|Subject: Re: Santiago de Compostela walks|
First of all, you can do it on your own, and you will have a great time. I think that Joel summarized pretty well the idea.
You can begin the road as further away as you wish ( Poland, Norway, Ireland ...) and there are many Ways. The most famous is the French Way. It begins in France ( Limouges, Le Puy and Vezelay, I think) and then enters into Spain either via Roncesvalles (the most famous one) or via Somport and Jaca. In Puente La Reina the two ways get together and then they go across La Rioja, Burgos, Palencia, Leon and into Galicia. This French Way is pretty well organized and you can find pilgrim hostels along the way. But right now there are more ways being touted ( I suppose trying to avoid the massification that the road is suffering, specially this year as it is a Xacobeo), such as the north route (along Irun, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Asturias, Lugo ...), the Silver Road coming from Extremadura, the Madrid Way ... Or the interesting English Way, sailing from Bristol to La Coruņa ... I like the following site : http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/Caminos.html
In order to get "la Compostela" (certificate that you have walked the Way), you must walk at least 100 kms (that should be beginning somewhere around Sarria in Lugo), and 200 kms riding a bike or a horse. If you have plenty of time, you could begin at the french-spanish frontier and walk around a month to get to Santiago. Another option it is to walk simply for a week every year. You would begin your route in the place were you left it the previous year, and just continue ...
When you decide to walk the Way, and specially if you want to get the Compostela, you must certify it in a certain way. This is done via a small booklet that you might get either at you local parochy ( I donīt know if it works that way abroad), at one of the parochies in one of the Camino towns (the priests at the parochy of Santiago in Jaca are always very helpful with the pilgrims, getting them the booklet, taking them to the hostel, giving recommendations for dinner ...) or at the Associations of Friends of the Camino. Then, once you are on your way, you simply present it at the different hostels and churches, and get it stamped. http://www.csj.org.uk/passport.htm
Access to the "refugios" (pilgrim hostels) is restricted to people doing the way on their own (without a car accompanying them). The first ones are the walking pilgrims, and afterwards pilgrims riding a bike or a horse. Things have gotten terribly crowded, specially during the summer months, with people beginning to walk as early as 4 and 5 am, in order to get to the following hostel at 09:00 am and get a place to sleep. As a result, a few pilgrims are beginning to stay in small pensions (and if you can afford it, the Parador de San Marcos or the Posada Regia in Leon are big favourites) instead :) Also, the accomodations at the hostels are very, very simple : co-ed bunk beds, and sometimes cold showers. Some hard-lined pilgrims look down on those who decide to go the pensions and agriturismos way, but I say ... during the Middle Ages, there were also rich people doing the pilgrimage :))
Reasons to do the pilgrimage : not many people do it today for religious reasons, quite a few go for the sport or the cultural side, and there is a fair amount of people looking for the light ... and we can include some petty thieves and drug dealers :) Nothing has changed since the Middle Ages ...
If you can get "Spanish Steps" from Tim Moore, you will laugh a lot. A story of the pilgrimage of an english guy and his donkey : http://tinyurl.com/5842l
Some good websites : A great site with information about the Camino. http://www.jacobeo.net/index.htm
The folks from The Confraternity of Saint James in the UK are very helpful : http://www.csj.org.uk/
I leave the Santiago and Galicia info for later, because not everything there is the pilgrimage, there is also the food, the wine and the amazing celtic culture, and the university, and the controversial museum by Siza, and ...
Regards, Covadonga in Bilbao - Spain