Top Ten Things About Camino de Santiago

I was asked recently what would be my top ten things about the Camino de Santiago – so here it is.

1. The people, the other pilgrims. The other pilgrims I met is my number one on the Camino, all Camino routes. I feel I was blessed. I don’t like crowds, however, I do in general like talking, and listening to other people. I, being an English speaker, was amazed at the amount of people that spoke English when it was their second and third language – I felt quite ignorant as the result of this – I can get a coffee in a few languages – but cannot communicate in any bar English. It was the people that made my Camino – people from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. I think I could write many stories about the people, they are what sticks in my head, the places I have to think about a bit more.

meseta

2. The Meseta – this long area is so unlike any other that I have walked. It is quiet, almost eerie sometimes; it has huge open expansive views away to the mountains on the right, as you walk. There was a feeling of going back to another time. Oddly enough many people decide against walking the Meseta and get the bus or train to the other side, really it is not boring.

Granon3. Granon is a tiny little village on the Meseta. Pilgrims sleep on the floor in the bell tower and have a communal dinner together – people again I suppose. I have stayed here twice the first time I was happy and felt free – the second I was in the midst of sorrow; my friend had just died, and here I spoke to someone about it and I spent the afternoon in the church crying. Then later I saw some things that made me think about the cycle of life – I began to think of life rather than death and my friend’s life, how hard he had tried to overcome certain problems and did his best to live a normal life – I then felt grateful for my own life. Image courtesy of Catching Trade Winds

4. Walking into Santiago. It took me by surprise. There is a small bridge with a sign saying – Santiago. That is it, nothing else, no “Welcome to the thousands of pilgrims that walk here every year.” I did not see the sign way in the distance and walk towards it seeing the end in sight – it was the first place that had walked towards me, most of the rest had walked away from me and had taken longer to get to than I had ever thought it would. I was here, wow. It is still a few km’s into the city – but I was there – my god what do I do now – life was simple during the last four weeks (not quite true either, but that was the feeling), what now?

leon-cathedral5. Leon and its Cathedral. Leon is a beautiful city, there is a square in front of the Cathedral; the square appears smaller by the dominance of the Cathedral, a must see. Both times that I stayed overnight here I slept in the same hostel and ate in the same pizza place at night for dinner – with different people though.

6. Santiago Cathedral. I cried again. We were finished, the contrasts of the ragged pilgrims and the tourists were interesting. Pilgrims looked fit and healthy, hardened by walking for a few weeks, clothes generally unkempt by too much use, hand washing, and drying in an unforgiving Spanish sun. Whereas the tourists were squeaky clean – new and clean clothes, jewelry; the looks on the faces were different, I don’t know what I mean by this and will have to come back to it.

7. Finisterre. The end of the world, for pilgrims of old. Finisterre is an isolated village kept alive mainly by pilgrims visiting there at the end of the Camino. It is said that you should do three things here. Wash in the sea, I did, it is not warm. Burn something at the lighthouse that you want to leave behind there are many walking shoes and boots here – for others it is a piece of paper with something written on it, there are places to burn things. The last is watch the sunset. I watched the sunset twice and was so enthralled that I did not take photos of it – I have relied on others for those, (update: I have been back and took photos the last time I was there). Both times I was here I watched the sunset. Until the sun begins to go down there is the noise of pilgrims talking with each other, people eating food that they brought up here with them, then slowly silence fell, all became quiet and the sun fell passed the horizon.

Finisterre

cruz-ferro8. Roncesvalles amazed me. This cannot even be described as a village; it is a monastery at the edge of the Pyrenees, on the Spanish side. The Albergue here contains more than 100 beds in one large hall, (this has been changed into smaller areas). This was my first experience of an Albergue, so many people together in the one room to sleep – hell I thought. However, as on most nights, my body was tired from walking and therefore finding sleep was not a problem. The second time I stayed here I slept in the overflow tents, and walked out of Roncesvalles with about 300 other pilgrims – this was August and the start of the Spanish holidays – a time to be avoided for the likes of me that does not like crowds too much – the crowds dispersed quickly though.

9. The cross of St James sits atop a hill a few days after Leon, (the Iron Cross or better known as Cruz Ferro). Why some places in the world should feel more spiritual than others puzzles me, this is one of those places. The cross is stuffed with many notes that pilgrims leave. I left a note, not a request, a question. I found an answer, later.

10. Walking through the eucalyptus forests in Galicia. Again for me quietness and peace, and an incredible smell. Everyone has a different ten things, I hope this helps you think about your ten, not just on the Camino – but in life – what really matter?

Have you read lessons learned on the Camino and how the Camino changed my life, both are in a similar vein to the above.

Buen Camino

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9 Comments

  1. Kate on June 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Just lovely to read this. I have not been on The Camino yet – slowly planning and saving. You stories draw me in and give me inspiration.

  2. Donna on June 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for naming your 10 things, I think many of those are mine also. #1. The people I met were amazing and wonderful. An inspiration to me when I was tired or grouchy; and what a joy to talk to. #2 Cruz Ferro was uplifting. Walking thru the pine forest all morning, round a curve and there it was, put the biggest smile on my face. #3 Celebrating my 52nd birthday with people from 6 different countries. (I received a wood clothespin w/yellow arrow glued on. Best. gift. ever. I still have it.) #4 Starting off in the dark, then as the sun rises behind me I would stop, turn around, and be amazed at all the beauty I couldn’t see in the dark. So many more things I can’t name at the moment. But yes, reaching Santiago was both exhilarating and sad, I was left with “now what?” I felt lost for weeks after returning home.

  3. Nancy on June 19, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    You capture it beautifully.

  4. JoEllen on July 21, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    How can you not mention O’cebreiro?! My personal favorite day on the Camino is the walk up to O’cebreiro and then standing by the cross on top of the hill and looking at the view all the way around. Also – if you have walked the Camino in May, the field of poppies and if you have walked in early October the fields of ripe grapes.

    I need to go back. Your posts are making me long for the trail.

  5. Rebecca Kennedy on June 11, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Great article thank you. Standing here, in Brisbane waiting for my train home after a day in the office, your words triggered wonderful memories from my walk in 2015. I can back there in my mind in an instant, forming unexpected friendships, walking through the meseta, sleeping in that Albergue in Granon, watching the sun go down at the end of the world. Ahhhh special happy memories. Thank you.

  6. Ann-Elizabeth Barnes on June 11, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    Besides all of the above, which I also experienced! I walked the Camino with such gratitude in my heart for the built beauty that surrounded us most of the time. The stone villages were so stunningly beautiful. The attention to accurate restoration of each stone house in the many previously abandoned villages made my heart soar. The scenery was, of course, astoundingly beautiful. I was unprepared for that. No one had mentioned that aspect much. I was grateful for the fact that the Spanish government has made walking the Camino so easy on us, the pilgrims. We walk from village to village and are able to have enough food to eat, water to drink (not to mention the cafe con leche), a bed to sleep in. I always found a bed. And I walked all of April and half of May. The popularity of the Camino has made this economic revival possible but also the Spaniards along the Way are kind and welcoming and solicitous (mostly ;-)). It was the most challenging thing I have ever done and also the most memorable. I’ve been back a month and still think about it almost all the time.

  7. Bill on June 11, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    I agree, I really enjoyed my over night in O’cebreiro and I am going back next year.

  8. Phil on June 12, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Sorry to disagree but the Cruz Ferro, for me, was a massive disappointment. Expectations are everything, I suppose, and I did not expect to find that it was next to a car park (never shown in photos) and, when I was there, inundated with ‘day-trippers’ piling out of buses. For those of us who had walked there, possibly seeking something spiritual, or at the very least something special to the Camino (I had carried three stones from 3 separate places!), it was a great shame (again, in my humble opinion) that for almost everyone else there at that time it was no more than a photo opportunity and back onto the bus! I was underwhelmed, to say the least.
    I thank you for your excellent website and service to the Camino. I plan to walk it again.

  9. Karen Lovise on July 5, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I walked the camino last year. And ever since I have been thinking about going back. I think I have a top 100-list for the camino. The list could get on and on: Walking with God, meeting new people, walking in foggy woods, eating peas from a farm, eating after a long day, drinking wine with my hippie-swedish friend, running up O’Cebreiro in thunder and rain, looking for yellow arrows (and finding them), finding silence inside a church, sitting down and taking of shoes after a long day, finding a albergue with lovely hosts, sunsets, walking-sticks, sleeping after walking, walking alone, and walking with friends without talking…

    One of my best memories is from day 1. Walking up the Pyrenees, and having nothing else but a backpack, my shoes and silence. I started to cry all of a sudden, because I realised the camino was giving me freedom. I could choose to be myself, to live my life and to follow my own needs. For many years ago I started a marathon. Day in and out I was mentally running, and now I wanted to finish it and get a fresh start. I wanted to stop running. I wanted to take life back. And that was exactly what I did:)

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