"The Way" Walking the "Camino de Santiago" from France to Spain

"The Camino de Santiago"

This is a statue of a young woman pilgrim from hundreds of years ago
This is a statue of a young woman pilgrim from hundreds of years ago | Source
Here are us modern pilgrims in the rain
Here are us modern pilgrims in the rain | Source
Angient monuments line the way.
Angient monuments line the way. | Source

Martin Sheen's film "The Way" may inform Americans of this pilgrimage.

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a magical pilgrimage route from many parts of Europe to the Cathedral of St James in Santiago. Europeans and people from all around the world have been walking this pilgrimage for a thousand years. But we met very few Americans on the way. Now with the new film starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez many Americans may decide to walk "The Way."

Here are some photos of our adventure and stories of "The Way"

"The Camino de Santiago" is "The Way"

Signpost on France showing the route
Signpost on France showing the route | Source
Walking the way. Jane in the lead.
Walking the way. Jane in the lead. | Source
Crossing the Pyrenees,Orrison hostel.
Crossing the Pyrenees,Orrison hostel. | Source
Jane as usual in the lead as we climb the foothills.
Jane as usual in the lead as we climb the foothills. | Source
Adding a stone and a prayer to the shrine of the Virgin Mary.
Adding a stone and a prayer to the shrine of the Virgin Mary. | Source
Crosses on "The Camino de Santiag" also known as "The Way of St. James"
Crosses on "The Camino de Santiag" also known as "The Way of St. James" | Source
Wayside trail markers have stones and wishes.
Wayside trail markers have stones and wishes. | Source

Martin Sheen's film tells North Americans about "The Way."

As I was flying to Europe from Vancouver, anxious about my ability to hike the "Camino de Santiago" from France into Spain. During the all night flight I was bleary eyed and flipping the flight entertainment screens. There was a newly released film "The Way" which was about the very pilgrimage walk I was about to start.

In this film Martin Sheen plays "Tom" a self centered golf obsessed doctor who is faced with the sudden death of his estranged son played by Emilio Estevez. In real life Estevez is Sheen's real son. Tom,the shocked father, flies to France remembering how he angrily told his son not to waste his time hiking in Europe. At "Pied de Port" France Tom sadly collects his son's body, his backpack and his notebook. Tom learns that his son died while crossing the Pyrenees mountains in a storm on the first day of the "Camino de Santiago" pilgrimage.

Tom had planned to return immediately to his busy US medical practice. Instead he asks that his son's body be cremated, ties the metal box containing his son's ashes to the outsideof his son's back pack and sets out to complete his son's pilgrimage himself.

The film could have been overly sentimentalhowever it is shot in an almost documentary style which gradually draws in the audience. It is subtle and moving as Tom alienates then connects with people he meets along "The Way": an angry American woman, a friendly fat Dutchman, a crazy Irish writer.The Camino is not just a hike but a road of life that changes all the characters Tom meets.

I was anxious about walking over 200 kilometers.

I walked with my partner Marie-Belle and two friends Jane and Linda.

Our plan was to start in southern France, walk 100 kilometers to "Pied de Port" and then cross the Pyrenees into Spain. In Spain we planned to descend the mountains to Pamplonaand continue on to the wine fountain past Estelle.

It was a long way for four older women, some of us with sore feet and heart problems. We had agreed that the four of us would stick together and go slowly to enjoy the way. This was a big compromise for Jane who was the fittest of our group, a marathon runner. On the first few days I started out happily enough singing and enjoying the villages and countryside.

But after an hour or two my shoulders started to cramp painfully from the weight of my new pack. I shifted the load around and fumbled with the straps but couldn't stop the pain. At rest stops I lay down on the ground and stretched. That felt much better.

We managed very well. Jane waited for us and she took training runs when she could since she was preparing for another marathon. At first we walked short distances-less than ten kilometers a day from hostel to hostel. We took a loy of breaks. And many pilgrims passed us since twenty kilometers or more is the suggested distance to cover each day.

After a few days I figured out a better way to strap on my pack and it stopped hurting me. After a few more days I could walk for a long time without needing to lie down on the road. We named ourselves the Snail or Escargot group because of our slow speed. But after a while people joined us, they liked our relaxed pace.

One pilgrim told us she went into a church one day and met four elderly British women eating their lunch. They told her they walked part of the Camino every year averaging about six kilometers a day. If they found a hostel or Bed and Breakfast they liked they would stop their for two days or more to rest and enjoy the local area. They loved the Camino and were in no hurry to finish it.

On the steep hike up over the Pyrenees we met a man and his wife. He was vomiting at the side of the road.

"Can we help? Do you need some water?" I asked

"No we are O.K. My husband has a migraine," she answered.

Later we learned they were from our province B.C. The husband had been a triathlete, injured seriously when rear ended in traffic. That night we met them at Orison Hostel part way up the Pyrenees. He was getting over his migraine and said he had tried every sort of Western and Alternative treatment to heal from his brain injury. "Now I would like a miracle," he said. We met him, again at dinner in Spain at Roncesvalles, but then lost track of him. I hope he got his miracle.

In the gigantic,spotless,modern hostel at Roncesvalles the young Austrian man from the bunk above mine gave us some containers of delicious yogurt. I asked him how it was going?

"Not good," he said.

"Difficult walking? Have you blisters?" I asked.

"No, the walking is fine," he said.

"Well what is the problem?" I asked.

"I an lonely, I walk all day with someone and really get to know them. And I like them but the next day they are gone," he said.

This was so true, some people we met again at a roadside cafe/bar or at dinner the next night and some we never saw again.



Some of the People we Met

Shan Kirin from Delhi and Nancy from San Francisco
Shan Kirin from Delhi and Nancy from San Francisco | Source
Me and Marie-Belle with our "guide" Nancy.
Me and Marie-Belle with our "guide" Nancy. | Source
A cyclist in his red top plans to do the trip in less than a week. The young man on the right with the beautiful singing voice will walk the Camino singing.
A cyclist in his red top plans to do the trip in less than a week. The young man on the right with the beautiful singing voice will walk the Camino singing. | Source
Some french men tuck into dinner.
Some french men tuck into dinner. | Source
When we first me Noam he was picking nuts and hebs for dinner
When we first me Noam he was picking nuts and hebs for dinner | Source
Noam happily washes at a public fountain on a very hot day.
Noam happily washes at a public fountain on a very hot day. | Source

Some of the people we met.

An American woman, Nancy had walked the Camino several times befire. She became our defacto guide since we met her often in bars, hostels and along the way. One day a new to the way pilgrim asked me:

"What are the piles of rocks along the road? Are they for dead people?"

I said "Not for dead people. Pilgrims leave rocks for memorials or for wishes or prayers-and sometimes notes. I stopped at a pile and there was a note among the rocks. we looked at it and were surprised. It was a note for us from Nancy!!!.

Nancy was an excellent source of information. She told us about what to expect up ahead, which hostels were very good, which ones to avoid.

We met several fit Italian cyclists who were speedily cycling the route. Many other cyclists from all over Europe sped past us on the flatter parts. The young Belgian man with a beautiful singing voice sang to us at dinner. The French pilgrims shared delicious pillgrim's dinners with us, and entertained us with their singing. We didn'y know enough French to understand their jokes.

We met Noam the young Israeli boy on the first day crossing the Pyrenees. He was standing on his head on a windy ridge near the spot in the movie where "Tom's" son died.

Just out of high school Noam was walking and camping out along the Camino. He was taking a break before he entered the Israeli army.Most young Israelis must go to the army for two or three years after hightschool. Noam's family were peacenicks, opposed to the fighting in israel and wanting the West bank returned to the Palestinians. So Noam's mother had got him to see a psychiatrist to excuse him from the army.

"But I plan to go to the army, to experience the army. Then i can use the psychiatrist's letter to get out if necessary. The Israeli army doesn't want soldiers who don't want to be there," he said.

Noam had a very heavy pack with tent,sleeping bag, three kilos of nuts and dried fruit from his mother. he had trouble carrying his heavy pack but he was strong and determined. He shared his nuts with us along the way and he found us at our hostels every night.

He often ate with us and then walked out of town to find a place to sleep in his sleeping bag under the stars or in his tent if it rained. He washed in the fountains and sometimes asked at the hostels for a shower and permission to do laundry.

Volunteers run most of the hostels in Spain. They are very friendly. Noam was resourceful. Because I am Jewish he got me to help him organise Shabbat and Rosh Hashana ceremonies and dinners with him. Lots of our fellow pilgrims joined in. It was fun.

Walking the Way of St James on the Camino de Santiago.

Eileen from Ireland and Rene from the United States
Eileen from Ireland and Rene from the United States | Source
This is the sign of the Camino, shell ,often yellow on a blue background. If you follow it you will not get lost.
This is the sign of the Camino, shell ,often yellow on a blue background. If you follow it you will not get lost. | Source
In Basque country the ancient Basque language is found on roadsigns and restaurant  menues.No blisters and my pack was less painful by the fouth day.
In Basque country the ancient Basque language is found on roadsigns and restaurant menues.No blisters and my pack was less painful by the fouth day. | Source
After dinner a French pilgrim shows us how to peel a baby boy from an orange.
After dinner a French pilgrim shows us how to peel a baby boy from an orange. | Source
A Basque man tells us how his grandfather made their family fortune as a rum runner in Canada during prohibition.
A Basque man tells us how his grandfather made their family fortune as a rum runner in Canada during prohibition. | Source
French villages dot the way.
French villages dot the way. | Source
Marie-Belle and Linda stop by a statue of Jesus who protects the way.
Marie-Belle and Linda stop by a statue of Jesus who protects the way. | Source
Marie-Belle and Linda stop for a snack of fresh chocolate crossants.
Marie-Belle and Linda stop for a snack of fresh chocolate crossants. | Source
Notes to Saint James in an ancient church on the way.
Notes to Saint James in an ancient church on the way. | Source
Cows watch wonder where pilgrims are going.
Cows watch wonder where pilgrims are going. | Source

As we walked we got fit and enjoyed the counrtyside and the shrines.

As we walked each day we got more fit. we enjoyed the countryside and the shrines along the way.

We met Rene Madonna and before we learned her name we called her the "Movie Star" because she looked like a star.

Rene had long dark hair in the classic movie star style and bright red lipstick. Also eye makeup. I watched in fascination one morning at the hostel as she carefully made up her face. She put us grubby pilgrims to shame. And she continued to look good all day, kilometer after kilometer.

The first night we met Rene was at Orison hostel in the mountains. The staff at dinner asked us to stand, introduce ourselves and tell something about ourselves. Rene stood.

" This has been a special day for me. I am a travel writer from the U.S. and today while coming up the mountain a dog tried to go to the bathroom on my backpack. Then tonight at dinner I kissed a whole group of Italian bicyclists."

Though she looked like a fashion plate Rene was a strong and determined walker. We had planned to walk only 200 kilometers and last saw Rene at the free wine fountain near estelle. Rene later posted on Facebook that she had one day walked over 33 kilometers by accident. Happily she completed the whole Camino pilgrimage-over 700 kilometers.

That night after Rene had introduced herself the Italian cyclist stood up and introduced his group.

"We had wanted to go to the beer fest at Munich but our wives wouldn't let us. So they gave us permission to walk the Camino. And we instead of drinking beer, we have to drink wine."

He and his group took off the next day and we never saw them again.

At one hostel we met a tiny woman in her 70's who was walking alone.

"I am on my way home. I walked to Compestella-800 kilometers from my home in France. And now I am walking back to France," she said. I was amazed.

" Now I am on my way to Lourdes," she said.

She told me that she is a widow, originally from England who immigrated to France as a young woman. Now she walks the Camino and back every year. It takes her about three months. She says, "I carry a very small pack."

We were very happy walking along singing and stopping to rest every two hours at a roadside cafe or grassy hill.

The countryside in France and Spain is very beautiful in the fall. Cows watched us in the fields and goats and sheep in the hills and mountains. On hot days we swam in clear rivers. Often I was munching as I walked, picking up sweet walnuts from the road and figs and apples from the trees.

In some places the way was lined with ripe figs. every hour or two we would walk through a village with ancient churches and lovely cafes, bars and delicatessens. The food along the way was totally delicious.

One of the most interesting areas we passed through were the Basque provinces of Southern France and Northern Spain. The Basque people speak a language that is more ancient than Latin. They are stocky lively creative people who run great hostels and serve magnificent dinners. we particularly enjoyed Basque cream cake that was given to us at a neighbourhood party.

In one Basque hostel where we spent the night the father of the household got excited when he learned we were Canadian. He loved Canada. He told us his grandfather had gone to Canada in the 1930s to find his fortune.

He made a lot of money as a rum runner smuggling fine Canadian Whiskey from Ontario to the USA. Then he returned home with his money, bought property and established this lovely big home/hostel where we spent the night.

People say the Camino changes you in ways you don't expect.

I am not sure what transformations we four Canadians experienced. But we did become very happy and fit. By the last days Marie-Belle and I were easily walking over twenty kilometers per day, tired but pain free. We all got along very well with each other and with the people we met. We made some good friends and we want to return to walk the remaining 300 kilometers in France and the 700 kilometers in Spain.

Also when she got home to Vancouver Jane placed first in he age group in the marathon. Walking the Camino had improved her time.

Cathedrals and churches along the Way.

Cathedral in Estella where we heard their beautiful choir
Cathedral in Estella where we heard their beautiful choir | Source
Detail from a Spanish cathedral
Detail from a Spanish cathedral | Source
old church along the way
old church along the way | Source
Basque church with rainbow
Basque church with rainbow | Source
walls of a citadel at dawn
walls of a citadel at dawn | Source
church detail
church detail | Source
Virgin and child
Virgin and child | Source
snack break at wayside cafe
snack break at wayside cafe | Source

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Comments 16 comments

Spike 21 months ago

It's imrapetive that more people make this exact point.


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 3 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

Hi Anndango- How exciting. Many thanks for your comment. I have seen that wonderful Camino movie twice so I have seen you in it. Hope your long Camino goes very well. Buen Camino.


anndango 3 years ago

Hello marshacanada! My two sisters and I walked a portion of the Camino, and we met both Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez in St. Jean Pied de Port and wound up being extras in The Way! (The train scene when Martin Sheen arrives in St. Jean - I'm right behind him, haha!) They were very friendly. The Camino truly is a magical walk and I am returning in a couple of years to complete the entire 800 km.


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 3 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

Thanks for your comment luckywriter. Pack light and have a great Camino walk!


theluckywriter profile image

theluckywriter 3 years ago from Canada

So interesting! I'm currently planning to walk the camino in Spring of next year, and I'm kind of obsessed. It's so great to be able to live vicariously through others who've already done it!


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 3 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

I started in Southern France and walked to Pamplona and past to Estella. Loved it so much returned last fall and walked Estrella to Burgos then bussed to Leon, then bussed to Sarria and walked from there to Santiago. We didn't have time to do the whole walk so will have to go back sometime. Its great fun, you will love it. But be sure to take a very light pack-under 16 pounds, 8 kilo, and don't walk too far the first few days-gradually work your way up. Also leaving ST Jean you go up up and a long way down. Try to do this in two days and go very slowly down so as to protect your knees. We used walking sticks-it helped a lot. You will love it.


ArtE Ontario 3 years ago

have you completed the camino to santiago? I plan to start in St Jean Pied de Port in mid August after a quick journey to Lourdes.Am looking to do the whole trip and even go to Muxia and Finsterra before coming home.Ihad never heard of the Camino until I saw the movie'the way'


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

Thanks Letitia for your kind comment on my Camino de Santiago Hub. Sorry for my delay in thanking you, I was away travelling.

If you ever get a chance to walk the "Camino" go-you will love it.


LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

I've heard tell of this. What an adventure! I didn't even know a film had been done about, but the name certainly is evocative. There was a medieval French expression stemming from pilgrimages, "le chemin en est", meaning "the way is it." I've always like that. Thanks for sharing your experience.


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

Costs-about $35 US per day if you stay in hostels and do some of your own food preparation.

Packing-The less you carry the better. We set a limit of 15 lbs per person total-one small 30 liter size pack,one change of clothes, underwear, quick dry. I washed my dirty clothes everynight in the shower.Some hostels have laundrys.If you go in summer-2 light shirt,tshirt, 1 shorts. Good walking shoes, thongs or slipper type shoes for indoors since they insist you leave your hiking shoes at the entry way. Sunscreen, sunhat, sleeping sheet-silk is lightest, light rain jacket or poncho, light sweater, extra socks and wash them every night.

If you want more details just ask.


Vanderleelie profile image

Vanderleelie 4 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

An excellent travel account in this hub. Just this afternoon I heard a CBC program about Oliver Shroer, the Canadian violinist who walked the entire Camino de Santiago in 2004 and recorded his music in 25 churches along the way. Your description has inspired me to start planning a trip and follow in your footsteps!


Jjdeaner@comcast.net 4 years ago

What should I pack to do this? Recommendations? Costs during the trek? This would be a mid-summer trek.


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

Many Thanks for your comment oliversmum.It is actually a fairly easy walk if you just go at your own speed and stop to look at the views. We saw people walking with small children,and very elderly hikers.


oliversmum profile image

oliversmum 4 years ago from australia

marshacanada Hi My goodness what a wonderful time you must have had in a wonderful country.

Meeting all walks of life,seeing such beautiful scenery.

You had a lot of courage,it looked exciting and fun but not an easy walk

The photographs are incredible.

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.I loved it.Voted up.:):)


marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC Author

I love getting comments and yours is the first. Many Thanks for your enthusiastic support Genna East. I hope you get to walk the Camino sometime. Or see the movie "The Way" Its sort of like going and you will want to catch the next plane to Spain.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

What an intriguing and exciting journey. I loved the “Snail or Escargot Group,” very clever. Beautiful photos, Marsha. Looking at them made me wish I was there.

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