Zoom Into Planning Now

Posted June 11, 2020

A 500-mile path leads from the French Pyrenees to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Western Spain. Over the past thousand years, millions of people have made their way — on foot, on horseback, and more recently, on bicycles — over this camino. The first were devout Christians making a pilgrimage to the remains of Saint James. According to legend, his body is buried under the massive Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Today, this walk continues to lead some pilgrims to inner transformations, while other peregrinos focus on the physical challenge and the beautiful scenery along the way. In either case, everyone celebrates when they arrive at the cathedral, which is the end of the Camino de Santiago.

For many years, I’ve been toying with the possibility of walking the Camino. My interest grew after seeing The Way, a 2010 movie starring Martin Sheen, which provides great visuals of the route. I’ve also enjoyed the accounts of fellow La Jollans, including one who walked the whole route with a backpack and another who cycled it with her husband.

While their tales were terrific, I was sure I didn’t want to do it their way, which included staying in hostels and pushing bikes over snowy mountains. “To thine own self be true” is great advice, especially when traveling. I knew that before I tackled this trail, I’d need to do a deep dive into the options and create a plan for a relatively-cushy Camino, but I never had enough time. Until now.

Old bridges on “the way” facilitate the passage of pilgrims

Travel Planning with Steve and Bill

During this period when we can’t travel, I’ve done a ton of research and explored our options for this big adventure. I couldn’t have done it without the innovations launched by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I can remember when travel planning meant buying a guidebook and making incredibly expensive overseas phone calls, which now seems about as absurd as drinking instant coffee.

Scallop shells are used as a symbol of direction
along the Camino

Because of Jobs and Gates and a lot of other very smart people, I was able to glean info and make connections using social media, podcasts, virtual tours, apps, e-books, blogs, websites, videos, WhatsApp, webcams, Zoom gatherings, webinars, online forums, and streaming. Of course, these trip planning tools are helpful regardless of the destination.

My first discovery was “Virtual Camino,” a Facebook group started by filmmaker Annie O’Neil and Laurie Duperier, co-founder of Duperier’s Authentic Journeys. VC enables online members to take a virtual journey on the Camino using Duperier’s daily posts describing sections of the way. These posts, and those on O’Neil’s new FB group, “Pilgrimage in Place,” are adding a whole new dimension to my neighborhood walks. In addition, weekly “Pilgrim Table” Zoom events provide an opportunity for virtual pilgrim camaraderie. authentic-journeys.com

The idea for a virtual walking group was inspired by Phil’s Camino, O’Neil’s film that documents a man with stage 4 cancer who couldn’t travel, so he created his own camino in the forest behind his house. I watched this moving short film twice in one day.  philscamino.com, annieoneil.com

O’Neil’s initial experience on the real Camino was captured in the wonderful documentary Walking the Camino, Six Ways to Santiago (2013, streaming on Amazon Prime and iTunes).

My research continued: Best app? Wise Pilgrim. Best books? Travels with My Donkey, Off the Road, To the Field of Stars, and I’ll Push You (also a movie, Amazon Prime). Best podcast? Dave Whitson’s The Camino Podcast.

Natural beauty and medieval architecture enhance the Camino experience

More Camino Inspiration

On YouTube, you’ll find there is no shortage of videos about the Camino. I became bleary-eyed trying to watch all of them. Here’s one of the best: youtube.com/watch?v=nET5NS3q2gM

I also want to mention that, as I write this, a new Camino movie, Camino Skies, was just released. It isn’t available yet in the U.S., but you might want to watch for it. It follows a group of Kiwis and Aussies on the journey. Click here for the trailer.

“Slow Strollers on the Camino” on Facebook, is another good source of information.

About Phil

I recently “met” Phil Volker (of Phil’s Camino) when he was the special guest on a Zoom Pilgrim Table. He told the story of how he and his wife saw Annie O’Neil in Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, and he reached out and invited her to walk his backyard camino with him. She accepted his invitation and the two became fast friends. When a good scan gave him a break in his chemo schedule in 2014, he was able to fly to Spain and do the walk. O’Neil sent a three-person crew to accompany him and film his experience: annieoneil.com/virtual-camino

Volker is a mellow, down to earth guy who radiates peace and grace. He’s now lived with stage 4 cancer for six years and is sure that “having a purpose prolongs your life.”

Volker lives on Vashon Island near Seattle and he regularly welcomes people from around the world to walk his camino with him. There are details about this on his blog: caminoheads.com

Some walkers are hoping for inner transformation and others are content to enjoy the scenery

My Cushy Camino

Spain is closed at the moment, but as soon as it’s safe to travel internationally, my plan is to head to the Camino. I’m glad I had this time for research, and I’m grateful to Jobs and Gates for providing the tools. During my deep dive into the options, I discovered a variety of lodging alternatives along the route, including posh digs in historic paradors, and I found that luggage transfers can be arranged.

I also learned that some people visit year after year, walking a different section of the Camino each time, and there’s no shame in not taking the whole 500-mile journey in one big gulp. My maybe-too-ambitious plan is to start in Leon and walk to Santiago, a journey of almost 200 miles, which I’ll do at a pace that allows plenty of time to gawk at the scenery, smell the flowers, and count my blessings.   Elizabeth Hansen

The magnificent Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage since the Early Middle Ages

Intro: Photo courtesy of Phil’s Camino     Flower fields: Photography courtesy of Duperier’s Authentic Journeys     All other photography courtesy of Tour Spain  Tourspain