Where is the difference between hiking and making a pilgrimage?
Effectively there is no difference. As soon as you are walking a pilgrimage route you are making a pilgrimage.
If you carry your rucksack yourself or have it transported to your accommodation, if you’re sleeping in a dorm or a pension, if you live of bread and water or enjoy your meal in a restaurant, if you are trying to find yourself or are listening to comedy audio books – everyone has their own picture and rules of what a “real pilgrim” is.
And most of these rules are oriented on what you do and where you are not as strict with yourself?
Therefore, everyone can decide themselves if they feel like a hiker or a pilgrim walking the way of St. James. It is just a name not more.
So why out of all places hike the Pilgrimage route?
There are two good reasons:
The first reason being, the good infrastructure. A pilgrimage route is laid out for someone passing through and there are sparsely populated places with sleeping opportunities and refreshments.
The second reason is the different atmosphere. Although the fewest pilgrims I met were religiously motivated most of them were “spiritually motivated”.
A lot of them took questions on their journey, to be answered, stood in front of big decisions, had strokes of fate lying behind them or just questioned the concept of life in general – or just wanted to push their boundaries and face their fears.
On a Pilgrimage route you are surrounded by many people who are also searching for something, found back to themselves whilst walking and are contemplative. And this atmosphere can be contagious.
My first pilgrim experience was the coastal way from Porto to Santiago. The experience I made then has sustainably shaped me as a human. Although I started walking without a particular question on my mind I came back with uncountable answers.
Afterwards I travelled to and walked diverse Caminos and always found out a lot about myself. I never knew what the questions were that were occupying me until I started walking.
For whom are Pilgrim routes rational?
For everyone who either
a) wants to get to know people from all over the world and wants to be part of an international community
b) wants to be by themselves, free their heads , test their limits and wants to find answers
c) just wants to go on an active vacation without any further reasoning looking for cheap accommodation and food and possibly a nice cocktail in the evening looking out to the sea
Does all of this sound a bit contrary? Yes, it is indeed. Anyways, all of these things are possible on the Way of St. James.