I got the opportunity of a lifetime to walk 102 km of the Camino de Santiago in December. It’s been on my bucket list for so long, it’s hard to imagine that I’ve actually done it!
For those who don’t know, the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in Europe. Trails stretch from across Europe, to converge on Santiago de Compostela, and the tomb of the Apostle James. Pilgrims have been walking to Santiago for centuries, though the way has resurfaced as a sort of adventure tourism destination over the past twenty years or so.
In order to qualify as a pilgrim (and therefore take advantage of the housing and discounts set aside for pilgrims) you have to walk at least 100km, or bike or ride on horseback for 200km. I walked from Lugo, which is on the Primitive route through the mountains. That meant that I and my walking buddy were alone for most of the first two and a half days of our walk.
I had an amazing experience on The Way, but it’s a really hard experience to write, I’ve found. All you do is walk. For days. Until you arrive.
I mean, there are other things that happen, too – and those are the awesome bits. I walked through parts of Spain I’d never have gotten to see – small towns, tiny villages, farms out in the boonies. I talked to the people who lived there, I talked to other pilgrims from all over the world. I ate a lot of tortilla francesa (egg and potato omlette), and about a million bocadillos (subway sandwiches). I got really cold the first night in an albergue. I was taunted by towns that looked a lot closer than they actually were. I finally got a hint of what a runner’s high might feel like, when I was able to walk for miles without even noticing.
Mostly, though, the experience was wonderful because of the time spent walking. I had time to think, to pray, to watch the countryside around me change. I got to look across the horizon and think, “hey, I was on that mountain this morning.” I walked for four days, following trail markers left by fellow pilgrims. I got to spend time in the evenings with fellow travelers who were headed to the same destination in the same way.
I don’t claim to be a long-distance hiker, but I already know I’ll do this one again.
I’ll be posting pictures from my walk along the Way of St. James over the next few days. I hope you’ll enjoy them!