Why the hell would anyone in their rightful mind want to walk across an entire country?!
Some are doing it for spiritual reasons, some for religious reasons, some just to get away from real life for a moment. As for people like me? I’m doing it solely for the challenge.
It’s called El Camino de Santiago — an 800 kilometer walk from the France/Spain border to nearly the Atlantic coast.
I’ve planned to do this walk since a little over a year ago. A friend from Manchester told me about it—said it was one of the most amazing experiences of her life. It immediately piqued my interest. I’ve never heard of it before and it sounded truly fascinating. Walking 800 kilometers from the France/Spain border to Santiago, a city in Spain, near the Atlantic Coast. I’ve never attempted anything quite like this before. A perfect addition to my quest to the seven continents.
During my quest, I thought very little of the camino. It was still far off and it wasn’t until just a few days before, when I did my research about what to pack.
Things that were recommended to bring, I didn’t have:
- a sleeping bag
a few small odds and ends
Things that I did have that I brought:
- three t-shirts
a light rain jacket
a pair of cargo shorts
two pairs of synthetic pants (they can unzip and become shorts if necessary)
two pairs of synthetic/wool socks
one pair of regular cotton socks
four pairs of underwear
light travel towel
my Canon DSLR
Everything besides the trekking shoes and the electronics were lightweight. My camera was the heaviest.
Thankfully, my darling Lucy had all of that and then-some that she happily lent to me. I left the majority of my belongings with her in England for the time being. Suddenly, my 85-liter backpack weighed about a tenth of my weight; just like the guides recommended. I was now officially a pilgrim! A pilgrim is what us trekkers are referred to during the camino.
I had to meet a friend and fellow pilgrim in Paris. I went overland through England, across an overnight ferry to France, and trained it to Paris. I settled into a hostel and met my friend Ethan there the next day, who has just flown all the way from North Carolina. I met Ethan last September while volunteering in Fiji. He volunteered with the construction program and we were roommates for the majority of my stay.
Upon first glance, I would describe Ethan as your typical frat guy (he hates when I say that, but that’s the most generic description I could give). He was the dude bro in Fiji that always enjoyed a beer, wanted to party, and more importantly, wanted everyone to party with him. Not a bad person to have in the house. Still, I was nervous having him around for the camino. He and I would be together, 24/7 for about a month! We are bound to butt heads, if not anything worse. Not to mention, we still don’t know each other very well. I was only in Fiji with him for a little over a month. I was set on doing this alone, but when I mentioned I was doing the camino later in the spring, his eyes lit up. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to have a companion.
My new underlying mission alongside this 800 km walk across an entire country:
Don’t Kill Ethan.
We casually walked around Paris before we went for our bus that would be overnighting to Bayonne, in the south of France. At the bus, we randomly met Christina, a girl from Texas. By the way Ethan and I were dressed and geared up, she could tell that we were pilgrims on our way to Spain. Thus, the three of us decided to stick together for a while. Once we arrived in Bayonne, we went to the train station and booked a journey to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, the official starting point of El Camino de Santiago!
We, along with a crap ton of other pilgrims, went to the pilgrim office to receive our special pilgrim passport. With this passport, we would gain access to the many albergues scattered across the entire camino. An albergue is essentially a hostel, but exclusive only to pilgrims. At each albergue, we would get a unique stamp in our passport, as proof that we actually walked the distance.
I also bought a small journal to keep tabs of my daily observations that I will share with you all here — unedited and from the heart, each followed by my after-thoughts of each day.
Day 1: St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncevalles (25km)
“Supposedly the hardest day of the hike, because of the ascent (1,400m). Our group of three expanded into six with the addition of Jon (California), Nicolas (Frankfurt), and a girl from Italy (not sure of her name). The day was super scenic, extremely windy, and cool. I felt bad for Christina and carried her heavy bag up most of the way. We arrived before 3pm. Good Day!”
Yeah, Christina over-packed and so we switched bags for the day. Good exercise. The Pyrenees were stunning. It was extremely breezy, but it helped keep us cool. I heard that this day was one of the hardest days, but I found it to be more enjoyable than anything. I loved that day!
Day 2: Roncevalles to Zubiri (20km)
“Cold, wet, and gloomy day. Beginning to realize it’s cheaper to get our breakfast and dinners outside the albergue’s, but sometimes we have no choice. Wore my poncho most of the day.”
Complete opposite of the day before. It was coooold. We were soaked by the time we reached our destination.
Day 3: Zubiri to Pamplona (22km)
“Our group of six enjoyed a nice, cool day towards Pamplona. Ethan began to get feet full of blisters, which slowed us down a bit. It’s only day 3 and his feet are already hit! Nic bandaged him up. Our group couldn’t decide whether to stay an extra night in Pamplona. I’m hoping we don’t. We shall see.”
Pamplona was one of the larger cities during our camino and a pretty extravagant one at that. I didn’t know that this area was famous for the Running of the Bull tradition they hold every year. We had lots of cheap red wine this night.
Day 4: Pamplona to Puente de Reina (24km)
“Socks didn’t completely dry overnight, so I stayed back while the others went on. Eventually caught up and pressed on. Beginning to realize that I am spending too much. One, because when I’m hungry, I buy lots of food. Two, Ethan always wants to drink and I always give in. Italy quietly left our group. Jon began to blister up. I have been fine thus far, so I hope it remains. Warm, sunny day through cornfields, small villages, and rocky slopes.”
I washed and hung my clothes to dry the day before, but my wool socks didn’t completely dry overnight. It’s not wise to do long treks in wet socks so I had to improvise; I hung my socks over a toaster oven. It did the trick! I managed to catch up with the others who stopped along the way to wait.
Day 5: Puente de Reina to Estella (22km)
“My team is starting to physically break down. Ethan’s knees, Christina’s limp, Jon’s feet, and Nic’s illness. Fortunately, I am still completely able, but it’s only the fifth day. Since my pace is naturally a bit quick, I went ahead of the group and reached Estella two hours before they did. I enjoyed walking alone for a change, chatting with other pilgrims along the way. Tomorrow, I will try and walk slower with the others. Hopefully, their conditions don’t worsen. I made the day cheap for us by booking a cheap albergue and cooking dinner.”
I was already growing tired of having bocadillos (sandwiches) all the time so I took it upon myself to make dinner for the group. Saved money and it’s also great practice for me since I’m no cook. Most albergues have kitchens in them for pilgrims to cook their own food in.
Day 6: Estella to Torres del Rio (30km)
“Instead of stopping in our planned destination of Los Arcos, we (and many other pilgrims on our route) decided to press on further to Torres del Rio. We heard it was a cheaper, better city…but it really wasn’t. The day started off cool. We saw the public wine fountain and then walked through a cloudless heat. By far the hottest day yet! I stayed with the group most of the way, but walked faster once it grew hotter. Ethan’s knees have gotten worse and is unsure how he’ll perform tomorrow. We suggested that he sends his bags to the next town, to ease the load on his legs. We shall see. Christina quietly fell behind in our group. As of now, it remains just us four guys. However, if injuries persist, then I may be walking alone. So far I am in great shape!”
I didn’t anticipate the albergues to be able to accommodate so many people! Thank goodness for the ear plugs Lucy gave me. They have worked wonders. The best item I brought with me. But if you forget anything, you can buy your necessities in virtually every big town you come across.
Day 7: Torres del Rio to Logroño (20km)
“Ethan’s knee pain was too unbearable and so he decided to take a taxi to Logroño, while Jon, Nic, and I would continue our walk. An easy 20k day. Once we reached Logroño, Jon opted to stay in a 75 Euro hotel! Nic and I met Ethan at an albergue nearby. His knee wasn’t really getting better, so he decided to rest another day and he will meet us in Santo Domingo via bus in a few days. I’ve been in great shape since the beginning and felt stronger than ever! No blisters, no aches, no pains, or anything. I hope it keeps up! It’s only been a week. Something is bound to happen.”
The distances indicated for each day are close estimates. If you ask any pilgrim, they will all tell you different answers, but usually they are always around the same ballpark.
Week 1 done. If we continue on this pace, we should reach Santiago in about three more weeks!