Monday night at the Elkin Public Library local hiking advocated Bob Hillyer gave a presentation on his experience hiking the Camino. Highlighting the history and sharing information about the environment merely complemented the tales from the trail.
“Whenever I talk about the Camino I get excited,” stated Hillyer, who also restrained obvious emotion as he remembered his experience.
The best known trail in the world, the Camino got its start in 961 C.E. when a stone boat with the bones of Saint James the Great allegedly washed ashore at Santigo, Spain, where they were placed in the cathedral where they are said to still remain.
Hillyer pointed out that at the time Pilgrims journeyed to Rome or Jerusalem which was under the control of Muslims. Pilgrims were usually penitents who made the pilgrimage to absolve sin. Hillyer stated that the Catholic Church absolves half the sins of those who hike the 500-mile trail, because a true Pilgrim also would make a return trip completing the 1,000 miles required for all sins. “I’m going to have to do it again,” joked Hillyer.
To prove that a Pilgrim made the journey the Church required a scallop shell to be brought back. Because entrepreneurs began selling the shells before the end of the journey, a certificate was eventually issued which has not been changed for 1,000 years, according to Hillyer. It was these shells that helped create the symbol of the trail.
Various versions of the scallop shell mark the Camino through signs, monuments and on buildings. Also found along the trail are memorials to the many people who died along the trail. “The week before I was there a man died on the trail,” said Hillyer, who also related a story about a woman who, diagnosed with terminal cancer, chose to spend her days on the trail instead of a hospital.
This was just one of several trails Hillyer told about the people on the Camino. “The greatest thing about the Camino is the amazing people you meet,” indicated Hillyer. Among these included a woman who worked for the Vatican and a recently retired MI5 Agent and his son who was in a rock band. “They couldn’t have been more different, but there they were hiking the Camino together.”
Socialization is an inherent part of hiking, but particularly with the Camino where most of the trail has a small village nearly every five miles where Peregrinos (the Spanish word for Pilgrims) stop for refreshments and to visit with others.
The pensiones (guest houses) and albergues (hostels) are also an important feature of the Camino where hikers rest in bunked rooms of small groups or dormatories when they are not gathering for meals. Hillyer spoke admiringly of one fellow guest he met at the Hospederia San Martin Pinario, which is a monastery converted to allow hikers to rest for the night. After leaving school in the third grade due to the Nazi occupation, the Dane was able to achieve honorary university degrees and build schools after meeting the Dali Lama because of a cassette tape he delivered.
“These are the kinds of people you meet,” acknowledged Hillyer. “You bump into them and get to know them then they’re gone and you don’t see them anymore.”
Those who would like to read more about the journey can go to Hillyer’s blog at bobscamino2013.blogspot.com remembering the hike started in April.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.