My typical day on the Camino de Santiago started about 6am. I was a mature student before hiking the on the Camino de Santiago for the first time; at that time I would have been doing well if I was awake before 9am, (I had got into student life and loved it). So six in the morning was initially shocking, however, I easily got used to the early morning.
Walking the Camino is without a doubt an extraordinary experience – but what about walking the Camino de Santiago with children?
An escape, an adventure in time where too many things are planned out and controlled. But it’s not always easy to get away, especially if you are taking care of more than yourself. Perhaps you have been dreaming about this.
In 2004 I first walked the Camino Frances the main Camino de Santiago route; I first wrote this article in 2009 and thought it could do with some updating.
I was a student at the time and I wanted to do something different during the summer, something interesting – I am not one for lying on a beach and prefer to be active. One of my college mates had walked from Holland to Santiago de Compostela a few years before and he kept going on about this “Camino de Santiago” – to me it sounded horrible, walking all day across Spain in the height of the summer heat, carrying my own clothes, sleeping in a hostel every night with people I did not know. No thanks.
You have to be fairly motivated to walk the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain – as it is 800km. Usually 800km with your rucksack on your back containing everything you need for a month. Sleeping in hostels with strangers, communal showers, and no privacy.
I think I am a terrible example of getting fit before walking the Camino de Santiago. I walked only once for about 3 hours, with a rucksack, to see how I would be walking before going to Spain. I did have some hill walking experience, though not a lot. I would have walked in the Wicklow hills about twice per month in the two years previous to my first Camino, that was it in total.
12th August, 2017: Leaving Santo Domingo at 7.45 am, we thought we had made a good head start on the sun.
Fools! We should have left at least an hour earlier. We walked 23 kilometers today on a fairly easy route of gravel paths, tarmac in places, which ran most of the way parallel to the N120. There were no major height differences; 240 meters in ascent, 100 meters in descent. Easy peasy, apart from the fact temperatures hit 38 degrees, and we were walking in an area with absolutely no shade.
‘Many people avoid the Meseta, catching the bus from Burgos to Leon’, I heard on my first day on the Camino de Santiago. I was shocked. I thought most people were keen to walk the full route, either in stages or as a single pilgrimage. Whilst setting out to walk and enjoy the whole 800km, the Meseta was the section I was looking forward to with anticipation. I became curious as to what my experience would be.
11th August 2017 – The title of this blog post came about as one of us, whom shall remain nameless, wore ill-fitting shorts which became very uncomfortable as the kilometers clocked up. Today the only comfort gained would be from wearing a skirt and going commando. So for any ladies reading this a walking skirt could be a useful addition to your Camino attire. Your dignity will be kept intact while your nether regions can breathe. However, just be careful the skirt is of a decent length, as you don’t want to be arrested for flashing.
In May 2012, I clicked SEND and put in play a turn of events and a journey that would change my life forever. In my sixth decade and in good health, I knew this was the time. With that SEND, I purchased my air ticket to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. While I had heard a little about the Camino over the years, it was a book by Guy Thatcher called A Journey of Days that really whet my appetite. I thought “I can do this!” and I promptly began reading and researching everything about the Camino. With each new piece of information, I knew my fate was sealed and I was compelled to go.
“Hey man, is there any way you can come hike with me on the Appalachian Trail?” I anxiously asked all my close friends.
“No, I’ve gotta’ work,” was the response I invariably received.
“Well, how bout’ just going for a week or two,” I virtually pleaded with most of them.
I was distraught. Fortunately the story has a happy ending. For the minute I stepped foot onto America’s most popular footpath, it became clear that the Appalachian Trail Community runs wide and deep. Approximately 3,000,000 hikers per year hike some part of it each year. Amongst that three million are approximately 2,000 thru-hikers. These are people attempting to hike the entire 2,181 mile trail from Georgia to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine in one hiking season. Thru-hikers usually begin their hikes in late March or early April. Anybody beginning in that time frame is virtually assured of being in the midst of a ‘bubble’ of hikers for the entire fourteen states.
It’s easy to find out how to start off on the trek along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are lots of inspiring pictures showing happy pilgrims making those final steps toward the Cathedral’s double stairway at the end of their pilgrimage. What happens between those two milestones? I’d like to tell you how to handle that intermediary period, the days when you are working toward your physical, mental, and spiritual goals.
It was where I was heading, as was everyone else on this pilgrimage across northern Spain. Each city was different, Leon is a pleasure, Burgos has a dreadful 9km walk through the industrial part of the city. Pamplona was too early to take much notice of, I was only walking a few days and my legs were sore, my feet had blisters, and my rucksack was far too heavy. Before leaving Pamplona I made sure my backpack was lighter.
Since the Middle Ages, the roads that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain have sustained their popularity.
I undertook this journey in July 2015 setting out from St Jean Pied du Port in France. After four weeks, I arrived into Santiago to a glorious fanfare.
Santiago is a city steeped in history and beauty. The buzz here is infectious. Pilgrims are in a high state of elation having completed their Camino. It is easy to lose oneself here for a few days among the meandering old streets, outdoor restaurants and simply soaking in the atmosphere of this beautiful city.
It is easy to lose oneself in Santiago for a few days among the meandering old streets, outdoor restaurants and simply soaking in the atmosphere of this beautiful city.
Every person walking the Caminos has a different story. When walking it is enchanting to listen to the tangled, exciting or boring stories of other people. In fact, there is no usual story. Equally interesting it is to have a look at the Camino de Santiago statistics.
Who is actually walking the route? Has it changed over the years? Why are people walking?
Statistics used are from the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago. It doesn’t include people who did not register and people who did not collect the Compostela after arriving in Santiago de Compostela.
The first thing that comes to mind when I ask myself what is a pilgrim is Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s partying crowd, or of Homer in the Odyssey.
I associate the words pilgrim and pilgrimages as belonging to a bygone era.
Going on a pilgrimage in the middle ages was often the only form of travel that was acceptable, therefore, those seeking adventure could legitimately travel across countries.
This section wasn’t strictly the Compostela/ Camino. One of our hosts who only allowed you to stay if you carried your pack the whole way told us it would be fine to do this by train, but while we intended to take it a bit easier we walked.
The weather was extraordinary. An early summer had hit the region. No snow and brilliant blue skies and 28 C (75 F). In Biddarray on the first night, we went to Hotel Ostape (amazing. We did take the golf cart down the drive) and I even went swimming. Lush green pasture, rugged mountains and people that seemed to think we should speak Basque. Certainly, if you strayed a meter over the border they no longer spoke French and we hadn’t got our Spanish phrase book yet.
It seemed we were destined to walk the Camino. Well, in retrospect. I had six months long service leave and we had a house in France. Okay we could have stayed and enjoyed the local food, wine and terroire but from the first time we saw the scallop shell on a lamp post in Tramayes, which our house is on the outskirts of, we were hooked. Enough to do a one day course back home that told us the dos and don’ts of the Camino, to buy some books and watch a video or two.
I was three weeks into my Camino from Le Puy when I first considered giving up. On a cobbled road outside an organic snack shop in rural France, I pulled out a rickety iron chair set out for patrons and started taking off my shoes. Slowly, slowly, using both hands, I lifted them off my feet and peeled off my socks. I hadn’t fully understood the severity of my predicament until my feet were out of my shoes, which were far too tight and damp.
On July 8th of this year, I set out from St Jean Pied du Port to walk the infamous Camino Frances. I had a return ticket booked for five weeks later and I dreamed of finishing my walk at the Atlantic Ocean in Finisterre. As I packed my bag before my departure I was excited for the unknown. I was excited for the physical and mental challenges that lay ahead of me.
To be honest, I really did not know what to expect. Friends, colleagues and different internet blogs gave me an insight into what they experienced but for me I set off on a very wet and cloudy day across the Pyrenees not knowing what The Way would bring.
In May and June, (2012), I walked along with my husband, the Camino de Santiago as a vegan as well as sugar and gluten free. I spent a good amount of time before leaving on the internet looking for information about being vegan on the Camino…but to no avail. So, I decided to keep notes of what I ate during our trip to help others with this challenge. Because I have a minor problem with wheat and other gluten products, I was also very conscious of the details of how I remained this way for 99% of my Camino. I have been a vegan for about 15 years.
Many are aware that the Camino de Santiago is an ancient Christian pilgrims route with Santiago de Compostela as its final destination. What most folk don’t realise until they’ve been and walked the Way, is that it’s only one of many pilgrimage route to Santiago.
Each Camino de Santiago has its own name; thus the most popular route which enters from the SW of France is known as the Camino Francès.
We have come to the end of the world, my shadow, my backpack, my blisters and I.
For here at Cape Finisterre, this wind-whipped westernmost spit of Spain, European travellers once came timidly to stand at the end of all known lands and gaze at a horizon that held behind it horrors and mysteries beyond imagining. Here, in the Middle Ages, before the great Discoverers set sail into the unknown, their world ended.
I met Mathias a day or so before Pamplona. He looked very strange with his dreadlocks, tiny rucksack and guitar. He almost had the homeless look about him, but he was young, perhaps mid-twenties.
We talked and I found out he was German, but had not lived there for several years. He had left, moving to Spain to work in a tourist resort, something that he ended up hating. So he became a hermit – that was the short story that I got, I am sure there was more.
This is the view that most pilgrims first get of St Jean Pied de Port as they get off the train. I remember it quite clearly, I was wondering what was ahead of me. I had not read much about the Camino before heading off there for a month, my flat mate and college friend had been my sole source of information.
“You want to be as entrepreneurial as possible,” I advise aspiring pilgrims. And I often get quizzical looks with this advice. Entrepreneurial? What in the world is he talking about?
Let me say right away that this has absolutely nothing to do with anything so crass as actual pursuit of money (Given that I’m American, I thought that was a necessary disclosure!). No, what I’m referring to is a pilgrim’s actual mindset. Because the question I receive time and again is, ‘Who do you decide to hike with’? And for those of you who have read my Camino narrative, The Best Way, you are aware that I consider the astoundingly diverse cast of characters that populate the Camino de Santiago–especially the Camino Frances–to be the greatest part of the entire Camino experience.