Camino Santiago

December 28, 2018

In August I took 2 weeks off to walk 300km through Portugal and Spain.

I’d been wanting to walk the Camino Santiago – a religious pilgrimage that has routes throughout Europe, all of which end in northern Spain – for a number of years. So after delivering a 10 month long project at work I decided it was time to take a break, disconnect from the world (no phones, email or social media) and simplify my daily routine to walking and thinking.

I set off from Porto in Portugal and spent the first couple of days walking along the coast before diverting inland. The scenery was just spectacular – small pretty towns and lots of forest and farmed countryside. I stayed in the many albergues along the route – simple hostels with dorm rooms that were specifically there for the pilgrims. After the initial physical shock of walking so much each day (averaging 25km) I soon fell into a routine of dragging my aching body out of bed before the sun rises and trying to get my days worth of walking done before the mid afternoon when it gets too hot. The routes were easy to follow, being marked with yellow arrows whenever you reach a junction, so most days I barely needed to look at a map.

After a week I crossed the border from Portugal into Spain via the beautiful fortified town of Valenca. This marked the 100km radius from the final destination of Santiago de Compostela. You need to walk a minimum of 100km to qualify for the certificate saying that you have completed the pilgrimage, so it’s an incredibly popular starting out point. Frustrated with the huge increase in crowds and incredible competition for beds at the overcrowded hostels, I headed back towards the coast via the Espiritual Variente (Spiritual Variant), which added another day of walking but quickly got me back to the kind of relaxed and sparsely occupied routes I’d enjoyed previously.

The third day of this route involved a boat ride from Vilanova de Arousa to Padron, but I felt that I wanted to walk every step of the Camino and that getting a boat would be “cheating”, so I opted to walk the coast instead. This turned out to be a 36km, 9 hour additional trek through completely unpopulated countryside in temperatures of mid 30’s°C. However, I saw no other person the entire day and enjoyed the solitude surrounded by nature in the beautiful forests that fringed the waters edge.

The following day was the final push into Santiago – probably the most disappointing part of the whole journey. The ancient town itself is beautiful, but felt a bit like a giant gift shop for religious tourists. There was no fanfare on my arrival – I was simply one of several thousand pilgrims who arrived there on that day. I didn’t care as it was a personal journey and collecting the certificate of completion seemed quite a token gesture. I decided to continue onwards to Finisterre on the western coast (via bus, as I was now 12 days into a 14 day trip and I did not have the time to walk it). This is a small, pretty town with a hippy vibe and a lighthouse on the peninsula – the perfect place to watch the sunset and feel like the journey was truly completed.

Leave a comment