Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Part 3)

          As we struggled to complete the 100-kilometer walk, we met one of the pilgrims who literally brought us down to earth.  He nonchalantly remarked that he had already been walking for three months and had already covered 2,500 kilometers, all the way from Switzerland.  We realized then that there are individuals who make it almost a full-time occupation to perform this centuries-old tradition.  Since there was no way we could match the outstanding physical feat of this particular pilgrim or others who have been as committed to do the walk, we increased our resolve to focus on the spiritual side of the Camino.  We spent a lot of time on the road saying many parts of the Holy Rosary, covering three and sometimes even all the four Mysteries.  I was glad that my nephews have been brought up in a very Christian family and have obtained their basic education from a school that assigned the highest priority to doctrinal and spiritual formation.  They knew all the necessary prayers by heart.  They joined me in the daily Masses which  we attended at every main stop along the route.  There was no shortage of Churches and fortunately Masses were usually scheduled late in the evening at 7 or 8 p.m.  The timing was perfect because we would arrive at the endpoint of each stage at about 6 p.m. (when the sun was still shining bright).  Hearing Mass was a fitting way of giving thanks to God for having helped us complete the day’s journey without any mishap or injury.

         I was very happy to have had the opportunity to bond closely with my nephews whose different personalities I got to know more during these five days of walking.  One was the mostly widely read and he updated us through his smartphone on global events as we went from one stop to another.  In these stops, whether restaurants, stores or Churches, we would get the obligatory stamps authenticating our having covered the necessary distance for us to be granted the Certificate.  Although only two stamps per day were required, we obtained daily about five stamps that left no room for doubt that we complied with the minimum required distance.  Another nephew of mine was such a music lover that during the more arduous climbs along the route, he would lighten the load by playing aloud on his smartphone songs of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and other singers from my generation.  Another nephew, who had left a lot of business in real estate brokerage at home, spent a lot of time while walking connecting with his clients in Manila.  I was also impressed at the efficiency of the telecom system in Spain that enabled us even in the most remote areas to be in contact with any point in the world through internet or cellphone.  There was not a time during these five days that my nephews could not talk to their spouses, children, friends and business associates as easily as if they had never left Manila.

         We timed the journey so that we would arrive in Santiago de Compostela in the evening of Saturday so that early the next morning we would be able to attend the Pilgrim Mass at the Cathedral where the remains of St. James are.  It was a moving sight to see all the pilgrims from all over the world united in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which the prayers were said in several languages.  Of course, the main event of the Mass was the Consecration and the Communion.  There were a good number of the pilgrims who took advantage of the occasion to go to confession at the many confessionals scattered all over the Cathedral.  The most picturesque part of the final ceremony was the swinging of the huge incense holder, called the “Botafumeiro” that needed some five to six muscular men to pull.  It is alleged that in ancient times, one of the purposes of this mammoth incense, besides giving glory to the Holy Eucharist, was to counteract the stench coming from thousands of pilgrims who had not bathed for days.  From our experience, however, it was clear that hygiene has improved since and that the pilgrims of today are sufficiently familiar with Unilever and its products.  The only inconvenience we encountered was the very long queue of those who were presenting their respective passports with the obligatory stamps to obtain the much-desired Certificate of having done the pilgrimage.  After getting the Certificate, we performed the most important and meaningful rite of hugging the statue of St. James the Great.  We were not interested in performing the pagan practice of bumping our head against another statue of St. James.

         During the last three nights of the walk, we rewarded ourselves with what one of my nephews called “the three best meals he ever had in his life.”  The first meal had as its main course the famous Galician meat called chuleton.  Galicia is famous for the juiciest steak.  In fact, in most of the fields we traversed we saw hundreds of cows and we had to suffer the pungent smell from their droppings.  So one of us joked as we tore into our steak that we were having revenge on the cows for inflicting on us the foul odor of their wastes.  On the second night, we ordered cuchinillo for which Northern Spain is famous.  The meat of the suckling was so tender that it seemed to melt in our mouths. And finally, at lunch on the last day of our stay in Santiago, we went to the Michelin-rated restaurant of the famous Hotel de los Reyes just across the Cathedral and feasted on the best sea food one could get from the Galician seas.  Our only regret was that we had very little time to go around the city of Santiago, a world heritage city and an outstanding example of historical, urban and environmental regeneration.  We were rushing to travel to Barcelona, where I had to deliver some lectures in some Executive Education programs at the IESE Business School.

         I highly recommend to Filipino families planning to travel to Spain to consider doing the Camino.  It is a great way of family bonding.  There is room even for ageing grandparents who need not walk as much as the younger members of the family.  The tour agencies can always arrange for a van that can pick up the physically less able pilgrims at any convenient point during the walk.  Of course, those riding in a car will not be able to get the required stamps and, therefore, will not be qualified for the Certificate.  The important thing, though, is to be with other members of the family during the stays in the hotels and even in the restaurants where they take their meals.  Those who choose to ride along the route will have more time for sight-seeing and relish all the attractions of nature and the rich cultural heritage of the region of Galicia.  Interested parties may get in touch with Mondial Tours at or Telephone numbers 888-6347 to 48.  For comments, my email address is