We trained for months to walk the trail
Got all the guide books in the mail
We knew that we would never fail
el Camino de Santiago.
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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
This is the third post of three and it cover the last section of the French Way, the first is Walking the Camino Frances, and the second is the middle part of the Camino Frances. These are the last of the email compilations from Douglas and Christine Ball’s journey on the Camino Frances during 2015. The text below cover the last section of about 155 miles.
In 2015, two pilgrims to undertake the Camino Frances walk were Douglas and Christine Ball, from Gateshead in the north east of England. Here is their personal story of ‘Walking the Camino’. (I have split this into three parts as it amounts to 20,000 words and would make for a very slow loading and long page). The next two post are the middle section of the Camino Frances and last part, the last section on the Camino Frances.
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.
It is not often that I find myself being judgmental of an author while reading his or her book, but with Kurt I was. We are of similar ages, backgrounds, both of us had addiction issues and both of us left those behind many years ago – even though they are still something that defines us. So, sorry Kurt, although I enjoyed reading the book, initially I was not going to write anything about it. However, after my other half read the book I asked her what she thought and she really liked it. So here I am getting over myself.
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.
Brittany formed an important stage on the journey to Compostela for medieval pilgrims travelling from Ireland and southern England or even further afield. The main points of entry were Le Conquet on the Atlantic coast in the west, and on the Channel coast, St-Pol-de-Léon and Locquirec in Finistere, Paimpol in Côtes d’Armor and Mont St-Michel, which is now in Normandy but was once within the Breton boundary before the course of the river Couesnon changed.
In 2010 a new Camino to Santiago has been restored and marked with 1000 stickers in Italy by the small association “Amici del cammino di Santiago da Venezia”. The idea was to give the same spirit as on the camino de Santiago .
The new pilgrimage route is a connection into old pilgrimage routes in the perspective of walking about 2500 km… a very long and lonely distance to Santiago.
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.
For the last few years work has been so busy that I dare not leave for the amount of time that I would want. One of the problems of working for yourself. Another problem of being self employed is not taking time off when it is needed, thinking that everything will fall apart if I am not watching it – all the time. This nonsense thinking ended with me completely exhausted at the end of last year and wondering if this is the type of life that I really want. The answer to that question is fairly obvious.
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.
A pilgrim’s passport is the identification that is used along the various Caminos to prove that you are a pilgrim and that you have walked and stayed in the places along the way. It is just a simple card with enough space to collect stamps from various hostels and albergues. There are only a few places that can issue a pilgrims passport that will be accepted for the Compostela. Most home Confraternities can issue them, apart from that they must be the official one issued by the Cathedral in Santiago, these can be picked up at most hostels along the way.
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.
Dara Haskins was my friend. He died, on the 18th Aug 2005 aged just 30, while I was walking the Camino in 2005. It was due to him that I found out about the Camino. He used to go on about this bloody walk in northern Spain. To me it did not sound like fun, but hell. The idea of walking every day for weeks, no room to myself, sharing in hostels with many others – not a way I thought to spend a precious summer. Eventually he convinced me. I had many misgivings about the whole idea, but I set off to start from St Jean in southern France. My life has changed as the result of this and, I suppose therefore, because of Dara. It does sound strong to say life changing, but for a cynic like me it has been.
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.