I first walked the Camino de Santiago in 2004 on the Camino Frances route.
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 number 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.
People who’ve already walked the Camino de Santiago know that there’s one thing that should absolutely not be missed — the Cruz de Ferro. Also known as the Iron Cross, it is set on a gently sloping hill that also happens to be the highest point of the French Way.
The views offered from up top are incredible indeed, and the legends behind it are enough to spark the imagination of any history buff who’s looking for their next adventure. But most of all, the respectful peace of this spot is spiritually uplifting even for the non-religious, and travelers who long to see something unique that reflects much of the Camino spirit should definitely make a stop here.
Love was the last thing I expected to find on the Camino de Santiago. But I did and twelve years later our son is nearly three years old. Therefore I thought this would be a good time for this post.
I set out expecting a journey with few people, and I expected those few to be a bit odd, or older religious types – well it was a pilgrimage, not your usual holiday. Expectations are interesting phenomena, I don’t know about you, but my expectations of future events are usually completely wrong.
I decided to go ahead and walk the Camino de Santiago for many reasons, not for a particular one. Like in life you do things not for one single reason, all the facts are interconnected, you can’t divide them and put them under the microscope for better understanding. They are all part of one and unique and inexplicable system of energies that we sometimes think we have under control, but in reality, they control us.
I have been thinking, dreaming, and planning for this for nearly 20 years. I first read about the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela in a 14th century biography, The Book of Margery Kempe. Margery, a quirky English mystic, took several pilgrimages over the years, including Rome, and Jerusalem. The medieval and ancient concept of pilgrimage fascinated me.
Have you thought about it?
I know there are many pilgrims or future pilgrims out there that have had this idea.
Is it possible?
Is it easy?
I’ve done it and I want to share my experience with you. All the in’s and out’s. All the up’s and down’s. All the pro’s and con’s. And my strategy to raise money also. I hope this will help those who are thinking about walking the Camino for charity, because I know there are a lot of you out there, and I know that it is worth it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I walked into Santiago de Compostela, the same way that thousands of pilgrims have done before me. The biggest surprise was being there so quickly on the day I arrived. We walked through Monte del Gozo, only stopping for lunch, and continued down into the city. We had made plans to meet with another pilgrim and they had sent us a text message telling us where they were staying.
The four of us (Bob, Rowena, Chard and me) have now completed more than half our tour of duty here in Rabanal. We are scheduled for departure one week from today and are all a bit nostalgic about it. We agree that the experience has been good for each of us and take great pleasure from the fact that the vast majority (maybe all) of the pilgrims passing through our doors have left us with smiles on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
I wonder if there if something that for many of us we do not get from our daily life. I have met and talked to many people who have walked the Camino Frances more than once. Walking the Camino Frances is a fairly big commitment in the way of time and money.
I got thinking on this yesterday while out hill walking in the Wicklow Hills. I notice a Santiago de Compostela badge attached to one of the walkers back packs. I asked, as I have a tendency to do.
The first time I walked the Camino I had no idea about foot care, I had never walked for more than a few days before and that had been when I was much younger. I walked a couple of long walks in my boots before heading off on the Camino and I got some blisters on the heals of both feet, they healed and left some hard skin around the heels, but I never though that would cause me a problem – it did – and a very bad one.