The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is something that hundreds of thousands of people participate in every year. Legend has it that the remains of St. James are buried in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and people have been making the walk to his tomb since the ninth century. Today, people make the walk not only for religious reasons, but for travel and sport as well. While there are many routes one can take, the Camino Frances is the most popular and most well-marked of all the trails. It starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and traverses the Pyrenees before heading west, crossing through major cities such as Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon. Once completing the 480 miles (or almost 800 kilometers), many pilgrims choose to walk a few more days to the atlantic town of Finisterra, which was once believed as being the end of the world. Others choose to end their journey in Santiago de Compostela, where they receive a certificate for walking at least the last 100 kilometers.
St. Jean Pied de Port, France
My experience walking the Camino Frances was nothing short of amazing. While some days I cursed myself for agreeing to walk across an entire country, most of my time was spent talking to other pilgrims from around the world, laughing with old and new friends, and enjoying a peaceful moment of solitude to digest everything going on around me.
Some days were just walking through endless fields…
A typical day for a pilgrim could look like this: You wake up around 6am to other people shuffling around your dorm room, getting ready for the day ahead. Planning on sleeping another half hour, you get up early since there’s no hope of falling back asleep with all the muffled chatter going on. You fumble through your backpack in the darkness and pull on one of two hiking outfits that you have packed, and after ten minutes, you’re ready to hit the road. You head out in the darkness, admiring the moon and the stars, and follow the flashlights of your fellow sleepy pilgrims.
By this point, you’ve probably watched another beautiful sunrise, and you realize that your stomach is starting to growl. Thankfully, another town in only a couple kilometers away and you can grab a pastry and a coffee to fuel you through lunch. You meet up with some friends you’ve met over the last few days, and you walk as a group, talking about every topic imaginable.
A beautiful sunrise
Around noon time you notice another town coming up soon, so you decide to get something for lunch. Your options could include sitting at a restaurant and ordering some tapas, stopping at a cafe for sandwich (or a bocadillo, as they’re called in Spain), or running to the grocery store for something a bit quicker. After resting for a while, you decide it’s best to get back on the road if you have any hope of getting a bed in the town you’re stopping in.
After walking a couple more hours, you arrive to your destination for the day. There may be several albergues available, so you check in to one and finally can relax for the day. At the albergue (pilgrim’s hostel) you’ll find a bed, a warm shower, and possibly a meal. Many places offer pilgrim meals for dinner and include a first course, a second course, dessert, bread, and wine for around 10 euro.
Relaxing at an albergue with some new friends
Once dinner is finished, many pilgrims will be milling about hanging out with one another, laughing about all of the mutual aches and pains you feel. You decide to call it a night and lay your sleeping bag out on the bed, falling fast asleep from exhaustion and maybe a little too much wine.
As you can tell, I talk about the Camino very fondly. I met some really incredible people from around the world, and loved hearing everyone’s unique stories. The best part might have been that people of all ages were on the trail. From a 22 month year old to an 80 year old; anyone can make the pilgrimage to Santiago.
The Cathedral in Santiago and the shoes that got me there!