Some days ago I interviewed Irene Trancossi, a 21 year old photography student, who last summer undertook a big adventure on her own. After having spoke with her, I started to report what she told me, and my head flew away to another country and to the soul of billions of people that before Irene started this long pilgrimage, each one to find different things; alone but never alone, tired but always motivated to proceed. I am really happy to have had the opportunity to listen to a direct report of this amazing experience and I decided to share it with you, dear Explorers, travellers, and free spirits!
The Camino de Santiago is a stroll. (Only a stroll? Ok, let’s say a long pilgrimage, because it’s hard and you must call upon all your strengths: physically, mentally and spiritually!) It attracts many travellers, but only a few undertake it until the end.
This way has existed since the Middle Age, to reach the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, where there is the grave of Apostle Giacomo II Maggiore. It spreads out France and Spain, until the Ocean and pilgrims’ soul.
Before the trip:
To launch this pilgrimage is not like deciding to take a cruise, some training is necessary and suggested. Also necessary is a passion for trekking and a desire to have a deeper exploration into oneself.
Less is more: remember to make a backpack that is 1/10 of your weight
Before we reveal tips about the pilgrimage’s cultural side, or the basic daily needs (Where to eat or sleep? What to try? What to do here or there?) it is important to know what you need to walk 800 km, for almost one month.
Shoes, of course. Ok, there are weird people you see donning sandals or going barefoot, but it is a bit exaggerated. Be careful because you will use your feett everyday, for at least 25 km per day! Better if you are already well acquainted with your shoes! The backpack, as for any other physical travel, needs to be one tenth of your weight and it should contain the following:
2 t-shirts • 2 shorts • 1 pair of trousers that you can easily shorten with a zip ( findable at Decathlon)• a fleece• k-way jacket• hat• Band-Aids (be wary of blisters!) • arnica cream (arnica is a medicinal plant, with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities• ibuprofen• flashlight… and obviously your personal needs!
When you leave, remember to pick up a rock from the ground: it symbolizes your weight on the earth and that of your soul and consciousness. Don’t worry, later I will reveal what to do with it!
For many pilgrims, St Jean Pied de Porte is the first stop-over. It is there that the french pilgrimage historically starts and it is reachable from Madrid, Saragozza, Bordeaux, and San Sebastian airports, by taking a bus or a train.
In St Jean Pied de Portes you can ask for a map of the Camino, which is marked with hostels and restaurants for the whole length of the path. There, you will find one of the cheapest hostels you can find long the way: Accueil des Pelèrins, open 24/hr, for 10 euro ($12 USD) a night.
A typical pilgrim’s choice is to stop (to sleep, but also to eat or restore) in hospitaleros, that don’t have a fixed price but accept what you can give. They organize moments to spend together, where you can concentrate and think of your purposes.
The first region you will walk through is called Navarra and is green and wooded. The main city is Pamplona, famous everywhere for the Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín). But, apart from stopping in the big cities, the best is to visit the minor villages on the road. Between Pamplona and Logroño there is a small medieval town called Los Arcos, a must-stop for many pilgrims wanting to spend less then in big cities and discover local traditions. If you pop there during the week of August 14th until 20th, there is the patron saint’s festival.
A cheap but cozy hostel in Los Arcos is the Albergue Isaac Santiago, where you can rent a bed for 6euro ($ 7 USD) a night. They don’t have a website, but they are located in Calle San Lázaro (Telephone: +34 948 441 09).
Logroño, first city of La Rioja, the region after Navarra, is popular for its fuente del vino at Bodegas Irache. As a pilgrim, you are invited to drink, but be careful and don’t over do it! After the fountain, there is a huge elevation. To get energy for walking you must try golmajerias, an arabic word that means big eater. That’s the word they use for sweets and it is really difficult to choose the best one! But, listen to me: all of them are perfect to give the right energy to walk, because they are mostly made with dried fruit, honey, and marzipan, all ingredients close to Arabic traditions.
Castilla y Léon is the name of the region after La Rioja. Burgos is the first main city; really beautiful, keeps its medieval architecture intact. In the cathedral rests El Cid, the 11th-century military commander. I suggest you have water, hat and energy, before you leave the city. You will start the walk into Mesetas, the Spanish desert. Everything is plane there and really hot. For almost 40 km you won’t find a fountain or a place to rest, but if you arrive at San Bol you will find a nice albergue, where a shared dinner is offered with smiles and friendly faces.
Carrion de los Condes will leave you astonished of the beauty of its Monastery of Saint Zolio and later, in Sahagùn you will rejoice for sure, because finally you will have arrived at the halfway point of the walk. You did 400 km and you won’t believe it, but probably your feet do!
Leon is a beautiful, academic, historical and…touristic city. Pass through it but don’t stop, if not to go to supermarkets and fill your food bag (it’s cheaper than to always eat in to restaurants or albergues!). If you can keep walking, try to arrive to the Iron Cross, close to Foncebadón. It is the point where you can throw the rock you picked up when you started the walk. You did more than half of the Camino and you are almost 250 km to Santiago…are you feeling more free and light? It is sure you grew and you learnt a lot, already. It is time to leave behind some of the weight you have carried for a long time, to start again the travel with a new awareness.
After the Iron Cross, at Manjarin, there is a odd albergue, ran by the last Templar alive (that’s what he says)! The hostel is really unique: old, vintage and without modern comforts. It provides indications of how many km separates your location from places like Rome and Paris. You will think you could walk forever if you get there!
This strange stop-over brings you to Galizia, where the main city is O Cebrero. After it, you need to be careful, because there is a fork: one direction drives to Samos Monastery, the other one to Casa Luz, a hippie albergue where you can practice yoga and meditation. You can choose whatever you prefer, anyway both directions conduce to Santiago’s way.
In Galizia there is a culinary plate you can’t miss for anything in the world: pulpo a la gallega (spicy octopus with potatoes). Of course, there is a tip I want to share with you, to taste one of the best tapas during the walk, you should go to Pulpería Ezequiel (Av. Lugo, 48, 15800 Melide, A Coruña, Spagna).
Santiago de Compostela:
Something fills your heart and your lungs, when you see the pinnacles of the Cathedral of Santiago in the distance. By the way, before the city there is the statue of a pilgrim that indicates the right path to you. It is the end for some, for others it isn’t and they will walk until the ocean to be aware they have really completed their travel.
You will enter the sanctuary with many other people that have done the same experience and you will feel together, united from the dust you have stepped on, by the sweat fallen on the ground. If you think your destination is forward, let’s exit and walk again. At this point, your feet won’t ask you a break, they will understand that your heart needs to breathe the wind of freedom on the shore.
800 km has gone and for the first time you will meet a maritime vegetation you never met before: in Finisterre there is the milestone zero. That’s the end.
Lost in the horizon, the sunset. The famous lighthouse of Finisterre will light up the way back. A tradition says that you burn your clothes, to abandon your old self and to find a new one, in Muxia. If you can, go there to the Sanctuary Virxe da Barca, in front of the ocean.
There, you will truly start a new pilgrimage, that one of your life going on.