A metaphor for life

A metaphor for life

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrim trail in Europe with the ultimate destination being the magnificent Santiago Cathedral, writes Smitha Murthy

Camino de Santiago

Your shoulder aches, the skin torn where the backpack has rubbed against it often. Your hands are numb, freezing in so-called summer with a temperature of 3 degrees. You are robbed of 900 Euros on the first day. The uphills seem never-ending, and the downhills remind you that your knees are creaking. The sun beats down just when you want to surrender. Your mind craves food. You dream of crispy masala dosas when you know that a tomato and cheese sandwich awaits you. You glug wine even though you hardly drink alcohol because it’s cheaper than water. You share a room with 100 other strangers and toss and turn with their random snores.

You long for a long, hot tub when you have just a shared stall to shower. You think you hate all of this.

The French Way

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrim trail in Europe with the ultimate destination being the magnificent Santiago Cathedral where the relics of St James, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, lies buried. There are many Caminos or ‘ways,’ but the most popular one is the French Way, which begins from the pretty town of St Jean Pied de Port in France and moves into Spain through historic towns such as Pamplona, Leon, and Burgos before ending in Santiago. That’s where I started in May, intending to finish walking the 800 km in a month or so.

The Camino has picked up popularity over the years, and today, hundreds of people receive the Compostela or certificate at the end. Indians, though, are few.

And what about the trail itself? From mountains to Mesetas and from vineyards to wheat fields, the Camino makes its way through Spain’s spectacular heartlands. Yellow arrows or the scallop shell (the symbol of the Camino) guide you and it’s hard to get lost. Hostels or ‘albergues’ cost as little as 5 or 7 Euros a night provided you have the ‘pilgrim’s credentials.’ This is a small booklet that has to be stamped at all the places you stay to obtain the Compostela at the end. I wanted to do the Camino seeking camaraderie and solitude. I found both. Despite the popularity of the French Way, there are long stretches where I was alone with just the birds for company and the odd deer or two. The big cities were far and few, and most of the route was through tiny villages — some with barely even 10 or 15 residents. But almost every village had something in common — a church.

Spiritual high

From majestic cathedrals to quaint churches, Camino is a testimony to faith and man’s own search for it. Many do the Camino for religious reasons, but some like me, walk the way for spiritual reasons or even for no reason.

A common saying on the Camino is that simply ‘it’s your way.’ And in the end, it’s really your way. Walk it. Bus it. Hate it. Love it. It’s your way. And your experience. Much like life.