About a year ago I decided to walk the Camino (the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route in Northern Spain from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, about 790km). It sounded perfect, a good length of time and space clear my head and also a challenge but an achievable one. I only had 28 days so decided to start in Pamplona and then walk about 28km per day to reach the cathedral in Santiago. I couldn’t wait to start however the closer I got to actually starting the more unsure I became. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to achieve and I’ve never tried long distance walking so what if I didn’t enjoy it?
Day 1 – Pamplona – Puenta la Reina
With very little motivation I got up when the alarm went off at 6 o’clock this morning. My husband decided to walk my first week with me so together we set off. Just outside of Pamplona it started to rain softly and again I questioned why I wanted to do this with my holiday. It didn’t last long however and when the sun came out it was the most beautiful day. We walked through fields of canola, bright yellow against deep green grass and a dark blue sky full of rain in the distance.
Day 2 – Puenta la Reina – Estella
Another beautiful day, a good walk and quality time spent with my husband. After last night in a very cramped municipal hostel (albergue) we found a better one for the night – 5 beds per room instead of 10 and separate showers for men and women instead of 2 to share.
Day 3 – Estella – Torres del Rio
This morning when I got up my legs told me that that they’d had enough, after about 5 minutes they’d warmed up a bit though but I was shocked at how unfit I was – of course my mountain biker husband had no such problems. Also, my shoulder had started aching and my backpack made it so much worse. So mostly it was a difficult day, but for a few moments it felt as if time stood still and the gorgeous view and light breeze on my face made it all worthwhile.
All along the way there are water fountains, however outside of Estella there is a special fountain filled with wine – unfortunately empty when we got there, but maybe a good thing as it was only 7 in the morning!
Day 4 – Torres del Rio – Logrono
Today I am tired and I’ve had enough. My shoulder is incredibly painful, it feels like I’ve pulled both my calf muscles and above all I now have a sinusy sore throat. I want to go home and curl up in front of the tv drinking coffee. It’s difficult to keep going but at least I have company and we make it to Logrono and find a bed. My husband suggests that we get a bus to skip a few days so that I can make it easier on myself and walk shorter distances, between 22 – 26km per day – the same as in my guidebook so that it is easier to find accommodation. It feels like cheating, but I’m too tired to think about it too much.
Day 5 – Logrono – Villambistia
So today we got on a bus to Belorado and from there walked 7km to Villambistia. It does feel like cheating, but P says that I shouldn’t think that way, that the bus journey is part of my camino – I think he’s right, it’s my Camino and only I get to walk it, I know how tough the last couple of days were and that I feel like I might give up if I push myself too hard and what is the point of pushing myself so hard – I think I should take it a bit easier, maybe in life also.
Day 6 – Villambistia – Ages
The weather was a bit miserable today, rainy and gray, but the walk was good – we walked uphill for most of the day through plantations. We had met a really friendly Japanese couple last night and saw them a few times on the way.
Day 7 – Ages – Burgos
The walk into Burgos was a bit boring – we had to go all along the airport into the city, it was a short walk though and tonight we’re staying in a HOTEL! With a warm bath, real towels and cotton sheets. I’m fairly sure I will never ever forget to appreciate clean, white, cotton bedsheets in future! Luxury!
Day 8 – Burgos – Hornillos
This morning I had to say goodbye to P. He’s doing his own mountain biking holiday while I finish my walk. I’m sad to leave him and after a long breakfast manage to say goodbye and set off again. It rained on and off during the day and after my late start the only hostel with any beds left in Hornillos is a very basic municipal one. Because I’m late there’s no hot water left and I have to take a cold shower. I hate cold showers, especially after I needed a hot one, and feel incredibly sorry for myself.
Day 9 – Hornillos – Castrojeriz
Walking today was just walking, the scenery is beautiful and it’s great being in nature, but after about 15km it’s enough and I find it very difficult to keep going. I found a really nice albergue in Castrojeriz and met lots of new people. In the village lives a real peregrino, he’s walked several pilgrimage walks and has opened his house to pilgrims following a meeting with a photographer on the way; they had decided to give something back to the camino and have decorated the house with photo’s and quotes, words of wisdom and thoughts along the way. It was a very special experience and I will always remember it.
Day 10 – Castrojeriz – Fromista
Again it was a gorgeous day, but towards the end I struggled to keep going and my shoulder complaining still. I stopped for coffee twice today, the second time met 2 girls from Germany and the coffee and 5 minute chat helped enormously with the last 5k.
Day 11 – Fromista – Carrion de los Condes
About 5k out of Fromista I met another girl from Germany and walked the rest of the way with her, it was really good talking to her and made the walking seem a lot easier.
Day 12 – Carrion de los Condes – Moratinos
The first 16km today was completely uninterrupted. There was nothing; which is great, but it rained all the way and I got so cold that I couldn’t move my little fingers. After 10k I found a caravan stall selling coffee and hotdogs – I had 2 coffees to try and warm up and a very nice man whose name I don’t know gave me a Kitkat which I was the best Kitkat I’ve ever had.
Day 13 – Moratinos – Calzada de los Hermanillos
Today was a good day. There were 2 routes, one alongside the road and one through farmland, the difference in distance was not much and I chose the one through farmland. Not many people did which I thought really strange, but I was also really glad as it was very peaceful and I only saw 2 other pilgrims in the last 15k of my day. It was also easier today, my shoulder still aches and I’m tired but if I just focus on putting one foot in front of the other it becomes easier.
Day 14 – Calzada de los Hermanillos – Mansilla de las Mulas
Another 20k through countryside and occasional farms, no towns and only a handful of people made today another good day. The road today is part of the original Roman road built centuries ago. It is built by stones which apparently does not originate from the region so the poor Roman soldiers must have had to carry them all the way. I started to struggle towards the end and wished that I could take a day off in Leon which I would reach the next day.
Day 15 – Mansilla de las Mulas – Leon
I read in my guidebook yesterday that it was possible to take a bus from Mulas to Leon and decided that I was going to do that and have a day off; the guidebook didn’t say that the buses don’t run on a Sunday so I had to walk anyway. This as well as the fact that I’m tired, have a blister that is really starting to hurt and also managed to twist my ankle yesterday made my walk today very difficult. At least I have a hotel to look forward to although that was very little consolation and I felt like quitting.
Day 16 – Leon
After a difficult day yesterday I decided that I needed a day off even though I can’t afford it – I’m going to take a bus tomorrow to make up for the lost time. I dealt with my blister which was now the size of a pound coin by googling the Spanish translation for all possible words I could need and went to the pharmacy to get a sterilised needle (ended up with a small knife), some bandages and antiseptic ointment. Then I spent the day in Leon like a proper tourist walking around all the historic sites and visited the catherdral which was very impressive.
Day 17 – Leon – Murias de Rechivaldo
I got the bus to Astorga (which again feels like cheating, but I feel so much better so why does it matter?) and then walked to Murias where I found a lovely albergue where I had the best peregrino menu on the whole walk. (Peregrino menus are what is offered by most bars and restaurants to pilgrims, for €10 you get 2 courses, desert, wine or beer and bread – good value but not be best quality food and seriously lacking in vegetables).
Day 18 – Murias de Rechivaldo – Foncebadon
Today was a tiring and painful but again the scenery was beautiful and interesting as it kept changing. It was a climb and I stayed in a very small village, probably just in existence for pilgrims, near the top of the mountain. It was very windy and cold but I had a good night’s sleep.
Day 19 – Foncebadon – Ponferadda
I really enjoyed today. When I got up it was pitch black outside, very windy, very cold and so misty I couldn’t see very far and I did not want to go for a walk, however after maybe 500m I started to really enjoy my walk. At first it was a further climb to Cruz de Ferro, the high point at 1504m, there is a cross at which pilgrims leave stones they have brought from their homes and carried all the way. I didn’t have one, but like the symbolism and wish I had. After that it was downhill and when the sun started breaking through the mist to the start of another beautiful day.
Day 20 – Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo
Another good day, I met lots of people I’ve met before and it was good chatting along the way. It’s so strange how I’d meet someone then not see them for 3 or 4 days and then see them again even though they must stay in the same places. It was really warm today and as usual the last 5km was difficult but today I met a really nice couple from Australia just before Villafranca and started talking to them which made it a bit easier.
Day 21 – Villafranca del Bierzo – O’ Cebreiro
My last day on my own before my mum joins me in O’Cebreiro. It’s a long walk today, 30k but I have a hotel booked for tonight and can therefore take it a bit slower. The start of the walk was really boring, all along a main road which is very tough on feet and then the last bit a very strenuous climb (I only realised later the highest mountain on the way). I was fine until the last 5k which was all uphill and a distance that should only take an hour took me about 3. I wished that I could stop but I had to keep going as I had to be in O Cebreiro – I was exhausted when I met my mum but very glad to see her.
Day 22 O’ Cebreiro – Triacastela
The day started out misty and rainy but cleared up a bit. It was great having my mum to talk to and the day passed very quickly for talking all the time. We found a very modern, newly built albergue, did our washing in a washing machine (mum doesn’t like the idea of handwashing!) and sat outside enjoying the sun.
Day 23 – Triacastela – Sarria
The countryside here is very different again, it’s cold and we may as well be in Ireland – its gorgeous here but does not feel like we’re in Spain. I only have 5 days left and it feels a bit unreal. My life has settled into a camino routine. I get up at 6 (even without bag rustlers waking me up), go for a walk, stop for coffee, walk a bit more, stop for a lemon, walk a bit more, book into an albergue, write in my diary, go to sleep, get up at 6 and repeat.
Day 24 – Sarria – Portomarin
Once you have completed the way you are issued a Compostela – to get this you only need to have walked the last 100km which is from Sarria. If you’re Catholic half your sins are forgiven and in a holy year all of them and unfortunately for me the pope decided to declare 2016 a holy year and as a result the number of people from here on have quadrupled and it is very visible. Today I seemed to have lost the peace I found and am just very annoyed at the amount of people behind and in front of me. To make it worse the army seems to have some sort of exercise going and loads of army people have also started walking.
Day 25 – Pontomarin – Palas de Rei
The new pilgrims are still annoying me but I’ve decided that I should let them be – they have their Camino’s and I shouldn’t judge how they decide to walk them and I should not let them take away my enjoyment of it. This seems to work and I enjoy the day much more than yesterday, its good spending time with my mum and introducing her to the new friends I’ve made, the scenery is wonderful and we walk through interesting towns and farms.
Day 26 – Palas de Rei – Ribadiso
Today was even better than yesterday, it feels as if it’s quieter and how it was before all the new people joined. We stayed in a very small village where there are only 2 albergues, the nicer private one is full and we have to stay in a municipal one, it has one big room with 60 beds and we share with several people we’ve met before. The hostel is a refurbished original pilgrim hostel, it’s very well done, a big stone building with doors and window frames painted in light blue next to the river with an old stone bridge and nearby we sit attempting to soak our tired feet in the freezing water.
Day 27 – Ribadiso – O’ Pedrouzo
Second to last day – I’m so glad to be nearly there, I’m tired of walking and my feet ache and I miss P so much, but I don’t want it to end and I’m really sad that it will. Today was a short walk but as usual the last 5k was difficult.
Day 28 – O’Pedrouzo – Santiago
It rained all day today, it was a short walk into Santiago and the day went past really quickly. It felt like I had to start saying goodbye and I could tell that everyone else felt the same way as we lingered at the coffee stops and had two breaks on the way.
Getting to the cathedral was an anticlimax, the cathedral is being repaired/refurbished and there is scaffolding along most of the outside so it was disappointing. We then went to get our Compostellas and had to wait in a que for an hour and 30mins. It was long but it was so good to see how proud everyone was of their achievement and to see everyone that I shared the journey with. It becomes a Camino family and I wish in real life people could be so open and accepting as well.
This walk was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and I’ve learnt so many lessons. Somehow when I didn’t notice I learned how to just ‘be’. I gained such peacefulness and acceptance of life. I’m so grateful that I have so much and that I could spend this time on myself. I know that I there will be bumps in future and probably big ones but I’m going to do my very best to remember these lessons and hopefully deal with these a bit better.