In the good old US of A, the word “pilgrim” conjures the image of a white man with belt buckles on his shoes sharing a turkey meal with used/abused Native Americans… Heavy junk.

Here is a picture of my friend Jeremy. Surprise, he is a pilgrim! Jeremy is originally from Sydney, Australia and he is a travel pro. He recently completed the pilgrimage in Spain with multiple names:  St. James’ Way, El Camino Santiago, and La Voje Ladee. The name La Voje Ladee was given pre-Christian history when it was just a trade route because the road appeared to follow the Milky Way in the sky.

Many of the pilgrims were in search of answers. Jeremy was one of them. He spent 35 days contemplating life along the trail. I have a lot of questions so hopefully he has answers. When a funk has you paralyzed, there is something to be said about physical movement and travel. Get out into the world and eff the funk!

Q: You’re a bit of a history buff. When you first learned about St. James’ Way (El Camino de Santiago) in Spain, what made it exciting for you?

A: Without a doubt it was the human element. For over 1000 years people have not just been walking the same route but drinking from the same streams, passing through the same archways and in some instances sleeping under the same roof. I really felt that connection with the past when walking it. Whilst a lot has over changed since the Camino started it was very grounding to realise there is still a lot that hasn’t.

Q: Where had you traveled previously?

A: Prior to the Camino I had spent 2 months in Europe with the purpose of exposing myself to new ideas and meeting new people. I had attended the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin – a month long think tank put on by the Guggenheim Museum, Documenta – a once every 5 years exhibition in Kassel, Germany and the Venice Architecture Biennale in Italy.  I had deliberately arranged to walk the Camino as the final leg of my trip in order to give my brain sometime to digest everything I’d learned up until then.

Q: Did you use a literal or figurative walking stick during your pilgrimage?

A: Absolutely – cafe con leche (coffee with milk). I embarked on the Camino with the idea that I would do without this vice for its duration. Who was I kidding! I was a zombie every day until I had my hit of caffeine and certainly wouldn’t have finished without it. One of the nice things about the Camino is the small medieval townships every 3 or 4kms that still use traditional methods of production. Coffee was freshly and patiently brewed and usually there was a pain au chocolat pulled straight from the oven to go with it!

Q: Did the journey leave a spiritual impact as originally intended thousands of years ago? Or did it bring clarity to an area of your life?

A: The biggest impact was it forced a much slower pace of life which at first I resisted but came to embrace. (Sometimes this was in a very literal sense getting stuck behind a herd of slow moving cows or sheep on a narrow road for hours.) At the beginning of the walk I would wake up early as possible and shoot through the townships as fast as I could as though it were a race. All the way, I would pass slower pilgrims who were taking their time sometimes limping or having trouble breathing heavily and I would think to myself “that’s the last time I’ll ever see them” but sure enough that evening I would see them hobble into the same town as me and leave with me the next morning. I realised at this point it wasn’t a race. That everyone was traveling the same distance but just at different speeds so why not go slower and start to focus more on the journey – stopping at particularly beautiful streams to drop my feet in the water, sitting and watching the stars on clear mornings waiting for the sun to come up. I think this can easily be applied to life.

Q: When you woke up in the morning during the trip did most of the days seem to hold promise? Or was there a bit of groaning?

A: Each day held promise. There was so much unparalleled beauty a long the way. Every morning (most pilgrims get an early start and leave at about 5am when it is still dark) there was an hour or two of the night sky exploding with stars as there was no competing light from cities etc. This would invariably be followed by a stretch of ancient woods or expansive golden fields.

Q: Who was the most interesting person you met along the trail? You can say yourself if you would like. I would imagine that there was a lot of time to be introspective on the trail.

A: I definitely learned a lot about myself en route however there were also so many interesting characters. One story that stuck with me was a young guy, about 22, from Belgium who had never see the ocean. He was going to walk the Camino to Santiago and then the additional 100kms to Fisterra on the coast and this was to be his first encounter with ocean. I walked the additional 100kms and it was by far the most beautiful part of the whole walk and finally having smelt and heard the ocean it appears dramatically between two mountains. It must have been a very special moment for him when he did get there.

Q: Did you walk the whole pilgrimage route?

A: There is no official start to the Camino. Traditionally it was the front doors of where ever you lived. Today by far the most popular starting point is St-Jean-pied-de-port just inside the French border and on the other side of the Pyrenees. This said I met a man who had cycled from Germany and another who had walked from Paris!

Q: There is a passport book that you purchase at the start of the trip. Can you explain how the stamps work?

A: Every night on the Camino is spent in huge communal dorms called albergues (usually attached to a monastery or church). The charge for the night is either donation or a very nominal sum of about 4 or 5 euros. In order to be eligible for this accommodation you are given a blank passport and have to fill it with 4 stamps from that day’s travel to prove that you’re a pilgrim walking the Camino. Stamps can be found at every shopkeeper, church or albergue along the way and are all unique to their venue. The passport is a really nice memento to have at the end of the trip because you can easily trace everywhere you’ve been.

Q: Do not attempt this trek without…

A: A really good pair of hiking boots and at least 35 days to complete it. I met a lot of people who who didn’t give themselves enough time to walk it and either were stressing and pushing themselves the whole way or they had to get on a bus at the very end because they ran out of time.

Q: Would you recommend “The Way,” the 2011 Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez film about El Camino de Santiago?

A: I watched “The Way” both before and after my Camino. I think it paints a really true portrait of the experience and would recommend it to anyone thinking of strapping on the hiking boots.

Q: Are you interested in completing another pilgrimage or is one enough for a lifetime?

A: Absolutely. Already I’m looking to walk from just inside Italy across the South of France to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where I began my Camino. It’s an addictive way of life and I think it has a similar affect on a lot of people who walk it. The whole time I was meeting people who had walked the Camino 4 or 5 times before.

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