the ultimate unplug
OMG I am actually doing this! I was ready in 2020. Or I thought I was. It was 6 months after my dad passed - the perfect time to walk the St Jacques de Compostelle - the Camino. Time to unplug from life, reflect, regroup. It was an opportunity to evaluate where I was and where I was going; in my personal life and in my business. But alas, it was not meant to be. Rescheduled. Not once, but three times. But now, it is finally happening. Am I ready?
There is that little voice inside that shouts "NO! You haven't trained enough - what if you get lost?" But yet, I will go. Alone. To see what I see, meet who I meet, and discover what I discover.
If you had told me in my 20s that I would don a backpack and take off for 10 days with limited clothing and no makeup, I would have said "absolutely not". I am a bit of a diva, preferring dresses to yogas and enjoying a full beauty regimen every morning. I have daily contact lenses, I wear a retainer at night, and my hair needs products! But I love that there is this side of me, who adores hiking and craves time communing with nature. It is the yin to my yang. It completes me, and invigorates me in a way that nothing else quite can.
Choosing my route
If you know about the El Camino, The Way, the St Jacques de Compostelle, then you know that the trail ends in Santiago, Spain. I will do only 10-12 days of the chemin, much as many of the French do. They do a section, then in 6 months or a year, they pick up from where they left off. It seems more manageable for me than dedicating a month or two. The disadvantage is that after the first week or two, you are usually just getting into the 'groove" - your body has adapted, and you fall into a rhythm, just to stop abruptly and start from square one the next time. Bon, c'est la vie.
La via Podiensis (La voie du Puy)
Le Camino Frances, begins of course, in France. There are 5 traditional routes in France, all of which convene at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Many people begin here, cross the Pyrenees day 1, then spend their days walking in Spain. I will get there, some day, but for now I want to walk in the Motherland - France. I am half French (my father's side) and I am absolutely in love with this country! For me, part of my "pilgrimage" is just spending time with my feet on French soil. (More about reasons for doing a pilgrimage later).
I chose Le Puy-en-Velay as a starting point for a few reasons. First, it seems a beautifully scenic walk. Le Puy is an absolutely majestic place to start, and the beau paysage of green dormant volcanoes in Auvergne seems to be magnificent as well. Second, the French friends I have known for over 25 years live not far from Lyon. It is thanks to them that I learned all about the walk. They will drive me to Le Puy, and walk the first few kilometers with me. I can't imagine a better way to begin this journey.
While it is 730 km from Le Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, I am planning to walk about 250 km (if I end in Figeac) or a bit more if I end in Cahors. That means I will walk about 20-25 km (12-15 miles) a day, if all goes well! There are many options for the walk - you can bike, walk or take a donkey - you can send your backpack ahead of you - you can spend nights in gites, dormitories or even camping under the stars. As I consider myself half-pilgrim, half-princess, I will be walking with my backpack, and staying in gites (like a bed and breakfast) so I have my own room and hopefully a private bath! All of this is subject to change, but that is the plan for now.
A bit of History
Maybe you have heard of the Camino, known someone who has done it, or seen the movie "The Way", but what is this "pilgrimage" all about? Legend has it that after the death of Christ, the disciples set off to various parts of the world to spread his teachings. St James went to what is now Spain, and had quite a following over several years. He eventually returned to Jerusalem, but was beheaded by Herod in 44AD. His followers came and took his body to Santiago, Spain and buried him, along with two of his disciples. During the 8th century, King Alfonso II declared St James the patron saint of Spain and build a church and small monastery over the tomb in his honor. A town grew around it, known as campus de la stella, later shortened to compostela.
People began to walk to Santiago as a profession of faith or as form of punishment (atonement for one's sins). In early times, the pilgrim was not sure to make it to the destination and back again, so they would obtain a pilgrim passport (credential) to be stamped at different points along the way. (This passport also identified the person as a pilgrim, entitling them to stay in cheaper accommodations). Upon reaching Santiago, he or she would receive a certificate from the Cathedral authorities. The scallop shell or "coquille Saint Jacques", found in abundance on the coast, was a souvenir and further proof that he had made it to his destination.
The Tradition Continues ...
Today pilgrims from all corners of the world can be found on the various trails, with the coquille Saint-Jacques adorning their backpacks. They carry a credential sporting a grid of unique and colorful stamps. They come for a multitude of reasons: some spiritual, some religious, some related to health and wellness. They come to grieve, to let go, to begin anew. They come to meet people, or to sink into their own thoughts. They come to connect with the earth and to reduce life to its simplest form. Each journey is unique, and yet it will intertwine with those of others.
My journey begins on May 12, 2023. I have applied for my credential, and eagerly watch the days count down on my phone. I will be posting updates on Instagram (@frenchdetours) as conditions allow - I will be "unplugged" for stretches as well!
I am so very grateful for all who have encouraged me throughout my preparation! The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino has provided tremendous guidance, support and training. A huge thank you to my family and friends for their blessings on this journey as well. Buon Camino!