Folklore says there are 3 trials on the Camino: first: to the body, second: to the mind, third: to the spirit.
This is logical since the initial phase of the Camino Frances is climbing over the Pyrenees, a physical challenge for sure, the second is crossing the Mesata, a 130 mile rambling trek through flatlands, hills and farmlands that some find mentally tedious (I loved it), and finally rousing your spirit through the lush Galician countryside, rich with ancient trees, longhorn cattle, and mystical superstitions.
My personal experience was not logical.
My simple reflections of the Camino
1. Camino provides
2. Camino family
3. Camino Insight
The Camino for me, was a journey of change, shedding life’s burdens, enabling a more creative mind, and forgiving myself and others for regretful behavior - a more introspective life.
As a recent retiree, I had the time to make this journey. I studied blogs and Facebook sites about what to wear, what to expect, and travel costs. Also, as a diabetic, I brought at least 2 months of needed medications and prescriptions just in case. I packed well, but the weight of medications made my backpack heavy for me.
After a week of struggling with my backpack, a fellow pilgrim told me I could ship it by “transport” to the next Alberque for €5. Each Alberque has the little envelopes - you fill it out with you name, next stop, put in five euros, tie to the backpack, leave it in the designated area - and it shows up when you arrive. Really nice. I did this the remainder of my journey.
I’m a light sleeper – I find it difficult to get a night’s sleep in noisy rooms. There are snorers, nighttime rustlers, and 5 am risers – all woke me up. I asked about private rooms – some Alberques have them, but you must call ahead and make a reservation. Using my Camino App, I started calling to check for “habitacion privado” – sometimes I got lucky. I realized if called 2 days ahead, my chances were really good – another pilgrim said you can use booking.com – most are listed there – this was a perfect for me and became my preferred modus operandi. Some pilgrims comment that planning ahead is not letting the “Camino provide” – it’s a good argument – but my point of view was the Camino provided me with private rooms - and I prefer a night’s sleep.
Sunrise is a little later in Spain because during World War Two the Spanish dictator Franco changed the time zone to match Germany’s - And it remains that way today. This accounts for their late-evening dinner schedule and afternoon siestas. Where most westerners have dinner between 6:00 and 7:00, Spaniards usually don't start until after 9:00 PM. Nonetheless, because the Camino caters to pilgrims, the Camino meal / dinneris usually between 7:00 and 7:30 PM.
You quickly fall into a routine. Alberques want everybody out between 8:00 and 9:00 AM. So you're up early, find a local cafe and get a cafe con leche, perhaps with a piece of toast or a Spanish tortilla - an omelet made with eggs and potatoes.
Pilgrims who start early in the dark, require a headlamp. I did this a couple of times but found walking a wooded path in the dark to be a little spooky. One morning I heard a rustle just ahead – it was pitch black – I saw nothing – then another rustle – I stopped panning my headlamp side to side – just ahead on the left was a guy sitting on the side of the road, adjusting his shoes – I said “Hello?” – he looked at me with a little annoyance – “you need hand?” I said – “No, just getting a stone out of my shoe” he replied – “OK, Bueno Camino” and I walked on by – I did see him later, from a café, walking by very quickly. I prefer hiking in the daylight.
My pace is slower than most. Pilgrims pass me regularly. Most say “Buen Camino”, and some just walk by. Now the Italians, who often travel in groups, you hear their approach at a distance – loud, animated, lots of energy, sometimes singing, and always walking quickly. They’re so caught up in their own stories, only one in the group may notice you – “Buen Camino” – a quick smile and they’ve passed.
Ancient villages were built on hills – it gave them a defensive advantage – I’m not an uphill person, so after many miles, I’d look ahead at the long incline with a sigh – persevere.
Nonetheless, as you trudge into the village, a blend of modern and timeless parodies surrounds you. Immutable stones line the road as houses and walls. They’re so solid, you’d never know if there was life on the other side. But then you see a well-dressed woman step out through an ancient wood door and walk purposely down the street. I often wondered what they looked like inside.
Time to take a break - find a café and take off your backpack. Order a café con leche, take a bio break, fill your water bottle, and take a deep breath. Perhaps, give your feet a breather and drape your socks over your backpack. On the Camino, you’ll find people massaging their feet, changing socks, or just putting them up on for a rest.
Sometimes a smile, a knowing nod, or just proximity will start a conversation. It’s not a fashion show or a race. We all look a bit bedraggled and scruffy. And It’s common that you cross paths with the same people. With some you’ll share an Alberque, a meal, or walk together between villages. A natural affinity emerges. Our tangled roads of the past are overshadowed by snowcapped mountains, fields of sunflowers, and a gentle soul who walks next to you.
Sid by side, a rhythm, a common pace, and the miles become moments. Your voice is no longer yours, but a chorus of a shared humanity. Sharing stories of ordinary experiences, laugh about stupid mistakes or a time you were embarrassed. Perhaps seeking solace from the loss of a loved one, or peace from a hectic life. An inherent yearning for answers, for clarity, for wisdom tug your heart.
Over the course of 5 weeks, a Camino family forms, sometimes as a group, and sometimes as individuals – a shared, unique experience, and the beauty of it all is confirming our common mortality, our kindness, and our shared dreams.
Out of African, Israel, Australia, Korea, Canada, or Mexico, moments of peace and simplicity emerge - our united bond. On this path, everyone is a pilgrim and nothing more. We are all one. Income, status, and titles were left on the plane – washed-out fantasies of the past.
If you want help planning your ideal Camino experience, take a look at the Camino de Santiago Route Planner.
Click on the image below to go to the online route planning tool!