In June 2018 I set off to sunny Spain for a 32 day trek across the north of the country. I really didn’t know what to expect. Here’s the tale of my Camino.
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In case you hadn't heard of it (don't worry, most people haven’t), the Camino is a roughly 800 km walk across the North of Spain. It is a Christian pilgrimage route which goes back hundreds of years. In English, it is known as the Way of St James. And that’s because it ends in Santiago de Compostela at the Cathedral that supposedly houses the remains of St James.
You are likely familiar with hundreds and thousands of Christians performing annual pilgrimages to places like Rome or Jerusalem. Well, the Camino de Santiago is just as famous, if not more so!
However, it's not just pilgrims that choose to walk this way. It has become extremely popular amongst hikers, cyclists and tourists looking to experience the beauty of Northern Spain.
My Experience Walking the Camino in 2018
I started my Camino on 31st May from St Jean Pied de Port, which lies in the deep South of France, roughly 15 km from the border with Spain.
The first day, and in my opinion the toughest day of all, starts with you ascending about 900 metres up and over the Pyrenees as you leave France behind and start your first steps down into Spain.
From then onwards, you have somewhere close to 800 km of sometimes flat, sometimes hilly terrain all the way across the North until you reach Santiago.
I booked my flight home from Santiago on 3rd July, meaning I had 34 days in total to make it to the finish line. However, my aim was always to arrive on the 1st July, so that I had time to see the city and perhaps enjoy a beverage or seven to celebrate.
Well, in the end, I followed my intended schedule perfectly and arrived on the Saturday night, where me and a friend who flew out, got involved in the local Spanish celebrations.
It just so happened they had a fiesta starting that night and it was on the same street as our hostel! 2 Euros for a large glass of red wine was too hard to turn down, and we spent the whole night, and early hours of the morning, celebrating the finish!
But it wasn't all fun and games ...
The biggest challenges I faced
Strangely enough, when I set out, I was never really that concerned about the physical challenges of the Camino.
I consider myself relatively fit and, though I’d never attempted a walk of this magnitude before, I was fairly confident I could finish it in style.
I mean, hundreds of people start the Camino every day, and that includes people from the age of 7 all the way up to 90. If they can do it, so can I!
Instead, the biggest challenge I thought I would face was the mental challenge of spending so much time alone and with my own thoughts.
Not that I don't enjoy some alone time. In fact, I revel in it!
But I spend all of my time travelling with Cazzy so had never been away on my own for such a long period. My mind also has a tendency to go into overdrive when left with nothing to do but think, so that was something that worried me.
Overall, yes I certainly did find it tough at times being away from Cazzy but I certainly did get from it what I wanted.
Which was plenty of time to think some things through and prove to myself that I could do something like that on my own.
Also, it’s true what Camino-fanatics say, “you never walk alone on the Camino”.
Almost all day of every day, you're able to see other Pilgrims ahead and behind. So there's always someone to talk with if you want to.
And, with regards to the physical hardship, there certainly were some challenges that reared up.
Most notably, blisters! I don't think anyone walked the Camino without experiencing foot pain, and I would say I had well more than my fair share!
I took my good old hiking boots with me that I’d used for years, firmly believing they wouldn't let me down.
And to a large extent, they didn't. The problem was, they were the wrong kind of shoes!
It turns out that 95% of the Camino is on hard, dry ground, so you don't need solid walking boots like I had. Instead, you need soft, well-cushioned trainers.
My daily routine soon turned into the following:
6am - Get up, apply plasters to feet, vaseline sore spots, put on my socks and then painfully squeeze my feet back into the boots for another 10 hours of walking.
2-3pm - Arrive at hostel. Painfully remove shoes to examine the damage. Pop any blisters, and then spend 8 hours hobbling around in flip-flops.
10pm - Before bed, re-pop any blisters that seemed to come back to life.
Rinse and repeat.
My reasons for walking the Camino
First off, no I’m not religious. And nor do I have any desire to contemplate religion and see if it’s for me. Not that I have anything against religion, but that’s simply not why I wanted to walk.
The simple truth is that I was looking for a challenge.
In the next few years I have a large desire to take on some much more daunting challenges. There is nothing solid in place yet, but walking the length of Nepal is certainly on my mind.
As such, I wanted to walk the camino because:
It’s a long walk, so would be a physical challenge
It is incredibly well developed so there’s no need for me to take heavy equipment like a tent or stove or sleeping bag
It’s a part of Spain I’d never seen
People from all over the world gather there to walk it, so there’s plenty of people to meet
In fact, after 32 days of walking, and having spoken to more than a hundred people, I would say only 1 or 2 were doing the Camino for religious reasons.
Many more held some kind of faith and were using the Camino to possibly reconnect. But the vast majority were simply tourists or outdoor enthusiasts like me.
Would I recommend the Camino to others?
Most definitely! Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the Camino is that it attracts so many different people.
I have been to a lot of countries and met lots of different nationalities, but the Camino contained, without a doubt, the most diverse array of nationalities I have ever met.
I probably spoke to people from more than 30 countries, and it was wonderful getting to hear their stories and get their unique take on life.
Aside from that, the North of Spain really is lovely. I’ve visited Spain numerous times in my life, but I’ve always been in the South.
The North is completely different. It’s very green and full of life. Also, in June time it’s not as hot as the South, so the weather isn't unbearable.
I think that almost everyone could have something to benefit from doing the Camino.
It’s also important to note that you don't have to do the whole thing. In fact, the majority of people who finish the Camino and receive their Compostela in Santiago, have walked only 100 or 200 km.
Those same people often return year after year as a chance to meet new people and spend some time alone with their thoughts.
Most commonly, people use the Camino to think through major challenges in their life or to deal with grief. In some cases, people use it to meet people and find love.
So yes, I’d say there’s something on offer for everyone and would strongly recommend you check it out.
As a final note, the route I took is not the only Camino on offer. Though it’s the most famous, there are 6 major Caminos that end in Santiago (I think). As well as numerous other variations you can take.
Stay tuned in the coming days as I will be releasing more posts on the Camino, such as an outline of the schedule I followed, how far I walked each day, what I packed and how you can do the Camino as well!
I took so many wonderful photos along the way and want to include them all! So here is a little selection of some of my favourites:
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I'm an Economics graduate with a passion for travel. In 2016 I decided to ditch the office environment, work from my laptop and travel to every country in the world. You'll find me working out of a cafe in Bali, perhaps on a riverboat in Brazil or maybe even an airport lounge in New Delhi.
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