The feeling was more one of relief than elation to be finally standing in front of and in awe of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. I had made it. I had many doubts along the way but there I was, 780 km later.
Of course I was glad I persisted, I unearthed resilience and determination that was deeply buried. When people think of the Camino in Spain they are usually referring to the Camino Frances not always knowing that there are many more, throughout Spain and many other countries. The Camino Frances is the most popular and well known.
I was a solo traveller without a schedule so could choose how many kms I walked a day, when and where to eat and where to sleep each night. I met people who did the walk in 28 days and others in 51 days. Walking on one’s own was so liberating, so much freedom and so many wide open spaces.
I completed the walk in the average 34 days starting in St Jean Pied de Port at the foothills of the Pyrenes in France. The excitement of the first day climbing up over the Pyrenes into Spain was probably my favourite day on the Camino. It was the end of May and I was thrilled to be on my way in glorious clear blue skies and spring temperatures. Ideal walking conditions. Mind you the steep descent back into Spain proved challenging on the knees.
It took about 5-7 days to get into a routine that worked well for me and that I continued for the whole trip. Woke about 5:45, I left at 6:30 am, no alarms, pack had been packed from the night before and walking clothes lined up for the day so it didn’t take long to get organised. There were many empty beds before I even got up as others had set out earlier.
By 6:30 it was just light with the sun rising and the colours of the sky never failed to disappoint. Best part of the day. Initially concerned about my essential morning coffee, I found it was quite easy to break this habit. There was to be no beverage, apart from water, for 1-2 hrs when I came across a café for breakfast. It was frequently 2 hrs but a good portion of my days walk had been covered which made breakfast all the more enjoyable.
Breakfast was usually a very social occasion as many familiar faces from many different countries shared tables. There were so many people flying solo it was effortless to have company whenever one wanted. Though we may have had different reasons for doing our Camino, we all had one common goal, to put one foot in front of the other until we reached Santiago de Compostela. Also the albergues didn’t open until between 1-3pm so no point in rushing.
Days averaged from 20-29 kms depending on the elevation and location of accommodation. When I registered at the Pilgrims office in St Jean Pied de Port I was given a list of towns and albergues on the Camino as well as an elevation sheet. I had also downloaded one of many available apps, ‘The Wise Pilgrim’ and this proved invaluable and would highly recommend.
My preference was to walk alone during the day and socialise in the evenings over a group dinner. Some days I would not see anyone for 4 hrs or more, it was easy to check the app to reassure myself I was on the actual Camino as at times had missed that yellow arrow.
The terrain varied from what we would call a fire trail to mountain tracks to stony paths. Noting as difficult as a Blue Mountains bushwalk!
Albergue accommodation ranged from staying in a remote country monastery or village to towns and cities, the standard and price also varied depending on location and number of bunks in the room,
It was not uncommon to see the same faces day after day, at least in the first 7-10 days. We had all started the same day and people seemed to average the same kms. After that some people took a day off and some even finished up! Not everyone set out to complete the Camino in one hit.
The walking was bliss, weather perfect, often dramatic afternoon storms but had always checked in by then so heading off early worked well. In the whole time I wore my rain poncho once for about 7 mins!
I loved the whole eat/sleep/walk/repeat routine of my day, never having to worry what outfit to wear, never shopping and cooking for food and all the usual mundane but essential components to my life back home.
At times it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, blisters played up and motivation was low. But I somehow persevered. The walk was one of the best experiences of my life and thought I swore I’d never do another one I’m already scanning that map! Shorter one next time.