For many the Camino is a spiritual journey, a chance to escape from the pressure cooker that is everyday life and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other for a week or two or more. I’m not saying I’m a complete spiritual Philistine but I found myself on the Camino because 1) Grace, a friend of mine was organising a group of 24 women, 2) I fancied a walking holiday, 3) I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
After an initial group briefing with the ever efficient Grace - who is as the name would suggest, amazing, we had clear direction as to requirements starting with Compeed, good walking shoes and socks and finishing with an intense training schedule. I’ll admit I was all over the Compeed and footwear but my training fell more than a little short of Grace’s recommendations.
On April 20th our group of merry women and Dave, (Grace’s husband), stepped onto the flight for Santiago and subsequently onto the bus for Sarria a further 120km away and our starting point. The thought of four days of walking fairly solidly was a little daunting, but that paled compared to my anxiety about sharing hostel rooms with twenty three mostly strangers – I had however given myself a stern talking to about going with the flow and the first night of sleep while fitful was aided by earplugs, an eye mask and a few glasses of the local brew. Having been determined for months to carry my own rucksack all the way I changed my mind after walking out of the hostel on the first morning where I found Dave ready to take it with him to be transported in the hire car…along with everyone else’s.
Over the next four days, powered by café con leche and hefty boccadillos we made our way through the stunning Galician countryside bathed constantly in glorious sunshine. Dave – a fireman and paramedic with the patience of a saint – drove along the route and kept check on us all attending to everything from blisters and muscle strains to recovering lost items like sunglasses…and pilgrims. Grace was the sweeper each day walking at the back of the group providing support, encouragement and entertainment along the way.
The fourth and final walking day was a humdinger of 39km to get to Santiago. We staggered the last few kilometres into Santiago’ old town which is beautiful as is the cathedral, breathtaking in fact, if we’d had any breath left to take.
All in all it was a fantastic experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the walking, the sunshine, the countryside, the pristine and well run cafes at every kilometer but most of all the chats along the way, getting to know existing friends better and making new ones. I loved the fact that everyone could take their walk each day at their own pace, completely non-competitive whether you wanted to power through, take a brisk stroll or just lop along as part of a group, with a friend or with yourself. I do believe whether you share a coffee, a walk, a bunk or something more along your journey, the Camino experience is a personal one and to each their own.