“The road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow, if I can, pursuing it with eager feet. Until it joins some larger way where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
This song reminds me of the pilgrimage that my brothers and I did last summer. It has a been a tradition in our family to travel St. James’ Way El camino de Santiago when one reaches the age of fifteen. Last summer it was the turn of my youngest brother.
For those who don’t know it the way of St James has existed for over a thousand years and it is one of the most important christian pilgrimage roots of today. The main root begins at the Pyrenees, crosses the north of Spain and ends in the city of Santiago de Compostella. Though this is the most common route, mainly because of the pilgrims hostels or albergues that are dotted along the way, the pilgrimage can begin almost anywhere and there are many different routes not just through Spain but all throughout Europe.
One can choose to start from wherever they want, as long as they start at least 100 km away from the city, and you can travel on foot by bicycle or on horseback.
I myself have travelled it once on horseback for almost the whole journey and now, twice on foot from Ponferada, which is about seven good days walk away from the city. Even though it is a Christian pilgrimage it is not strictly religious and you will find people from all walks of life there, who are seeking to step away from their everyday lives and and experience something truly different.
It is important to pack light and well when preparing for this trip and to find a good pair of shoes because you will quickly realise that your feet are the most important thing on this trip.
I set myself a challenge this last time and as opposed to buying a good pair of hiking boots I only took with me my VIVOBAREFOOT Aqua shoes that I had been wearing all year and a thin pair of sandals. I figured if the pilgrims of the past travelled barefoot that I wanted to share their experience as much as possible. So turning a deaf ear to everyone’s warnings that they were only city shoes and that I soon would be suffering from blisters, I took to the road.
[Andreas wears the VIVOBAREFOOT Aqua - available in Men's and Ladies' colours and sizes]
It is key to get up before the sun at around 6am in order to have finished your days walking by one or two in the afternoon. After that it begins to get hotter and it becomes unbearable to walk. If you are travelling at a good pace you will be doing 4 or 5 kilometres per hour and about 30 km a day is what we were doing though most people try to stop at 25. Some days you’ll find yourself having to do more, twice we ended up doing 40 which was almost unbearable, in order to reach the next good town and other days you can relax your pace a bit and do 20.
Much to my delight even though my feet were sore I did not get one blister and the thin sole of the shoes allowed me to enjoy the texture of the road without ripping or even wearing down too much, in comparison to the many pilgrims whose hiking boots gave them blisters and sores.
The road is hot, hard and extremely beautiful. If you start in Ponferada you are close to crossing into the green pastures of Galicia the majority of the road is small dirt paths through the countryside occasionally crossing a small town or a road.
The beauty of this journey as experienced from these small paths and towns, to the joy of reaching your destination is hard to describe and I would just recommend others to take the time to try it. Even though it is tough, it is a transformational experience which strengthens your will and leaves you amazed at how little you need to enjoy life.
- Andreas Kindler
[sculpture student living in Dublin, Ireland]