The Hunger Games
A Bug’s Life
All movies that I can easily relate to the Camino de Santiago. Over the course of 5 days, I walked about 73 miles through the Spanish countryside, forests, and small dilapidated villages. For this blog post, I would like to split up my experiences for each day.
Day 1 – Saturday, June 23rd. Sarria – Portomarín.
The first day of hiking was great! We were all feeling good and ready to start this long journey. We walked around 14 miles which translates to about 22.3 kilometers. Some things I noticed about the path we were walking on was the overwhelming smell of cow poop. Not my favorite scent, but something to get used to on the trail. One of our directors picked up a stone and told us that when people walk the Camino they carry a stone with them the entire time, and once they reach the end they will leave their stone at the bottom of a statue and write their names on it. I decided to do the same. The first day was filled with lots of uphill paths, and was also one of the hotter days we had. I ended up getting a massive sunburn on my chest, because after being in Bilbao with all the clouds and rain, I forgot the sun can actually burn you. My walking buddy, Daisy, and I were one of the first ones to reach our hostel in Portomarín and we were shocked. We really thought we were at the back of the pack, so I was proud of us for making it. Our hostel was quite interesting. Just imagine one of those hospitals for soldiers in movies where all the beds are lined up in a huge room. That was it. Also, only 4 showers for the 60 or so people that were staying there. After such a long day of hiking, all I wanted was to shower the nasty sweat off me, but I had to listen to 12 year old girls fighting over what shower they were going to use. Obviously, I have never stayed in a hostel before so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Day 2 – Sunday, June 24th. Portomarín – Palas de Rei.
Our second day consisted of 16 miles. We started walking around 7:30am and decided to get breakfast along the way. Little did I know, it wasn’t another two hours until we reached a restaurant. And in those two hours, we walked completely uphill through a forest and onto the main highway. Once we got food, I met an Australian man named Paul who started the Camino on May 11. He took a break for 5 days due to injuries and took a trip to Barcelona instead. The tough part about the Camino is that your injuries continue to pile up. There is little recovery time, which is why it is so important to take care of yourself and your feet as silly as that sounds. Each day someone in my group would have a new blister (I didn’t get any thankfully!). Paul had the intention of finishing the Camino within the next couple of days. I wished him the best of luck. Also, along the way I moo’d at a cow, and it moo’d back. I guess you can say we are friends now? I would say the second day was the hardest for me due to all the soreness in my legs from the first day. Our hostel was much better that night and we ended up getting paella and sangria for dinner! I felt so luxurious.
Day 3 – Monday, June 25th. Palas de Rei – Arzúa.
Ahhhh, the day everyone was dreading. 18 miles. Three people in our group took the day off due to injuries and allergies so I was a little jealous. The weather was so much better than the last two days! Cloudy and cool. Out of all the days, I would say the scenery along this route was my favorite. We walked through a small town called Melide which had a church open for pilgrims. There were also at least five forests we walked through. I think that was my favorite part. Just looking up at the trees and hearing the birds chirping. It’s a feeling you can only get in the moment. This is more than just a hike. It brings together a community of people who want to challenge and reflect on themselves. Everyone does the Camino for a different reason, and it’s amazing we get to witness them achieving that goal. One goal that I had going into the next two days was to meet more people along the way and spend some time alone to self reflect. At the hostel we got to watch the Spain World Cup game together which was very fun. Halfway there!
Day 4 – Tuesday, June 26th. Arzúa – Pedrouzo.
Tuesday was the shortest overall distance we walked at about 12 miles. I decided to spend most of my time walking alone and listening to music. I realized I walk much faster when I have some jams to motivate me. It was nice being able to go at my own pace instead of feeling like it was a race to get to the hostel. I like staying with the group, but sometimes they walk too fast for me and my short legs. As I walked, all I kept thinking about was how much I am going to miss Spain. Living in Spain has become normal to me and so has speaking Spanish to others. There are so many things I know I’m going to miss about it and I don’t know if I’m ready to accept that coming home. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my family. A LOT. I just have to enjoy every second that I have left. Spain will always have a piece of my heart. I also got to see some cute, but slightly scary Chihuahuas with under bites today. It’s normal to see lots of stray dogs and cats throughout the Camino as they live around the farms we pass by. One more day!
Day 5 — Wednesday, June 27th. Pedrouzo – Santiago.
Last day of walking! Today was about 13 miles, so not too bad. We were on a mission though. We started walking at 6am before the sun even came up, because we wanted to make sure we got to Santiago in time for the noon mass for the pilgrims at the Cathedral. Our first stop was at a plaque that was made for the previous director of the Bilbao program who died in that exact spot 10 years ago doing the Camino with students. We wanted to make sure to pay our respects. We made very little stops today as we were in a little bit of a hurry to get to Santiago. About an hour outside of Santiago, there is a statue called Monte de Gozo which is supposed to signal the end of the trail for most pilgrims. You are able to see the very top of the Cathedral from the mountain indicating that we have finally made it! We met a couple from Manila who hiked the same route as us from Sarria, but did it in 10 days instead of 5. Their son was studying abroad in San Sebastian and they decided to come visit him and do some of the Camino while they were here. They were pretty awesome people! Once we got to the Cathedral, we all made sighs of relief. Our feet were throbbing from the past five days of walking and this is what we have been working so hard to get to. It was an awesome moment. We got in line for the mass with all our backpacks and when we got to the front of the line they told us we couldn’t take our backpacks inside. We had to get out of line, check our bags in another place, and then hop back in line to get a good seat. The mass was in a couple different languages – Spanish, English, German, and French. At the very end, they had a large censor filled with incense that they waved across the entire church while the organ played. It was absolutely beautiful. The remains of Saint James are located inside the church, but we didn’t get to see them because it was such a long line. Our director told us that there wasn’t much to see, it was just a way of paying respects. Afterwards, we got our credentials and a certificate for completing the 100 kilometers. I thought they had spelled my name wrong, but turns it out it’s written in Latin. What a satisfying moment getting our indulgences.
The Camino taught me to deal with pain, to be patient, to keep going even if you don’t think your body can physically walk anymore, and to have a good attitude. The Camino treats you the way you treat the Camino. If you don’t have a good attitude going into it and you keep focusing on the pain in your feet, you will not get the most out of the experience. Yes, the pain is part of the experience too. It is a test of how much you can challenge yourself. During the walk, it seemed so dreadful, but finishing the day in the hostel none of us could remember how much pain we were in. We were just happy to make it to a bed and shower. I definitely got used to living the hostel life and now that I have my own room and shower I feel so spoiled. It is such a luxury to have all the things we have in everyday life and I feel as though I don’t deserve it. After doing 5 days of the Camino, I don’t think I could do the entire thing. It takes a lot of willpower to spend a month hiking through the Spanish countryside. I got the full experience and it was difficult, but also one I will never forget and keep with me in my heart. Buen Camino a todos!