A journey along the Camino de Santiago
It was the trip of a lifetime for Castle Dale Mayor Danny Van Wagoner. He recently returned from walking the Camino de Santiago. Van Wagoner started walking on May 17 from Roncesvalles.
He said he brought along too much stuff and his back pack was 25 pounds. When he goes again he will definitely lighten the load.
Van Wagoner had read about the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. He also watched a movie about it.
He had the desire to become a pilgrim as the walkers along the way are known. He felt there were some answers he would find along the way as he walked for 600 miles- 900km and six weeks.
Van Wagoner said, "The first 10 days were very physical. I was walking for eight hours a day. After the first 10 days it was like you got used to the walking. That was my job. I would get up each day and walk. The first walker to ever make the journey and start this pilgrimage was a monk who wanted to visit the place where St. James was buried. So he traveled there. Since that time many have followed in his footsteps. Last year alone 183,366 pilgrims made the trek. It was a learning experience. When I did that reading and watched the movie it really sparked an interest with me. It was one of those bucket list items I wanted to complete. I walked 600 miles in 30 days. I had my guidebook that gives you a day by day itinerary to follow.
"One thing about it, it's best to walk alone because everyone walks at a different pace and has different abilities. The outline in the book is to take 33 days for the journey because that is the number of years Jesus Christ was on the earth.
My wife Kate met me part way because she couldn't take the entire time off from work. I met her at Villafranca and she walked 185 km.
"I took every vacation day and sick day I had and saved them up so I could go on this trip to Spain. There was a guy there that walked the Camino 12 times in 300 days. One for each apostle.
"I met so many interesting people. You kind of end up in groups and walk for awhile together. I walked with a Jack from Ireland and there was a man from Australia making a documentary along the way.
"On my first day I had walked with a group of Spaniards. That night as I approached the village I heard music coming from a church. I walked in and there were cameras there filming this man playing a cello. I was not sure what was going on. I went to get a bed. Each night I would find a hostel and they would have large rooms with beds set-up. Sometimes 300 or more beds to a room.
"At these hostels, it was communal living. There was an area where you could cook meals and the rooms where everyone slept. It was usually a bunk bed and you brought your own sleeping bag and pad.
"There were little bars and restaurants along the way. The weather was 50 degrees at night and 70s during the day. The last 10 days was in the high 70s and that made it harder and hotter. Sometimes it rained and was cloudy.
"I only got one small blister from walking. I had great shoes, Meindls. One of my friends told me about these shoes for a trip I took to Cambodia. The boots were incredible. I would recommend those boots and a light pack.
"Every night I slept at a hostel and didn't ever sleep out. There were communal bathrooms in the hostels and shower booths. The bathrooms were unique. I was always able to find bathrooms along the way in the bars and restaurants.
"There was really only one stretch along the way where there wasn't anything.
"It was really peaceful and quiet most of the time. After school let out there were a lot more college kids along the trail because in Europe students can get college credit for walking the Camino.
"Three days later I heard about the man with the cello again and they were filming a documentary with him carrying his cello across the Camino. In the bigger cities they would advertise ahead that this man was going to be at the churches and play.
"The end of the trail is called Fisterra meaning the finish of the earth, the furthest west point in Europe. Back when they thought the earth was flat they thought it was the end of the world. After six weeks of walking I was staying there on the beach and the man with the cello arrives and I'm able to hear his last concert. So, I was there for his beginning concert and his ending concert. At the end of the journey the pilgrims visit the cathedral and the burial spot of St. James.
"Since everyone walks at a different pace, I walked 75 percent of the time alone. After the first 10 days being very physical, the next 10 days were very reflective.
"You would walk each day until around 2 or 3 p.m. and then start looking for places to sleep.
"One interesting experience I had was while I was laid over in Philadelphia waiting for my flight. I was getting something to eat and there weren't any tables so I walked up to a table that had an empty chair and asked the lady if I could sit down. She said I was hoping you would. She said you're a pilgrim. Then her daughter sits down and asks if I was a pilgrim. They wondered if I had a shell. So she gave me a clam shell with a yellow arrow. The monk first carried a scallop shell with him, so now it's a tradition. This mom and daughter had just returned from walking the Camino. So the shell had already been across once and knew the way.
"After I flew into Pamplona that was the end of my solid plans. I knew I had to get to the bus station and take a bus to where I was going to start. I hadn't changed any money so I couldn't take a taxi, but I figured I could walk to the bus station. After walking for an hour I was beginning to think I wasn't going to find it. I saw an office of information and walked in there and asked if anyone spoke English. One of the workers went in the back and got her boss. He knew a little English. He asked if I was going to walk the Camino and I said yes. So he said, 'I will take you.' So he took me to the bus stop. I asked what I owed him and he said buen Camino. Everyone says that over there, it means good road.
"Many things like that happened. The people were very helpful. The Camino extends across Spain and I started at the border of Spain and France and walked to the end of the world, but I was still in Spain. I walked across the upper part of Spain to the ocean. There are some people that have walked it backwards.
"This year so far 82,000 people have walked it.
"Some people don't have time to walk the whole thing so they will do stretches of it. Sometimes they will do a stretch and then come back again and do another stretch. Most of the Americans and Canadians try to do the whole thing because it's so far for them to come.
"I think next time I would prepare better physically. Every day something different would hurt. There were times when I would say this is the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life, then I saw a lady come by that had a jogger stroller and two little kids and a guide dog and her husband that was 100 percent blind. They were from Finland and they were walking the Camino.
"I did have to conduct a little Castle Dale City business along the way and I posted pictures all The Way across.
"I'm lucky to have a great counsel and employees that did a great job while I was gone and do great work for Castle Dale City.
"I had a solar charger for my phone, but most of the hostels had electricity you just needed a converter.
"You needed ear plugs at the hostels, there was so much snoring. When it was time to stop for the day, people would line up their back packs because the hostels would open about 3 p.m. each day. A lot of the people would take naps, but I went sightseeing in each village.
"The trail itself was all dirt. Parts of the trail had a lot of jagged rocks. Some of the trails were hard and some were easy.
"Walking was a time for reflection. It was a calm time walking through the fields and there were castles along the way.
"I met an 82 year old Italian man that was walking the trail for the 17th time. You just had to be careful and watch where you were going. I think anyone can do it. There were 11 year olds all the way to people in their 80s, just walk at your own pace.
"I didn't take any food, you just bought the food along the way. In the second group I walked with there was a German guy that had a high end restaurant back in Munich and he did our cooking and we chipped in three euros each for him to buy food.
"They had great breads and sandwiches over there. It was five euros a night to stay at the hostel. A euro is about $1.50 in American money; each meal was about three euros, so it was all pretty inexpensive for food and lodging. The air fare was the most expensive thing.
"I took my sleeping bag, an air mattress that I didn't use and a lot of stuff, I had two pairs of pants that zipped off into shorts, socks and underwear, two T-shirts one long sleeved shirt and a jacket and a poncho. Every night you scrubbed your dirty clothes on a wash board and hung them out to dry. I had a reading book with me and every time I finished reading a few pages I tore them out of the book to lighten my load. There were things all along the way that pilgrims left.
"I would absolutely encourage people to go and do this. It's one of the best things I've done in my life. You just look at yourself differently. There's not many people that can say they've walked 600 miles.
"I didn't find what I was looking for by doing this, but what I did find was so much better. I don't think the Camino is done with me yet. There's more it has to teach me. It's a magical place. There's so much more to it than what you can read about or watch in a movie or documentary. You have to experience it yourself to really understand the mysteries of the Camino. The books and movies don't even come close to explaining what it's like," said Van Wagoner.
Saint James is the patron saint of Spain and, according to legend, his remains are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as the "Way of St. James," has been the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the Early Middle Ages onwards. 125,141 pilgrims registered in 2008 as having completed the final 100 km walk (200 km by bicycle) to Santiago to qualify for a Compostela. When July 25 the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, it is a Jubilee year, and a special east door is opened for entrance into the Santiago Cathedral.
Jubilee years fall every five, six, and 11 years. In the 2004 Jubilee year, 179,944 pilgrims received a Compostela.
Each of the pilgrims receive a stamp from each of the places they visit along the way. When they reach the end of their journey. They receive a certificate of completion of the journey.
St. James preached the gospel in Iberia as well as in the Holy Land after his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Agrippa his disciples carried his body by sea to Iberia, where they landed at PadrÃ³n on the coast of Galicia, and took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.
"There are some people who have to quit because physically they can't do it. There were some people who could barely walk," said Van Wagoner.
Van Wagoner has returned home now, he's back to work and back to being the mayor of Castle Dale. He is making plans to return to the Camino.
His children want to go along with him, so they will plan sometime in the future to go again when the grandkids are grown.
Van Wagoner will never be the same. He has walked the Camino de Santiago and will never completely return. The way of St. James is a spiritual path and journey of self discovery and doing what you thought you could never do. You've become one of the select few, the pilgrims that have walked the way of St. James.