We came back not long ago from our latest adventure doing the Camino de Santiago also known as Way of St James. We have been wanting to go on The way for a long time now. It is hard to decide where to start as it can be as long as you want it to be (basically). I was also unsure of my physical conditions and my issues with food and allergies. Spoiler alert: After finishing it we decided to do The way entirely from France to Santiago de Compostela the next time.
The way has been promoted by people from all over the world. A recent movie promoting it on English speaking countries. Paulo Coelho with his book “The pilgrimage” promoting it on Portuguese and Spanish speakers (mainly) and Hape Kerkeling with his book “I’m off then” managed to increase the number of pilgrims by 20%! Cray.
I have never experienced anything similar. The similarities between The way and life itself are endless. Everyone goes at their own rhythm, it is hard to make plans because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you in the next few miles (even though we insist on trying), you find people that come and go, with some of them staying a bit longer than others but at the end it is you and you alone the one walking and pushing yourself forward.
Following the yellow arrows is all you have to do all day.
You have time to connect with others and with yourself. You meet a stranger from a different country, age group, language and profession and you share ideas. Some ideas you find international, some are simple traditions and prejudices that you don’t realize you have. It is a very enriching experience. You put the cruise control on your legs and let your mind get lost for hours as the landscape changes. Not something you can do day after day in “normal” life.
We found people and places welcoming (some more than others), and the abundance of villages makes it easy to rest and have a drink or decide to stop walking and keep going the next day.
Some “Albergues” (Hostels) are big like this one above and have many beds on each room.
I think that we got to enjoy The way specially because we did not have an end date. We had the flexibility to take a rest day or make a day shorter if needed. We ended up adjusting to plans (with some exceptions) but it gives you peace of mind knowing that you can rest one day or two if you need to. We found that some pilgrims were stressed because they already had a train/plane ticket home and had to make it to Santiago by a certain date.
There are pharmacies, physiotherapists and many other useful services available for pilgrims. You can send your backpack to the next town for a few euros. Our backpacks were much lighter that many we saw and I don’t think they weighted more than 6 Kg. each. It’s easier to travel light and with fewer things. There are plenty of places to clean your clothes and dry them. Some days the bags were heavier because we carried food.
- Three shirts
- Two hiking pants
- A long sleeved shirt
- Two jumpers
- A wind stopper jacket
- A rain poncho (big enough to cover the backpack)
- Socks, Two thin and two thick
- A plastic bag
- A Nalgene or bottle of water or Camel bag
- A pocket knife
- First Aid Kit: Ibuprofen, Band-aids, Betadine (Povidone-iodine), needle and thread (for blisters) other medication we take daily.
- Phone charger
- Mini shower gel and teeth brush and tooth paste.
- Optional: a couple of pegs for clothes, a pot or pan to cook, spoon and fork.
I survived with the contents of this bag and it made me feel great. I really enjoy having nice things home but it is good to remind yourself once in a while that they are not necessary nor important and they do not define you.
To certify that you are walking as you say and that you are a “real” pilgrim you are given a “passport” called Credencial. You can collect stamps for it as you walk. The most common places are bars, churches and “Albergues”/hostels. Once you arrive to Santiago de Compostela you can collect a certificate that says that you did “El Camino” and optional a certificate that also indicates how many Km you walked at the Pilgrim’s office.
Once we finished the Camino we decided to keep going as a prologue of the adventure and visit the “end of the world”. Some pilgrims go walking but we did it by bus. The town of Fisterra is the further west and thus the westernmost point of continental Europe.
The views are astonishing.
While being there we found a really curious rock.. Does anyone know what it is?
Are you planning on doing The way? Have you experienced any long distance walking trail?