The Camino de Santiago
We’re actually walking across the entire country of Spain
Many months ago, my two brothers Ben and Mike, as well as myself, decided that it might be a good idea for us to do something awesome in Europe. Considering that Cam and I were about to finish our trip in South Africa, it seemed like it might be the perfect time to pull everyone together for another amazing adventure. After many conversations, we decided that our next step would be to complete the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage throughout Europe (yet mostly Spain) that has been carried out for centuries. Although the starting points vary, most people start from St. John-Pied-de-Port, France and walk or bike all the way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain — a journey that typically takes about a month across a distance of about 500 miles.
What’s the end goal? The city of Santiago de Compostela — or more specifically — the shrine of St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is supposedly the resting place of St. James the Great — one of the twelve apostles of Christ.
And although this journey is typically one that Catholics take upon themselves, none of us boys practice Catholicism in any way, shape, or form. However, the idea of walking 500 miles, living hostel by hostel (or as us pilgrims call them… albergues), across some of the most beautiful landscapes that we could imagine, seemed like a pretty good idea to us. So we decided to go for it.
If I’m being entirely honest, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. The four of us are certainly in relatively good physical condition. However, walking 500 miles (averaging 12–15 miles per day) is something that we (particularly me) just didn’t plan for.
In my own case, I’m carrying all of my belongings from having lived in Seychelles for six months. This means that essentially everything I own (save a box or two at my parent’s house in Iowa) is in my backpack. And although I’ve been downsizing since I left the islands, I’ve still found myself carrying nearly 20 kilograms (45 pounds) on my back — nearly 30% of my body weight.
Ben and Mike did well to bring only the bare essentials, but I know that Cam is also dealing with carrying a significant amount of weight on his back during this journey as well.
On The Daily
On a daily basis, our schedule typically remains consistent. We rise between 7 and 8 o’clock, pack our things, and begin walking on the path to Santiago. More often than not, this path is denoted by signs that contain a blue and yellow shell, or if not, a yellow arrow that displays the direction in which we should proceed. We often utilize public roads, private farmland, and trails that can contain anything between only mud — all the way to wonderfully-kept paved surfaces.
This path not only winds through Spanish farmlands, but also, the beautiful small towns spread out along this northern part of Spain. Because of this, we’ve been able to see some fantastically diverse views of Spain, all from traveling only by foot.
After an hour or two of walking in the morning, we typically try to stop for breakfast/brunch at a café in one of the small communities that we pass through. This usually includes coffee, freshly squeezed juice, as well as croissants, bocadillas (a type of Spanish sandwich), or other types of breakfast pastries.
Soon after, we begin again and continue walking through the lunch hour. On most days, we walk about 20 kilometers (12 miles), and usually make it to our destination by 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
At this time, we check in at the local albergue — which is an establishment typically owned and operated by the municipal government for the sole purpose of providing Camino de Santiago pilgrims with a place to stay during their trip.
The prices vary, but we usually expect them to be somewhere between 5 and 10 Euros ($6–11 USD) per night, which includes a bed, a cheap set of sheets, and Wifi.
The remainder of the day usually consists of us exploring the surrounding areas, purchasing bread, meat, and fruit at the local shops for dinner, as well as socializing with other pilgrims and/or sleeping in the hostel. It is also common for many pilgrims to attend Catholic mass, which typically takes place in the local cathedral.
At the time of writing this, we’re only about 25% of the way to our final destination — but I can honestly say it’s been a rewarding experience thus far. Yes, our feet hurt like hell, and we’re exercising muscles that we didn’t know we had.
But we’ve also met a handful of people that have been unique in their own way, and we’ve certainly had the opportunity to bond between one another in ways that we hadn’t yet.
As one fellow pilgrim described it… “The road makes my feet hurt, but we’re all suffering together on our way to Santiago”. And the statement is true. Many, if not, all of the pilgrims I’ve come across thus far have described that their feet are hurting in some way. But we all keep walking. We all keep walking together in the direction of Santiago. And while the reasons for our journeys are as diverse as the people themselves on this path — we all share the daily schedule and experience of packing up, walking, and then settling back down — just one step closer to Santiago.
This experience has been a lot different than the one Cam and I had in South Africa. But I still think it shares a few valuable elements. We’re experiencing loads of cultural tidbits that we wouldn’t have had access to back in the States (I’ve finally been able to exercise my Spanish after five years of it being unused), and we’re able to experience daily life in a completely extraordinary way. And for me personally, the “alternate” experience is something that I continue to find valuable during my time away from America.
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