I didn’t know what the Camino de Santiago was until I watched the movie “The Way”. The second the movie ended, I decided I had to walk this trail.
The first time I walked the Camino de Santiago was five years ago with a couple of my friends. We started at Sarria and walked for about 100 kilometres in 10 days, across the green landscapes of rural Galicia. Sarria is the most popular Camino starting point. We took our time and still managed to qualify for the Compostela certificate.
But, something happened during that trip and I wanted more. The desire to walk from St Jean Pied de Port in France all the way to Santiago was born. I had a feeling the experience wouldn’t be complete without it.
Two years ago, I walked it again. This time I went alone, and I started from St Jean Pied de Port. It took me almost two months to finish it, but the entire time I had a feeling that this was the place I was meant to be.
The Beginning was Hard
I had to take two buses from Barcelona to get to the starting point. Some of the pilgrims I met there came from Australia and even Japan. Dublin seemed so close, compared to their homelands. After spending a night in an albergue, a hostel for those doing the trek, we started our Camino. We took the Napoleon route to Roncesvalles and it was the hardest day during the whole trip.
My plan was to reach Santiago de Compostela in 50 days. However, my backpack was heavy, so most of the day I felt burdened. I had never considered the possibility that sometimes I would need more than one day to rest. To my horror, I discovered that walking day after day was tiring and that my muscles were very sore. The only comfort for me then was enjoying the view of the snow-capped Pyrenees.
When we got to Pamplona, I decided to stay an extra day to explore the city and rest. It can be strange dealing with the bustle of the city after the peace of the countryside. However, there are some attractions you shouldn’t miss, such as the Catedral de Santa Maria or the Ciudadela Fortress.
The route from Pamplona was a mixture of countryside and busy roads. When we climbed up the Alto del Perdon, we witnessed the most spectacular view – rolling green mountains and valleys spread before us. Along with that, there are various pilgrim statues on top, complete with children, dogs, and donkeys.
It took me a couple of days to get to La Rioja, the wine region. Walking through seemingly endless vineyards led us into Logrono and the medieval town of Navarrete. Logrono is a surprisingly vibrant city. I stayed there for a couple of days and arranged a wine tour as well as a detour to the castle at Clavijo, one of Spain’s most symbolic castles.
I made a similar stop in Burgos because you simply shouldn’t miss the Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides, there was so much more to see that it was worth resting there.
Incredible People and Valuable Lessons
When we reached the city of Leon, I was in the best shape of my life. Nevertheless, I decided to stay there for a couple of days. Among the best sights to see is the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro as well as Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Botines.
Astorga is worth a longer visit, too. It is home to the Astorga Cathedral and the Palacio Episcopal, another Gaudi masterpiece. Soon, I saw the towering spires of the Catedral de Santiago. We were just in time for the mass, when the priest welcomed all the pilgrims who arrived that day.
I met many different people along the way, and to my surprise, most of them were over the age of 40. All pilgrims were eager to help, offering valuable advice or help with my backpack. I only met five people who were walking the Camino for religious reasons.
The Camino de Santiago changed me in ways I didn’t expect. For example, I buy only things I truly need now. I’ve walked every day since the trip, and I have some level of peace I never had before. It’s amazing to know that my body is capable of walking 780 kilometres.
I’m sure this trip will continue to affect my life in some incredible ways. Although I didn’t have any epiphanies on the Camino, this experience has taught me more than most of the other things I’ve ever done.