The Camino is an escape, and the Spanish people are excited and proud to share their country and their culture, unique to the Camino… I was walking between 20 and 30 kilometers a day, most nights resting in Casa Rurals (Spanish home-stays), or local bed and breakfast accommodation as I was also very keen to sample the local cooking, usually dished up by the mama of the house, a real local feast, which generously included a bottle of wine to compliment the meal.
I enjoyed getting to know my fellow travellers...there was no shortage of stories and we knew those secrets would stay on the track. We also exchanged notes on the best tapas and favorite bars. One popular topic was ‘feet’; in all languages, ‘how are your feet?’ was the first question while sharing remedies for a blister-proof trip, and then the second question was ‘where are you from'...
It was wonderful to meet so many different nationalities, all ages and walks of life. I think the Dutch man who left his doorstep in Amsterdam and clocked up 2,500 kilometres getting to Santiago was probably my favorite pilgrim. His wife surprised him by flying in to meet him on the last day, it was a wonderful reunion for the man who had done his family proud by walking non-stop for three months.
It was the smaller villages that made the biggest impression rather than the larger towns, although Leon and Burgos are a must to enjoy a festival. If I appeared a little lost, there would be a local who was eager to point me in the right direction. The Camino is a very well-marked track, however on the mornings I left early to see a stunning sun rise, some of those famous yellow arrows which guide the way could be hidden if I didn’t think to use my torch.
Santa Domingo was a favorite stop and the history of the chickens living in the church was one that captured me. The tale tells of centuries ago a husband and wife returned to Santa Domingo with the belief their son was still alive despite being hanged. The man who delivered the news of the boys’ fate, stated their son was as dead as the chicken on his plate. He stabbed the chicken with his fork, and the chicken came to life, hence the chickens now occupy a small cavity of the church in recognition of the sons’ survival. Another impressive town was Astorga, where Antoni Gaudi flaunted more of his genius art. Gaudi’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature and religion. The impressive cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, is his design. Another feature of Astorga is the unusual tarts that fill the windows of all the bakeries lining the street. They are known as mantecades, a type of Spanish sponge pastry resembling a cross between a muffin and a scone.
It would be remiss not to mention Santiago with all the energy and ambiance of this special town that hosts festivals and market days all year round. It is worth a visit whether you walk the Camino or not. I read a few fascinating books on the Camino before I set out and one handy hint for me was not to "wish the walk away". I have a tendency to look towards a finishing line! I tried to ensure that I savoured each moment, so arriving into Santiago was a bitter sweet ending, however not without the feeling of great achievement. I was overcome by emotion the minute I heard the bagpiper busking under the bridge, just before I reached the Santiago Cathedral and the Compostela Office. I remember thinking that it was sad to think the words ‘Buen Camino’ would not be uttered again on this trip…Watching people arrive, hugging, rejoicing and toasting to their efforts was both cathartic and exhilarating. Even if you are not religious, and I am not, the pilgrims' mass at midday in the stunning cathedral was confirmation that I had walked where many others had stepped before and followed such an enlightening path.
My world had changed forever... I will be back and I have adopted the mantra "more walking, less working"...