The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage has a religious or spiritual history. It's namesake is St. James, whose remains are buried in Santiago, Spain, the end point of the trek. The starting points are from all over Europe and there are seven designated routes across Spain. Some believe the route originating in France, located under the Milky Way, has magical or divine powers.
My original intention, when I first heard of the Camino six years ago after hearing violinist Oliver Schroer's interview on CBC (http://www.oliverschroer.com/about/camino_journal.html) was to do the Portuguese route.
I should warn you. This is a long story.
For some reason the plan migrated to Spain, either from Roncesvalles, just over the French border or from Pamplona, a popular beginning point for Spaniards. I don't know when the plan changed to start from St. John Pied de Port, France, which requires you to take the mountain route up and over the Pyrenees.
Maybe it was the seductive scenery from the movie The Way with Martin Sheen (it's worth a watch to learn more about the pilgrimage). We compromised and agreed to take the valley route through Valcarlos, which has one strenuous day of incline rather than two on the mountain route. Some people actually do the mountain route in a day, but they haven't broken two ankles in the course of a few years.
Last night we stayed in St. Jean, Camino tourist trap par excellence. A beer, which costs 1.90e in Spain was 6e. A diet Coke was 3e and the same can today in Spain was .60e. The couple who ran our pension have strong feelings in support of the mountain route. They include a mountain manifesto on their website. Before you can say "decisions of such nature should be discussed with your spouse," C agrees that we are changing our route and a reservation is in the process of being made at the rest point, a third the way up. Now I can do simple math and that tells me that the second day will be on the hellish side.
Words were exchanged and after attracting the attention of those sitting across from us at the tourist dive restaurant, we agreed to leave the decision up to the Camino. If our hostess was able to reserve a bunk at the inn up the mountain, then it was decided.
Enter divine intervention. Alas, there was no room at the inn and we would hike the valley way, saving 500 meters of elevation. Done.
Not really. In the morning we met another Canadian couple planning on cabbing it over to Roncesvalles to avoid the mountain. The fog up there was so bad you could only see 20 feet in front of you. Camino Magic. Did we want to share the cab with them? You bet. In the end we started 350 meters down the slope for five hours of glorious hiking.