Camino de Santiago: Places
El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) is a network of pilgrimages ending at the burial place of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. While, technically, anyone can begin their pilgrimage from anywhere (they say there are as many different Caminos as there are pairs of feet) certain set routes have evolved over the centuries. The most popular of these is the Camino Frances, which begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port near the western border of France and continues 799 kilometers west to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims are supported along the way through a series of albergues and hostels that charge nominal fees (usually 5-10EUR for a single bed in a dormitory) and sometimes offer communal dinners and evening prayers. Route finding is accomplished by following a series of yellow arrows and seashell plaques along the way. The Camino crosses nearly all of Spain---and many pilgrims elect to walk the remaining 90-or-so kilometers to the coast after reaching Santiago---passing through the mountains of Basque Country, the vineyards of Rioja, the dry plateau of Castilla y León, and ultimately the green hills of Galicia. Weather changes as much as the landscape, and ponchos are a necessary tool in a pilgrims minimalist backpack. At normal pacing, the Camino Frances requires a little over a month to complete, although it's common for pilgrims to complete their pilgrimage through a series of sections of one or two weeks according to their ability of vacation days.