After a year of being kept in lockdown, soul-searchers hoping to heal wounds left by the coronavirus are following historical trails in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Committing to the pilgrim's path has for centuries been a source of renewal for those willing to put their lives on hold and spend days, weeks or even months crossing the Camino de Santiago, a journey that takes hikers to the reported burial place of the apostle St James.
Some travelers taking to the Camino are like Laura Ferrón, whose marriage ended during Spain’s lockdown and who fears she might lose her job because the bank she works for plans massive layoffs. She and two lifelong friends flew from their homes in Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta to spend a week walking the final 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the pilgrimage route.
“This helps you let it all go. This pandemic has taught us to give more importance to what we have and to take a good long look at yourself,” Ferrón, 33, said while resting on a climb near Arzúa. The village in the green hills of northwest Spain is about two days away from the medieval cathedral in Santiago that is the traditional ending point.
The Camino de Santiago is actually a series of paths that fan out beyond the Iberian Peninsula and spread across Europe. Whichever route one takes, they all end at the Santiago’s baroque cathedral, where believers can visit what is said to be the tomb of James, the apostle who, according to Catholic tradition, brought Christianity to Spain and Portugal.
Pilgrims have come to Santiago for a millennium, but the number of both believers and non-believers making the trip boomed in recent decades after regional authorities revived the route.
Over 340,000 people from all over the world walked "El Camino" in 2019.
Only 50,000 walked it last year, when Spain blocked both foreign and domestic travel except for during the summer months.
The numbers of pilgrims arriving in Santiago over the next year will be boosted after Pope Francis extended the 2021 holy year dedicated to St James through 2022.