My wife, Sandy, and I walked the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in 2016 at the end of winter.
I retired on the 1st of September 2008 and I wanted to celebrate my new life and new freedom. The Camino de Santiago was the challenge and adventure I needed. So in late September, like children going on a school tour, myself and my fellow retiree Pat McEvoy arrived in Dublin Airport with our rucksacks packed. We flew to Biarritz and two hours later were in the beautiful village of St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. Our adventure had begun.
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.
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.
“But I don’t think I can walk that far.”
“You can,” I protest. “The Camino is completely different from the Appalachian Trail.”
This is a sample conversation that I have had with countless potential pilgrims. Believe it or not, some of these conversations have been fruitful (resulting in the person deciding to attempt the popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Europe).
To be honest, I wanted to get your attention with the title of this blog post. I guess it worked if you are reading this now 🙂
Great. Now that we are here I would like to clear something up which is of high importance to me.
The word “mistake” in the blog title is not really right. I rather try to see things as experiences and experiments instead of mistakes. This gives more space and helps us to go out and try more things because we are not so afraid of failure.
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.
One of the most common questions I am asked – is it safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone? This became a question being asked more again recently when someone went missing on the Camino. However my opinion remains unchanged – yes, it is safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone. I would think it safer than most local walking routes in most countries; safer than walking home from Dublin or any large city on a Friday or Saturday night.
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.
The tapas was excellent – so good that a restauranteur from a smart part of Bilbao was raving as much as I was as we nibbled plate after plate. I ought to know. I had tried most of the dishes which kept being passed through the hatch every few minutes. The chef behind loved playing with vegetable combinations. One minute it would be her inventive take on the classic tomato spread over toast that had me snapping up several plates and had them all laughing behind the bar; the next it’d be a superb aubergine concoction I would fail miserably to describe in words.
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.
If you can afford and plan to use hotel accommodation, restaurant meals, and luggage carried then this route report is not for you. In our five Caminos between 2006 and 2015, we stayed in albergues, cooked our own or shared meals and carried our own backpacks. Our last Camino we were 72 and 77 years old and it took us 44 days of walking compared with between 30 and 33 days earlier.
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.
For most people walking the Camino de Santiago means a month walking across northern Spain covering about 800 km, (500 miles). So it is not surprising that most of us plan on a few rest days along the Camino.
Below are some of the towns and villages that I suggest are good places to stop for a day and be a tourist instead of a pilgrim.
The Camino to Santiago might be a spiritual journey, but it’s not exempt from common earthly troubles like bed bugs. Who would have thought that such little creatures could be such a huge pain in the neck? In the past decade, bed bugs have infested some albergues along the Camino causing trouble not only to pilgrims but also hospitaleros.
Although bed bugs on the Camino de Santiago are inconvenient, the problem is being handled and should not be a reason to give this one-of-a-kind journey. In fact, bed bugs are not exclusive to the Camino or the cheap albergues. You can equally come across them in a five-star hotel. Their widespread reign was not brought about by uncleanliness as much as by the massive increase in international travel.
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.