Pilgrims are returning to the Camino de Santiago in Spain after a year of being off the road due to the pandemic.
Making the pilgrim’s way through Spain can take days, weeks or even months to reach the medieval cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
But now the pilgrims are again fastening their backpacks and following the route marked by the emblem of the shell to heal the wounds left by the coronavirus.
Some need comfort after losing loved ones, a job, or a marriage. Others stride to enjoy the freedom they had taken for granted until the health crisis put limits on them.
Laura Ferrón and her friends are climbing near the town of Arzúa, two days from Santiago in the green hills of northwestern Spain.
Ferrón’s marriage ended during the confinement and now she fears she will be fired as part of a mass layoff announced by the bank she works for.
If you lose your job, you will join the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who have been unemployed due to the economic recession caused by the health crisis.
“You let off steam, you let go of the negative that is inside you, you think, you start to think and you give things a little more value, the fact is that the pandemic has taught us to give more value to important things,” he says .
Desperate for relief, Ferrón and two lifelong friends, María del Mar Espinosa and Carmen Hidalgo flew from their homes in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in North Africa, to spend a week walking the last 100 kilometers of the “Camino de Santiago”.
“You move away from routine, you have more time to think about things, because routines do not allow you to think,” says Hidalgo.
“You can let your mind wander, you get lost,” adds del Mar Espinosa.
When the pandemic hit Spain in March 2020, the country applied lockdown measures that drastically reduced travel.
The Camino de Santiago attracted more than 340,000 walkers from around the world in 2019. Only 50,000 walked it last year, mostly during the summer months, when Spain briefly relaxed its restrictions.
Before the state of emergency in Spain that ended limited travel between regions on May 9, only a handful of pilgrims arrived in Santiago each day and registered with the Pilgrim Office to receive their certificate to complete the pilgrimage.
In recent weeks, authorities have removed most of the travel limitations with Spain’s vaccination program accelerating.
A small trickle of pilgrims has started, despite the fact that many shelters that serve them are still closed.
A few hundred arrive in Santiago each day, compared to several thousand during the summer months when Santiago is flooded with exhausted pilgrims swinging their walking sticks on its cobbled streets.
Natuca Mansoa is doing the Camino with her sister and elderly parents.
“So they are very old, he is 84 years old, she 81, now they are both vaccinated. We travel together,” he says.
“It seemed to us a precious, precious experience, to be able to repeat now that they are vaccinated, as is my sister because she works in the health sector and I have had it. So, we had to take advantage of his last years. And it’s great that they can enjoy it, and especially as a family together. “
For many pilgrims who were forced to leave their families at the beginning of the pandemic, the Camino is an opportunity for them to meet again and give thanks for being together once again.
“We really wanted to do something all together as a family. The whole family is healthy and we wanted to thank the Saint a little for the luck we have had,” says the pilgrim Montserrat Busquets.
The Camino de Santiago is actually a series of paths that fan out beyond the Iberian Peninsula and stretch across Europe.
But whichever route you choose, they all end at the baroque Cathedral of Santiago, where believers can visit the tomb of the Apostle Santiago, who, according to Catholic tradition, brought Christianity to Spain and Portugal.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism