The buzz on the Camino forums is that the Camino Frances will be packed this year due to not only the Holy Year, but also the fact that the Pope will be visiting Santiago. Some predictions say there will be ten million people coming through Santiago this year. Not all will be pilgrims, of course, but there is bound to be a surge on the already extremely popular route. Many veteran pilgrims are saying take another route or wait a year to go, unless you think you'll like feeling like you are in the middle of a herd of cattle. Forget solitude! This has been my dilemma lately. I WILL be walking somewhere, just not sure where. The Camino Portugues has its advocates, but it is only a week's walk and mostly on tarmac. The Coastal route is brutal physically and I don't think I'm ready for that. I could go on pilgrimage to somewhere else, for example Canterbury or Rome, but somehow thats just not what I want right now.
I ran across a blog by a Kiwi woman who walked the whole camino to Santiago from Le Puy, France, a couple of years ago. That's a thousand miles!!! Her description of the walk through France sounded lovely, not very crowded, and the French Gites d'Etape (hostels) were quite nice and had the advantage of being available to be booked ahead. She doesn't expect the route as far as St. Jean du Pied de Port will be very much more crowded this year. So, here is what is going through my mind: Walk the Le Puy route (also known as the Via Podiensis) as far as St. Jean this year, and return to walk the rest next year after the Camino Frances part has settled down a bit. I have to come back and finish to get my "Compostela" certificate, so I am proposing doubling my walking plans. Arggghhh! Am I nuts?
One advantage is that I know a bit more French than I do Spanish. Not that I'm fluent or anything. And I have always wanted to see the French countryside. This route goes through the least densely populated part of France, and by Margaret's blog pictures, it is charming. A lot of up and down, but hills, not steep mountains. Most of it is in the Massif Central. Check out Margaret's blog at chemincamino08.blogspot.com.
She says, "Il faut aller doucement" (It is necessary to go gently) and that every descent has an equal and opposite ascent! So it will be a workout! I'll just have to "walk in a relaxed manner" as every good pilgrim knows.