The Camino de Santiago (or The Way of Saint James in English) is a Christian pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There are many different routes that people take to get there. The most popular and traditional route starts in France and continues across Spain. This route is 800 km (about 500 miles) and it usually takes people 30-45 days to complete. You can go by horseback, bike or by walking. The Catholic church can grant penance and an indulgence (less time in purgatory) with the completion of at least 100 km on foot or horseback or 200 km by bike.
The Camino has become very popular in the last 10 years. People complete the pilgrimage for many different reasons. Some do it for religious reasons, some for a challenge, some for tourism and some just want time to think. For me (Ashley), I wanted to prove that I could do it. My body has been through a lot the past two years and I still haven’t figured it all out. I let my body limit me a lot. I wanted to prove to myself that my body is strong and that I can push myself.
There are yellow arrows or shells (the symbol of the Camino) that show you which way to walk. Sometimes there is an arrow every couple hundred feet, other times you question if you are walking the right way because you haven’t seen an arrow in a long time.
Along the camino there are albergues, or public hostels, for pilgrims to stay. There are a limited number of beds and it’s first come, first served. They open at 1:00 PM and fill up fast. The pilgrim price is 6€ (about $7) and the hostel usually has a kitchen, showers and a room full of bunk beds.
Another part of the Camino that is important are the credentials or passport. When starting the camino you receive a booklet that must be stamped 1-2 times a day in order to prove the distance completed. We typically had our credentials stamped at the albergues and churches along the way.
Kyle has wanted to do the Camino for quite some time. We decided it would be a nice way to end our time in Spain and see a part of the country that we haven’t really experienced. We decided to walk part of the Portuguese coastal route. We wanted to have as much time near the ocean as possible before returning to ocean-less Idaho.
We packed our backpacks (they probably weighed around 20 lbs. each) and set off on our journey.
Here’s what our pilgrimage looked like:
*Note: We found a huge discrepancy between what the guides said the distances were each day and what my daily tracker said. I decided to put the average of the two distances.
Day 1: Caminha, Portugal – A Guarda, Spain (4 km/ 2.5 mi)
This was a short day of walking for a couple of reasons. One, we wanted to ease into it. Two, we had to start by taking a ferry across Rio Miño into Spain. The ferry runs based on tides, so we couldn’t predict or plan when we would be able to go. We didn’t want to arrive too late at our destination and not have a place to sleep.
We ended up being the only ones at the albergue, which was kind of nice, but also very quiet. We enjoyed the afternoon by the ocean and relaxed.
Day 2: A Guarda – As Mariñas (28 km/17 mi)
This was a hard day for me. One of my goals for this trip was to not complain, and to turn my whining into motivation. I struggled with this, but still maintained a decent attitude. We had to stop frequently because of low blood sugar, which was frustrating, but I had to listen to my body.
We arrived at our hostel, ate and relaxed in the evening. The views from the hostel were amazing. Other pilgrims arrived at the hostel, but they were a group of Polish people who had been walking together for awhile and so they stuck together and didn’t interact with us much.
Day 3: As Mariñas – Ramallosa (20 km/13 mi)
We got a little lost because we misread the direction an arrow was pointing. It was just a slight detour that we figured out pretty quickly. We arrived at our hostel and enjoyed a lunch by the river.
This day was special because it was Kyle’s 31st birthday. I wanted to plan something special, but we didn’t have a lot of money and there wasn’t much to do in Ramallosa. We celebrated by enjoying a bag of grilled meat, french fries and wine by the river.
Day 4: Ramallosa – O Freixo (20 km/ 13 mi)
We had originally planned on stopping in a big city, but there weren’t any pilgrim hostels, so someone advised us to take a detour to the middle of nowhere and stay at the pilgrim hostel there.
I struggled to get through this day of walking. It was mostly uphill and steep and I didn’t have any energy. My biggest concern with trip was my controlling my blood sugar. My second biggest concern was that, even with all the walking, I would gain weight due to constantly eating trying to keep my blood sugar up. To offset this, I thought it would be a good idea to eat light and healthy for lunch and dinner. I would eat a salad and some fruit, but it wasn’t enough fuel for walking as much as we were. I learned this day that I need to eat a lot more and not shy away from carbs.
We finally arrived at the hostel and were told it was donation based. The man at the hostel asked if we were hungry (YES!!) and said that he would cook for us. We both ate two pork fillets, a huge plate of french fries, a salad, a loaf of bread, had some tortilla (Spanish omelette with eggs, potatoes and onions) and shared a bottle of wine. We were both amazed that after such a big meal we could keep eating. It’s crazy how much your body needs when it’s working hard. We thought that for all the food and a place to stay 15€ each was a small, but doable donation for us. The man asked for our paperwork and the donation and was shocked when he saw 30€. That was our first indication that something wasn’t clear. Before leaving the man asked us to clear up our tab- 30€!! So, we ended up paying 60€, which was WAY over our daily budget. We felt a little deceived because they advertise that its a free place to stay for pilgrims and stress that they just want to help out pilgrims, but aren’t up front about food cost. There weren’t any stores around, so we didn’t have other options, either. Lesson learned.
Day 5: O Freixo – Redondela (25 km/ 15.5 mi)
This day we passed through the city of Vigo. We stopped at a nice looking church to get a stamp and the priest prayed for us and gave us a blessing. He also told us that we should pray that our future children go into the priesthood. 😉
There are two Portuguese routes; the interior route and the coastal route. Redondela is where they meet up. Most days we would get started around 7:30-8:00 AM, stop for coffee or breaks and take our time. We thought we were making good time and would typically arrive at our destination around 2-2:30. This day we realized that this was a mistake. Up to this point, we hadn’t come across many pilgrims. We saw so many pilgrims when entering Redondela and were shocked. We got to the public albergue around 2:30 and it was full. We had to scramble and find another place to stay. The lady running the private hostel we stayed at was really strange, but we had a place to sleep. We also met a nice girl from the Canary Islands named Bea who we hung out with a lot the rest of the way.
Day 6: Redondela – Pontevedra (20 km/13 mi)
We crushed this day. Kyle will say I was sprinting, but I felt like I maintained a good pace. We were now aware that we needed to get an early start to arrive to the hostel and get a bed as well as to beat the heat. We left Redondela around 6:45 AM and arrived by 10:30. We had a routine of stretching once we arrived at our location, but since we had to wait 2 and a half hours before the hostel opened, we went to a nearby cafe and had a snack. Sitting for awhile and getting up makes you feel old. We were super stiff and sore.
Day 7: Pontevedra – Caldas de Reis (25 km/15.5 mi)
I can’t think of anything significant on this day of walking. We walked, saw the countryside and arrived at our destination. Our hostel was right by a river and it didn’t take long for us to put our feet in it!
Day 8: Caldas de Reis – Padron (24 km/15 mi)
This was a beautiful walk. Some days we spent a lot of time walking on asphalt along the highway, but this day was mostly in the woods and through small villages.
Kyle was excited about being in Padron because they are famous for their peppers. They are typically fried and served with salt. We devoured a plate of them while enjoying some local white wine called Albariño.
Day 9: Padron – Santiago de Compostela (31 km/19 mi)
We knew this day would be tough. It was our last day and the longest walking day. Oh, it was also mainly uphill. I didn’t think we’d ever get there. At one point, as you are nearing Santiago, you get a glimpse of the cathedral, so you think you are close, but in reality it is another couple of hours away. At another point the path comes to a “T” and there are yellow arrows pointing both left and right. We chose right and I’m pretty sure it was the longer route. We were about 10 minutes from the cathedral and I had to stop to treat a low, which was frustrating because I just wanted to get there.
We finally arrived and it was so exciting. It was an amazing feeling and we felt accomplished, proud and tired. It was great to see people entering the plaza after all their hard work.
We received our compestela, which is the official document, in latin, that certifies the completion. We also attended a pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. It was packed, but a great experience. They have a large incense burner that the swing across the cathedral and it goes so high that it comes close to hitting the ceiling.
After eating and resting in Santiago for the night, we took a bus to A Coruña. We enjoyed a relaxing beach day before returning to Bilbao.
When you tell people that you are going to do the Camino, everyone’s first piece of advice is to take care of your feet. Walking on asphalt day after day is wearing on your feet. I got two blisters, but Kyle survived without any! He did have to retire his shoes in Santiago, though.
Overall, the Camino was tough and exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding. We enjoyed seeing a different part of Spain, meeting great people, and pushing ourselves physically.