March is the perfect time of year to plan ahead for a “camino.” April and May in Spain offer green fields flecked with red poppies, storks nesting in bell towers, cuckoos calling in the woods and grape flowers smelling sweet on the vines.
Camino means “way” or “road” in Spanish. The Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, has been a popular walking trail across Spain since the ninth century. For most of its history, the camino has been a significant Christian pilgrimage route, taken as seriously as paths leading to Jerusalem or Rome.
Since the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and after centuries of wars, religious persecution and plague, interest in the Camino de Santiago has seen a huge resurgence.
These days, walkers on the camino hail from many nations, come from a wide variety of religious, spiritual and cultural backgrounds, range in age from children travelling with their parents to slow-moving seniors, and bring unique perspectives and personalities to the camino experience.
It’s a good idea to go on the camino prepared. On my first hike, when I was relatively ignorant of details, I carried way too much and had to mail a big package home, and Spanish postage can be quite steep. I’ve since learned what to carry in my first aid kit. I’m better at determining the amount of time I’ll need to complete the hike. I do a better job of getting in shape ahead of time.
My preparations have become more straightforward, but I try to hold on to a state of beginner’s mind as I walk across Spain. Day to day, it’s wonderful to be open to surprises. I remember the wall of graffiti – a local young person’s rant about his strict upbringing. His advice to readers in his best English? “Free your cells,” a quirky mis-translation of “Free yourselves.”There are inukshuks and old boots filled with flowers and poetry on scraps of journal paper left behind by pilgrims for others to enjoy.
There are old castles and hermitages and churches still standing from times long before Europeans even dreamed of setting foot on the North American continent.And after two hikes in the spring, I did my third camino in September and October and was blown away by grape vines heavy with fruit and sunflowers browned and shriveled by the intense summer heat and numerous tawny shades of wide, harvested fields. Those kinds of experiences and memories are unique to each pilgrim and feel like a gift.
If you’re interested in doing a camino – whether this spring or another time of year – it’s helpful to get all of the necessary information in person and living color. Thus the Whitehorse Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims is once again presenting a Camino 101 session and, for the first time, adding a Camino 202 bonus evening.
Camino 101 is for those who have not yet done the trail or who are curious about this unusual tourism opportunity and takes place on March 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The session, which I will present, covers a bit of history, considerations about when to go, what to pack, how to take care of yourself, training suggestions and tips about food and accommodations.
I will also discuss what to expect in terms of landscape, language, culture, weather, fellow pilgrims, costs, sights, and route infrastructure.
There will be lots of show-and-tell and helpful handouts to take away.
Camino 202 will be held on March 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Quite a few Yukoners have walked the camino more than once, and Camino 202 has been put together based on requests for further information from new and returning “pilgrims.” Some see the importance of having a bit of basic Spanish, so it will start off with a Spanish tutorial facilitated by Maira Mayen.
Next, Allison Zeidler of Elemental Holistic Therapies, will join us to teach great tips about walking well and taking care of feet and legs along the way.
A panel of experienced pilgrims will share information and impressions about different camino routes: the endpoint of each route is the beautiful cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, but there are quite a few ways to get there, and the various trails offer different terrain, cultures, histories and quantity of services.
Camino 202 will finish with stories and insights from Natalie Edelson about being a hospitalero, which is a volunteer at one of the albergues, which are the most popular accommodation option along the way. The albergues offer clean and comfortable dormitory facilities for very reasonable prices.
Both information sessions take place at Hidden Valley School, which is located at the first left turn off the Mayo Road (North Klondike Highway). From Whitehorse drive northwest on the Alaska Highway, turn north onto the Mayo Road, and then take your first left. You will see the Hidden Valley School on your right.
These evening sessions are free, fun and informative. Everyone is welcome. For more information, call me at 335-4512.