Behind the Albergue Door: Inspiration Agony Adventure on the Camino de Santiago
“Buen Camino” is a Spanish expression that translates literally to “good road”, and figuratively to “have a good walk”. More importantly, it serves as the unofficial motto of pilgrims hiking any of the various Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This catchy little phrase will almost certainly be the two most common words an erstwhile pilgrim can expect to hear in any given day and can be used in any number of different contexts by Camino pilgrims, conveying an equally diverse array of meanings. Depending on context and intonation it can be any of the following:
A casual greeting - ‘Buen Camino’ with a smile and nod.
A friendly farewell - ‘Buen Camino’ while waving and turning to go.
An expression of heartfelt desire to see a fellow pilgrim experience good luck - ‘Buen Camino’ said somewhat uncertainly with a slightly worried look.
As a polite way of getting rid of an especially dull walking companion - ‘Well, um, Buen Camino then’ said rather sheepishly while you suddenly quicken your pace and rush off as they are relieving themselves by the side of the trail.
As proof that you do, in fact, speak some Spanish - ‘Buen Camino, y, uh, thank you’.
As an expression of frustration - ‘Dios mio! Buen Camino mi culo! Puta!’ while angrily staring at a newly formed blister.
T o cover up the fact you don’t actually remember the name of the girl who was sharing your bunk when you woke up - ‘Buenos dias...uh….amiga. Buen Camino!’ smiling broadly, slowly backing out of the room and carefully avoiding any sudden movements.
Just to name a few. I have even heard of it being used as a way to transition between two very different topics when unable to come up with a suitable segue. Buen Camino!
My wife, Laynni, and I tackled the Camino Frances in October of 2012, hiking roughly 800 kilometres from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic coast of Spain. There are numerous routes to Santiago, all of which are described as Caminos de Santiago. These famous pilgrimage routes have theoretically been in existence since the 1 st Century when the remains of the apostle St. James were shipped to Iberia (modern day Spain) to be interred in Santiago de Compostela, presumably because this was an area he had spent a considerable amount of time spreading the word of God. Or maybe because he had always been a big fan of tapas. Opinions vary. In any case, by the 8 th Century (the time of the first recorded visits) the pilgrimage to Santiago to visit them old bones had become one of the most popular in the Christian world with “peregrinos” (the Spanish word for pilgrims) from all over Europe braving the physical, mental and culinary hardships of this arduous journey on foot in hopes of reducing their time in purgatory. Of course, some were simply looking to lose weight and the purgatory business was just an added bonus. Either way, this expedition eventually became one of the most popular ways for Christians to prove their devoutness and physical superiority, and has remained such for over 1,200 years now. In many cases, virtually unchanged. Some of the bread, in particular.
As for the trail itself, the route we took, and by far the most popular, was the Camino Frances, which can start at any of a number of locations in France but ultimately will pass through the tiny border town of St. Jean Pied de Port. From there it is roughly 800 kilometres of historic cities, quaint villages and wildly varying scenery to Santiago de Compostela. Here in the 21 st Century the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is experiencing another massive resurgence. German comedian Hape Kerkeling hiked the Camino in 2001 and then released a book about his experience in 2006 that led to a large spike in German interest. Today you will be hard pressed to find a German pilgrim who has not read Kerkeling’s book, or the equally popular Guide to Sounding Angry When You Speak German. Also, in 2010 Emelio Estevez released his movie, The Way, starring his father, Martin Sheen, even including a small role for himself. The movie’s popularity has since led to a large influx of North American pilgrims, especially people who had nothing better to do in high school than spend an inordinate amount of time watching Estevez shoot people and laugh maniacally in 1988’s Young Guns. He doesn’t do as much killing in this one but you’ll be happy to know he
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