. Although this might seem like pure rhetoric, it really is like this and only by undertaking the journey can you feel it and live it.
All Images by George Blades – http://www.bladesout.com/