Hiking the El Camino de Santiago
editors note: my friend bridget returned from hiking the camino de Santiago this summer and i was and still am so proud of her! not only did she walk the whole thing but she did it totally solo! she’s my hero. so i asked her to share her trip with us and hearing about her trip blew me away. enjoy!
1. What is the El Camino de Santiago?
El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage leading to the shrine of the apostle St. James, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Many people who walk the Camino do it for religious or spiritual reasons, but some do it for the cultural experience or for sport. There are many different routes that you can take but the most common one is the Camino Frances (French Way), starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port and ending in Santiago de Compostela (which is what I did!).
2. Why did you decide to embark on this pilgrimage?
I first heard about the Camino during my freshman year of college. I went to church one day and the priest had just come back from walking the Camino and talked about it during his homily. From that moment on, the Camino was on my heart and I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.
Fast forward to August 2018, I decided to embark on this pilgrimage for three reasons. First of all, I ran out of excuses for not going (undergrad, grad school, starting new jobs, etc.), secondly, I wanted to deepen my faith and grow closer to God, and thirdly, I had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship (5.5 years) and I wanted to walk to gain clarity and to fully get over my relationship. I thought to myself “What better way to move on from that relationship than by walking across Spain…”
3. HOW many miles did you walk? And what was that like?
In total, I walked a total of 500 miles…which is crazy to think about! While I’ve always remained active by playing soccer and doing the occasional hike, I’ve never done anything close to the Camino….walking between 12-20 miles per day for a month?! Trust me, if you knew me prior to me leaving for my trip you would not have thought I could do something like this. I am a notoriously slow walker and enjoy sitting on the couch and watching a show on Netflix (or two) or reading a good book. However, since I’ve been back I’m a changed woman! I am a much faster walker and can keep up with all of my friends. ;) But in all honesty, the Camino was exactly what I needed. It gave me the chance to really unplug from my daily routine and just be PRESENT. I was able to contemplate where I was in my life and think about the things that I wanted to change.
4. What are the 3 packing essentials you would recommend to someone thinking of hiking the camino?
If you were to leave right this minute and head to Spain to walk the Camino, here are 3 packing essentials that are a must:
1. Hiking Shoes/Trail Shoes that are well broken in: I mean, you will most likely still get blisters but it’s always better to have broken in your shoes than not at all!
2. CamelBak: I am SO glad I had this instead of a water bottle. Mine held 1.5 liters and was perfect for a day of walking. It was easily accessible and I could take sips as I walked along the trail without having to stop and take off my backpack. I highly recommend having one!
3. Journal: I’ve never been one to journal but I decided to keep one during my Camino and I’m glad I did. It was nice to be able to reflect on my experiences and write down the thoughts/feelings/moments that I had during my Camino that I can look back at whenever I want to reminisce.
If you’re thinking about embarking on this journey I highly suggest keeping your pack as light as possible! Bring only what you absolutely need. You’ll be walking for 7-8 hours per day and you will feel every ounce that you carry!
5. What was one surprising thing you learned about yourself or the world?
While walking, I realized how much I like to be in control of my life and my future, and how that was actually causing me pain. Over the course of my time on the Camino, I finally decided to not try and follow any guidebook suggestions on how far to walk or which town to stay in for the night and just live in the present moment, stopping only when and where I wanted to stop. Once I finally did that, I actually had a couple of days where I woke up feeling the most intense joy that I have ever know. I honestly could not keep from smiling for the entire day and I just felt genuinely happy. After experiencing that, I have made it a point in my life to be better about living in the present and taking life one day at a time. The future will come regardless and I no longer have any anxiety of what it will look like. In fact I say, “bring it on!”. All I need is God, my family, and my friends. With those three things I am not afraid.
6. What was the most difficult thing?
The most difficult thing was definitely the blisters. I managed to get some pretty gnarly ones early on, and while I did the best to take care of them, I finally listened to my body and decided to give myself a few rest days and I am so glad that I did! It’s definitely a humbling experiencing to have to listen to what your body and mind needs and be okay with resting. I’m always one to try and “push through the pain”, but on the Camino, I finally realized that that is not the healthiest mindset. It takes a strong person to recognize their weaknesses and do something to effect change. If I hadn’t taken the time to rest, I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to finish my journey.
7. What did you love the most about the experience?
For me, the best thing experience I had on the Camino was all the people that I met along the way. The entire time I was walking I kept thinking to myself, “this is how the world should be”. I mean, where else in the world can you find people of all ages, cultures, backgrounds, nationalities, etc. living in harmony and becoming friends? I met some of the most amazing people while walking and heard so many stories of the different reasons why people were walking. I’ve never had an experience before where you develop such deep relationships with others in such a short time frame. From the Camino I have made many life-long friends who I plan on keeping in touch with. Once you’ve made a friend on the Camino, you’ve made a friend for life.
8. How has adjusting back to real life been?
When I first came home from Spain, adjusting back to “real life” was tough. I had grown use to my simple way of living in Spain and was not ready to get back into the hustle and bustle of my daily life. Those first few weeks back, I kept wishing I was back on the Camino, just walking and thinking, instead of seeing my clients and typing up daily notes. Now that I’m a few months removed from my trip, I’ve definitely settled back into my daily routine. However, I am much more relaxed about the future and I am not worried about planning everything out. So I consider that a win!
9. Any other grand adventures in the works?
I’m planning on walking another Camino route next year if everything works out! This time I want to start in Portugal and then walk to Spain. It won’t be as long as my previous Camino (2 weeks compared to 4.5 weeks) but it will still be an adventure nonetheless! I have no idea what I will learn from this next Camino, but that’s part of the beauty of it.
10. Any advice for people thinking about a pilgrimage?
The Camino truly changed my life and I will be forever grateful for the experiences that I went through while walking (both the good and the challenging). I have gained a better sense of who I am and how I want to continue living my life going forward. If you’re thinking about doing something even remotely like this, don’t let fear or timing stop you. Things are placed on your heart for a reason, so listen to them. Make time to do the things that you want and need to do. I promise that you will not regret it.