A pilgrim told us that her pilgrimage to Santiago was a difficult experience to explain. She compared it when she gave birth to her daughter. No words, it is necessary to live it to understand it.
Through the following reflections, we wish to expose our vision of the Way that we have lived as pilgrims and as innkeepers but far from us the idea of wanting to make it a dogma. We advise you not to pay much attention and to distance yourself from all that you can read, even in this website, about the Way: "What is a pilgrim?" "How make a pilgrimage to Santiago? ", etc. Leave your comfort area, go to the Way, open your senses and let yourself be carried by your heart.
Who are we?
We met thanks to the Way (or we put the blame it when we get angry). After having pilgrimage several times in Spain through different routes between 1985 and 2019 and once in France in 2014, and having been volunteers innkeepers in our holidays, we decided to have our own hostel for take in pilgrims. We lived wonderful experience, met lots of pilgrims and we like shared it.
What is a pilgrim?
It is difficult to state his opinion without falling into dogmatism. In our opinion, it is anyone who is looking for something, sometimes without even knowing what: a renewal, an inner peace, a hope, a sense of life, strength to face challenges like grief, love or loss of a loved one, a vital, spiritual or religious experience. Accept simplicity, patience, lack of comfort, physical and moral test, less attractive than other landscapes, bad days, the brotherhood and respect for others, introspection, the meeting with himself (or with God), humility, love, joy, peace, spirituality, and that in a repetitive movement walking day after day, making a person in a pilgrim.
Perhaps our point of view is wrong or different from yours, don't worry. Enjoy it and will come what has to come.
Are there only pilgrims of the Way?
Some people come to have a hiking experience. There is a nice nature, a good lodging structure, very affordable prices, other hikers, etc. We try that the Way become for them more than a hiking experience. Despite of lot of years, not easy for us discern the hikers from the pilgrims. It is important have to respect for the way each one live the Way.
What is the profile of the pilgrim?
Almost all pilgrims come from developed countries. Usually the comfrot of their homes is higher that hostels. There is a mixture of ages, social classes, professions, nationalities, motivations. Depending on the time of year, the proportions are different, more retireds in May and September, young people and families in summer. The most frequented route in France is the Puy en Velay with about 10000 pilgrims by year, 85% of them are French. The busiest months are May and September and July is quietest. In Spain, the Way is more international than in France and come much more people. From April there are already many pilgrims on the way. In 2019, Santiago has recorded the arrival of around 347,000 pilgrims.
Alone or accompanied?
24-hour together is a good way to get to know each other, to share moments of joy, well-being, peace, but also suffering and discomfort. It is suggested that you go with someone you know well or you want to know well. We believe in the Spanish proverb: the Way join forever or separate forever. It is common to see groups of pilgrims forming and the process is normal. Friendships (sometimes more) appear, unforgettable encounters... This is also the magic of the Way. Fraternity and sharing with others pilgrims. But sometimes one can find oneself "prisoner" of a group and you live other Way (others rhythms and wishes and budget, confinement of the group on oneself ...). Do not lock yourself in a group in which you are not comfortable. Make your Way and not that of others. Do not be afraid to walk alone. It's a good way to find yourself. Leaving on the Way can be compared to a spiritual but moving retreat. One can also compare it to a psychoanalysis which is a very personal act. Do we not speak in psychology of inner journey?
Do all the pilgrims go to the gîtes?
Most yes. In the gîtes allows to find a structure adapted to the pilgrims (cleaning of the clothes, schedules for pilgrims, shared meals, information on the steps ...). There is also the idea of common pilgrimage, of conviviality, sharing a room or a meal all around the same table, the welcome of the innkeepers who are not like that hoteliers, the atmosphere is diferent. Many hostels are economical places of rest, good value for money, sometimes with access to the kitchen so as not to penalize people whose budget is tight. But you should not expect the same facilities, the same services or the same conditions as a hotel. If your way for reasons of comfort or more ample schedules does not pass through the gîtes but by the hotels try at least once go to the gîte, maybe it will love you.
The pilgrim to give thanks, the tourist demand?
It is a good phrase and attitude in the Way although have to demand an adequate quality / price ratio for what it pays for but we see that pilgrimage should not be planted as a journey with hotel requirements and where simplicity and living with few things is premise.
Where to go make the pilgrimage?
In France, the best structure is on the way to Le Puy, about 10000 pilgrims/year. The presence of nature is preponderant. It is easy to find open churches and access is free, unlike Spain. Walking on average 25 km / day, it is possible to walk in one month, (Le Puy / Roncevaux). The Ways of Vézelay, Tours and Arles are less frequented. It is more difficult to find accommodation and they are more lonely. In Spain, the French Way also has the best structure. It is possible to walk in winter. Hostels are open all year round. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an obligation to get up early to get a place. In 90% of the cases it is possible to make a reservation (it is true that some municipal and parish hostels do not accept reservations). Some gîtes offer the same level of comfort as in France and sometimes at a better price. The trails are very well marked and there too, contrary to legend, you do not just walk along the roads. It is more cosmopolitan and less difficult than the Puy's Way. At the high season about 300/400 pilgrims start in St Jean Pied du Port every day. There are other interesting Ways such as the North Way (the one follows the North coast), the Primitive Way, very beautiful but physical (from Oviedo to Santiago) or Via de la Plata from Seville. They are also even if to a lesser extent, provided with a good structure of gîtes (not in winter) and sign post. They are less frequented and a little more physically difficult. In Spain, like France, not many people speak a second language well. But some twenty words in Spanish, a little English and a few gestures will be enough to make themselves understood. The average budget by day is 25/40 euros in Spain and France 35/50 euros. The price range in Spain is wider. It is easy to find simple accommodation at 8 euros: many pilgrims, bunk beds (but this is also the Way) and others with a higher level of comfort.
Begin walking like an old man and then you could finish walking like a child.
Better to start walking little by little, by making small steps for the body to adapt. Proof of humility. Help your body to walk every day, discover your rhythm, listen to your wounds. Bring only the essentials into your backpack. (Do not eliminate too many things, for example in Spain, any hostels do not provide blankets). If we must listen to our revealing body of what is going on in our minds, do not listen to all your fears. Walking hot days, with the rain, with the cold, in the snow, it is part of the Way. This is what makes the difference between hiking and on the Way. The joy will seize you after a good shower by realizing that yes you are capable and you will be proud of it. And most importantly, take your time. Enjoy the time you spend on the Way. Do not forget that arriving in Santiago is only one step. The most important thing is to be on the road. The longer the pilgrimage, the deeper the change will be.
Ready to go?
We do not pretend to be experts but not hesitate to contact us for more information on the different Ways, the stages, the care, the equipament, etc.
In conclusion, we would say that for us behind the word pilgrimage there is a Christian spirit with the presence of God which helps us to walk, not only physically also internally. To walk the Way is for us synonimous of simplicity, respect, openness towards others and acceptance in front of what it presents itself even if sometimes it passes through moments of discouragement. But this vision is very personal and questionable, just as much as that of a pilgrim who very seriously attributed the magic of the Way to the adequacy of Jupiter, Saturn with the Earth...
Isabelle & Alejandro
Pictures of our last pilgrimage October to December 2019, Seville - Santiago
ALL RIGHTS FOR THE PHOTOES RESERVED TO PHOTOSTREAM Michael Carian,keep the credit.