Rucksack scrupulously packed and re-packed countless times, weighed 7kg, walking boots on, passport in hand, the time had come for my pilgrimage, even though I feel as if I’ve been on my personal journey come pilgrimage since January, when I started making many changes in my life. But this journey I was about to embark on, would be one I will never forget.
The ‘Camino de Santiago’ or St James Way, is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain. Legend has it that the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great, are buried there. As pilgrims traditionally started their journey from their own home, different Camino ways have emerged over hundreds of the years. Having walked many miles, 1000 to be exact,in Andalucia since January, I had booked a ‘Finale’ of one week, walking the last part of the ‘Camino Frances‘ from just outside Sarria to Santiago.
There are many rumors or negative vibes often felt, when reading the numerous blogs and forums of ‘The Camino Pilgrimage‘, for those only doing the ‘Last leg’ and not starting further afield, but I feel everybody’s journey, situation, reasons, and thoughts are different and who are we to judge ? Time restraints, responsibilities, money and many other factors all add to each walkers choices and planned routes. Unfortunately my limitations were time and family but fortunately, I never experienced any such negativities. Each Peregrino I met had their own story, were happy and welcoming to hear mine, share experiences, encouragement, pain, and joys. In fact, pilgrims with these righteous views, in my opinion, should look a little deeper into the true spirit of the journey. On first arriving I got the sense of happiness from many, to see ‘Fresh legs and faces’ to continue along with on the way.
A direct short flight from Malaga to Santiago de Compostela, and then a short, packed bus ride into the city, eye-spying others laden with backpacks and sporting big boots, added to my excitement and butterflies. Santiago was bustling and vibrant, full of pilgrims, tourists and locals. I had booked a night in the old town so I could sample the delights, once a foodie always a foodie, of course that was all part of the journey too. Many pilgrims choose to use Albergues and hostals that require no-booking and run on a first come, first served basis, but as this was my first time backpacking, EVER !! I allowed myself some comfort in knowing after a long days walking I had a bed at the end of it.
After a day and night, exploring, feasting and quaffing, I took a train journey to Sarria, my start point. Dramatic scenery lined the route, through forests of green, gorges and lakes so blue, deserted villages and landscape rich with wildlife. In the train, I was very pleasantly surprised by the furnishings, and comfort, little did I know I’d plonked myself in First Class, 😉 the Inspector was most charming, and allowed me to stay, me I was thinking ‘Soak it up, the last of the luxuries for a while’.
My choice to do Sarria to Santiago would enable me to receive the
“Compostela“, the accreditation of the pilgrimage to the Tomb of St. James.
To receive this, Pilgrims have to walk at least 100km, Cycle or Horse-ride 200km. Along the journey, you have to collect stamps in the ‘Pilgrims Credencial’ to prove your distance and consecutive days walked.
So my route: Sarria-Portomarin-Palas de Rei-Arzua-Amenal-Santiago 116km + a few finding accommodations 😉
Each day I rose before dawn, for a quick Cafe con leche, caffeine shot. I made the mistake the first day to fill up at breakfast, only to find walking a struggle after. So quick coffee, head torch on, find my route, off I went.
The route is symbolised by a shell motif, belief is that the lines on the shell, represent the routes from across Europe to Santiago. I would hear the click-clack of walking sticks and the hushed early morning, sleepy chatter of fellow pilgrims, this gave a sense of warmth and unitedness. Some moments tested my nerve and personal thoughts, walking through forests in the dark, with not a soul in sight, firstly I was jumping at every sound, rustle or movement, I had a chat to myself, deep breath and then learned to soak up the moment of solitude and nature in its purest form.
Daybreak, was the feel-good moment of each day, taking in the new surroundings, views, some days with a glorious sunrise, others with a thick mist, slowly letting light through. Familiar faces, and the welcoming sound of ‘Buen Camino‘ all added to the experience. I was known for a quick pace and even got nicknamed ‘BOLT‘ or ‘Lynsey LongLegs‘ so passed many people each day, but stop-offs for water breaks, sock realigning, rucksack adjusting and general ‘I need a rest‘ moments, saw them catch-up, over-take or even join me.
And that’s how it rolled!
5 Days walking, through ever-changing landscapes and weather. Difficult moments, euphoric moments, lightbulb moments, hymn singing, praying, cursing and even crying, tears of joy and pain.
Each day as I arrived at my next location, I celebrated with a cold local ‘Cerveza’, boots off, tapa eaten. Found my bed for the night, hauled my rucksack off, stood in the shower, face up to the steaming water, – Tiger balmed my feet, took my ibuprofen & closed my eyes for siesta.
Towns and hamlets on the route offer wonderful menus for pilgrims, comfort, substantial food to fuel our bodies, about 9€ for 3 courses with bread, coffee and a bottle of wine. My favourite soup for the soul ‘ Caldo Gallego’ soothed my brain and body and almost felt like it gave me a warm hug. Bedtime was never late, 9-10pm, sleeping was often difficult, mind wandering and noisy neighbours ( some people are just not considerate of others 😉 ) and a different bed every night often had me muddled when I woke mid-sleep. Small sacrifice though and forgotten quickly the next day.
Favourite town on my route: Portomarin
Favourite quirky find: A little old man in the middle of no-where selling freshly made Bunuelos!
Favourite sign: Free hugs!
Favourite meal: Pulpo
My last morning and my last walk into Santiago just 18 km to go !! My pace was quick, I was on a mission, completely absorbed by the end in sight. The last few Km’s seemed to take an age, through built-up areas and suburbia of the city, many pilgrims were behind me, but few upfront, on occasions I felt lost, symbols seemed more spaced out. Finally, I spotted a sign ‘Catedral 800 m ‘ I had an overwhelming, emotional moment, hidden behind dark glasses, my tears flowed. Turning the corner the Piper, piped the pilgrim’s welcome. As I entered the Plaza, pilgrims who had arrived the day before, welcomed me with open arms, hugs and cheers. Tourists asked for my photo, as a ‘real-life‘ pilgrim ;). I just collapsed on my rucksack, head in hands and thought
“Yes this girl can, this girl DID“
Not an end to my journey, part of it, part of my quest to walk more, breath and stop and stare. Part of my learnings to enjoy the wanderings of my own mind, except the solitude, be just me.
After getting over my arrival and up off the floor, the realisation my legs and feet were not invincible became apparent. The officialdom stage had to take place, obtaining my Compostela. The pilgrim’s office, receives approx 600-900 Pilgrims a day, the day I arrived it seemed double. A long wait, in a long queue, was one of the hardest parts of the experience, but everybody was in the same boat, others had obviously walked for weeks. 7.28pm I GOT IT – I had two minutes to get to the Cathedral for the Pilgrims service, there was only one thing for it I had to RUN !! Ouch !!!!
A full cathedral, candlelight, incense burning, finalised my pilgrimage and to my delight the Botafumiera swang……
Until next time – Buen Camino!