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Why do we choose the Camino? Or do we?


Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 1999, Aragones 2000, Desde Le Puy 2002, Portuguese 2009, hoping RDLP 2014
I heard it often: You don't choose the Camino: the Camino chooses you.
After 11 years and five Caminos (one of which, which I call "the abortive third" before I had walked 50 klms it positively threw me out! It was only later that I understood why.) I have come to believe it.
But I was responding to a post of courage from our own "SillyDol" and I felt that I wanted to share this in a different way. In a way that I have come to understand it. This is the gist and your comments, as always, are most welcome:
To Whit:

Once again, Sil brings us a story of incredible courage. I have just finished blogging about Alasdar, the Irishman, who made the Camino in his late 90's. I was stunned by his life and am still pondering its impact a month after Sil posted, and here I find Sil writing about yet another person who humbles me and vanquishes to the sidelines my stupid everyday concerns enormously. It leaves me wanting to comment, but no matter what words I try to come up with, I always fall short. I'll do what I can - I'll try to remain close to the topic, but I think there is more here...

We are in a "global recession" (though I have been told that Australia is doing Ok Mate: Aussies please advise me.) It is affecting us all. The south of Spain, where I live, is a mess of unoccupied paradises and bankrupt dreams. Directly in front of where I live, my neighbour has abandoned his dream apartment to the bank who are now offering it for less that half of what he paid for 2 years ago: 9 months on and no takers. The owner had no chance but to walk away. Even the developers are strapped for cash as they have contracts for 24 hour security, pool maintainance, gardeners. It was luxury: it's still luxury. But those who believed in it are paying, big time. I, luckily am a renter as I swore some years ago in Canada that I would never again be saddled with "real estate". ("Straps my Style, Man!") At some time in the future, I may regret it; but not now. Many people here are victims of "negative equity": who is to blame? Would it make any difference if we had the answer to this question? It is easy to lose confidence as we see our dreams become diminished along with our finances. We wonder why we have been struck with this situation. This lack of "Luck".

Then along comes someone like this man.
His courage perhaps puts our feeble worries to shame. I don't say this to make anyone feel guilty (including me, though I do a bit): far from it. I mention it to help us to understand the relativity of life and circumstance.

This year as we all know is a "Holy Year". Does this really matter? Well anyone who knows anything about my views would certainly doubt it. But many more will come to the Camino this year than in previous years and likely subsequent years, especially since there won't be another "chance" (I use the inverted commas very deliberately) for another 11 years. Some will come for "religious" reasons as requested on our Compostela. Some will write "religious/spiritual" reasons because the possibility of striking out the first isn't an option even though we might be very sure about the second, but quite critical of the first. Hey, it's a long way. We feel we deserve our reward: the Compostela. It says we bin there and done that. The Church might say no, if we are truly honest about it, but... Either way we re-enforce the Cathedral statistics. Maybe it doesn't matter, or...

The Camino, as a way of walking a long distance, appears to be an anachronism, really: think about it: the truth is unless you are a fit, triathlon-sort of person, you shouldn't be thinking about it atr all. Unless you are a died-in-the-wool Catholic, you shouldn't be thinking about it. It asks for a long time period from your daily income, your family, etc...and GPS's and Cell Phones, and Banking Machines and cheap Hostales and Refugios/Albergues notwithstanding: it's a bloody long way!
But you are thinking about it, or you wouldn't be here. So ask yourself: why?

I recently received an e-mail from Rafael Lema, the author of the brilliant book "El Camino Secreto de Santiago" (alas only in Spanish). One thing Rafael had to say to me was that no less than 90% of pilgrims carry on (now - it wasn't that way when I first walked in 1999) to Finisterre. The Catholic stance is that the Camino ends in Santiago. Rafael also tells me (he lives near Finisterre) that although he has a follow up to his book, he is very doubtful of getting a publisher this year as it is a Holy Year. This truly smacks to my sensibilities as "censorship". What are "They" afraid of? Or perhaps more importantly: Who ARE "They?" (Dan Brown readers: forget it... though it is tempting; but conspiracy theories are not my style!) I found Lema's book truly open: insightful (he was born in the region of Finisterre), fascinating, instructive, sensitive, even loving, and non-judgemental. But he must have encountered opposition somewhere, that I, with Peregrinos de la Herejía, have not. Why? Because I am a "guiri" and he is Gallego? Frankly, this kind of thinking only makes me want to dig more.(As I hope it will you!) I doubt it will stop Rafael either and I am hoping very much to meet with him on my book tour in June/July in Galicia. There is much I hope we can discover together. Why, for eaxmple are there astronomical references/symbols on the Portico of the churcgh at Moraima? At the very least this is highly anti-Catholic: It's also highly suggestive of Priscillianist practices...but let's not go there just yet.

I have it on very good (though disputed by persons who want to believe in the Myth)) authority that the good folks who issue your Compostela in Santiago are told not to give you information about Finisterre, but are told to send you to the nearby Tourist Office to enquire. Santiago, the Cathedral, the City is your official destination and has been since the 12th century. How many other things can you think of in your life which are put into place by the dictates of the 12th Century? We must, surely, have other things we wish to accomplish in our "pilgrimage" than simply visiting the tomb of "St. James" if we wish to continue. And we clearly do. (No more comment but do visit

So why do we walk The Camino at all? In a recent poll (in the much read magazine Muy Historia), 70% of Spaniards said that they didn't believe that St. James had ever even set foot in Spain, let alone was buried here! (Want historic evidence? I have plenty against: see Many pilgrims have no religious motives for making the Camino whatsoever; But, and I think in this age or refusal to be dictated to by any religious authority, this is most important: we still come! You may be one of them. Past, present, future. I include myself: four times. In our thousands. In our hundreds of thousands. Why? What draws us here? A nice walk in Spain? A chance to check out the reliability of the Gore-tex ads???

Perhaps it is underlined by the sort of courage shown by cyclist Ionut Preda mentioned in Sil's post above, from which I may seem to have strayed enormously (I haven't: there is always some sort of method in my madness!). I don't know his religious beliefs: they may be very important to him and if they are I applaud him, his Spirit, his Faith and his Courage: all of these I perhaps acknowledge with a tinge of envy for mine have never had this type of backing. I would never take this from anyone. If in any way I am stepping on them I ask him to please forgive me as this is far from my intention in writing here. But it doesn't matter to me personally because as I have said -. as I would to anyone in the Olympics or "Special Olympics" - I truly applaud his Spirit. I feel entirely humbled by what he has set out to do. And I wish him every sort of "luck" and encouragement. I also thank him for the beacon he provides for me and the rest of us, pilgrims and otherwise.

I suppose, I end as I began: without sufficient words to express my admiration for this man. But I hope that along the way, I have invited you to consider what is courage, and to whom you should devote it. To yourself, it is always worthy. But don't let any institution or anachrononistic system take away your glory as a distinct human being.

Right. I'll shut up for now.
See also much visited post: "Evidence for Saint James, or Lack of Evidence?"

Tracy Saunders
Pocket guide that pack a punch
1.4 oz (40g) pocket guides with gems of wisdom to ponder during and after your Camino
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Peaceable Projects Inc. is a U.S.-based non-profit group that brings the vast resources of the wide world together with the ongoing needs of the people who live, work, and travel on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail network in Spain.


Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 1999, Aragones 2000, Desde Le Puy 2002, Portuguese 2009, hoping RDLP 2014
I've just found myself plagiarising myself in my reply to the pilgrim-to-be who expressed fear of failure on the Camino.
There are many things in life we do just because it was "there". The Camino is one of those things and often we find ourselves at a certain point - perhaps in Roncesvalles, Porto, Sevilla - looking at the map and our guidebooks and thinking: What the hell am I doing here? Sometimes this happens half way through when we are tired, footsore and blistered, or have somehow lost the friends we were walking with. Some recognise that this is not their time to walk. I did this years ago when determined to walk the Camino del Norte and having waited for ages with my boots on ready to go realised that this was not the time or the route. For a while I chastised myself, then I got in my car, drove to Santiago, parked outside the Seminario Menor and slept in the car. I needed the connection. The next day I woke up to a sunny dawn, starving, and realised that it was the only thing I could have done. What's more, I knew that the Camino would call me once again when I was ready for it and had something to learn.
And it has - twice. I hope it will do so again in June when I plan to "complete" my Camino to Fisterre and Muxia. If it doesn't I'll know that there are questions I haven't asked or if I have that I am not ready for the answers.
One thing we should never do is to force ourselves on the Camino because it is "the thing to do". Someone on this Forum recently mentioned "Glastonbury Pilgrims" but I doubt that any of our members qualify. There are lessons to learn, humility to seek, perhaps a faith to question or embrace, a lightening of our load and a searching for simplicity: a seeking for like-minded souls of all languages and language can be a great leveller because we are forced to speak only of the things closest to our hearts: family, love, faith and the simpler matters of food and shelter and pain relief. This must have been how pre-historic clan gatherings would have been. Most who don't recognise that need for cameraderie, tolerance and the pleasures of sharing with others unknown don't finish, or if they do have turned the walk into just that: another hike.
We shouldn't forget that the Camino is a pilgrimage, and in this I don't mean necessarily a religious one - far from it in fact. But a pilgrimage by definition is to a "holy site" and what more holy site than to the miracle of who and what we are? Anyone can achieve this if they set out with the right spirit, the right openness of heart. And if they find the going more than they expected, they can reflect on what they have learned about themselves, and learn to expect less than perfection. "Finishing" in terms of a geographical goal - Santiago, Fisterre - is no longer a requisite: desirable yes, but not absolutely necessary. The Camino will be there for you next time and may be calling you even louder.
To those of you who are about to walk the Camino for the first time, I truly envy you. How I would love to go back to 1999 and do all those things, meet all those people some of whom are still in my life, and others who as composites appear in my book Pilgrimage to Heresy. But I am not that person anymore.
To those who have walked even part of the Camino and are walking once more this year - as I hope to be this summer - may you be blessed with surprises, difficulties, and ultimate joy.
Tracy Saunders


Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
If you were 'called' to walk the camino - or arrived at it through coincidence - or through some strange quirk of fate, please let me have your story for the anthology I am putting together.
Any other lovely, quirky, serendipitous, 'stange-but-true', heartwarming stories are welcome.
Mail me at

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