About this time last year, my mother called me and asked if I wanted to backpack around Europe. Admittedly, I was surprised because she isn’t the adventurous type, but of course I readily agreed. This idea evolved into a three-week trip to Spain, where we would visit three different cities and then backpack the last 100 km of the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago originated as a Christian pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James are said to be buried. However, while it is still a “pilgrimage,” people from all over the world do it for various reasons. For my mom and me, it was for the adventure and to prove to ourselves we could. There are multiple starting points, but the required distance to receive the “Compostela,” or certificate of completion, is at least 100 km.
Since we were limited on time, and my mom was unsure of her physical abilities, we started in Sarria, which is 114 km away from Santiago. We had chosen to complete the Camino in five days, which had us staying in Sarria, Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Pedrouzo and finally ending in Santiago. This made the most sense for our timeline, and it was very doable.
Our days consisted of waking up early, around 6:30 a.m., to begin walking. After an hour or so, we would stop at a café on the way to eat breakfast and fuel up. Usually, we would wait until we arrived in the town we were staying in to find lunch and dinner. We were walking about 14 miles per day, but our longest day was 19 miles. For this we had to take plenty of breaks to rest our feet and take care of any blisters (duct tape works wonders).
Each night we stayed at an albergue, which is similar to a hostel, but many times they are run by people who have completed the Camino in the past and feel connected to it. Everyone is very friendly, and many albergues host communal dinners, which allow you to get to know your fellow pilgrims. It is best to call ahead for a reservation, but for some you can just check to see if they have availability when you get there.
It was a remarkable experience and allowed for a lot of self-reflection along the way, since many times you are walking in silence with your thoughts. I also got the chance to meet people from all around the world, ranging from Missouri to Australia. Even though everyone was coming from different backgrounds and languages, we were united through the common goal of completing the Camino.
If I could offer any advice: Do it! Even if you are unsure about your physical capabilities, it is doable for anyone. We saw a 10-year-old boy doing it and also a 75-year-old man. Take it at your own pace and don’t be afraid to take a rest day if you need one.
Make sure you have a blister kit with more than you think you will need. My hiking shoes had never given me blisters before, but they did on the Camino. Luckily, my mom was very prepared on this front.
Make new friends! Talking helps pass the time more than anything else. Everyone is very friendly. Many people travel alone and make new friends who walk at the same pace.
Take the time to truly enjoy your journey. Yes, this sounds cheesy, but take the time to sit and have a coffee. Take time to enjoy all the amazing food and new friends. It goes by so fast.