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El Camino de Santiago…Es Mi Camino

Ah, The Camino.  In a word, increíble.  This past June, the second school was out, I set off on my first truly solo adventure to walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain.  Backpack painstakingly packed and hiking boots broken in, I made my way to the foothills of the Pyrenees in Southern France to begin a 500 mile pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle St. James (Santiago) in the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela. 

Day 1: View of the Pyrenees

Background

The pilgrimage has existed for over 1,000 years. The story starts long before that though, after the death of Christ, when the apostle James set off to the Iberian Peninsula to spread Christianity. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa.  Legend has it that James’ followers sent his body off in a boat, which guided by angels made its way to the northwestern coast of Spain. In the 9th century a man discovered three bodies, in a field below a dazzling display of stars. The local bishop declared them to be those of St. James and two of his followers and built a shrine at the sight to honor Santiago.

Santiago

News traveled of what had beeen found in the “field of stars”, and soon believers started making pilgrimage to the site. The Middle Ages marked the peak of the pilgrimage when walking to such a holy place offered the pilgrim complete forgiveness of sin and assured him a place in Heaven.

One day in and 790k to go

In the early days, there were no organized trails, as there are now; the pilgrim merely walked out his door and started walking west. Today, there are many routes to Santiago throughout Europe, the most popular being the Camino Francés which starts in the foothills of the French Pyrenees in St. Jean Pied de Port.  Although to receive the compostela,  the official document of completion, one must only walk the last 100k, I decided I wanted to start at the beginning.

My Swedish friend, Therese displaying the pilgrim’s shell, symbol of the Camino on her pack

Daily Life

Just like in the movies and books I had read about the Camino, I soon became part of a pilgrim family.  We hailed from all across the United States, Canada, Spain, the U.K., Sweden, Ireland, France, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.

We woke up around 6:00 a.m. every morning and were out the door by 7:00, hiking poles tapping upon the cobblestoned streets of the pueblos we called home for the night.  Five or so kilometers later we would stop for breakfast in a small town.  Packs and poles lined up outside the café,  we ordered our tortillas and rested our feet for a bit. A few hours later we would stop for lunch, consisting of more often than not, a bocadillo de jamón,  we enjoyed while airing out our feet before the hardest part of the days walk.

The town of Puente la Reina

Sometimes we walked alone, sometimes as a group, but always weaving in and out of our fellow pilgrims with a, “Buen Camino,” the typical greeting of The Way. No one was a stranger. The last 10k of our 20- 30k daily walks was the most physically challenging.  We all battled daily aches and pains in one way or another.  From painful blisters, to knee and joint pain, to debilitating tendonitis, sometimes someone couldn’t continue on by their own two feet.  Our one amigo became quite familiar with the Spanish bus system.  Our running joke whenever some took a bus or drank a little too much Rioja, for example, was to say, “Es mi Camino,” meaning we could walk  do the Camino any way we pleased.  And that I would do.  Since I had to be back in the States to finish my masters, I only had twelve days to walk the month long pilgrimage. I’d make it as far as Burgos this time around, with plans to finish next summer.

Pilgrims from around the world

Once we arrived at our destination, we found an albergue to stay in for the night.  These pilgrim hostels varied in “luxury,” and ranged from five to ten euros for the night, sometimes by donation only.  Boots were stored away from the sleeping areas, bunks assigned, and showers taken.  We dressed in the clothes we would walk in the following day and washed what we had just worn.  Day after day, the same routine. Yet our favorite part of the routine were the afternoons spent chatting in English and Spanish on the terrazas, sipping Rioja from the vineyards we had just walked through, playing Uno, and just enjoying one another’s company and pilgrim camaraderie.

Ten p.m. always came to soon and found us racing back to the albergue before the doors locked for the night.  The roncadores, snorers, would already be out in full force, but the wine relaxed us enough to get some shut-eye before we awoke again and walked on west to Santiago.

Last 10k to Burgos

Stay tuned for more to come on The Camino de Santiago.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rubén Díez #

    Buenos días Kara!
    En primer lugar enhorabuena, me gusta mucho tu Blog, el texto, tus fotos, estas guapisima!
    Nada más llegar a la oficina lo primero que he hecho después de encender el ordenador ha sido viistar tu Blog! 😉

    Me encanta Kara, besos desde España!

    September 24, 2012
  2. Wow, great photos! The colors are so stunning. Doing the Camino sounds like such an amazing experience. I’d love to do a part someday!

    January 28, 2013
    • Thanks Jessica! You MUST put the Camino on your Spain bucket list! I can’t speak highly enough of the experience. You would LOVE it.

      January 28, 2013
  3. Wait… so did you do the ENTIRE Camino de Santiago? I live in Sevilla, Spain right now and it is my DREAM to do it. I am a huge backpacker/mountain climber, so this is right up my alley. How much time do you need to do it? PS- your blog is awesome. You’ve got a new follower. 🙂

    ❤ Dominique

    http://www.theadventuresofholly.wordpress.com

    April 8, 2013
    • Hi Dominique! Thanks for following. I just checked out your blog and LOVE it. I can’t wait to catch up on all your posts. Sevilla is my favorite place in the world. I was JUST there for Semana Santa. I wish we could have met up!

      As for the Camino, I walked the first 200 miles from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Burgos (12 days). I am returning in June to finish (another 20 days). Once I had the thought in my head to do the Camino, it was all I could think about. I promise you it will be life changing! I would love to talk to you more about it.

      April 8, 2013
      • Hey Kara, SO cool that you were in Spain for Semana Santa! I actually only caught the very end of it- but man, was it interesting! Sevilla is also one of my most favorite places in the world. As much as I love traveling to other countries, Sevilla will always hold a special place in my heart. Next time you are here, let me know!

        And geez, the Camino sounds amazing! I will be stalking your blog when it comes time to you posting more about your adventure this June. And I can’t wait for the day when I do it myself! Glad to have “met” you! 🙂

        April 9, 2013
  4. Sara Jensen #

    Hello my name is Sara L. Jensen and I am a Danish students. I am
    studying at a school in Denmark called Viborg katedralskole. I need to
    write a report on the pilgrimage “Camino de Santiago”. I focus on what
    grounds there are for, that people in the 20th century. goes the
    route. I would be really grateful if you would like to answer the
    following questions (I apologize for my bad English):

    1) How old are you?
    2) Have you been going this route more then ones?
    3) Have you gone the whole route or just some of it? Number of miles?
    4) Are you religious, if yes, which religion?
    5) Are you practitioner?
    6) From where do you know about Camino de Santiago?
    7) What reasons are there for you to go on the pilgrimage route? Fx in
    order to immerse yourself, the jointly, religious reasons, such as to
    get closer to God, nature experience or is it searching for answers to
    things and feelings you can’t explain?
    8) How do you get through the route? Is for example by bike or horse?
    9) What did you expected?
    10) Did you get anything else out of it than you had expected?
    11) Have the trip changed you?
    12) Why do you think people in the 20th century goes pilgrimage route?
    Fx in order to immerse yourself, it is the community, in order to
    develop yourself personally, religious reasons, nature experience or
    is it second.
    13) Do you think that the pilgrimages have changed over time-how?

    – You can also replay on my email: zalak23@gmail.com

    December 2, 2013

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