This last week i managed to complete part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. First off, I 100% recommend it. Wether you make it for religious purposes or not, the trip will probably be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. There are many Caminos depending on where you start from. The busiest trail starts in France, but you don’t have to do the entire thing, and most people don’t.
Two other friends of mine and I started it in Oviedo, Asturias. We took the northern path up to Ribadeo, Galicia, and then went southwest, all the way to Santiago. That’s a total distance of approximately 350km.
We bought the bus ticket back to Madrid before starting the Camino, so we were tightened by the time the whole way. We made it in a week. Yup, it was pretty tiring.
This is the road we took. It’s called the Northern Way or the Way of the Coast. It is very beautiful but it’s said to be one of the toughest. Still, it was worth it.
The way by Asturias:
Te way through Galicia:
There are many reasons people walk for. I walked for religious reasons, as it seems many others I encountered with were doing. For us, religious pilgrims, the struggle, the drudgery, and yes, the chance to pray at the cathedrals along the way are often some of the points for making the walk.
I think, though, that the idea of pilgrimage, while it may find its natural home in the religious world, might also have something to offer non religious pilgrims making the trip for other reasons. The idea, as I have it, is to let yourself be — to find small joys in small things, and to walk on. Life is so rarely what we expect it to be, and in the same way a pilgrimage of any kind often contains surprises, even in hidden and small ways.
It can sometimes be a tedious physical and mental challenge. There are days you want to quit. I went through rain, fog, and many body pains. for moments you are even miserable, but that is almost the point. The Camino is like life, it has periods when you feel like absolute crap, when you feel like you can’t go on and you want to quit and it has moments that make you overwhelmingly happy to be where you are and to be doing what you are doing.
Also, one of the points of the Camino for me was to challenge myself to finish, to face a daunting challenge head on and to finish. My point is that you have to find your own reasons for continuing, you have to find your own motivation, you have to find your own support or support yourself. One of the greatest help I got along the way was from other pilgrims who were suffering, like me, but they were continuing, like me. Having someone to talk to about your day and having someone to listen to were some of the reasons that kept me going.
Basic and most important tips? 1) You should go at the pace your body lets you. There are daily stages for a reason! Make a stage by day and enjoy your journey. Don’t tear your feet up making 40km unnecessarily. So don’t buy a bus ticket back home for 8 days later if you plan to walk 350km. (I mean, you can, but if you do so, you haven’t time to visit historical places, for example) 2)Take lots of skin tape with you for your feet (obviously some good used hiking shoes) and blisters. Those little guys are small but painful killers. Best remedy? Just roll your toes and feet in skin tape and over the blisters. No ointments or creams of any sort. Bareback. 3) Your backpack. You can either do it with your entire closet on your back or do it with only one underwear and a stick to help yourself walk. My point is, you will only use 0.01% of what you take with you. In most hostels and shelters you’re able to wash your clothes and do laundry. Also take some sandals with you for the showers. Take a penknife with you too. And take the basics. Only the basics. Here’s a Backpack Weight Calculator that will surely help you when packing.
If you’re interested in receiving the official certificate (Compostela) at the end of your journey you have to do at least 100km on foot (200km by bike or horse), and get your passport (Credencial) stamped along the way. Most hostels, churches, town halls and even bars will stamp the book, and it’s a great chance to talk and meet new people. On that note, it is useful to know a little Spanish. A lot of people will know at least some English, but being able to use both languages is very helpful.
Compostela, written and given in Latin.
There are a few ways you can do hostels. You can make reservations ahead of time to many of them or do small bed and breakfasts (which are still very cheap, usually 10€-15€ the night). It’s very nice, because it means you can take your time on the trail and not worry about getting to the next town — which my friends and I weren’t able to do due to having to arrive to Santiago in only a week. We stayed in public shelters, hence having the double challenge of having to arrive at the shelter at 6pm or 7pm. Public shelters get full about that time and if there’s no bed, you get to sleep on the floor or on the road. It’s a nice experience sleeping under the stars.
Anyhow, private hostels also tend to be nicer in terms of showers, air conditioning, and beds. Obviously, they’re more expensive and takes time to plan. On the other hand, public hostels cost about 5€ a night in most towns and, as aforementioned above, are simply first come first serve.
There’s no reason to worry about food. You will be passing through towns on the trail, and the restaurants, cafes and small supermarkets are set up for pilgrims. These last ones are a good way to save money, and something that we chose to do. We went and bought the grocery and picked up some bread, cheese, and fruit for breakfast and lunch each day. This way we could eat on the trail and not worry about finding a place. Also good if you’re in a hurry.
I also chose to just drink tap water. Many people choose to drink bottled water the entire time, but I simply filled up my water bladder with tap, and had no issues.
Most places offer a 10 Euro meal that comes with 3 courses and wine. You will probably want to eat 3 courses after a day of hiking.
As a curious fact, the route to Santiago de Compostela is the third most important Christian pilgrimage (the other two are Rome and Jerusalem).
The total number of pilgrims in 2013 that received the compostelas at the Pilgrims Office in Santiago were 215.880 pilgrims.
(The last holy year, 2010, the number was 272.412)
- Women: 98.008 (45,40%)
- Men: 117.872 (54,60%)
- On foot: 188.191 (87,17%)
- By bike: 26.646 (12,34%)
- By horse: 977 (0,45%)
- In a wheelchair: 66 (0,03%)
- Under 30: 61.114 (28,31%)
- 30 to 60: 121.305 (56,19%)
- Over 60: 33.461 (15,50%)
- Spain: 105.891 (49,05%)
- Germany 16.203 (14,73%)
- Italy 15.621 (14,20%)
- Portugal 10.698 (9,73%)
- USA 10.125 (9,21%)
- France: 8.305 (7,55%)
- Ireland: 5.012 (4,56%)
- UK: 4.207 (3,82%)Canada:
- Canada: 3.373 (3,07%)
What Camino was walked:
- Camino Frances: 151.761 (70,30%)
- Camino Portugues 29.550 (13,69%)
- Camino del Norte 13.393 (6,20%)
- Via de la Plata 9.016 (4,18%)
- Camino Primitivo 6.854 (3,17%)
- Camino Ingles 4.404 (2,04%)
- Muxia-Finisterre 454 (0,21%)
- Other Caminos 444 (0,21%)
- Sarria 52.063 (24,12%)
- S. Jean P. Port 26.569 (12,31%)
- León 10.739 (4,97%)
- O Cebreiro 10.722 (4,97%)
- Tui 9.394 (4,35%)
- Porto 8.859 (4,10%)
- Ponferrada 8.365 (3,87%)
- Roncesvalles 8.268 (3,83%)
- Astorga 6.053 (2,80%)
- Valença do Minho 4.380 (2,03%)
- Pamplona 4.321 (2,00%)
- Ferrol 4.286 (1,99%)
- Oviedo 4.156 (1,93%)
- Burgos 3.613 (1,67%)
- Irún 3.389 (1,57%)
- Le Puy 3.364 (1,56%)
- Ourense 3.221 (1,49%)
- Vilafranca 2.735 (1,27%)
- Sevilla 2.292 (1,06%)
- Triacastela 1.957 (0,91%)
- France 1.955 (0,91%)
- Lugo 1.704 (0,79%)
- Rest of Portugal 1.602 (0,74%)
Stats source: CaminoDeSantiago.me
As an addition, people are very friendly on the trail. You get to spend a lot of hours talking to random people you meet and walk with them for a while. All ages, cultures and races. Everyone has a story and it’s always interesting to hear. You’ll find friends (religious or not) and you’ll meet people you’ll never forget.
Even if you go alone, you’ll likely meet up with people and find that you walk at the same pace as a group. Days of walking with just your thoughts is a lot. You will learn a lot about yourself and people in general and the Camino is a catalyst for honesty — both to yourself and others.
In the end, I have only good things to say about the Camino.