Hi and welcome to WalkYourCamino.com. I'm Matt, the creator of this site, and in 2014 I walked my first pilgrimage across Spain.
I first heard about the Camino de Santiago in 2012 while reading a book by Paulo Coelho called The Pilgrimage. Initially I wasn't sure the path being described was an actual route that people could walk, but after a quick internet search it was a nice surprise to discover that these historic pilgrimage trails were still being walked today and were in fact gaining in popularity. Anybody who had the desire could walk one of these trails to Santiago de Compostela.
After finishing the book the idea to walk one of the routes to Santiago stuck with me. I'd walked quite a few one day hikes before but never anything close to the distances the different camino routes were offering and the chance for a unique adventure across Spain was just too good to refuse. As it turned out my partner was just as interested in the camino as I was, so in 2014 we set out across Spain.
After a long flight from New Zealand, many hours of long distance train rides across Europe, and a short bus ride, we finally arrived at our camino starting point, the small French town of St Jean Pied de Port.
On arrival we immediately headed straight to the pilgrimage office in town to get some last minute information, the first stamps in our pilgrim passports, and to find a place to sleep for the night. After exploring the town and experiencing our first albergue (pilgrims hostel) we settled down for the evening.
The following morning we were awoken by a very unique sort of alarm clock, the albergue owner banging a wooden spoon on a cooking pot while enthusiastically declaring that "we could do it!". We wearily got changed, had a quick breakfast and by 7:30am walked out of St Jean Pied de Port and took our first steps on the 800km Camino Frances route.
The first few days of the camino were all a bit of a blur as we crossed the pyrenees and settled into pilgrim lifestyle. The excitement about finally being on the road to Santiago was coupled with the apprehension about what's to come over the next few weeks and what we had gotten ourselves into. But we quickly made our first camino friends, walked at a comfortable pace, and allowed our bodies to slowly adjust to walking 20 or so kilometers everyday with a 10kg backpack.
Over the following weeks we experienced the highs and lows only a journey such as this could provide in a relatively short time frame.
My partner experienced a couple of severe and painful blisters that required a trip to the local pharmacy, slowing us down and forcing a few rest days (it's amazing how aware you become of your feet on the camino and looking after them is critical!).
The region of Galicia greeted us with a torrential rain storm that managed to get through all our wet weather gear and into our bags and boots, making for one of the most testing days of walking we've ever had, and to top it off, when we finally found somewhere to stop for the day, the clothes dryers only managed to cover our gear in hot steam instead of drying them.
We also had a few encounters with those dreaded bed bugs (!!) that led to a few restless nights at a couple of albergues, managed to drop the cellphone we were carrying (that was also our camera) on a rock and crack the screen, not to mention the several hot and long days where we were tired, sore and hungry, and just wanted our own room to curl up in.
But the tougher moments were far outweighed by the MANY positive experiences we had along the way.
Taking shelter in a school gymnasium for the night with dozens of other pilgrims, as a powerful thunder and lightening storm raged overhead and torrential rain battered the roof while a flamenco guitarist played along to the storm, was awesome and something you could never plan for.
Walking through forests and mountain ranges while the sun rose was always a great start into the day. We met many friendly shop keepers who gave us free food to try and were very interested in talking to us and discovering where we had come from. We explored old ruins and cathedrals and walked through countless small towns and villages while the locals were on siesta and no where to be seen.
The social side of the Camino Frances is also not to be underestimated. 99% of the pilgrims we met were lovely people and we made various friends along the way who we shared stories, drinks and meals with, in all sorts of different locations across Spain.
After 40 days of walking across Spain we finally reached Santiago de Compostela, tired but happy. We stayed in the city for a few days, caught up with some camino friends and took the time to relax and reflect on our journey before heading to the Atlantic coast and the Finisterre lighthouse where the 0km sign of the camino sits. A few days later we left Spain and flew back home.
One of the most fascinating things I discovered about the Camino de Santiago was how it reminded me of my childhood. The first 12 or so years of my life seemed to pass very slowly, almost feeling like an entire separate lifetime (I'm sure most people can relate to this feeling). And if you stop and think about it, it's not really a surprise that it felt this way, children simply live more in the moment than the rest of us and are naturally curious and fascinated by the environment around them.
If you can be in the moment more often than not, walking the Camino de Santiago will put you back in this state again. After all you basically have nothing to do but walk, explore, share stories, eat, drink and sleep and allow the path to unfold in front of you. The 6 weeks we spent walking across Spain felt like an entire years worth of living. It really was an amazing and unique adventure.
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