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.
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.
3. 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?
5. 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.
8. 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?