The Camino De Santiago – Bob’s Camino: Part 1

By Bob Morrell on October 2, 2023

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino is an ancient pilgrims route, a pathway, often called ‘the Way’, which stretches across Europe. All routes lead eventually to Santiago, although there are also routes to Rome, Jerusalem and Canterbury. For over a thousand years, millions would have walked these ways to find a spiritual advantage of some kind, at the shrines of various saints.

Now, thousands every year walk the many routes across Spain to Santiago de Compostela in the north-western Province of Galicia. Some still make the journey for religious reasons, and many more make the journey for personal reasons and for the challenge of crossing 500 miles of varied terrain for 5-6 weeks. I made the journey from mid-August and eventually got to Santiago on the 21st September.

You begin in a small town in Southern France called St Jean Pied de Port (the port of the feet) and your first day takes you up and over the Pyrenees into Spain. I was lucky because it was a clear day when I did it and the views were spectacular, however this day is famous as being the hardest, and it was. When I finally got down the other side of the mountains, I was utterly exhausted and wondered if I should give up. 

Walking the Camino

Every day you are required to walk between 18 and 28km – you can choose less, it will just take longer, or if you’re feeling fit, you can choose longer stretches which will mean you do it more quickly, but in 35-degree heat this is exhausting. For the first 2 weeks, because of extreme heat, most were up at 5 every morning, and on the road by 6am, hoping to cover the majority of your route that day, by lunchtime. The routes mostly took you through mountains, open countryside and tiny villages and towns who were geared up to cater for pilgrims. Sometimes the going was very hard, rough ground with loose rocks and slippery stone pathways. Other times they were good quality gravel paths, and sometimes it was just trodden down earth. There was several very high mountains – 1400+ metres, which were hard on the legs going up, and down, and of course, you’re carrying 10kg+ backpacks.

The first two weeks were very hard. I suffered from painful blisters, painful legs, being generally unfit, the intense heat by 1pm every day, and then a lack of sleep. Over time, you get used to many things, but once you’re up and walking you’re okay. I had to invest in blister plasters, insoles for my boots and EU strength Ibuprofen which made it all bearable.

The good news is that the blisters eventually harden, as do the rest of your feet, and that becomes a memory. You also get fitter, quite quickly, and the daily walks become easy.

Scenery on the Camino

The Camino has 4 main provinces, the Basque region, which is mountainous and lovely, with rivers following the path quite often. Then you pass through Rioja, famous for its wine which is delicious and 1 euro 40 cents per glass. The vineyards and mountains of this region are unexpectedly lovely and make you feel very small. Then you pass through Castile and Leon which includes the Meseta, a week of more flat fields and dead sunflowers. Finally, you cross Galicia, the greenest section, very beautiful and a mixture of terrain including a final mountain.

Accommodation on the Camino

You sleep mostly in Albergi (hostels) which has dorm rooms, mixed, with showers and usually a pilgrims menu – the beds are 8-15 euros and the dinner around 12, including wine. You can pay more for a private room. The dorms are okay but be ready for snoring, a chorus of it, every night. Farting, in all nationalities, and people moving around. Also, once the early risers begin forget sleeping, you may as well get up. In the cities I would sometimes opt for a hotel just to have a break from that experience. The good news is that lights out is 10pm and you are so exhausted that you will certainly sleep for a few hours regardless. After a month you’re used to these hotels.

Food on the Camino

During a long, hot day you don’t have much of an appetite, so the morning was usually a coffee and a banana or a hard-boiled egg. Late lunch was a beer with a Spanish omelette (tortilla) and dinner was the pilgrims menu. Coldest beer: Moulenesca. Best Tortilla:  a bar in Galicia. Best dinner: A paella in Hornillos. Best city food: Burgos and Leon (amazing tapas).

Cities on the Camino

You pass through Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, as well as smaller towns like Astorga. Burgos was the most beautiful. A stunning romantic city that felt quite Italian in atmosphere. Beautiful tree lined walkways and cafes on squares and without question, the backdrop of a spectacular cathedral, which even for someone as secular as me, was breath-taking. Leon was the most social. Friday night in Leon the bars are rammed with well-dressed Spaniards, and they spill out on to the streets and there’s a wonderful community feeling there. I had a day off there and drank red vermouth and soda on the rocks and ate some lovely free tapas. Memorable.