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A long Way to the End of the World

A long Way to the End of the World
by Bianka Morgen

From the small French mountain village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, it is an 800 kilometre walk to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, where the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. The Way is marked with St. James’s shells, and stones all along the path show the kilometres left to end.

According to the Chapter of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, more than 114.000 people walked the Camino de Santiago in 2007, including 785 Australians.

What is it that makes people from all over the world shoulder those exertions? Tobias, the 24 years old student explains: “I found something on the way I was looking for, maybe my whole life – some kind of basic trust. I know now that everything that happens has a reason and is good.”

Fortunate Coincidences

However, it is a long way until you get the answer for your quest. Besides the spiritual challenges, there are also physical ones. When you walk 20 to 40 kilometres a day with a heavy backpack, you reach your physical limits quite fast. This is what Tobias found out. After the first half of the Way, he got a painful periostitis, a bone infection. When he had almost decided to end, luck came to help him. The warden of the pilgrims’ hostel in the next town was a physiotherapist. The warden invited Tobias to stay in his house and medicated him for two days until the young pilgrim was able to continue on his way. He even refused any payment. “Without this man I probably would have had to give up,” says Tobias. This was just one of many fortunate coincidences that happened to the student on the Camino.

Another time, he ran out of water on an exhausting leg across a semi-desert, when suddenly a truck stopped next to him. The driver wordlessly handed him a bottle of water and drove away. However Tobias does not believe in wonders: “Whether it was chance or a wonder, I don‘t know! I think it is more the friendliness of the people I met on my way, that created a spiritual atmosphere.”

Although Tobias met a lot of interesting people on the Camino he preferred to walk alone. He got up in the morning at six o‘clock and walked till the evening. Thus he covered 40 kilometers a day, while most pilgrims just manage 20. However, for him the point was not to reach Santiago as fast as possible, but to think about himself and his life.

“It might sound cheesy, but when you are alone with your thoughts for hours – without TV or radio – you suddenly realise what has influenced you in your life and what is really important to you,” Tobias explains.

Tourists and other dangers

In just three weeks – the average is five to six – the student reached the desired destination, Santiago. Here, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela a Mass for all pilgrims is held every noon. A priest announces the names and nationality of all the arrived pilgrims. For Tobias the Mass was disappointing. While everyone was praying, a tourist came to him and asked for a picture with a pilgrim. Even getting the Compostela, a certificate of accomplishment given to the pilgrims on completing the Way, seemed to be more mass processing than a spiritual delivery to Tobias. Everyone who walked the last 100 kilometers or more by foot, or the last 200 kilometres by bicycle or on a horse, gets the Compostela.

The pilgrim tourism in general has been growing more and more. “I even met a travel group with a portable navigation system, who was followed by an empty bus. It‘s ridiculous!” says Tobias. While in 1970 only 68 pilgrims walked the Way, the number of pilgrims has increased unbelievably in the last years.

The St. James Way is not just a walk. There are some dangers, like stray dogs to be aware of. Tobias even met wolves. It was already sunset when he passed through a little forest. Tobias tells: “I realised that there was something behind the trees. First I thought it is a wild dog. So I grabbed a stone and my pilgrim‘s bar to defend me.” Then two wolves crossed the path and stared at him before they disappeared in the forest. “They ran next to me between the trees for a while. First I was scared, but then I somehow knew they wouldn‘t harm me.”

The End

In Santiago Tobias decided to walk further, until the proverbial end of the world: Kap Finistere, the West end of the Spanish mainland. This is the spiritual destination of the Way for most of the pilgrims, while Santiago is considered as a religious destination.

At the Kap Finisterre there is a fireplace, where every person to arrive burns a piece of his clothes as a symbol to leave their former lives behind. Tobias burned a t-shirt he got from is mother. It was cloudy, when he saw the boundary stone, on which is written: 0,00 kilometers. Finally he reached Finisterre, the literal the end of the world. He sat down on the cliffs with some other pilgrims and watched the sea. Suddenly the cloud cover parted and the sun shone through on the water‘s surface. "That’s God!“, whispered a Danish pilgrim.

Map of St. James Way (French Route)

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I had no idea

Bianka.   But Paul Coelho seems to be a good clue.

Perhaps it also ties in with (newish) investigation of "happiness" showing that the "hedonic treadmill" that society encourages us to be on brings passing pleasure, but no happiness.


"the pilgrim tourism has been growing more and more".

This would, raconteurily, - (sp?) appear to be so.    I wonder why.

Pilgrim tourism

Actually that's a really good question. At least I can answer why there was a hype about pilgrimage in Germany. 

Hape Kerkeling, a famous German comedian, walked the Camino and wrote a very good book (Ich bin dann mal weg) about it, which became quite popular. 

However, Tobias did the walk shortly after the book was released. So he did not read it. He got the idea of walking the Camino from a book written by Paulo Coelho. 

Apart from that, I think people are more and more looking for religious or, in general, spiritual guidance these days. Another example would be the World Youth Day and the hype about the Pope! 

What do you think could be the reason? 


 How do you know Tobias?


Hi Heidi, I went to school with Tobias. He was a year above me and we were both in the theatre group.  

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