During summer 2014, after much research and anticipation, my roommates and I set out on a two week hike across Northern Spain, walking El Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage known as "The Way of St. James".
The entire trek from Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago, Spain can take upwards of 40 days to complete so we opted for a lighter version, walking from Pamplona to Logroño and then hoping on a bus before walking from Sarria to Santiago. All of that took about 12 days.
My roommates were the ones who were planning for this trip for months, and I thought it was a cool idea but I just "didn't have the time" to backpack across Spain. Jobs decisions were made and all of a sudden I wasn't moving to a new city and I had the entire summer off, so I began to reconsider.
I watched the movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen and I was convinced that this was a trip I needed to take (I highly recommend it, it is on Netflix!).
I went into the trip not knowing what to expect. We booked flights, researched hostels and had a tentative itinerary. I prepared gear-wise, got all my supplies, got my hiking boots broken in and borrowed a backpack.(side note to anyone considering doing this or any other long distance hike: GET YOUR BACKPACK FITTED CORRECTLY. I just borrowed my brothers, and while it 'worked' I could have avoided some significant discomfort if mine was fitted correctly).
We discovered quickly that this wasn't the type of trip you could really plan the day to day for, which I'll go into later. The parents at home weren't thrilled with the loose scheduling of our trip, but we convinced them it was a good idea, packed up our packs and headed to Spain!
After a two day stay in Pamplona during San Fermin (The Running of the Bulls), we headed out.
We hike about 20-25 km a day (12-15 miles) through the "rolling" hills of Northern Spain, passing in and out of little villages and towns with various degrees of mountainous land, forest and rural plains. We would drag into our destination town every afternoon and find open beds at an albergue (pilgrim hostel). We didn't camp at all, so for anywhere between a donation to 10 Euros we had a bed, access to a shower and a kitchen, and sometimes dinner! It was a pretty cool set up, and we stayed in albergues ranging from converted monasteries that could hold over 100 pilgrims to tiny parish hostels that slept 14 and were run by volunteers. We had great experiences at some and not so great experiences at others. But it was often the same routine after finding a hostel. Register, shower, nap, explore, eat dinner, prepare for tomorrow, sleep. Sleep by 9 and up by 6. The day to day was rough, both physically and mentally exhausting. We met some amazing people from all over the world on the trail, all of whom had "character" names. There were tears of laughter and tears of pain, lots of blisters and lots of laughs, deep conversations and long periods of silence. The camino was in the moment. You dealt with what you were given, at that time, whether you were given energy to walk and talk or whether you were given solace to reflect. There are so many stories and so many memories, but I'll just leave a few pictures for now.
|Sunflower field outside of Pamplona|
|Rocking the leg brace tan|
|Camino trail selfies|
|Basque Country side|
|130 miles later.....|
We finally made it to the city of St. James a few days before his feast day. We CRASHED before making our way to the square outside of the Cathedral, the final stop on the Camino.
We explored the city, turned in our Credencial del Perigrinos (our "passport" stamp book of El Camino) in order to get our official Compostelas (certificate) and ate a GLORIOUS dinner.
We explored the city a lot and attended the Pilgrim's mass the next day to celebrate what brought us on this journey...St. James and his journey with Christ. It was a blessed experience.
Santiago is about 90 km from the coast, so some pilgrims continue their walk to the coast, to the town of Finisterre, which translates roughly to mean "End of the Earth". From a point at the lighthouse, you can look out a just see receding coastlines behind you and the Atlantic in front of you. Ancient travelers believed they had walked to the world's end at this point. One of my friends and I took the bus there for the day and spent our time eating and reading on the beach, hiking to the lighthouse and marveling at the views, and then some naps and more eating. Even though Santiago was the end of our walk, Finisterre was the end of the "journey" and was a peaceful way to reflect on the experience that had just passed.