400 km walking, Camino de Santiago (North of Spain)
13 years of school are over – and now? At that time, me and my two best friends had this idea in our heads to march the pilgrimage route in Spain to Santiago. We were young and naive – and we did it. Did not feel like a vacation, though….
The plan: We booked a flight to Santander and a flight back 1 month later from Santiago. We had informed ourselves on various websites and in tour guides, made pack lists and had tried some hiking 2-3 times with weights in the backpacks.
Our Route: From Santander you can take a bus to Burgos and there you can start on the main pilgrim route. There are also more unknown coastal routes, but we did not feel ready for these lonely routes at that time – we wanted to make sure that we always find a hostel for the night, if possible in short distances. The advantage of the route chosen by us: From Burgos to Santiago it is less than 500 km, which can be done in about 20-25 days. The disadvantage: Burgos lies behind the beautiful stretch of the path through the Pyrenees, and from Burgos on the trail is very one-sided and dry. The way from there is quite crowded and the last 100 km are often overcrowded anyway. Well, we would see. We could not imagine to walk more than 500 km, we were inexperienced and untrained.
The trip is 7 years back but has left a lasting impression with me and fortunately I have written diary and can write about it now.
The first days: On the first day we make only 10 km, the path is dusty and feels endless. We have a lot of luggage, since we carry a tent just in case and we have not kept to minimalistic packlists. Each of us wears about 10kg, which makes every kilometer appear twice as long, especially in the June heat. In our first hostel, we share the room with a group of Korean women who sleep ready dressed in the bed at 11pm, so they can start walking the next day in the dark. We swallow.
In the first few days, we prepare everything to get off as early as possible, but we need at least an hour until we are ready and have packed everything. And to start the day without breakfast is impossible for us. The route is dry and boring so far, only the villages are pretty and always invite us to stay. Every now and then there is a small green oasis at the edge of the road. My ankle rebels on day 4 against the unfamiliar daily strain. The worst is when cyclists come by, with mini pack bags and nylonshirts. It is extremely hard for me to be positive in the mornings, with the prospect of a whole day in sweaty hiking boots.So I start walking in flip flops, which gives me a little relief. Fortunately, there are many good distractions, nice acquaintances, stories, some wine in the evening and one time even a pool – we meet interesting people from all over the world.
Bad mood: Already on the 5th day I can barely stand on my feet and urgently need other shoes. The mood is bad, I see no way to finish this path. Every step hurts. As a contingency plan, we take a bus for 71 km to Leon, to look there for shoes. We find hostel in the monastery with obligatory fair and when we later in the day want to go to the city festival in the beautiful old town, we are told that at 22:30 light out and doors closed. We were very happy to be back in a big city, but the circumstances are not ideal. Nevertheless, we are driven somehow by an internal time pressure. I have new shoes and we continue walking the next day. We are rewarded with a nice hostel, where we can sleep under the starry sky on the porch. The daily hike is so far still more torment than enrichment (especially for me), but the nice evenings in the hostels steer us again and again.
Finally, we come up with the idea of sending our tent and other stuff by post to Santiago and have a little relief on our backs. Nevertheless, the hikes are endlessly difficult and I am devastated by doubts. In contrast, we always find beautiful small places for breaks. It is an extreme up and down of emotions. Also for us 3 friends the trip is a huge burden, we had decided in the beginning to always stay together on the path. But now it is clear that we are very different, especially at the pace. If it were after me would be done walking after 15 km each day, but one of us is much more purposeful and the other is in between. On day 10 we went already 182 km and finally the way included some shady trails through a forest! In the evening, however, all my bones hurt and we are extremely exhausted, but more than half of the way is still in front of us.
Daily we have deep talks among ourselves and with the people we meet, there is a lot of time to learn from each other and to reflect on life. I constantly fantasize, think of cold water and comfortable luxury beds. We even manage to get up at 5:30 am and start early, it’s a great feeling to have managed 16 km before 10 o’clock and not have to hike the majority of the track in the heat. The hostels by the way are consistently cheap (5-15 €) and nice. Many different people sleeping in bunk beds – not so ideal, if some still chat until 2 o’clock and others get up at 5:30. We are driven by kilometers, want to make it to daily at least 20-25 km, as it is proposed in the tour guides. Sometimes we have to pass the most beautiful hostels and then spend the night in boring places, where did our time pressure come from?
Second half of the way: On the 13th day there are two options: The Camino Duro with luggage service, a nice but steep way, or a boring way as always, with luggage. We decide for the first and are for the first time only with small bags on the way, although we find that the way was no too steep. The track is really nice and we feel freed from the loads. On the way, I finally get an insight: The way is like life – make the best of it and motivate you! It feels like a short enlightenment. I realize that there are always bad and good moments, no matter what you do or where you are. In the end you are responsible for what you do and how you react. After all, I met people who have been on the road for a long time, but are much happier and take life much easier – so it seems to me..
At the end of the route (we couldn’t stay at a dream hostel, because our luggage is waiting elsewhere) we must go to a mass hostel with double stock beds in an 80er room. Next to me a foreigner in the double bed, who I unfortunately only get to know, as he was already asleep. In addition, we had to learn: Even without luggage, you feel a lot of pain in your body after 25 km. Many of our conversations are now about blisters on our feet. We have not heard anything from the world, the pilgrim cosmos is like a world of its own, and smartphones have not been a topic at the time, just one message is on all the shops: Michael Jackson is dead. We feel like on another planet, everything is very far away – especially the small problems of everyday life.
The last 100 km go quick: Every day, more people are on the route, sometimes it is even hard to find a hostel. We become more skilled and even make 20 km before 12 o’clock and until the evening one day even 40 km. For my two friends no problem, I am almost in tears of the pain. I have the feeling that I am burdening the others with my suffering and even pulling them down. At the same time, I feel more and more like going on alone at my own pace. Unfortunately this is not really an option for me, I’m too afraid of being alone. Unfortunately I can not keep my pain completely for myself. On day 15 I push through and we stay after only 15 km in a fantastic hostel, the mood is divided. I tell myself, we are walking a path and we have a goal, but if a nice place invites on the road, I would like to be able to stay there. We have found nice companions, relax the whole afternoon and drink local fire punch in the evening with the inns. The next day the mood is better, we sing songs while walking, tell stories and ask each other puzzles. In the evening unfortunately again all the hostels are full, we have to dusk long … Kindly we get extra beds and exhausted fall into a deep sleep. Again and again these doubts: Why do we stress so much, why do we not just go by bus? We realize that we will reach Santiago earlier than expected, and divert us with plans for the time after arriving at our destination.
The last 100 km before Santiago are a very nice way, but overflown with pilgrims who only make this route. We are already for 300 km on the road and do not feel like part of this group. As always, beautiful moments alternate with challenges. Unfortunately, I am still unable to get my whims permanently under control. Somehow we had expected that after a few days of familiarization we would be able to enjoy the way more and more. For me, the whole way was more like a rollercoaster, quite hard overall. But we met many people on the way, who were happy despite the many daily kilometers, and others were generally more relaxed and slower. Others made a weakened impression or had to make long breaks or break off. I guess for our age we were not bad at all! Our last day before Santiago is nice at the beginning, but then it gets more annoying. When we have to have lunch in the late afternoon on a traffic island in glowing heat, there is still no sleeping place in sight. Shortly before Santiago we arrive at a mass hostel, our last day we had imagined differently… So we arrive in Santiago at day 19 and find a cheap 3 bed room right next to the Cathedral. We pick up our tent luggage and meet with people we had met on the way. We are on target. Exhausted and happy. The next day we go to the great Mass and pick up our pilgrimage certificate.
We arrive after 20 days: Now we’d had 20 days of daily torture on over 20 kms a day and then finally arrived 10 days before our flight, was that curse or blessing? Anyway, what a great feeling not have to walk on a daily basis anymore! 421 km we had hiked, 71 km by bus. We did not want to stay long in Santiago, but quickly move to the sea. Again and again we had thought about it on the way: Do we spontaneously fly to Barcelona, where the weather is always good? Or do we go to the Atlantic coast near Santiago, where the weather is mixed in July? As we had already booked the return flight from Santiago, we decided for the latter. A bus from Santiago takes 2 hours to Muros, where we had heard about the campsite San Francisco.
We spend a week on this nice campsite in a dreamy, quiet environment and in changing, beautiful weather. We have a lot of time to think about the pilgrimage route and finally relax. We also think a lot about the future, two of us will move to Berlin after the trip. It is funny now to stay in the tent for a week, we feel like we have to move every day, this nomad feeling almost internalized. Many afternoons we simply enjoy this fantastic place: jumping in the wild Atlantic waves, lie naked in the warm rocks and lay mussel Pictures in the sand. In the rain and wind we run off the beach and drink warm cocoa. Flea market in next village, small restaurants and open air cinema at the beach campsite. The songs on the mp3 Player, which often saved me during the pilgrimage, now sound quite different and bring all the memories back. At night we lie awake in the tent and chat. Sundresses, weather cloaks, naked people at the beach, long walks without luggage – we feel free and undisturbed, finally. On the 28th day we take the bus to Fisterra to the so-called “end of the world”, the winding bus ride is a test. The “Cape Finisterre” is for some People the km 0 of the pilgrimage and we even meet two girls who we had met at the very beginning. We almost miss the nightly pilgrim atmosphere on the Camino, it’s so easy to get in touch with people! Now we are more on our own.
Our last day at the sea is completely rainy, but we still go to the beach and scream for a long time against the wind. The next morning all is wet, we pack it somehow and go back to Santiago, go to the hairdresser and spend the last evening in a hip pilgrim hostel in nice company.
It is funny to summarize the diary of 2009 now, much I had already completely forgotten, other things I see still alive before me. In hindsight I would do a lot differently: Minimalist luggage, light and comfortable shoes, go the way alone, do not book a return flight. I still find it fascinating to take a trip on foot or by bike, to carry your luggage and to experience every meter consciously. The frustrations that arise are a great opportunity to work on your own and expand your own boundaries. I am anxious to see if I will be able to enjoy my journey on the next trip of this kind!
Let me know your pilgrim experiences or questions in the comments. 🙂