They say everyone walks the Camino De Santiago in Spain for their own reasons. A year after the trip I still search for those reasons for walking and am still looking forward to returning to do the Camino again.
Travelling to Santiago De Compostella is easy enough: just takes a little bit of time. Myself and my friend Chris flew from Belfast International to Barcelona. Then got a flight from Barcelona to Santiago De Compostella.
We arrived in Santiago and stayed overnight. If anyone’s thinking of doing a week or so of a trip I’d maybe recommend the town of Sarria to start with. We got a bus from Santiago to Saria (approx 120km from Santiago). Buses are easy enough to work out from the main bus station and in the region the locals are quite accomodating if you don’t speak much Spanish. They’ll often speak english to you or play a little sign language until they get the gist of what you’re after. I found if you know a few words of Spanish and use them they’re very friendly. Simple things like Hello and Thank You. I did note however if you speak English to them LOUDLY AND SLOWLY LIKE THEY”RE STUPID they’re less helpful
To qualify for the certificate at the end of the Camino you must walk the last 100km of the trail or bike the last 200km. Saria is therefore the natural starting point for Pilgrims who are limited for time. The whole trail actually starts in the town of St. Jean in the South of France and goes over the Pyrenneese Mountains into Spain. This is something I definately want to go back and do sometime.
Arriving in Sarria we found the start of the trail and began to walk. The Camino at this point is well enough sign posted. There are little Yellow arrows at crossroads and the like to constantly keep you right. Just be mindful to keep an eye out for them at cross-roads if you’re walking in the dark.
We began walking at lunchtime on the first day and found quite quickly that walking under the Spanish Sun at midday was a mistake. Pilgrims tend to get into the habit of getting up quite early, 6-7am is quite common and walking under the cool conditions of the morning. Maybe stopping in the early afternoon and finding a place to stay for the night. This was the strategy we adopted however it didn’t always work out. Sometimes you’d arrive at a hostel and it’d be full meaning you had to walk to the next one.
Along the route there are lots and lots of Auberies (Youth Hostels). These are very cheap places to stay providing very basic accomodation: commonly a large dorm with bunk beds. They’re usually between 5-10 Euro a night. Also these places usually have a Pilgrim’s Menu: a three course dinner with wine, bread etc for around 8-10 Euro. One of the things that struck me on the Camino was how cheaply a person can do it. Gallacia, the region of Spain, is incedibly cheap and more so on the Camino. I was quite surprsied when in one Hostel someone ordered a bottle of the local wine and it was 1Euro 50 cent. About £1.10 or thereabouts!
And so this is the routine on the Camino: up early, walking for a number of hours, finding somewhere to stay, something to eat, showering, washing clothes, chatting to other pilgrims, sleeping… and so the same the next day. Because there are no external demands on your time it often feels like a much longer time. I was only there for a week and it felt, in a good way, like a month.
Chris and I would walk along, chat away, sometimes just lost ourselves in our thoughts as the miles went buy: sometimes chatted to other pilgrims. I must admit that I went with very little religious/ spiritual intention. The Camino is only as much of a religious or spiritual experience as you want it to be. I didn’t find anyone was weidly evangelical or anything. Most pilgrims were quite discerning and only enguaged in conversation of a spiritual nature in as much as people invited it. I certainly didn’t find anyone forcing religion down anyone’s throat.
Despite this I was deeply moved by the Camino experience. The process of introspection and quiet refelction away from all the noise and hustle of the world is very powerful: regardless if a person has alot of relgious ideas or none. The simplicity and stillness of the Camino forces people to examine those places we maybe hide under the hustle and noise of life. Most of all I find the Camino is what people bring to it: it serves as a kind of blank canvas. The Camino is in some ways what people want/need it to be. For some it’s a deeply religious pilgrimage, for some it’s a chance to get their head straight and for some it’s a nice walk.
If anyone is thinking of trying the Camino I would whole heartedly recommend it. Practically I would recommend the following things:
1) Pack light… anymore than 10-11kg is you’re first mistake!
2) Get a Pilgrim Passport: these are obtained cheaply (8 Euro I think) from the Irish Society of The Way of St James: http://www.stjamesirl.com/
they guarantee entry to the hostels and you get these stamped at various places. When you present the passport at the pilgrim office at the end they will give you a certificate.
3) Take care of your feet and do a little walking before hand. My friend developed horrific blisters as a result of not doing much of either and suffered terribly because of it!
4) Enjoy it.
If anyone has any questions about it give me a shout. I’ll definately be trying to return next year. I’ll keep you posted of plans. Maybe even a Wild NI Europe Tour could be arranged!
Oh… forgot to mention. The walking aspect can be done from Sarria in 5 days for a walker averaging about 20km a day quite comfortably. We spent a day in Santiago on either end of the week. I’d definately recommend this. Going over 30km per day is possible but I wouldn’t neccessarily recommend it!