My experience doing St James' Way/Camino de Santiago
I really wanted to share this post long time ago, but it took me some time to process what this experience meant to me. It has been almost a month of digging deep into thoughts, meeting wonderful people and getting to try great cuisine from different parts of Spain.
So here it goes, this is my story. If you were thinking about walking St James' way, this is your sign to do it!
My experience in the Camino de Santiago
So, where to begin?
I found out about Camino de Santiago long time ago, in the most random way. I was watching some cooking shows with my mum, and there was this specific show in which a guy was "walking" the way (to be honest, he looked good rested and very, very clean... there was no way he was doing it properly, lol), meeting locals and trying typical food and dishes from every region of Spain. Cool, huh? That's what I thought, it'd be pretty cool to get to know the country just by walking it from one side to the other... little did I know that a couple of years after, I would be doing it.
There are so, so, so many ways in which you can do the Camino de Santiago. As we say between pilgrims, "you do your own Camino". There are several paths for you to follow, but you can start from wherever you want and do it as you feel, whether you're staying in albergues, in hotels, you have everything planned beforehand or you just show up, walk and make it simple.
I chose to just go with the flow: I just showed up every single day to walk certain amount of kilometres and plan nothing ahead. Nothing. It was a hell of an experience, I changed my mind on so many things after being able to live such powerful experience.
My starting point was Pamplona, in the primitive way. From there to Santiago de Compostela, I had to go through 780km... that's quite a bit of walking, right? Hahaha. Every single day, I would walk from 20 to 30km, I even got to do 40km on two different stages. What does that mean? Walking for hours, and hours and hours and hours.
Landscapes are out of this world, I honestly wasn't expecting to see such wonderful meadows, peaceful lands and quiet surroundings. As you start walking very early in the morning, every single day you're able to see a sunrise as beautiful as this one:
Do you start walking early? Heck yeah. Hahah.
Routine in the Camino is simple, very simple. I used to wake up at 5am, get everything ready quickly and in silence, so as not to wake anyone up... and then, you start with the first km of the day. After two hours of walking, I would make a stop to get some breakfast and then, some more walking. By midday, I would already get to the village or city I was going to spend the night in... and then it's rest time. You eat a tasty lunch, you take a shower and wash your clothes for the day, then it's siesta time. Of course, you're in Spain, you'll need your siesta! After that power nap, you socialize a bit with your fellow pilgrims, wondering how they are doing, some early dinner and by 9pm you're good to go. Time to sleep.
Simple, right? Yet, it's so enjoyable. It's amazing how you get completelly used to walking at least five to six hours per day... and your body is completelly fine with it.
But wait, are you supposed to carry your backpack with you!?
Of course, yes! There are plenty of people that pay to get it transported to their next destionation... but most of us, deal with it as our best friend during our Camino.
What's really important if you're carrying your backpack is that you can't pack unnecesary things. I have seen people suffer from the very first day because of how much their backpacks weighted. It should not be heavier than a 10% of your body weight.
So, what did I carry? Sleeping bag, underware for three days, three shirts, two pants, three pair of socks (plot twist: I ended up losing two of them and had to stick with the only pair I had left! Hahah), shampoo and conditioner, rain covertor, a lightweight jacket... and that was it. That was all I had with me for an entire month.
Guess what: when I was with my suitcase once the Camino was over and I was back in Madrid (I was still travelling at that time), I couldn't believe the huge amount of clothes that I had. I was overwhelmed by the amount of clothes that I didn't need anymore. I loved being able to realize that, no more unnecesary shopping for me.
You're all friends when it comes to pilgrims
To be honest, this was by far my favourite part from the Camino. Never had I seen such humble, wholehearted and warm people as I did during my Camino time.
There were plenty of people that started walking with friends or family, I did it completelly on my own and I never felt alone. Never.
I have seen moments and situations in which a pilgrim was having a bad time or suffering due to something and another pilgrim, out of the blue and perhaps someone that you had never seen before, was there offering a helping hand.
Never had I seen such friendly and amazing people. I've met guys from all over the world, sharing their stories and being completelly honest about their expectations and desires about the Camino. None of them had malice in them, we were all there to help each other and share this amazing experience.
I was lucky enough to make friends from the city I was about to move in, Madrid. I am incredibly happy to have met them! But as well as that, now I do have plenty of friends from UK, Italy, Poland and Spain!
Beautiful people giving their best every single time, even when they were tired, even if it was raining dogs and cats... that was something I really value, the will to be better day by day.
There were people that were just like me, doing it for the sake of hikking and living a different experience. But there were some stories that were incredibly moving, for instance, my friend Pierre's story.
Pierre lives in Lille, next to Belgium's border. His father was too a pilgrim, so his family was used to seeing him grab his heavy backpack, "disappear" for a couple of months and then, see him return happier than before. During a couple of years in which Pierre's father became incredibly ill, he and his sister found his father's backpack with the typical St James' oyster (or vieira) and he starting looking for information about what that was.
After certain time, his father passed away and Pierre, from that moment and on, has been doing the Camino at least once a year. He quit his corporate job and became a writer, sharing his experience through words and honoring his father's memory.
I could not read Pierre's books, as they were written in french, but one afternoon he read for me a couple of chapters and poetries he had made... and I still get shivers when I remember how moving that was.
But I also had some doggy friends! This is Laika, she was doing the Camino as well as his owner... and it was so wonderful to see her run in the meadows!
Oh, the different villages!
As well as the beautiful shared moments and wonderful landscapes, what was really interesting to me was to be able to see and enjoy the different architecture from every single village that we visited.
From small places with just a bunch of houses to very large cities, there was always something interesting to see.
The most emotional moment
To talk about this, I will share this picture:
This is Cruz de Ferro, looks simple 'cause it is. But I still have no words to explain how moving and emotional all this was. This is the highest point of the Camino, and there you can find a very tall pole with an iron cross on top. Behind it, you have plenty of rocks at the base of it.
There, people leave a picture of a late loved one and mourn for their loss. They do it to honour them and to give their Camino a different meaning too, we were all there to heal.
It was really early in the morning when I got there, there was barely any sunlight as you can see. I stopped there, I didn't know about this landmark so I was pretty shocked when I arrived there. I stood on top of the rocks, looked at the iron cross for a bit and saw all the people near me that were crying and leaving pictures of their loved ones.
I couldn't move, even though I was starting to get really cold.
There was a guy next to me that had been walking a couple of meters behind for the past hour. I saw him take a small picture out of his backpack and placing it near the pole. He looked sad, his eyes were suddenly drowned in tears and all his pain consumed him for a bit.
I helped him grab his backpack and take a sit next to the iron, he couldn't utter a word or stop crying. But we were there for him, another woman came to show him support. I stood there for a bit and kept walking.
It took me several minutes to understand what I had seen. People were there, sore and tired after walking so much, and yet all they could think of was the people that were no longer in this physical layer. I know it's a cliche thing to say that material things are unworthy, but this time I really saw and felt it. In the most extreme experience, in which you're hungry, tired, cold and livign with the basics, all you still care about is your loved ones. I believe I understood it like no other time, this time with no words, but with feelings instead.
I walked for a couple more meters and I started crying. I just couldn't stop.
The way to Santiago de Compostela
Depending on where you start, the way is a long, long way. There were many people that only did the last 100km, but in my honest opinion, it's just worthless.
Never in my life had I had the chance to spend so much time thinking, and thinking, and thinking. I got through some rough stuff but there was so much peace and space for you to be completelly honest with yourself and finally be able to listen what you really want with no intereference in between.
I loved those moments of pure solitude and loneliness. It was just me, being completely myself and a wonderful landscape to enjoy. Crystal clear thoughts while walking, as you feel your heart beating to the sound of freedom, true freedom.
You were not alone, though. You always had this wonderful signs that are part of the experience, always showing that you were closer and closer to your goal. There were plenty of this milestones, and believe me I do have a million pictures of them lol.
As days went by, the countdown was quickly ending.
Till, guess what? This showed up:
Only 33km left to get to Santiago de Compostela. The final destination was almost there.
Many, many people walking those last kilometres, so there was no place for introspection... but there it was, the Cathedral was waiting for us.
My friend Silvia was waiting for me on that last day and we walked the final metres together. It's fun how I had met her just two weeks before and I felt like I knew her for quite some time. She had been suffering from very painful blisters, but still was strong enough to keep going every single day. You go, girl!
And there it was, the Cathedral.
That final day was fantastic, the weather clearly wasn't. Haha. Walking from early, she was there waiting for me, we hugged and cried for a bit. We had made it. All that was left to do was enjoy, celebrate and visit the final city of our destionation.