DOES THE WORLD NEED ANOTHER CAMINO BLOG? Probably not; there is already an overwhelming amount of blogs about Camino Santiago but I was strongly encouraged by my “fans” to write one – so here it is.
Heads up: I did not finish the Camino because I ran out of time and the weather turned really cold, rainy and snowy. I started at the end of September of 2021 from St. Jean, France and finished beginning of November, in Sarria, Spain, about 150 kms short of Santiago, walking a total of 635 kms.
This blog is not a guide on how to do the Camino; there is lots of information that can help someone plan the Camino. This blog is about how I did it.
Why do people do the Camino:
People on the Camino usually ask each other: why do they walk. Majority of the people that I met were “in betweens”: In between jobs, in between careers, in between spouses/partners, etc. hoping that by the end of the Camino they will have answers on major life decisions. Many of them were what I (lovingly) call homeless, had all their stuff stored somewhere and didn’t really have a place to come back to until and if they figure out the rest of their lives. However, having done the walk I don’t really think that Camino is the answer to one’s existential quest. Camino is awesome but it does not provide answers, it is just something to do albeit as amazing as it is. For me the allure of the Camino was actually a way out of bothersome thoughts and the stresses of daily life. In reality, all you do is think about how much you want to walk each day, where to sleep and where to eat…and how to deal with blisters which eventually everybody gets. And then you walk and walk. .. I believe that people who come with expectations to sort out their lives leave with same questions as they came with.
Why did I do the Camino:
I did the Camino to see if I can and to enjoy it, which I definitely did. I was not trying to solve any questions and was not looking for any answers. The most of my goals were to learn to appreciate and enjoy nature and to be a little less goal oriented then in my “real life”. Having very little spiritual expectations I enjoyed the walk tremendously and looking forward to complete it next year.
The “Right way “ to do the Camino and my own “glam” way:
The phrase that you hear the most is “There is no right way to do the Camino”; however the unwritten rule is that the “right” way is to carry your own heavy pack, not to pre-book your accommodations and to sleep in Albergos in rooms with 20 to 200 people with one common toilet and showers for all. But as a wise man (you know who you are…) said: “suffering is for idiots” to which I add: life is too short not to enjoy it.
So first of all I was not carrying my backpack. I do have an excuse –previously broken vertebrae, but truthfully, even if my back was totally healthy, I wouldn’t carry it either. For 5 to 7 Euros/day, there are several companies that will do it for you. I had a very good experience with Caminofacil until they abruptly stopped the service on October 27. Then I used Jacotran, which were reliable but you had to physically put 5 Euros in cash in an envelope and attach it to your luggage each morning which was less convenient then getting an invoice at the end as with Caminofacil. Some people also use the Spanish post office Correos for the job.
Second, after the first night in an Albergo in Orisson, where I was able to fall asleep only after taking a sleeping pill (loud snoring), it became obvious that private rooms with my own shower and a toilet is the way to go for me.
Third, after the first few days and the rush to put in the miles, it became clear to me that if I want to enjoy it, I have to accept the fact that I will not finish this time. My initial plan was to do 20 kms /day and to finish the 800kms to Santiago in 40 days –reasonable. ..Not for me. I love to travel and if I am in a foreign country I need to explore and to do some sightseeing which I didn’t account for in my planning. I also did not account for the cumulative fatigue and the blisters that require periodic rest stops. So I lingered in some bigger cities, did sightseeing, got massages and manicures where I could find some, things that definitely raised eyebrows from my judgmental fellow pilgrims, but who cares, there is no right way to do the Camino…
Having accepted that I am not going to finish the Camino this time, everything became easier and the stress to get somewhere was gone and I could switch between being a Camino pilgrim and a tourist as much as I wanted to.
Being a tourist on the Camino
- We stayed in Pamplona for two nights where we took an audio tour in the Arena de Torres and learned about the famous Running of The Bulls. We had breakfast at the famed Café Iruna where Hemingway used to sit (really bad service) and lunch of tapas and wine in the renowned Bar Gaucho. The nightlife in Pamplona was explosive and we loved it after 2 years of quiet during Covid.
2. We stayed four nights in Logrono, a city known for its pinchos (small tapas). Logrono is a capital of Rioja and obviously pinchos and wine is the main entertainment. We stayed in a four star hotel, Los Brasos, right across the famous Laurel Street where people eat and drink till the early hours of the morning. One day we took a bus to Haro, (which also claims to be the capital of Rioja?!) for wine tasting. There is a cluster of about 10 wineries in the outskirts of the city where you can easily walk from one winery to another. We did some shopping in Decathlon, a great store for Camino cloth and supplies; did laundry and a manicure. My bf only walked with me till Logrono and on his last day before leaving we had an amazing seafood lunch at www.marisquerialalonja.es and re-watched the Way.
My next big stop was in Burgos where I stayed for 4 days exploring the city and waiting for a friend to join me on the Camino. In Burgos I visited the Cathedral, Modern Art Gallery, Burgos Museum and Goya Exhibit. I went to a rock concert and a classical concert at Teatro Principal. I got a massage and a manicure, did laundry and some more shopping in Decathlon for some warmer cloth. I did lots of pincho tasting. Notable pincho bars are: La Quinta del Monje, La Cantina de Burgos, Tapas San Lesmes and Los Herreros. I want to note my hotel, Centro Braseros, where I got a great room with a tub (soaking in hot water helps to heal blisters) and the service was above and beyond good.
The last big stop was Leon, where my friend and I stayed for three nights in surprisingly nice and modern hostal, Alda Barrio Humedo. In Leon, I visited the Cathedral, which I liked more than others, definitely a more tasteful and somewhat lighter then the “heavy” one in Burgos, Casa Botines, designed and built by Gaudi and took a tour of Palacio Guzmanos. I also managed to get two great leg and feet massages at Bualuang Thai Massage. This was the best so far and the lady accommodated me for a late evening appointment.
Daily routine as a “laid back” pilgrim
A word about eating on the Camino: The Spaniards, especially in rural areas are completely rigid and inflexible in their eating habits and what is offered on the Camino. Breakfast is coffee, sometimes orange juice and a carb: toast or croissant. Even if there are ingredients available for something else under their noise they will not budge to prepare something else, believe me we tried to ask for substitutes. Lunch ends around 3 pm and then there is nothing till dinner around 7pm. Most hostals (hostal is a hybrid of hotel and guesthouse) and many restaurants offer pilgrim meals for 12 to 15 Euros which consist of two rather large courses, desert and wine. Having decided NOT to gain weight on this trip we opted for having one such meal a day preferably lunch and thus planned our days accordingly.
We got up at 7 am each morning because we had to have our luggage ready for transport by 8 am. By the way my luggage as too small, everything did fit but it was packed so tight that taking one item out would mess up the rest. Then we had breakfast and walked for the next 5 or 6 hours with some coffee/tea stops where available. We stopped to take pictures, to pick grapes, walnuts and figs that grow plenty on the way. Sometimes I made a conscious effort to slow down to breath in gorgeous sights and the views. Unfortunately, I was in a minority; most people just rush by clanking their walking poles afraid to slow down for a minute so they can put in more miles. People brag about how many miles they can walk in a day completely missing the experience of the way without paying any attention to their surroundings. I actually wanted to extend the experience instead of going thru as fast as I could. An owner of one hotel we spoke with wisely said: If you rush thru and finish the Camino in record time, then you are done and then what?
We usually arrived at our destination by the end of lunch time, ate and took naps after lunch. Naps are great to recuperate as this constant walking does take a toll on your body. Another good reason to be in private rooms as there is no way you can take maps in Albergos. In bigger towns there are bars and cafes you can hang out otherwise there is not much to do in the evening so bed time is usually around 10pm.
To conclude, this was an amazing experience –can’t wait to go back!