There is a profound simplicity to walking the camino. The rhythm of walking and breathing consumes most of the day and the nights are filled with exhausted sleep. Everyday we wake, walk, talk, eat, walk, talk, walk, shower, launder, talk, eat and sleep. This rhythm at first seems never ending, but the body easily welcomes such a flow of exercise, thought and relaxation. Our day’s tasks echo the simple cycle of the sun that rises and sets in a pure unaltered rhythm.
Experiencing these cycles of the sun has been one of the most enjoyable portions of the camino. Our path is surrounded with all colors and fragments of light. We walk in the deep dark of morning, there is sometimes disorienting fog, there are bright pinks and oranges of sunrise, intense brilliant midday heat, afternoon glow and the reds and purples of sunset welcome star-filled nights. Like our breathing in and out and our hearts beating the sun rises and sets each day on our camino.
Walking from the darkness of pre-dawn into the light provides an optimism to the the steady and difficult walking to be completed that day and every day for four weeks. Our lives are filled with the uneventful beauty of peace. Very little happens each day, but slowly we have progressed to our destination- the city of Santiago de Compostela.
So what is it like to finally arrive at a place after walking 500 miles (800km)? It felt like just another day, another church, another plaza and another new town. I did not feel any intense emotion at finally being at the place. I was excited, anxious and a bit confused. But I think what was more overwhelming was the ending of it all. The steady tranquil walking was over.
I stared up at the enormous ornate church facade letting the whole experience soak in. Each detail and carving reminded me of a laugh or pain, a blessing or hardship, or the humility or arrogance of my journey across Spain. My mind raced with all the wonderful memories from our trip. There were our favorite little towns, food and sights. I also felt the warmth of so many wonderful people that we met. Didier and Basile gave wonderful friendship and conversation on the early part of our journey, Donovan, Nancy and Robbie Inspired us to drink more, laugh more and eat more chocolate. There were so many new friends of all ages and from all over the world: Irish Richard and Joe, Missouri’s Jim and Ryan, German Gina and Christian, British Sara and Garett, Deanna and Kerry from Australia, Danish Lisette and Bibi and the spirited Suzanne from Colorado.
I cannot forget the most special peregrina of my journey, Carmen. It is amazing after ten years of a relationship that there is more to learn, and that there is room to grow closer and more intwined into each others lives. The trail provides a time to talk, to listen and to empathize from the depths of my core. Walking the Camino to Santiago with someone is difficult; all their pains, challenges and frustrations become disruptions in your experience. But the joys of smiling, relaxing, and acomplishing are heightened beyond belief when shared with someone you love. It takes a dedication to one another, a willingness to compromise, and a persistence to make it to the end (wherever that is) no matter what….and holding hands. The camino has been a personal and shared journey and the Compostela is a mere milestone in the exciting life ahead of us.
The city of Santiago de Compostela is a flurry of excited tourists and pilgrims. Thousands of people descend onto the city filling the cathedral and outdoor cafes. The sight to see is the “swinging smelly thing,” the botafumeiro that masks the smell of the pilgrims attending mass. There is also a time to reflect on the journey, people watch and relax.
Many pilgrims continue their journey for another three days after Santiago. They walk to the most western portion of continental Europe, Finisterre. Someday we will make that journey, but we went to the beach instead. A high-speed train took us to A Coruña on the north coast of Spain. The buildings were decorated with ornate picturesque balconies, and the beach stretched for miles. The one thing we forgot was how difficult it is to find restaurants open in Spain on Sundays. We did find a chocolatería that served delicious churros, we rested on the beach in the sun and we strolled on the beach boardwalk before returning to Santiago for another night out.
Walking for so many hours has allowed the engineer in me to think about the many numbers and values that go into a journey of this type. Here are some of the most relevant numbers of the camino:
– 29 days to walk from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago
– 1,000,000 footsteps each to walk 500 miles (1,100-1,300 steps/km)
– 180 hours of walking (approx 4.5km/hr)
– 150 villages, towns and small cities
– 27 liters of wine consumed together
– 20 liters of beer consumed together
– 180 liters of water consumed together
– 25 three course pilgrim dinners
Finding the right information about this journey can be difficult. For anyone planning a trip on the Camino Francés we have a few recommendations from our experiences and those shared by friends. The landscape of Spain is extraordinarily diverse with mountains, deserts and seascapes; we enjoyed them all, but here are some of the best portions.
Favorite stretches of the Camino:
– St. Jean to Roncesvalles and Larrasoaña
– Astorga to Molinaseca
– Villafranca to O’Cebreiro (scenic route via Dragonte and San Fiz de Seo)
The city and food of a place can make the journey even better. Sometimes we would land in places that were complete dives, other times the people welcomed us with delicious food and friendship. If you are hiking the Camino make sure that you stop and sleep in these places, it will be worth it:
Our Favorite Albergue experiences:
– Azofra municipal albergue – private rooms.
– La Piedra in Villafranca – clean, friendly and built into the mountainside.
– Porta de Santiago in Arca o Pino – clean and welcoming.
Some friend’s favorite Aubergue experiences:
– Grañón parish hostel – nightly communal parade in the street.
– Boadilla del Camino – “En El Camino” – pool, huge lawn, great food and family that
is very welcoming.
– Santibañez Parish Albergue, Excellent communal dinner.
– Send a comment if you have any others.
One of the most amazing experiences of the camino is the consisent transition from the natural environment to the villages and cities. Even the smallest town has density of buildings and people that exceeds San Francisco. The history and community of the people is layered like the mortar and stones that make up their buildings. Here is a list of our favorite towns, sleep here or plan on spending a couple hours to enjoy the character and charm that each has to offer:
– Zubiri- cute riverside village.
– Puente de la Reina- charming town with wonderfully detailed buildings.
– Los Arcos- Quaint plaza with cafes and sangria.
– Santo Domingo- chickens in the cathedral!
– Hontanas- tiny village, but friendly and relaxing.
– Carrión- wonderful market and many streets to stroll and people watch.
– Hospital del Orbigo- long bridge leads to charming main street.
– Molinaseca- picturesque stone village.
– Villafranca del Bierzo – the start of the mountains and transition of cultures.
The Camino Francés passes through some of Spain’s best cities. The culture and devotion to the camino has taken place for a thousand years and nowhere on the journey is it more prevalent than in these wonderful places:
Best Small Cities:
– Pamplona- a mix of Basque and Spanish with color and food to match the vibrancy
of the people.
– Burgos- taller and more dense with copious amounts of plazas and cafes.
– León- a maze of winding streets with tapas bars enclosed by old city walls.
– Astorga- a hilltop city of chocolate factories, parks, churches and Gaudí.
The Camino de Santiago was life-changing. It was subtle, but the effects of a journey of this type are positive. The mind and body is put to work through all the complexities and weight that burdens the daily life. I feel that my core has been cleansed. I am ready to explore more of the world, and I welcome the time return to my career. I feel this inner peace, a contented soul that is difficult to describe other that there is lack of cloudiness. There is clarity of who I am and where I am going. To those I meet along the way, “Buen Camino!”