After a couple Camino’s and seeing dozens of pilgrims having a hard time with the Camino Blues, I think it is worth a writing an article about. I am certainly no professional, but someone who has experienced the transition back to “The Real World” after the Camino twice.
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 have written before about walking the Camino de Santiago alone, but I didn’t specifically address the topic of being a woman and walking alone. This topic has become news after an American woman, Denise Thiem, went missing in April of 2015. She apparently left Astorga and was never seen again. There are no actual sightings of her having left Astorga, and I truly hope that she turns up alive and well at some point.
There are many hundreds of Camino blogs started every year as pilgrims keep a diary of their planning, travel, and journey. Most of these are entertaining; they are written for friends and family to read. These are not on the list below. How much did things cost, what was the best way to get somewhere, links to travel planning websites, what was open, what was changed compared to the guidebook – detail helps others that are going to walk the route.
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.
The hotel attendant walked me down a very long, wide, immense stone hallway and showed me to my room. It was just what I needed! A small, cell-like room with a small bed, nightstand with no lamp, simple desk with a simple chair, high ceilings and a huge window on one of the stone walls. The bathroom had an old fashioned toilet with the water tank hanging from the ceiling with a chain to pull for flushing. The door was old and worn and shower curtain was flimsy, but I was grateful to have my own room and I was glad to have a refuge away from the teeming crowds on the streets outside.
When someone says, “Spain”, the typical images that comes to mind for a lot of people is of sun, beaches and bullfighting. The more adventurous, of course, know that Spain has so much more to offer. Especially in terms of mountains, countryside in general and culturally. The architecture, history, food and wine of Spain are fabulous. And it is nearly always possible to eat local recipes and wine which is great.
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.
This is one of the best Camino videos I have seen, although I have not cycled the Camino de Santiago I would love to and as life has become busier it seems like this mode of travel will be used on my next Camino. The problem I have is that I am not adept at changing tires or fixing punctures – my cycling here in Ireland is easy and not hard uphill or off road – the way I would prefer for the Camino.
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.
The Camino Aragon camino starts in Somport and joins the main French route at Puente la Reina. I walked it in 2004 after I had walked the main French route, it was quiet and deserted, there was not many hostels but it was great; also it had a completely different feels to it compared to the Camino Frances.
Last night I got a mail from Jim at Wandering the World. He has just arrived in Santiago and is heading back to Puenta la Raina to walk this route and asked for a list of Refugeos – Albergues. I put it together, it could be out of date as it is three years since I walked this part. I thought it might be an idea to share this.
Friday 23rd of July 2004 I caught a plane to Paris from Dublin. It was summer, I was happy as I had just finished my first year of university. I was a mature student and loved the opportunity I had to study full time, something I had avoided when I was younger. I was setting out to walk along a route that I have never heard of till earlier that year. One of my flat mates, fellow students, and friend, went on and on about this trip he had done a couple of times. Once he had even walked from Amsterdam to Santiago, quite something.
Today one year ago I was in El Acebo on the Camino Frances. I had had enough of sharing in a pilgrims hostel and had decided on a room to my self, (€20).
I had only walked 17km from Rabanal, I was tired and very sore. I had been taken from an albergue a few days before in an ambulance to hospital to discover that I had two hernias, one on each side. But I had decided to finish and I was taking some pain killers to keep me going. A bit mad when I look back at it.