Six days on the Camino de Santiago
These boots are made for walkin’ but six days on the Camino de Santiago was more than just a walking vacation
“You’re going to walk 75 miles on your trip to Spain, what kind of vacation is that?”
That’s just one of the many “concerned” responses I would get before heading out to northern Spain to finally get a chance to do a long-distance walk on perhaps the most popular pilgrim path in the world; The Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago, otherwise known as “The Way of St. James” or more simply “The Way” is an ancient set of trails throughout Europe that all lead to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northwest Spain. About 200,000 people a year walk it. In the city of Santiago de Compostela, there is a beautiful grand old cathedral where the tomb of St. James the Apostle is located.
The most traveled route on the Camino de Santiago is the Camino Frances, which starts in southern France and traverses all the way across northern Spain to finally reach Santiago. It’s about 500 miles and takes roughly 30 days to walk. Our group of 6 people decided to walk the final 75 miles of the Camino Frances, which would qualify us to get our official Pilgrim certificates in Santiago at the Pilgrims office.
After taking a beautiful six-hour train ride from Madrid, where we flew in to, we got off at Sarria station in Northern Spain, where we would start our walk on the Camino to Santiago. We checked into a very charming hotel that was a former rectory from the 1700s. This rustic and atmospheric accommodation was the perfect way to set the stage for our upcoming walking journey.
After rubbing vaseline all over our feet the next morning to help prevent blisters we started out for our 75-mile trek with anxiety, excitement, hopes, dreams, and fears. (Our luggage was transferred every day to our next hotel along the trail; it’s big business in this part of Spain near the Camino.)
Over the course of six days, our group walked through scenic countryside, enchanting forests, small towns and quaint villages. We’d cover, on average, 13 miles per day on foot. The Camino trail is very very well-marked and it’s almost impossible to get lost. And in the summer, there’s plenty of other pilgrims on the trail so you never feel like you are completely alone and maybe took a wrong turn somewhere. The Camino trail is relatively flat, but there are some minor elevation gains in some sections.
Most of the other walkers on the Camino that we befriended and talked to along the way were walking the entire 500 miles, so we felt humbled and in awe of their walking journeys. And that’s what the Camino de Santiago experience is all about – an inward and outward journey. Long distance walking affords people the freedom to escape the framework of their everyday lives and to gain a deeper understanding of themselves. Many people walking the Camino are at a crossroads in their lives, or perhaps have recently lost a loved one, or even simply are searching for answers about the meaning of life. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have aspired to comprehend the experience of being alive. The yearning for this understanding has manifested itself in many forms throughout the millennia, one of them being the pilgrimage.
Each day we walked, we became more settled inside, more centered, more in-the-moment, and we did begin to feel a type of spiritual transformation happening inside of us, albeit it was just scratching the surface in six days. (I could only imagine what the spirituality level feels like to someone walking the entire 30 days! Have you done it? I’d love to hear from you!)
It was a really special feeling inside when we completed our 75 miles on day six and walked into Santiago where all the other pilgrims were arriving as well. There was a palpable exuberance and joy in the air in front of the Cathedral. I saw some pilgrims, presumably who just completed the entire 500 miles, just lay on the ground with their heads on their backpacks and stare for hours with delight at the cathedral, the destination they had been walking to for so long now. They were most likely reflecting about their amazing journey and its special meaning.
After a couple days sightseeing in Santiago, we also took an hour drive out to Finisterre, Spain which is located on the Atlantic Ocean. Many pilgrims from the middle ages thought this was indeed the end of the world and would continue their walking journeys to the ocean to see it.
It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience to walk on the Camino de Santiago. I’ll miss the roosters we heard every day along the path, the cafes where we’d stop for coffee, or a wine/beer and lunch (and by the way the food and drink in this part of Spain is really affordable), and I’ll miss meeting so many nice, friendly and good-hearted people on the Camino de Santiago.
Do you think you might be ready to try a walking vacation/pilgrimage like this?
Let me assure you that the Camino is a great path to do it. There are plenty of cafes with restrooms all along the trail. I don’t think we ever went more than 2-3 miles without seeing one. There are lots of hostels for budget-minded travelers, as well as hotels, B&B’s and atmospheric former manor houses, rectories and mills where you can stay each night too (and as I mentioned have your luggage transferred for you so all you have to have is a small day-pack on the trail). We stayed in many very nice rustic and charming manor houses and B&B type places, and the dinners at each place were excellent.
If you and your friend, partner, loved one or small group might be interested in a Camino de Santiago experience like this one we had, I’ve crafted a self-guided 9-day adventure from Sarria to Santiago, replicating what we did. You’ll stay in the charming and rustic hotels and have your luggage transferred each day. You’ll receive good maps and directions, and also have an emergency contact number while you’re in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago.