This is my first camino and only my point of view and personal feelings and thoughts.
This may sound sceptical to some, arrogant to others, but as this was my first Camino, I will try to express my feelings and adventures as clearly as I can. A Camino story is not an easy subject to write about..
Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity. –The Alchemist
That was my most valuable quote during this called… journey of the soul.
So, this is me.. (Erwin) I started Camino on 27th of July 2016 and completed it in 27th of August. I didn’t have any expectations what so ever about this, as it was a sort of a spontaneous decision.
Being as stupid as always, I didnt gather almost no information what should I at least consider bringing with me, I quickly packed my bag and went to the national airport of Latvia to start my adventure.
Things I brought with me:
- Sleeping bag (obvious, because I didnt know in what kind of places I will have to sleep)
- 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of boxers (I thought I would just wash them and dry somewhere everyday)
- A hoodie (in case it would get chilly, thou the guidebooks, which I red afterwards didn’t warn anyone about the weather being bad in July-August)
- Two t-shirts and 1 pair of shorts (which I was currently wearing)
- Toiletries (mini-toothbrush, shower gel, mini-toothpaste, a small towel)
- A small pebble, which I will tell you about later on.
- A multi tool (comes in handy in a lot of situations)
- My sneakers (wore them for years before )
Flying was exhausting as it always is , took a train to this village called San jean Pied De Port.
On the train were only pilgrims talking in various languages, rumbling, chattering, I was alone at that time. The train doors opened and there it was.
I found a hotel to stay in that day and immediately went to the pilgrims office near the town square, where I got my pilgrims passport( every pilgrim gets a passport, which he can use to sleep in cheaper places and eat .. relatively .. cheaper food) .
Woke up 7 AM, looked outside my hotel’s windows and could see pilgrims moving already.. thought to myself.. ”This is where my Camino story starts.. Let the journey begin… ”
Hiking the Pyrenees took me 2 days in total, and because my body
still wasnt used to walking ~30km a day..up on the mountain.. with a 15kg bag, I was tired as hell. In San Jean, I remember everyone smiling and feeling brave.. but at the end of the day sure as hell it didn’t look like that.
At the end of the second day I thought to myself – ”I should write a note and stick it to my body ; if someone will find my corpse, they would give the note to my mom. ”
was in luck to become friends with a mate that Im now friends for life, his name was Cal, he was an aussie. I walked with him almost for two weeks after day 2, but afterwards he had to go faster, because of a deadline of his.
We shared our life stories and learned a lot new from each other. As he was living literally at the other side of the world (Latvia – Australia) , it was fascinating to hear stories from there.
If you want to meet new and interesting people but your’e too shy to go to bars or pubs or anywhere else where are people, you should definitely do the Camino.
All kinds of boundaries just disappears along the road. I didn’t have to think of small talk, what am I going to say etc., dialouges and common language was found almost between anybody who spoke English or even… not English. Especially for a first Camino try.
The first week felt like hell on earth from a physical aspect, everything was hurting, I got a pretty bad sunburn one day and the temperature outside was about 40° C.. (104° F).
Then, after a week or so, I finally arrived to Burgos with my mate. If you ever decide to do
the Camino, you HAVE to stay in Burgos. There is one street that is filled with bars, a big majority of these bars are open till 3-4 AM, they serve all sorts of TAPAS (little foods that come with beer / wine). If this is your first Camino, you will love these.
The night was great, the wine is really cheap (0.70€ for a quality wine) there compared to other countries, because in the region we were currently in (Navarra), they produced wine there, they had hundreds of vineyards which we pilgrims had to walk through. They were beautiful, aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
The Worst Part
Then came the mental part… 8-9 days of walking on complete flat grass next to highway and hay fields. The sun wasn’t being shy with its full power, water ran out in a few hours, and I walked in a straight line for 6h-7-8h a day, every day. This, in my opinion, was more mentally challenging rather than physically. At that time Cal had already left me, I met new friends along the way, but I chose not to walk with them, because I just felt the need to do this alone.
Usually back home, I listen to all sorts of music daily, but here.. I didn’t feel the need to listen to it, I preferred listening to birds, the gentle blow of wind, the gravel cracking sound in every step…At that point I had walked about 400 km already…
This gave me a lot… and I mean.. sincerely.. A LOT of time to think about my personal stuff. It was really interesting to hear different people’s life stories as well as their reasons of doing their first Camino.
Maybe God created desert so that man could appreciate the palm trees?
This was the original quote from The Alchemist (which I would definitely recommend everyone to read), and that was on my mind most of the time during these flat grass parts. I even came up with my own interpretation of the quote :
Maybe God created this walk, so we could appreciate the rest?
This was how most of my mornings started..
While becoming a life long partner of mothers Nature’s shoulder, I was being constantly distracted by million of thoughts rushing through my head like a metro.
Everybody thinks that if you have loads of time alone, your’e bound to clear your head and organize your thoughts as you please. That’s where I was wrong. For me personally, this was like adding gasoline to a fireplace.
IF YOU HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS OF SOMETHING, YOU ARE BOUND TO BE DISAPPOINTED. That’s what I learned on the way.
Lots of people read super ”clarifying” books about The Camino and they think they are going to have the same experience as is experienced in the book, and that is NOT a right thing to do. Then you will lose all of your personal emotions, feelings, expectations, you will be walking the authors Camino.
Once I finally started to understand that the Navaretta (long flat grass part) is soon to be over, only then it came to me… the clear state of mind.
2 days before reaching Leōn ( the biggest city along the way, where the flat part was finally over ) , I could walk all day just being present. Being here and now, not in 2 months in front of me, not 2 years behind me. I suddenly didn’t feel the obligation to think about any of that, rather I just listened to… nothing to be honest.
Leon was the last big city before Santiago. About 300 km to go, but at that time, I didnt even look at the map to see how much walking I had to do, because the number was always discustingly huge.
If you are wondering how I didn’t get lost walking almost by myself all month long – there are signs and yellow arrows everywhere along the road. Directions to follow, and in the mornings, when it’s still dark, well… thats why I had my flashlight.
Next big thing to look forward to after Leon was Cruz De Ferro. As I said before, I took a pebble with me. Cruz De Ferro is one of the or even the most spiritual place throughout all of the Camino de Santiago.
Thousands of people leave their rocks (which they have brought with them from the start) here every year, as a symbol of leaving self-doubts, worries, negativity, etc. behind them.
When I first saw this 10 feet tall cross, I felt like my heart was trying to say something, but I just felt it there blaming on the tiredness.
I proudly went up to the cross and as humble as one could be, left my pebble next to thousands of others. It felt like a big job done.
My Daily Routine
I think I forgot to explain how my daily adventure usually started.
So, it kind of went like this :
- Get up 4:30 AM – 5:00 AM and pack
- If I have bought coffee the day before, drink it
- Start walking ~1 hour in the darkness with my flashlight
- Relentlessly begging in silence for a tiny village to be there after about 5 KM so I could have my breakfast
- Walking 4-5 hours (sometimes stopping in bars to drink Coke with ice & lemon) – I think it developed as a national standart for pilgrims on the Camino – to drink coke w/ ice & lemon.
- Deciding where to stop according to the map and finding Albergues (special hostels for pilgrims, where I could stay the night for roughly 10 EUR )
- If I couldn’t find a spare place where to stay, I slept in the forest and washed in the river
- TAKING A SHOWER in the albergue (most important part of the day)
- Reading/sleeping/exploring the city till ~7 PM, when it’s the pilgrims ”unofficial” dinner time. There were special restaurants for pilgrims that served pilgrims menu – 10 euros normally. (Disgusting and the same food)
- Going to sleep
The FINAL Part
It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
My dream was about 150 km away from me. The though – full filling as it could be, still was in my way, so I had to get rid of it. Because it’s not about reaching the destination, it’s about the journey that lays beneath it.
After crossing Cruz De Ferro, there was the last big mountain still to defeat. The region was called Galicia.
Everybody on the Camino told me that rain there is going to be inevitable. I literally didn’t get a single drop of rain on my head. I guess I should consider myself lucky.
If you ever plan on doing your first Camino, DON’T do it in August, because August is the most popular holiday month for adults and the last 5 days of walking could get ABNORMALLY busy.
I was shocked to my nerves, when suddenly, one morning I saw THOUSANDS of people walking beside me and in front of me – the last place from where you can officially start Camino Frances is called Sarria. Before that, I saw maybe
40-50 fellow pilgrims during the day (most of them were the same all the way through) , but from Sarria, it wasn’t Camino anymore. It was a rat race to the next city to get a NOT reserved bed.
So… the last 5 days I just spent sprinting towards Santiago. There was no privacy at all ( I couldn’t even take a piss anywhere), every bar/cafe had heaps of people in it, the lines for everything was abnormal.
Arriving in Santiago felt like I’ve died and was reborn again, died again, went to heaven and came back.
I could see the holy Cathedral from a pretty far distance, because before entering Santiago, there was a pretty steep hill to climb over, and every meter closer I got… the more I felt… free.
There it was. While walking the last 100 meters, I saw hundreds of Italian, Spanish groups singing, shouting, being as excited as one can be to finally arrive to Santiago.
Thou most of the people to arrive there weren’t ”real pilgrims” because, walking the last 100 KM feels like nothing compared to the whole journey. You can’t even compare those two. These people did it for the principle and just to have good time and get the certificate, that they did the Camino.
I still can’t say why I did the Camino Frances, why I let torture myself for a month both physically and mentally, why I spend so much time thinking – WHY?
All we do in life is ask WHY? Why this? Why that? We are always on a search for something, were always trying to get somewhere.. but where do we want to get really?
Find your WHY on the Camino, be open-minded, and let the beauty of life lead your way to your personal WHY.