Journey of Inspiration

Spain the 800km Camino de Santiago – the Way of St James
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  • which way? which way?
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A Quick Glance

Destination(s) Spain the 800km Camino de Santiago – the Way of St James

Duration 7 or 40 days

Traveller(s) Solo or group

Trip highlight Arriving in Santiago De Compostela, meeting fellow travellers, home cooked meals at farms stays, beautiful scenery and peacefulness.

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A pilgrimage across Spain, an 800km journey of the Camino De Santiago was enough to make me stop and think... more walking, less working... This is my new mantra in life. 

Last year I walked across Spain - the 800km Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James.  My journey commenced in France at St Jean Pier de Port, with the first challenge of walking up and over the Pyrenees. The weather plays a big part in the success of the trip and I was blessed with sunny skies.   

I stayed the first night in Orisson, not realising how emotional this night would be!  Following dinner we were all invited to give a brief encounter of our reasons for taking the pilgrimage, and of the 40 people, no two stories were the same.  The ages ranged from a 16 year old girl to an 84 year old lady attempting this journey for the third time.  There were about six nationalities in the room, and interestingly, the one individual that impacted me the most was the 74 year old Korean man who could speak no English but elected to sing.  With his beautiful opera voice, the sound that will sit with me for a lifetime, his gesture of peace and happy travels, and despite not understanding a single word, there was not a dry eye in the house. 

 This night really set the scene for me…"this is no ordinary journey…"

Not everyone was doing the entire pilgrimage to Santiago; some people chose to do a week or two at a time.  Walking the last 100 Kilometers entitles the Compostela recognition, but I met a fair few people who started in Sarria.  Either way, I would be surprised if it wasn't a life changing moment in the same way, as it was for me. 

There are different reasons for embarking on the journey - shying away from problems, preparing to face new beginnings, or simply leaving the day to day routine behind, and at the same time trying to improve personal health and fitness.  My reasons were mixed: enjoying the great outdoors, immersing myself in a foreign land and challenging myself to complete on of the worlds' longest and greatest adventures. 

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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"...