Almost a year ago, at the start of May 2019, I embarked on my 4th Camino. My first Camino was in 2016, when I walked the Camino Frances. The following year, in 2017, I walked the Camino Portuguese, and in 2018 I walked the Camino del Norte.
This time round I was walking the Via de la Plata – a 1,000km+ pilgrimage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. Writing forms a big part of my adventures, so I decided to document the journey publicly, sharing accounts of my day and an exploration of my emotions, thoughts and feelings, as well as the things I was learning and thinking about as I was walking.
What follows is an entire 31-day account of my experience walking the Camino de la Plata. In total, I walked 1,092km over 31-days, starting in Seville and finishing in Muxia on the coast (not Santiago de Compostela). Given the nature of the trail (being one of the least trodden Caminos), my journey felt like a mini-life rolled into a month. It was a journey of solitude, introspection and stillness, and it’s a pleasure to be able to look back almost one year on, and relive those days walking.
I hope you enjoy the accounts that follow.
Monday 20th April 2020
Day 0 – Retracing Old Steps in Seville
Journey: Seville, 0km
Total Distance: 0 / 974 km
Weather: Sunny & clear skies, 34°C
Accommodation: Hostel One Catedral
Lesson: We don’t know what, we don’t know how, but we can be sure that things are going to change.
It’s 10 years since I was last in Seville. I was here with my father when I was 18 years old for a much needed father-son bonding session. To give you a little bit of context I didn’t see much of my dad growing up. My mum and he split when I was a young boy, and asides from him taking me to the occasional football match, or climbing a mountain together in the Lake District, he wasn’t really in my life so in many ways it was like going on holiday with a stranger.
It’s funny when I think back to my memories of Seville, and how certain memories stuck with me, and others seemed to flutter away like they never happened. All I can remember from my time here is three things:
1. – My dad begging to stop for an alcoholic drink every 5 minutes.
2. – My dad being amazed by the abundance of orange trees in Seville, wanting to climb them and pick their fruit (even though I’m pretty sure they are not the best to eat).
3 – Finding my dad naked, drunk and passed out in the bath at our hotel.
The trip was all about drinking and bars back then, even for me in many ways, and I find it incredible that as I wandered the streets this morning, I remembered none of them.
It was clear that I was looking at Seville with different eyes back then and never would I have predicted that I’d be back here 10 years later about to embark on a 1,000km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
These memories got me thinking about change. Change is the only constant in life; it’s the only thing we can be certain of. Time and new experience have shown me a new way of life, and now here I stand, so different in many ways (and of course still the same in many ways too), but indeed, looking at Seville from a completely different perspective.
This morning I spent my time walking through a couple parks and observing. I noticed the trees, especially the beautiful violet Jacaranda shedding their flowers. I stumbled upon a rainbow in a fountain which is obviously a sign of good things to come, and I spent a good 15 minutes watching a couple of ducks playing and making funny noises.
Asides from being sidetracked by nature, I had a mission to acquire a few essentials for the Camino: a hat, my credential, and a shell for my backpack. I succeeded on the hat and credential, but it seems Seville is more concerned with selling colourful fans rather than Shells. Needless to say, this evening I’ll head to a cafe over the river in Triana with some new friends, and I’ll try my luck picking up a shell from the Friends of Camino Association Office.
Today’s lesson is to embrace change. In many ways, I feel like this walk is an opportunity to embrace change since my main motive of walking this time is to decide what the next chapter of my life will read.
For me, the Camino is as much therapy and time for self-reflection as it is a walk in nature, and this time I am bringing three questions that I seek to answer. Those questions are as follows:
1 – Who am I?
2 – Where am I?
3 – Where am I going?
Right now it feels right to ponder on those questions as I walk, but of course, anything can change, and maybe the Camino will reveal different questions for me to answer. The only way to discover is to start, to begin, to get moving, by putting one foot in front of the other. And tomorrow I’ll do just that starting my walk at 6am just before sunrise. I’m optimistic, I’m as fit as I’ve ever been and the weather gods are seemingly on my side.
Today was a good day and the universe aligns.
Day 1 – Choosing Presence over Distraction
Journey: Seville > Castilblanco de los Arroyos, 40km
Total Distance: 40 / 974 km
Weather: Morning sunshine & afternoon clouds, 26 °C
Accommodation: Albergue De Peregrinos Castilblanco
Feeling: Nervous but Excited
Lesson: The most precious time in life is right NOW.
Yesterday evening was chilled and I didn’t feel compelled to spend my final hours rushing around Seville playing tourist. Operation find a shell for my backpack proved successful thanks to the Friends of the Camino Association in Seville, and then after a nice meet up with a few CouchSurfers, eating cherries and drinking OJ on the riverside bank, I was back in the hostel, showered, bag packed and in bed by 22:30pm.
Before I fell to sleep I read through a few of the Facebook comments on my post, and one, in particular, caught my attention. It was from a friend who warned me of the downside of being constantly connected and stressed not to get caught up in social media and being on my phone all day at the expense of walking my Camino.
And in many ways, my friend is right. As much as I like to think I have my social media appetite under control, we live in a distracted world, bombarded by notifications, and people demanding our attention, unsolicitedly. Worse still, we aren’t fully sure how these devices are affecting our mental state, not to mention the dire consequences they have on our attention spans and countless studies linking overuse of devices to addiction, depression, anxiety and increased loneliness. And all this makes sense because for every moment you spend on your device, you forego the opportunity to be present, have a real-life interaction with someone.
Life is experienced in the here and now. I know that walking this particular Camino route, at this stage in my life is a once in a lifetime experience that I want to fully embrace and enjoy. So to get the most out of my Camino, and in line with yesterday’s theme of change, I am making a conscious decision to not use social media while walking. I will still use my phone for maps, to write notes & record ideas, take videos/photos, and to listen to music and audiobooks.
Since an integral part of my experience for myself is to document my Camino, and rather than fragmenting and diluting my attention span by constantly being connected, I will log on once an evening (probably around 7pm) to write and post my daily journal entry, upload pictures and videos, and reply to comments if I have the energy to do so. Change is good, so I started today and I commit to this pact for the entirety of my Camino.
So what happened today?
My day was glorious. I woke at 5:30am, and was out the door to start my walk just before 6am and was gifted with a spectacular full moon as I approached the Cathedral. After all the fear about hot weather, it turned out to be a great day for walking. Not too hot, about 26 degrees, and cloudy in the afternoon, sheltering my pale British skin from the heat of the day.
Funnily enough, I didn’t take my sweater off all day. The trail was varied, passing through countless olive, sunflower, and wheat fields. I encountered horses, butterflies, cows, lizards, 3 dogs (scary at first but in the end they were friendly), a ladybird, thousands of giant ants, and even a dead snake (no one told me about snakes in Andalucia).
Many farmers were out harvesting their land, and I watched what appeared to be South American migrants collecting potatoes (I’ve never seen so many potatoes in my life). It was a long walk, and for most of it, I was in the zone and didn’t feel the need to take any long breaks. By 30km I could feel some extreme rubbing on my feet and sneaky blisters coming on so I stopped to take the necessary precautions to my feet. I made it to Castilblanco de los Arroyos by about 2pm with a smile on my face and no injuries to report, feeling strong.
To my surprise, there’s actually about 15 of us staying in the albergue this evening. We’ve got a good bunch, and I’ve already met a few. Hugh and Liz from Sydney, Australia, and Norman from Germany.
The worst news of the day though: I’ve been given a heads up that there’s a big snorer (apparently his skinny and tall, and fooled everyone last night) below me in the bunk so I’ve already eyed up the spare room downstairs for a quick diversion later this evening.
Speak again tomorrow!
Day 2 – Sharing Makes Us Stronger
Journey: Castilblanco de los Arroyos > Alamaden de Plata, 28km
Total Distance: 68 / 974km
Weather: Clear blue skies but windy, 23 °C
Accommodation: Casa Clara
Lesson: If you really love someone, you’ll let them fly free.
Last night turned out to be a winner. When I arrived at the Albergue I met Ken and Liz, a beautiful couple from Australia, who gave me a heads up that there were several notorious snorers in the room – and that’s the last thing I dreamed of after a 40km slog.
I’m a light sleeper, and even the subtly annoying noise of a mosquito will keep me awake at night. When I checked in I noticed there was a spare room with a dozen or so beds nestled behind some curtains that the Albergue used once they filled up the main room of 20 beds.
Unlike most things in life, being first to arrive at this Albergue was not a blessing. In this case, if you were pilgrim number 21, arriving late in the day and expecting not to find a bed, you’d be happily surprised to find yourself in your own room. By 10pm, there were only two Spanish cyclists in the spare room so I made a quick decision, grabbed my sheets off my bed, and went to join them, taking a bottom bunk at the opposite side of the room to them. It turned out to be a great decision as I slept like a baby, all the way through till 5:30 in the morning. I met Ken and Liz in the kitchen just before leaving this morning, and unfortunately, they were right, the main room became a painful orchestral symphony soon after the lights went out.
I had a great walk today. I was out the door by 6am and greeted by another full moon for the second day running, plus the pleasant music of cockerels, indicating I was well and truly out of the city. For the first 15km, I walked on the road in darkness as cars raced past me with their lights full beam. I hear a lot of people walking the Camino don’t enjoy walking on the road, but not every path we walk can be perfect. I enjoy the contrast and I’ll do my best to make the most out of it and can always find something to be grateful for.
Today I was grateful for the two wonderful people I walked with, and the intimate stories they shared with me. I walked with a lovely lady called Lee from Australia who was bright, bubbly and full of enthusiasm walking her 3rd Camino. And I also walked with a German guy called Norman, a 59-year-old firefighter who was down to earth, humble and had wonderful energy and carried a great sense of compassion with him.
Norman and I talked “Denglish” – my broken German, mixed with his broken English. We talked about all kinds of things like relationships, love, his life & children and what he was like at 28 years old. We’d only known each other for several hours at best, and we were already sharing some of our deepest pains and challenges that we’re currently dealing with, and in many ways, as silly as it may sound, I already feel like I’ve known him for 20 years.
This is a special thing about the Camino; people are often willing to share their stories, pains and struggles; stories that sometimes even their closest friends at home aren’t aware of. Maybe it’s because of the transient nature of the walk? Maybe having no history with someone you meet along the way makes you more likely to be open? Who knows…
But it’s true. You’re a blank canvas as you walk, and if you walk with an open heart, there will always be friendly people on the trail who listen with an open heart, and this is what makes the Camino such a wonderful experience.
This evening I find myself Alamaden de la Plata, staying with Norman and Lee. We’ve fallen on our feet with the albergue we’re staying at, it’s beautiful, and to top things off there’s a fun festival going on in the town.
I want to finish this post with one thing Norman said while walking today that will stay with me:
“If you really love someone, you’ll let them fly free.”
Day 3 – Preparation & Prevention
Journey: Almaden de Plata > Monesterio, 35km
Total Distance: 103 / 974km
Weather: Clear blue skies, some winds, 23 °C
Accommodation: Hostal Extremadura
Lesson: Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
There were many small wins today: I crossed the 100km mark, entered a new province (Extremadura), and walked 35km without even a niggle of a problem with my body, which is certainly a first after 3 Caminos.
The first couple of days of the Camino are always adjustment days and precious time for the body to get used to the strain of walking. This time around my shoulders hurt, right calf got badly sunburned, both knees played up a few times, and a few blisters tried their luck popping through. But fingers crossed, that I’m beyond the adjustment phase.
It was a glorious walk and I spent most of the day walking alone through farmland, happily opening and closing gate after gate. The landscape was bliss, and very different from previous days, but today was definitely the day of animals: I saw pigs oinking and rolling around in the mud, two dozen goats finding shelter under a tree from the burning sun, a snake weaving its way through the grass, angry dogs prisoning a herd of sheep, and a flock of birds flying in perfect synchronicity above.
After a lovely walk, I arrived in Monesterio at about 14:00 and landed on my feet with accommodation this evening, finding a private room and en-suite for €10, which turns out to be the same price as the pilgrim’s albergue in town, where you’d share a dorm room with dozens of other people, and of course, potential snorers.
Some Notes on Preparation
With every Camino, I walk I play the preparation game and make sure I am as ready as I can be before I walk. The game started 6 months ago. People often say it’s difficult to train for a Camino, because of course, when on earth can you find time to spend 8 hours walking?
But I found a regular 6-day schedule mixing running, steps, cycling, and long city walks did the trick. I also studied the route in depth, and created a spreadsheet to map distances, altitude, expected weather, probable routes & stages, as well as good to know information about albergues, water-points etc (I’ll include a screenshot below).
One of my philosophies about good preparation is “prevention is always better than cure”, and if you can anticipate and avoid problems before they happen, you’re going to have a much more pleasant walk. A few obvious things come to mind here:
Equipment: I buy decent equipment. Don’t be fooled by cheap stuff; it’s cheap for a reason.
Footwear & Footcare: I buy 1/2 size too big and wear my boots in at least 1 month before. I also wear them out on runs 2 weeks before walking. Vaseline each morning on your feet before putting your socks keeps them fresh.
Other: Carry backup water (at least 2 litres), carry fruit & nuts, plasters, sun cream, familiarise yourself with the day’s route and weather before you set off, beat the afternoon sun by starting as early as possible, stay off social media and enjoy yourself!
When you get walking on the way, it’s all about your mindset, and how that translates into the pace you end up walking. If you rush, your body will punish you for it sooner or later. People see the long distances I walk, and they often assume I am rushing, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. I walk slow and long, at a natural pace, my body feels good at. It’s somewhere between 4km/hr and 5km/hr.
The slower the better in my view. I see more and I stop when something in nature catches my attention. I don’t walk the Camino simply for the physical challenge. I see it more encompassing than that, and it’s as much a social, mental & spiritual walk, as it is a physical pursuit.
So the moral of the story is to always prepare. Not just for walking the Camino but anything in life. I never really liked my English teacher, Mr L (name withheld for privacy) but there was one thing he said to me back in the day that has stuck with me ever since (it’s weird how that happens isn’t it):
“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Mr L – maybe we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, but I totally agree with you on that one.
Time to rest, relax and explore Monesterio!
Day 4 – Friends Reunited
Journey: Monesterio > Zafra, 44km
Total Distance: 147 / 974km
Weather: Sunny, blue skies & dotted clouds, 23 °C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Selene! Feeling: Grateful
Lesson: Helping others is one of the most important things you can do; we rise by lifting others!
Spanish holidays caught me out on Saturday and Sunday, and with nothing open in town last night, bar one place, I had to resort to pub food yet again, and admittedly, there’s only so many bocadillo one can stomach. I’ve never missed fruit and vegetables as much as I did last night. It was a strange feeling not having access to healthy food on demand, and I’ll never take having a full fridge healthy food for granted again. Also, nothing was open when I left at 6am this morning and for the first 22km or 4/5 hours I didn’t eat anything, so when I got to the supermarket in Fuente de Cantos I ran into the supermarket like a giddy kid and picked up the first juicy Granny Smith Apple I set my eyes on.
Anyways, there is a beautiful story about friendship and reconnection that I want to tell today. After seeing one of my posts, Melinda Oliver – a fellow pilgrim – who walked the Via de la Plata last year reached out to ask for a favour… I’ll tell the back story first.
Melinda was walking the Via de la Plata with her husband when they arrived in Calzadilla de los Barros, and after a long day’s walking, she struck up a conversation with a woman whose name was Maria Luisa. Maria Luisa told Melinda how she had brought up 7 children since the age of 11 years old and that she had always dreamed of walking the Camino but couldn’t now that she was older and had some chronic problems with her back. There was something in Maria Luisa that made Melinda empathise deeply with Maria Luisa’s story. Melinda told her that she would pray for her every day, at every chapel and monument she encountered by leaving rocks in the hope her prayers would heal Maria Luisa’s back. They hugged goodbye and Melinda and her husband went on their way, and that was that.
On the way to Santiago, something kept on telling Melinda to go back and visit Maria Luisa, and once she arrived in Santiago, instead of relaxing and reflecting on her Camino, she made a crazy decision and convinced her husband to fly to Madrid, rent a car and go and visit Maria Luisa. They arrived in Calzadilla de los Barros, and managed to work out where Maria Luisa lived by asking local after local.
They eventually found Maria Luisa’s home, and as soon as they saw each other, they both broke into tears. Melinda and her husband were invited into Maria Luisa’s house, and they talked for hours, and to Melinda’s amazement, her back had actually gotten better!
Melinda wrote down Maria Luisa’s address and promised that they would stay in touch with each other. Upon arriving home, Melinda’s heart sunk when she couldn’t find the paper that she’d written Maria Luisa’s address on. She was devastated. She tried reaching out to other pilgrims with no luck, and at Christmas, Melinda ended up writing to the mayor of Calzadilla de los Barros, asking him to pass on a Christmas card, but unfortunately never heard anything back.
Melinda saw that I was walking through Calzadilla de los Barros today, and sent me a message telling me the story, and asked if I could try to track down Maria Luisa. I said I’d try my best, even though I don’t speak Spanish. I arrived in Calzadilla de los Barros at about 11am and used Google Translate to tell Melinda’s story to the first woman I saw. She looked puzzled and said that she didn’t know a Maria Luisa with 7 kids.
When I got down into the main square of the town, I asked another man, and he also didn’t know Maria Luisa. My hope of finding Maria Luisa was thinning, and as I was walking out, I saw two women cross each other and I’m sure I heard the name Maria exchanged. I turned around and chased after the woman, and tried to translate with her but it turned out she was not Maria Luisa.
But while I was stood there was another older lady with a walking stick whose name turned out to be Carmen, who came up and started speaking Spanish. I didn’t understand what she was saying and Google Translate wasn’t helping. Then out of nowhere, a guy called Pedro comes around the corner and joins the conversation. It turns out he could speak English. I explained Melinda’s back story to him, and he translated it to Carmen.
To all of our amazement, it turned out that Carmen knew Maria Luisa. I followed Carmen and she took me around the corner to a small convenience shop and introduced me to the young lady behind the counter. It turned out that this young lady was of Maria’s 7 children! She seemed excited to see me, and after Carmen had explained the story, she knew exactly who Melinda was. I asked her for Maria Luisa’s address, and she wrote it down on a piece of paper! I gave both of them a hug, and on my way I went. Mission accomplished!
Melinda was over the moon to receive Maria Luisa’s address, and it certainly made my day knowing that they will now be reconnected after all this time and continue to grow their relationship with each other.
I’m feeling very grateful this evening. I landed in Zafra with no injuries again or significant pains apart from aching shoulders, and I am mixing things up by Couchsurfing/staying with a wonderful person called Selene, and this evening we’ll cook together and I’ll help her assemble her new kitchen table.
Tomorrow it’ll be a short day of 20km or so to Villafranca de los Barros.
Day 5 – Humility
Journey: Zafra > Villafranca de los Barros, 20km
Total Distance: 167 / 974km
Weather: Sunny, clear skies, 26 °C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Sandra
Lesson: Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying. – St. Vincent de Paul
I set off at 6am yesterday, and after a long 44km slog yesterday through expansive wheat fields, I was very happy to arrive in Zafra just before 4pm with no injuries to report.
Instead of staying at an albergue in town, and to mix things up, Selene, a couch surfer, invited me to stay with her and her beautiful daughter. She was a teacher of Portuguese and English in town, and had some great travel stories, especially about her experiences volunteering in the Amazon rainforest. We spent the evening assembling her new table, cooking Spanish tortilla de patatas (Spanish Omelette), listening to music, and playing games and completing treasure hunts with her daughter.
I headed off at 8am this morning, later than usual, because I was only walking 20km or so. The weather was perfect again – not too hot, but clear blue skies, and great for walking. Along route, I met with a really fun Spanish guy called Pascaul – a former primary school teacher who has walked 11 Camino and written books about it. We walked together for a good two hours or so, sharing stories, and laughing about how he thought he was ’still 28 years old’ and ‘like Tarzan’ when it came to walking. We arrived in Villafranca, early, by 12pm, and I ducked into a cafe to write and journal before meeting Sandra, my Couchsurfer for today, later on.
Some Notes on Humility
I’ve been thinking about humility and vulnerability for the last few days as I’ve walked. I grew up with the misconception that being strong means never showing weakness or emotion. Put appearing strong from the outside, does not equate to feeling good on the inside. As I’ve moved through life, I’ve realised that humility and being willing to be vulnerable, showing my scars and the things I’m working on is a much better path to walk.
As much as someone may appear to be perfect, no one is free from struggle. And interestingly, when you start talking about your struggles openly, people reach out, and it’s soon apparent that you’re not the only one going through the struggles, and that can be very helpful indeed.
So why am I writing about humility and vulnerability? Well, several people have asked me why I am broadcasting and sharing my life and experience on the Camino so openly and publicly on social media. And the simple answer is that I am practising humility and vulnerability. There’s something scary but exciting about pressing publish on a post like this, or turning the camera on and talking raw and spontaneously about how I feel, or joking about like a child.
I like it, it feels human and natural. And after many teenage years of putting on a strong face, and trying to be what other people wanted me to be, I feel like I’m finally getting back to myself. And when I say getting back to myself, I mean that child-like self. The person you were at 6 years old. You were authentic – you laughed, you cried, you threw tantrums, and you embraced how you felt in the moment with absolutely no fear of being judged.
I’ll rest, write and explore Villafranca de los Barros for the rest of the day, ahead of another big 40km day tomorrow to Merida.
Day 6 – The Cool Days Are Over
Journey: Villafranca de los Barros > Mérida, 44km
Total Distance: 211 / 974km
Weather: Scorching hot, some clouds, 31 °C
Accommodation: Albergue Molino de Pancaliente, €8
Lesson: Clean the Inside of your cup.
Last night was one of those special occasions on the Camino. I stayed with Sandra, a Spanish lady, who, with a passion for sustainability, gardening and preserving the planet, travelled all over the world volunteering and woofing on farms, and eventually ended up in England where she put all her skills and experience into practise running her own farm in Devon for 2 1/2 years.
6 months ago she decided to move back to Spain so I was lucky to catch her in Villafranca de los Barros last night. We spent the evening together chatting about all kinds of things, as well as cooking up a beautiful lentil curry together, using herbs, spices and vegetables picked from her garden. We picked lemons, mint and raspberries from the garden and made fresh lemon juice, and Sandra also showed me her recipe for spicy humus! Given that food and eating healthy on the Camino is a highly unpredictable affair, it was a blessing to cook and then share a nutritious and healthy meal with Sandra. After some great chats, and losing track of time, I ended up getting to bed at 12:30am. I slept like a baby, and surprisingly didn’t feel tired when I woke at 6:30am, and was out the door by 7am pronto.
Today was my biggest day so far in distance. I walked 44km, and for 25km of those were dominated by grape and olive fields. Despite the lack of variety in landscape today, I was accompanied by Pascual, walking a solid 27km with him. He’s great company; full of energy and walks with a big smile on his face. We sang along together like good old friends, and before we knew it, we were dueting “away in a manger”. Pascual stopped for the day in Torremejía. It’s not likely we’ll see each other again on the route, so we said our goodbyes and gave each other a hug, and on I went to Merida.
The final 15km of my walk was painful on my feet, and largely dominated by highway walking. It was scorching hot and humid by 1pm with temperatures hitting 31 degrees Celsius. As I walked down the highway, I looked to my right and noticed a tremendous amount of rubbish nestled beyond the barriers and down the banking. There was paper, plastic, foil and cans. You could tell the rubbish had been there for a while because the colours had faded, and no one wants a stale brown can of coke. As I walked on I observed the highway. It was immaculately clean, but “hidden” just metres away was a continuous waste pit of unwanted items that will be sticking around for a long time.
It got me thinking back to an experience I had in 2014 when I was hitchhiking across Canada back in 2014. I was in Ontario when I got picked up by a priest called Jeremy who was from England. Jeremy had lived a very colourful life, and liked using analogies to explain the deeper philosophical questions of our existence.
The analogy that stuck with me the most was one where he was talking about life and cups. Jeremy said that we all have a cup, and we love keeping the outside of it clean and tidy. Some people decorate the outside of their cup with materials and possessions, others with power, prestige, distraction, or anything else that can be acquired in the external world. Although the outside of our cup can look pretty, exciting and colourful, it isn’t really us; it’s the image and persona we show to the world.
Jeremy went on to explain the inside of the cup contains our true self – our dreams, fears, traumas, values, insecurities and destiny. But if we fall into the trap of spending most our time cleaning and decorating the outside of their cup, we neglect the inside of the cup. Over time, and with continuous neglect, the inside of the cup becomes dirty and mouldy. Sure, the outside of the cup looks great, because we spend our energy preserving it, but the inside is dirty and full of mould, and worst of all, if you dare to drink from the cup, you can be sure you’re going to get ill.
Jeremy suggests that the answers to our destiny are not found on the outside of the cup, but on the inside of the cup – ironically the part of the cup that no one sees apart from you – and until we face the inside of our cup, we’re going to come up against ourselves time after time.
After all these years this analogy has stuck with me. In many ways, bringing it full circle, the Camino is one of many ways we can attempt to clean the inside of our cup. A long walk in nature mixed with introspection, away from the endless distractions of the external world, gives us the chance to reflect and work through the mental baggage we’re ALL carrying.
Finally, walking is primal, and when there isn’t much to worry about each day apart from finding food, preventing a blister popping up and working out where you’re going to sleep that evening, it gives you the time and space to be able to see ourselves with much more clarity. And of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll finish the Camino with a clean cup inside and out, but by walking with intention, and choosing to go on a journey, you at least entertain the possibility of change and stumbling upon an experience that could change your life for the better.
Day 7 – One Week In
Journey: Mérida > Alcuéscar, 38km
Total Distance: 249 / 974km
Weather: Morning clouds, afternoon sunshine, 28 °C
Accommodation: Casa Peregrina
Lesson: HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike)
It feels like yesterday that I was in Sevilla, but I am already a week into walking and about a quarter way through the total distance of my journey!
Upon arriving at the Municipal Albergue in Mérida after a long 45km day, and being given a bed slap bang in the middle of a 22-bed dorm room, I was doubtful and probability was certainly not on my side for a snore-free evening. I spent the early evening visiting Mérida, and what an energetic, lively and pretty place it is – full of Roman history and impressive sights.
I was back at the albergue by 10pm equipped with a master plan that if I fell to sleep before the snorers, I may just get lucky and sleep all the way through. With my earplugs pushed as far as possible into my ears, willing to take on the discomfort of one earplug digging into my head on the side I lay my head, I was fast asleep by 10:30pm.
My sleep was a lot better than expected, and I only woke once at 3:30am, to the monumental sound of 4 snorers doing their thing. I promptly turned my head and lay on the other ear to prod the other side of my head with my earplug, and swiftly fell back to sleep. I was up at 5:30am, feeling fairly well rested and out the door by 6:00am. The walk to Alcuéscar was a beauty, and I was gifted with a very pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon Lake Proserpina just as the sun was rising.
Fortunately, the sun was covered by the clouds in the morning which made walking much more pleasant. I walked on beige sandy trails through farmlands riddled with more grapevines and olive trees, which eventually led on to orange dirt track roads, leading into Alcuéscar.
I arrived by 2pm and I was greeted by Dorothea, a German lady who runs a private albergue in town. She walked her first Camino in 1999, and she’s walked a Camino every year, ever since. She fell in love with the Camino, so much so that 4 years ago she decided to move to Spain permanently and set up Casa Peregrina (where I’ll be staying this evening).
Notes On HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike)
The other day a fellow pilgrim commented on one of my entries with the acronym HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike). I liked it, and I gave it some thought over the last two days as I was walking.
Just like any journey in life, every pilgrim is unique and every Camino is different. I agree with the acronym and believe that we all need to walk our own path to discover the way that feels right for ourselves. Following advice from others is a tricky one – because any advice that is given to us is always given from the frame of understanding of the person giving the advice – and indeed, what’s right for them, under their current circumstances, may not be right for you. Of course, some advice is worthy, and there are countless truths and etiquette that apply for all pilgrims, but we mustn’t forget that we are here to learn, discover and walk our own way. Since everybody’s approach to the Camino is unique and different, I thought it would be nice to write out my way of walking and also encourage other pilgrim’s to share their way of walking in the comments below.
So how do I like to walk my Camino?
I enjoy walking between 30-40km each day for between 7-12 hours. I like to prepare and set out my clothes and bag before I go to bed. I try my best to be in bed before 11pm. I start early, because I love sunrises, and set my alarm for 5:30am to be out the door by 6am.
I like keeping a continuous flow to my walking – slow and steady but long – taking as few breaks as possible, walking at the pace my body naturally wants to go. I won’t stay in hotels unless I have no choice in the town I land in. I prefer staying in Albergues or Couchsurfing with a local in town. I prefer eating from supermarkets – mainly fruits and veggies – rather than eating at restaurants because then I can be sure for myself what I am putting in my body.
Whilst I am walking I like to observe, and take notes in my phone. I like to take pictures and shoot video updates about how I am feeling and what I am experiencing. I sometimes listen to music or podcasts. I sometimes like to sing to myself. I sometimes like to walk with others, but I let this happen spontaneously by chance and I never force it. Generally speaking, I am very happy with my own company and enjoy walking alone. I prefer nature to history, and I get more excited about a scenic view and being amongst nature, rather than visiting churches, museums or historical monuments. I prefer staying in smaller cities rather than bigger cities, so I often aim for those. I also see my Camino journeys as a chance to experience and learn from the special hospitality that the Camino offers, and I take notes about all the places I stay at as I walk.
Documenting and journalling about my experience, emotions, the things I observe and the people I meet is very important to me. So as soon as I arrive at my destination, I’ll take a shower and then get down to writing about the day in my journal. It usually takes me about 1 hour to write one a journal entry like this. And I don’t edit them much – I’ll look over it once after I’ve written out my thoughts. After writing I spend about an hour or so posting my journal entry and pictures on social media, as well as replying to comments from the day before. After I’ve done all of that, I’ll spend my evening off the phone, getting to know fellow pilgrims, or exploring the city/town that I am staying in.
This is my way of walking and it’s neither right, wrong, better or worse – I’m simply walking my own way; and the way that currently feels right to me. I’m open to change and I’m open to suggestions, so if you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear about your way of walking below in the comments below.
Day 8 – Hunger
Journey: Alcuéscar > Cáceres, 38km
Total Distance: 282 / 974km
Weather: Morning clouds, blue skies and lots of wind. 31°C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Damian
Lesson: Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast. – Hermann Hesse
Yesterday was a pleasant stay at Dorothea’s Albergue in Alcuéscar. After spending the afternoon hand washing my clothes, and catching up with my journal, Dorothea gathered all us hungry pilgrims together and took us to her favourite local Spanish bar/restaurant for a late evening meal. The bar was very traditional Spanish, and there was a bunch of older Spanish gentleman with their eyes peeled to the TV in excitement as they watched live bullfighting on TV.
Ordering food was a fun ordeal. Asides from myself and Dorothea (who is German) everyone else at the table was Italian or Spanish. Note to self: don’t let Spanish/Italian pilgrims try and decide together what to eat because they will never agree and the waiter will end up deciding what the table eats. Finally, after 15 minutes of discussion about whether to get potatoes or salad, the waiter had the final say on what we were going to eat and within 15 minutes or so our table had turned into a full-on banquet.
There was cured ham, cheese, fresh bread, all kinds of meats, 2 x big tuna salads, roasted peppers, potatoes, wine, and some very hungry pilgrim bellies that wanted to be fed. The food was really good, but when an abundance of food is right in front of me, I can’t help myself but to pick away like a little woodpecker. I call myself a ‘picker’, because while I’m cooking for myself I eat as I go and pick away at the food I make… something like one tomato for me, one for the salad.
And before I knew it I had stuffed myself well beyond 80% full like the Japanese recommend for living a healthy long life. Anyways, I called it a night at 10:30pm, and headed back to the Albergue to get a good night’s sleep, while the Italians and Spanish continued drinking more beer and wine, and cracking jokes at the table. Once I got back I brushed my teeth and fell straight to sleep, but woke up in the middle night with stomach cramps, which was obviously a result of over-eating. My mum always warned me from over-eating when I was little. She would say “don’t let your eyes be greedier than your belly.” My eyes were definitely greedier than my belly, but I managed to fall back to sleep and was up with my alarm by 5:30am pronto for a 6am departure.
I could still feel the heaviness in my stomach as I pushed out with the first kilometres of the day. Asides from water, I wasn’t carrying any food with me because I got caught out by the supermarket closing early yet again yesterday evening.
During this journey, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship to food and even spoke about it on my Instagram stories. I eat when I want at home. I always have a full fridge. I find portion control difficult and got brought up by a mum telling me never to waste any food. I also eat faster than I’d like to eat, and I snack and pick at food like there’s no tomorrow. So all this combined makes unhealthy eating habits.
With feelings, I think it’s important to feel the contrast. In this case, when we’re talking about food, I think that we can learn a lot from the sensation of hungry from time to time,. So since I had no food with me, I decided while walking this morning that I’d fast for the entirety of today’s walk and attempt walking without consuming any food. I know this may sound silly at first glance to fellow pilgrims out there, especially considering the weather and long distances of the Via de la Plata, but everything was fully under control. I had 2L’s of water packed, plus some backup food in case of an emergency. Since I’ve never fasted properly before, I was more interested in experiencing how my body reacted to the process, particularly under strenuous and long physical activity.
By 10am, about 4 hours into my walk, my stomach was groaning and expecting its daily dosage of morning food. But that wasn’t to be. I walked on and I sat with the feeling of hunger with each step I took. I was conscious of the feeling, I knew it was there, but I was singing, and thinking about new ideas, so my mind was somewhere else for most of the journey. I surprised myself because I felt hungry for the first 4 hours but for the last 4 hours of my walk, it seemed like my stomach had given up hassling me for food.
After a glorious but incredibly windy 38km walk through barren trails coated with an abundance of beautiful yellow Forsythia bushes, I arrived in Cáceres and met my Couchsurfing host, Damian, for the evening. It was 2pm at this point and I hadn’t eaten a thing since 9pm the evening before. Surprisingly I felt calm and balanced, but after telling Damian the story of my attempt to fast for the walk, he insisted that we headed straight home to cook dinner.
By 3pm, I tucked into my first wonderful meal of the day that Damian kindly cooked up. It was an Indian chickpea curry with couscous and a traditional Spanish tomato salad. It felt great to taste food again, perhaps even a slight improvement in my appreciation for it, and after 18 hours away from food, each mouthful tasted even better than usual.
I was surprised by how well my body coped. I was clear in the mind. I was focused on my walk, and it was a lot easier than I expected it to be. Now, after realising 18 hours with no food and walking 38km in 30 degrees heat was doable, I am thinking about doing a 24 hour fast of food for a day. I don’t think I’ve ever tried not eating for 24 hours in my life, so I am curious to see how my body responds, especially with the added requirement of walking 30-40km.
I still haven’t decided when I’ll do it yet, but I’m interested to know: Have any other pilgrims tried fasting before on any of their walks? And if so, how did it go for you?
Day 9 – Coming Home
Journey: Cáceres > Embalse de Alcantara, 34km
Total Distance: 315 / 974km
Weather: Sunny & Clear, 27°C
Accommodation: Albergue Turistico Via de la Plata
Lesson: Home is where the heart is.
Yesterday evening I stayed with a Couchsurfer called Damian – a super interesting 40-year-old guy who built a life out of his love for music, and has been teaching classical guitar at the music conservatory in Cáceres for the last 10 years.
Yesterday, after fasting while walking, I arrived in Cáceres at 2pm. Damian kindly came and picked me up in the city centre, and after realising that I hadn’t eaten anything for 17 hours, he insisted we headed back to his place and cooked up a wonderful chickpea curry for the both of us. It was interesting to eat again; I noticed that after even a simple 17 hour fast, I was much more appreciative for my food, and I’m curious to try a 24-hour food fast for one day on this Camino!
Damian was extremely hospitable, kind and generous. We had all kinds of chats about travel, music, philosophy and his life story. He’s been playing the guitar since he was about 12 years old. He told me how he admired his older brother’s ability to play the guitar and use it to impress girls, but that his brother wouldn’t teach him so he taught himself. But sadly, after winning many scholarships, about 10 years ago, Damian was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease impairing his ability to play the guitar like he used to, which meant he had to reinvent himself and develop a unique way to teach his students.
In the evening Damian took me out to explore Cáceres, and wow what a beautiful city it is. We explored the old quarter of the city and enjoyed a lemonade together in a garden terrace overlooking the city. We finished the evening in style, driving up to the top of a mountain that overlooked Cáceres. We caught a lovely sunset, and it was a clear evening so I could see for miles south, retracing the steps that I’d taken earlier that morning, while also looking North and comprehending my path to come.
I was fast asleep by 11:30pm and gifted myself another hour in bed this morning because it was set to be a shorter day of 32km. I had breakfast with Damian before hugging goodbye and off I went by 7am. The route to Embalse de Alcantara was very special. I trailed down sandy, rocky roads, weaving to-and-fro from the highway, before eventually stumbling upon a magnificent reservoir. For the last couple of hours of my work, I hugged the highway around the east of the reservoir arriving at its northern tip where I reached my Albergue for the evening. I’m more than pleasantly surprised with where I am staying. It’s a modern building with great showers, solid wifi, interesting dorm room design and a beautiful terrace overlooking the reservoir, where I’ll enjoy the sunset from this evening. I’m in good spirit, and asides from a little niggle on my left ankle, I’m feeling strong and well worn into this Camino.
Notes About Coming Home
My stay with Damian was really special indeed. He made me feel like I was right at home last night and encouraged me to think about my own home life, my friends and where I grew up in the north of England as I walked this morning. I haven’t lived in England for 7 years now; which shocked this morning, realising that I left the country to travel in 2012. In many ways, although I’m learning a lot and my life is very interesting, I do miss home.
After years spent travelling all over the world, and with an initial motive to “get away” from Britain, I’ve come full circle and my conclusion is that home – the Lake District – is up there with the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I also miss the people – my childhood friends and family. Of course, I get to see them a couple times a year, but ideally, I’d love it to see them all much more often. I also miss the culture, and since I’ve been away from England for 7 years I no longer feel like I understand what being British means, not to mention what’s going on the country.
So this morning I made a big decision. For the last four years, I’ve walked a different Camino each year for my annual adventure. But I’ve decided that for next year’s adventure I am going to head home to the UK to rediscover my country. My idea is to spend a month traversing the entire length of Britain by bicycle, visiting old and new friends on the way. I’ll cycle from Lands End in the South West corner of England, all the way to John O’Groats at the very north tip of Scotland. The journey is about 1,500km in total and should take around 10-14 days of comfortable cycling. This isn’t a journey to try and break world records for speed. It will be a slow, conscious journey through the special people in my life, and to reconnect and learn about the country I left back in 2012. I haven’t thought about the logistics or anything yet but it feels right to embark on this adventure in my heart, and perhaps a few good friends will join me.
In conclusion, the more I travel, the more I realise how special home is and the more I appreciate the humble but beautiful little town I grew up in. Having said that, my aim for many years now is to live an interesting and fun life, and I don’t want to discount the experiences I’ve had and that I am currently having. For the last 7 years, I’ve had the time of my life travelling the world and living in Australia, Germany and now Romania. Indeed, I enjoy the novelty of new cultures, but eventually, that will change. My heart is England, and it won’t be too long till I am coming home for good.
Day 10 – 500,000 Steps
Journey: Embalse de Alcantara > Galisteo, 40km
Total Distance: 353 / 974km
Weather: Sunny & Clear, 28°C
Accommodation: La Pensión del Parador
Feeling: Healthy but tired.
Lesson: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished – Lao Tzu
Today I crossed two milestones. I’m now more than a third of the way into my journey in terms of both number of days walking and distance walked. And after having some fun working out how many steps I take per kilometre walked, I realised that I also crossed 500,000 steps today!
Last night I stayed at a beautiful albergue that I had to walk about 1.5km off the Camino to reach, but boy oh boy, it was worth it. It was perched on top of a little hill overlooking a huge reservoir with cows grazing in the fields surrounding it. It was modern in design and for only €15 I got a bed, breakfast and my clothes washed too.
I thought I had a room to myself until I discovered that I was accompanied by an army of ants. I foolishly had left all my stuff on the floor so by the time I had realised, they were all over my clothes and backpack, so with an itch here and there, I’m probably still carrying a few with me to Santiago today. Needless to say, I promptly evacuated the room and set up camp in a room way down the corridor, and after several hours journalling and walking down to the shore of the reservoir to watch the sunset and chat with the cows, I was fast asleep by 23:00.
Today’s walk was yet another beauty. I’ve noticed, the further I’m heading north, the greener everything is becoming! The landscape also became a little lumpier today, and I had my first testing uphill walk just after Canaveral. It was a day spent crossing meadows, and happily opening and shutting farmland gates. At one point a cyclist and I played teamwork. He was a little in front and shouted back at me that he’d leave the gates open as long as I shut them. It worked, and if that’s not teamwork, I don’t know what is!
I arrived in Galisteo at about 3pm. Entering the city from the trail was beautiful – what a picturesque village it is with a huge wall that surrounds its old town – which I can’t wait to walk around this evening as I explore the city. I’ll get to bed early tonight too, because it’s going to be my biggest day yet tomorrow, walking 52km. I was meant to walk 32km but it turns out the albergue is shut at the town I planned to stay at and I can’t afford to lose a day, so tomorrow’s walk will definitely be taking me beyond my comfort zone, but I’ll make sure I’m as ready as I can be.
It’s Day 10, I’m a third of the way into my journey and I’m feeling right at home on the Via de la Plata so far. Not so many pilgrims walk the route, making it a far less social route, but I like that in many ways because I enjoy walking in my own company and spending the afternoon writing and reading once I get to the Albergue. Of course, if I meet someone on the way, I’m happy to walk and get to know them too.
I have no serious injuries to report so far. My body has coped well and to my surprise has been very strong. I felt a few little niggles in my knees and on my left ankle yesterday, but other than a few tender spots on my feet where blisters are trying their best to pop through, plus some rubbing marks on my shoulders from my bag, I’m feeling great and in good condition.
The heat hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be either. I got lucky for the first week as temperatures dropped from mid-30s to mid-20s. It does get very hot after 1pm, but it’s bearable to walk in. My strategy is set off early, finish walking early afternoon. It’s a win-win – you get to see a glorious sunrise each day, and you miss the heat of the day.
Although I have been covering a lot of kilometres each day, I haven’t felt like I’ve been rushing for a single moment of my journey. I very happily stroll at my own pace and taking little breaks, just like I enjoy, I get to where I want to be by mid-afternoon. I feel like I’ve found a good rhythm for walking now; a rhythm that’s comfortable for me.
The part that’s been difficult is keeping up with the documentation of my journey. Once I get in, I’m pretty damn tired from 30-45km of walking, and then I sit down to write. It usually takes me an hour to write a post like this, and add another hour to edit photos/videos and upload everything to social media. Then I like to pull out my physical journal and write about the people I’ve met and the things I’ve thought about and seen that day. So once all that is done, it can be approaching 7pm in the evening. If I’m in a nice city, I don’t want to spend all my time indoors, I want to explore, and I often don’t end up getting in until 10:30pm. By this point, I’m well and truly done for the day, since I’ve often been awake and on the go since 5:30am in the morning. This is too much so I’ve decided I am going to cut down on the amount I write and post. I’ll still post a daily journal and Instagram stories, but they’ll be much more concise.
That’s everything for now. Time to go and treat myself to a nice meal for 500,000 steps, followed by an evening stroll around the city.
Day 11 – Jam Butties
Journey: Galisteo > Aldeanueva del Camino, 52km
Total Distance: 405 / 974km
Weather: Sunny & Clear, 33°C
Accommodation: La Casa De Mi Abuela Albergue
Lesson: Jam saves the day!
Things weren’t going my way when I arrived in Galisteo yesterday evening. It was Sunday and I got caught out again with the supermarket being closed. I also discovered that the albergue in the town I was meant to be walking to this morning (which was only 30km away) was closed.
So I was faced with two options this morning:
1 – Walk 10km to the next town and lose a day.
2 – Walk 52km’s and gain a day.
I am feeling strong so I didn’t ponder on these options for too long, opting for the second option. I knew that this was going to be a difficult walk, and if I was to avoid the heat of the day, I’d need to get up even earlier than my usual 6am.
Most things weren’t going right yesterday evening, but one thing did. I landed on my feet with my accommodation. Most of the pilgrims in town went to the municipal albergue but I’d seen a sign for a homely Parador on my way into Galisteo, which was the same price.
I had a small inclination that I was going to be alone, and it turned out to be true. For €15, not only did I have my own room, but no one else was staying at the Parador, so I had the whole house to myself. The house itself was beautifully designed and super clean; easily the best place I’ve stayed on the Camino so far. I was in bed by 22:30 for a 4:30 wake up call; set to leave by 5am pronto.
From looking at the guidebook and maps, I knew my 52km day was going to be pretty rural, isolated and that I’d only be passing through one town about 10km into my journey (far too early for any shops to be open). However, to my delight, the owners of the Parador had snuck in after I’d gone to bed and left out a few things for breakfast. There was a load of little jam sachets and bread, so I decided to have a couple of Jam Butties (English slang for a Jam Sandwich) before I left to walk at 5am. They were scrumptious, and reminded me of life when I was 8 years old – my mum used to make them for my packed lunch and I’d take them to school with me every day. I didn’t expect to pass a cafe on the way, so I packed 3 jam sachets to take with me on my way, filled up my water bottle and off I went.
The sky was clear and full of stars, and a half moon was lighting my way. In the first 10 kilometres, I could only see about 10 metres in front of me. It was a dark highway walk, and I stumbled upon a pack of 6 dogs protecting a field, and they were pretty angry I woke them up. They followed me down the highway, barking ferociously. I actually thought they were going to attack me but I did my best to stay calm, which turns out to be very difficult when practically blind beyond 10 metres and walked to the other side of the road. I didn’t face them or maintain eye contact and they eventually got bored with barking and let me continue on my journey.
I arrived in Carcaboso at 7:20 just as the sun was rising, and as I’d predicted, nothing was open at all in the town. So I had two choices:
1 – Wait for two hours for the shops to open so that I’d be able to get food for the day.
2 – Walk 50km with 3 jam sachets and 1.5l of water and avoid the heat of the day.
I’d eaten a big meal the night before, so avoiding the heat of the day was far more important, so I opted for option 2. I’d committed and after looking at the terrain I was walking through I didn’t have big expectations that I was going to find a cafe in the middle of nowhere.
Somehow I managed to get lost on the trail for the first time today. I took a wrong turn and ended up two kilometres from the Camino and had to walk through a boggy field and hop over a few wobbly fences to find the path again – thank god for my compass and GPS maps.
By midday I reached Capara and temperatures had already reached 28 degrees, even though it felt much hotter. My body felt strong though and I was surprisingly not that hungry despite having walked about 30km not eating anything since my legendary Jam Butties at 5am that morning.
The trail was gorgeous, especially for the last 20km, with the first sight of some proper mountains coming through. At 36km I stumbled upon Gerald Kelly (author of a guidebook for the Via de la Plata) taking a rest just off the path. We’d spoken briefly on Facebook but I had no clue that he was walking, so I was pleasantly surprised when I eventually fathomed it was him. We had some nice chats and walked with each other for about 30 minutes until he took a detour to a nearby hotel, and I continued north.
I knew from the start that the last 10km of the 50km would be difficult, taking me beyond my comfort zone of 40km. But to my surprise, a bit of epic orchestra music mixed with my mighty 3 x jam spreads (I’m so happy I decided to pack them!) kept me strong all the way to Aldeanueva del Camino.
After setting off just after 5am, I arrived at 4pm, having walked a total of 52km in about 11 hours. I felt very strong for the entire journey and had no problems with my legs or feet during the day. My feet were a little hot, and they did hurt by the end, but that’s no surprise from all the steps I took today, plus the last 7km walking on asphalt.
I’m now relaxing in a beautiful albergue with some cool people. Other than the jam spreads, I still haven’t eaten till now, but I don’t feel that hungry; maybe the sun has stolen my appetite. Anyways, I’ll head down to the restaurant later this evening to eat something substantial and tomorrow I’ll walk 42km – it’ll be the last big day I’ll be doing for a while.
Day 12 – The Biggest Days Are Behind Me
Journey: Aldeanueva del Camino > Fuenterroble de Salvatierra, 42km
Total Distance: 447 / 974km
Weather: Windy morning, followed by clear blue skies, 33°C
Accommodation: Albergue Parroquial Santa Maria
Lesson: Happiness doesn’t result from what we get but what we give.
Despite walking 52km yesterday, I was surprisingly energetic when I arrived in AdC, and fortunate to find a brilliant albergue to spend the evening. I was sharing a room with 3 other pilgrims: Źhiva from Slovenia, James from England and Jolene from Canada.
After days of rural walking with no access to food, word on the street was that there was a solid supermarket in town and it was opening at 5pm. To add to the bliss, there was a wonderful kitchen in the albergue with all the utensils and equipment, so this meant one thing – operation cook up a healthy meal and a chance for change avoiding the inevitable ‘Menú del Diá’ (salad for starters, piece of meat & chips for main, and an ice cream for dessert) that most pilgrim restaurants serve.
In all honesty, I haven’t been impressed with the variety or quality of food on the Via de la Plata; much of which I wouldn’t usually eat back home. Since there are many longer stages coupled with the fact that the route is generally more rural and less popular than the other Camino’s I’ve walked, it’s noticeable that there is a lot less infrastructure dedicated for pilgrims. Asides from the bigger towns and cities, a lot of smaller villages often don’t have a supermarket, so if you find yourself staying for the evening, you may giving no option but to eat whatever’s put on my plate at the one and only restaurant in town. On several occasions now; I haven’t been so fortunate when this has been the case.
To make things even more difficult, add in to the mix the fact that everything is closed on Sunday, and most shops/restaurants/supermarkets close their doors for an afternoon Siesta between 13:00 – 18:00, probability is not on your side, and it’s likely, even with the most organised mind, that you’ll find yourself caught up with no access to food from time to time on route.
Yesterday evening was different though. Everything aligned and having walked 52km with no problems, the kitchen of the albergue was glistening, free to use, and the supermarket was well stocked with everything I needed to make a healthy nutritious meal.
I was in a great mood after my long walk, and feeling generous, so I told everyone that dinner would be on me, and instead of going out to eat at another unpredictable restaurant, I was going to cook for everyone staying in the albergue.
My quest at the supermarket was a successful one. I managed to find fresh peppers, garlic, carrots, sweetcorn, tomatoes, basil and chickpeas and with the help of fellow-Brit James we put together a lovely tomato vegetable stew served with pasta, topped off with a surprise Cantaloupe melon for dessert which everyone loved. Pilgrim meals are always a highlight on the Camino, so it was great to have everyone around the same table, enjoying home-cooked food together and chatting about each other’s reasons for walking. After washing up the chats continued late into the evening, but I was tucked up in bed by 12pm for an early 6:30am rise.
Today’s walk was 42km, which means I’ve now walked a total of 94km in the last two days. I crossed into Castilla y Leon this morning, and not only was the landscape noticeably different – green forest, valleys, rivers – but I also experienced my first altitude of ups and downs, which as a lover of mountains, was a pleasant change.
I arrived in Fuenterroble de Salvatierra by about 3:30pm. Again, other than some small problems with the skin of my feet hardening up, I have no injuries to report, and I am in good health. I am a little sleep deprived, because of late nights followed by early mornings, so I’ll spend a little extra in bed from tomorrow onwards seen as though the distances I’ll be walking are dropping to 30-35km for the next week or so.
This evening I’m staying at the well known and loved Albergue Parroquial Santa Maria. I’ve heard a lot about this place, and it’s said to be the most special albergue on the Via de la Plata. At first glance, it definitely feels like a homely place, and I’m excited to sit down this evening with all the other pilgrims for a communal meal at 8pm.
That’s it for now. Tomorrow I’ll head towards Morille, setting myself up for an easy and short 19km walk to Salamanca on Thursday so that I can make the most of what is meant to be a beautiful city.
Day 13 – Pilgrims
Journey: Fuenterroble de Salvatierra > San Pedro de Rozados, 26km
Total Distance: 473 / 974km
Weather: Cold morning, followed by clear blue skies, 26°C
Accommodation: Albergue Mutatio Elena
Lesson: You can learn something from every person you meet if you’re willing to listen more than you speak.
Last night all the pilgrims staying at the albergue came together around the table to share food and stories. There were 6 nationalities at the table: Canadian, Australian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, & UK, and while everyone was nattering away about their Camino, it occurred to me that moments like this, sharing a meal with people from all over the world are rare, unique and special.
After the meal, I continued speaking to Lindsay and Margie, a retired couple from Australia who had been travelling the world together with their bicycles for the last 30 years. They had some incredible stories and their wheels had touched all corners of the globe, and I could’ve sat and listened to all the tales and stories about their journeys all night long.
A big reason I walk the Camino is because of the pilgrims I get to meet. I’ve met some of the most interesting people walking the Camino in the last 4 years, some of whom have become great friends. I don’t know why that’s so, but the people I seem to encounter on the Camino all seem to have a profound story. Often its about love, sometimes struggle, sometimes reinvention, change, or healing. Some pilgrims are an open book, others are reserved and put their head down and get on with their journey. But every single pilgrim is walking with a story, and when I meet someone I always remember to write down their name and a few thoughtful words about them in my journal.
With that being said, I want to share this opportunity to celebrate some of the beautiful souls I’ve already been fortunate to encounter:
JC, France – Walked with him today for a good 2 hours. He’s a retired Agriculture diplomat from France who lived all over the globe, moving with his family. 15 years ago, he promised to himself that once he retired he’d walk a Camino, and in 2015 he retired and walked his first and he’s been back every year since. He told me that the most important thing you can do for yourself is to look after your health.
Norman, Germany – A pure, honest and open-hearted man with an abundance of compassion to share. From hearing his remarkable story, I learned that you’re never too old to change.
Lee, Australia – A bubbly, intelligent lady who for many years was working in Healthcare management, and then decided to retire, downsize her property and pack up everything and travel the world. She now travels most of the time and volunteers in some of the places she visits. I learned from Lee that a good sense of humour will help others open up to you.
Pascual, Spain – What a guy – a former primary school teacher with a great sense of humour. He’d walked 11 Camino’s and written books about them all. We walked together for a couple of days and sang songs together, including a duet of ‘Away in a Manger’. I loved his zest for life, and he was fit as a fiddle for a mid 60-year-old. I learned from Pascual to never stop moving the body, and to never lose that sense of childlike curiosity.
Damian, Spain – I couchsurfed with Damian. I was overwhelmed by his kindness and willingness to give. He was one of the most generous people I’ve met. And I felt it was coming from a place of authenticity and compassion. I learned from Damian that giving and helping others is one of the most powerful things you can do.
James, Britain – A older English chap who was walking his 4th Camino. We shared dinner together one evening and had all kinds of chats about his life and the struggles he was going through beating cancer, even after chemotherapy didn’t work. That was 6 years ago, but James said no to cancer, and now he’s walking the Camino in strong health and spirit. I learned from James that it’s not over until it’s over, and optimism and the power of the mind can take you much further than you can possibly imagine.
Lindsay, Australia – I wrote briefly about Lindsay above, but we also had some other interesting conversations. His profession until he retired early at the age of 58 was a school psychologist. I asked him what the one piece of advice he’d pass on to a younger person would be and he replied: “Movement is an opportunity, not an obligation.” He was talking about health and the importance of keeping the body in motion. He’s been doing that 30 years riding his bicycle all around the world, and he’s in tip-top shape. You could see he’d been through a lot, but I loved the calmness in his personality that had emerged from all of it. If I’m as fit as Lindsay at 60 odd years old, I’ll pat myself on the back.
I could write all day about the wonderful people I’ve met, but I want to go out and explore and grab something to eat. I’m only 25 kilometres from Salamanca, so it will be a short day tomorrow so that I can enjoy the city.
That’s everything for now and I want to wrap this up with a question for fellow pilgrims out there:
Who’s the most memorable pilgrim you’ve met and why?
Day 14 – 500km Down and Half-Way to Santiago
Journey: San Pedro de Rozados > Salamanca, 26km
Total Distance: 500 / 974km
Weather: Clear blue skies, 26°C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Sila
Lesson: Never underestimate the power of intention.
Today I arrived in Salamanca hitting 500km in distance and the half-way point of my Camino. The journey has well and truly surpassed my expectations thus far, and I am thankful that my body has remained strong and fit despite the longer distances I had to do in the earlier days. Going forward, my daily distances are much more reasonable and will fall somewhere between 30-38km of walking with the occasional longer 40km+ day.
My body and mind are now primed, and I feel good about the second half of my Camino. In many ways, the first part of my Camino was all about reflection. I thought a lot about the last 10 years of my life, reflecting on who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and experienced. Asides from my daily journal entries, I’ve written out pages of notes trying to answer the above and now feel ready to move on to the next part of my Camino – which will be all about what I want to do and where I want to go in the next 10 years of life.
I understand that even with our best guesses, we have no idea what’s going to happen in 10 years time, or what the world is going to be like. In reflection, so much has changed in the last 10 years of my own life, almost all of which I could’ve never comprehended at the time. Going back to my 18 year old self, who loved to party and cause mischief, never did i think that:
•I would graduate from university and decide against a career, opting to travel the world instead.
•I would quit drinking alcohol.
•I would end up living in Romania running a hostel business with two of my best friends.
•I would walk across Spain, and be touched by it that much, that I’d come back yearly to do a different route.
It’s interesting, because we can never predict the specifics or context when we set intentions and goals for 10 years down the line, but I do think, even if it’s only a vague idea, that it’s crucially important to have an idea of where we want to go. It’s like walking through a big, vast forest and trying to find the right way out. Without your compass telling you to go due North, you’re going to walk around erratically, to the left, to the right, and possibly never find the ‘right’ exit for yourself. Sure you may find something more beautiful on the way without having a vision for where you want to go, but when you set your full intention and focus on achieving something, the mind and universe work together in ways that allow remarkable things to happen.
So although I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go 10 years ago, I did set out a small vision for myself, which I actually wrote out in the leaver’s book (picture attached below) at 18 when I left school. I wrote out that I wanted to:
1 – study business at university
2 – travel the world
3 – start a business
4 – enjoy and live life to the full
Looking back, I’ve achieved and surpassed the goals I set out above for myself at 18 and I have no regrets how the first 28 years of my life have gone. But I can see clearer now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was crucially important to have a vision and goals for myself, even though it was incredibly vague and abstract. Having a vision puts you on a path. It gets you walking, and in many it’s like walking the Camino. Your mission may be to walk to Santiago, but you don’t have any clue about the beautiful people, places or experiences that you’re going to encounter along the way. But the mission to get to Santiago gives you intention to start moving; to put one foot in front of the other. Sure it may not work out. You might get injured and quit, or you might decide that certain path is not for you. But if one thing is for sure, it’s that you will never really know until you take action and begin the journey.
So now the second part of my Camino is deciding what the next 10 years of my life will look like. Again, just as I wrote out my vision at 18 years old, my goals and intentions for the next 10 years will be vague, lofty and naive, and I’m fine with that because I know in my heart that they’ll send me on a new journey, leading to many interesting life experiences.
However, when I was 18 all the goals I wrote out were very self-centred so the only difference between the nature of my goals this time around is that the majority will be about helping others and the preservation of the planet. I’ve always been a lover of nature and the planet and it feels right in my heart to walk down this path now (more on that to come in the coming months).
So my project and deliverable by the end of my Camino is to condense all of my notes and reflections and create personal manifesto which lays out my vision, values, beliefs, and intentions for the next 10 years of my life. It may sound like a lofty exercise, but if there’s one truth to take from the last 10 years of my life, it’s that we should never underestimate the power of intention.
Now I am in Salamanca and I am staying with Sila, a Couchsurfer from Turkey, living in Salamanca, studying Spanish. She told me that her father was a florist and she loves flowers, and as I was walking into Salamanca the first place I saw happened to be a flower shop. It was a sign and meant to be, so I went in and bought some flowers to gift to Sila for her kindness and generosity of letting me stay with her. I walked holding them in front of me, all the way through Salamanca, smelling them every 20 steps or so, and after a brief stop off in the Plaza I headed to her place to be welcomed with a big smile and hug.
After a few chats, we got our cook on and brought Turkish and British cooking skills together to cook Israeli Shakshuka of all things, which turned out great. And now for the rest of the afternoon, the sun is shining, and we’ll explore and go with the flow of Salamanca.
I’ll be walking 36km tomorrow so will speak again tomorrow evening.
Take care and have a nice day everyone!
Day 15 – Sluggish
Journey: Salamanca > El Cubo de Tierra del Vino, 36km
Total Distance: 534 / 974km
Weather: Scorching Hot, 31°C
Accommodation: Albergue Turistico Torre de Sabre, €14
Lesson: A solid rest is just as important as a long day’s walking.
As expected, Salamanca was beautiful. I stayed with Sila, a Turkish girl who is doing an Erasmus semester in the city, studying Spanish. After cooking together, Sila invited me on her own ‘Sila-manca’ tour of the city. It was wonderful to go beyond the old town, and see the city from a local’s perspective. However, what I wasn’t aware of was that by the end of the evening I’d have walked another 16km in addition to my 26km that day, coupled with getting to bed later than expected, set me up for a sluggish day of walking today.
Today’s walk was a battle of the mind. Not only was I feeling tired, but I also got off from Salamanca a little bit later than usual, at 7:30pm, and with 36km to walk on a hot 31°C day on a route that hugged the highway, with little ups and downs, pretty much most the way to El Cubo. The scenery was consistent the entire way: vast grain fields to my left and the buzzing highway to my right, occasionally passing through a little village or town.
It was a strange feeling leaving Salamanca. Last night the city was buzzing, vibrant and heaving with people enjoying themselves sat in the streets listening to open air concerts. And now suddenly, here I was, alone amongst vast grain fields with views of nothingness for miles and miles.
Tiredness mixed the heat and a lack of any substantial food other than fruit set up myself for a tough day. I could also feel a slight nagging pain on the side of my left ankle for the first time. It wasn’t anything unbearable but I knew it was there, and when I lifted my trouser up to take a look at my foot, I also noticed that I’ve been bitten by something on my left ankle and it’s swollen up big time.
I didn’t see any pilgrims on the road again today, so it was another walk of solitude. I enjoy it that way, but I wasn’t able to enjoy the presence of walking today, because my mind was elsewhere. I run my own hostel business and there’s been several problems popping up in the last couple of days which I had to deal with, so my mind has strayed from the Camino to that. I usually switch off from the business completely when I walk, but that’s sometimes not possible when you are responsible for your own business.
The last third of the walk was difficult. I had half a litre of water left, but the sun had boiled it, making it practically undrinkable. I’d also eaten my fruit too quickly in the morning which meant I had no food left and I was starting to feel hungry. My feet were tired too, and I could feel the impact of every step. But I held out, and focused my mind on channeling out the pain and inconveniences I was dealing with, and by 3:30pm I arrived in El Cubo for the evening.
I’m sharing a room with a big friendly German guy called Hartmut who has already warned me about his snoring. I’ve got my earplugs at the ready, but to be honest, I’m in dire need of sleep, so I don’t think even snoring will stop me falling to sleep tonight.
Day 16 – Night Walking
Journey: El Cubo de Tierra del Vino > Zamora, 34km
Total Distance: 566 / 974km
Weather: Sunny, 32°C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Lurdes & Martin
Feeling: Sleep Deprived
Lesson: Every problem is an opportunity.
After a long, sluggish day walking from Salamanca yesterday, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive in El Cubo to be greeted by Filiberto, his big smile and a nice cold drink at Albergue Turístico Torredesabre. The Albergue feels more like a farmhouse, and you can tell that Filiberto and his wife Loli love what they do, doing their best to help you feel at home right away. I was sat outside writing my journal just before dinner when Filiberto ushered me into his car. He said he wanted to show me something, and after 5 minutes of driving down some dusty country roads, we arrived at one of his fields where he keeps 8 of his horses. It was a wonderful experience watching the love, passion and deep care that he displayed for all his horses, as he yelled out ’La Chicas’, calling them to all the gate to come and drink some water. Filiberto also told me that in 2014 he rode one of his horses along the Via de la Plata. His horse would cover about 35km and he made it all the way to Zamora, and at the end of the journey, he wrote a book about his adventures.
Once we got back, we all (the pilgrims) all sat down for a wonderful dinner together, followed by the plan to get an early night. I was sharing my room with a man called Hartmut from Germany. He was a big, happy and friendly man. We spoke German, and he warned me that he was a big snorer. It turned out he was telling the truth, and after a tiring day walking from Salamanca, and not much sleep the night before, this was set to be another sleeping disaster.
It seemed that Hartmut’s fog horn started as soon as he shut his eyes, exemplifying German efficiency. Usually, if I manage to fall to sleep before a snorer, I’ll sleep all the way through just fine. But that wasn’t to be the case this time as Hartmut’s snores kept me up all night, tossing and turning while trying to shove my earplugs even further down my ears to block the noise.
Nothing worked though, and I didn’t manage to get a wink of sleep. At 3am enough was enough, and I had a new idea. I decided to get up, get dressed and walk through the night instead of enduring any more snoring in the hope I’d fall to sleep at some point. I usually do at least 1 night walk on each of my Camino’s, and I promised myself at least one this time around on the Via de la Plata. It seemed the stars had aligned, and I decided that this was my break. I promptly packed my stuff, brushed my teeth and I was out the door for 3:13PM.
The sky was the clearest I’ve seen it in quite some time, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen so many stars in the sky. With the help of my GPS and phone light giving me a maximum of 10 metres eyesight, I managed to navigate my way along the dusty trails. For most of the first hour of walking my head was tilted upwards waiting for the next shooting star to break across the sky, while occasionally losing my footing, as I did my best to dodge potholes in the darkness. There were 1,000s of stars bombarding the sky. Some were brighter than others, some twinkled and some stood dull. The vastness of it all is overwhelming, and that was the predominant thought that stuck in my mind as I made my way to Zamora.
About a couple of hours into my walk, I was walking down a long straight road when I started to hear several dogs barking. I assumed that they wouldn’t be directly on the route, and kept walking forwards, only to discover that their vicious bark was getting louder and louder. As I moved closer and closer, I could make out that I was approaching some kind of compound and a had a slight inclination that the dogs may not be locked up. It was pitch black, and I couldn’t see more than 10 metres with my phone light, and I figured that having that light on, in any case, was only going to make things worse, attracting more attention to myself and possibly confusing the dogs resulting in them attacking me.
After analysing Google Maps in satellite view, I could see that the compound in question was actually a farmyard, and it was clear from the aerial view that the path went directly through the grounds of the farm. After a few minutes of hesitation and weighing the situation up, I decided that I would turn back and take a detour. It wasn’t worth the risk of getting bitten since I couldn’t be 100% sure without my eyesight that the dogs were on leashes or caged up.
I ended up having to walk 40 minutes back in the direction I came from and joined with the main road until I could make a left shimmy back across to join the Camino. It turned out to be a beautiful detour, and in hindsight, I am happy I made the decision not to go through the farmland, even if the dogs were locked up in the first place. Once the sun came up, tiredness hit again, and every shaded tree I passed looked even more appealing for a quick nap. But I wanted to get to Zamora early to avoid the heat of the day, so I soldiered on doing my best to keep my eyes open as I walked on.
In summary, what a beautiful night walk it turned out to be and certainly a day I will remember for time to come. If you’re going to walk a Camino, I’d highly recommend walking through the night for at least one of your walking days – it’s a completely different perspective!
Tonight I am staying with Lurdes and Martin, locals in Zamora and we’ll go for a picnic together by the river this afternoon. Although I had no problems with my body on today’s walk, I’m super tired, so I’ll watch the Champions League final and I’ll be tucked up in bed by 11pm for another early start tomorrow.
Day 17 – A Pleasant Surprise
Journey: Zamora > Tabara, 47km
Total Distance: 613 / 974km
Weather: Sunny, 30°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrinos Tabara
Lesson: Life is full of surprises!
Yesterday I stayed the evening with Lurdes & Martin, an Argentinian couple who moved to Zamora four months to make a new life for themselves. It was a wonderful afternoon, spent sat by the river enjoying a picnic. After not sleeping a wink the night before, and spontaneously deciding to get up at 3am and do a night walk, I don’t know how I didn’t fall to sleep. I soldiered through till 11:30pm, and after watching the Champions league final, retreated to bed for a well deserved sleep after at least 40 hours since i last slept properly.
I woke at 6:27, just before my alarm, feeling well-rested. Lurdes was up to say goodbye and had prepared breakfast and just after 7am I was on my way.
Today I made a decision to walk directly to Tabara, taking the highway route which was about 47km. By doing this, I figured that i’d save myself a day which i could use at the end of the trip to visit Muxia (a place very close to my heart) after Finisterre. The walk itself was an interesting one. The first 5 hours was along dirt trails, passing through arable farm land. At the 25km I reached the highway that I was going to follow to Tabara. It was 22km and long straight road of asphalt all the way.
It’s an interesting experience walking down a long straight road with cars buzzing past you, and scenery that barely changes. Add in to the mix a couple of little blisters and painful aching feet, and we have a big challenge on our hands.
It was a 5 hour slog all the way down the highway. Pretty much most of the steps i took today, about 67,500, were painful. But I stayed focused, especially for the last several hours of the walk when my body really was begging me to stop.
I arrived in Tabara at 6pm after 11 hours walking. To my delight and surprise, as i walked through the gate, I saw my friend Paul Garland, who I met in Finisterre back in 2016. He is a volunteer who moves around Spain helping in Albergues on the Camino, and we’ve stayed in touch since 2016, so it’s great to see him and a big surprise to catch him here.
I arrived late so I want to make this short and sweet tonight, as I’m at a homely albergue with a bunch of nice pilgrims who i’ll be sitting down with in an hour for a nice meal.
I was going to write about the importance of pain and discomfort today, but I’ll save that till tomorrow as I’ll be doing a shorter 32km day tomorrow giving me plenty of time to write and catch up with my journal.
Day 18 – Discomfort
Journey: Tabara > Santa Marta de Terra, 22km
Total Distance: 654 / 974km
Weather: Sunny, 30°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrinos de Santa Marta
Feeling: Time to Recharge
Lesson: Seek discomfort, but know when to recharge.
Yesterday, after a hell of day walking 47km, I arrived in Tabara at about 18:00 after 11 hours of pretty much non-stop walking. It was a painful day, and I wanted to write about discomfort but settled for a short summary of my day because there was no wifi at the albergue. After a pleasant stay in Tabara at the municipal Albergue, catching up with my friend Paul and sharing a communal meal with fellow Pilgrims, I left just after 6am this morning for what would be just a short 22km day to Santa Marta de Terra, where I’ll be staying the evening. After yesterday’s 47km long stint, I have gained another day so I figured that a short day would be perfect to recharge my batteries (physically and mental speaking) and do washing, cook, back up my photos and catch up on my journal.
Notes on Discomfort
Of the 18 days, I’ve walked thus far yesterday was the most painful. In general, bar my feet, my body has stayed fit, strong and healthy. I’ve had no problems with knees, tendons or ligaments, but my feet are causing continuously causing little niggly problems. I think it’s something to do with my hiking shoes. I used them on the Camino Del Norte last year and had no problems with my feet. However, now they feel a lot smaller and tighter than when I bought them last year, and they keep squashing my little toe on each foot inwards, resulting in a couple painful blisters popping through, which until yesterday hadn’t been causing me much bother. But the pain has gradually gotten worse and worse, and even though I took several pit stops to pop both of the blisters and plaster them up, most of the 67,500 steps I made yesterday were limp and painful.
Having said that I’ve always had a high tolerance to pain and carried a general attitude of battling through. The pain was far from crazy but just enough to keep me aware. I think pain can be a good teacher and feeling discomfort from time to time is important and part of living a healthy fulfilling life. Of course, it’s not a good idea to purposely inflict deep pain on ourselves to the point where we ruin body and put our health in jeopardy, however, controlled discomfort can be very beneficial because it gives the body an opportunity to change and reach a new state of being.
Human beings love comfort, and generally speaking, we do our best to avoid discomfort instead of actively seeking it. The problem is, when things are comfortable, it’s difficult to grow because comfort keeps us locked in the status quo. On the other hand, seeking discomfort gives us the opportunity to change. We can’t be sure what the context of that change might be; it could be better, it could be worse, but indeed, we can be sure that change is inevitable.
And in the context of the Camino and the journey I am on right now, I am walking this way to seek discomfort. I could’ve used my 30 days of holiday to lay on a beach and relax, but I didn’t want that because as comfortable and as nice as the beach is, I think I can learn more from a testing experience like a long distance hike. Instead, I want to be physically and mentally challenged, and to push my body and mind beyond my limits of what’s comfortable, knowing that the more I press the bounds of discomfort the more opportunities I have to learn and grow.
However, as a final note, an adventure like the Camino provides ourselves with a temporary means to seek discomfort, knowing fine well that we’ll eventually be going back to our ‘normal’ lives once the journey is over. And that’s important, because there’s a fine line when it comes to seeking discomfort since too much discomfort can be detrimental to the body and mind. Therefore it’s all about finding a balance between discomfort and finding time to relax and recharge. And as much as that’s true as a general philosophy for life, it’s also true within the adventure itself., which is what I am doing today – walking a short-day of 22km to Santa Marta de Terra, arriving at 11am with the rest of the day ahead of me to relax, reflect and recharge.
It’s been a great day so far. I’ve done all my washing, cooked a healthy nutritious meal, and had time to catch up on my journal. But I know that tomorrow starting 6am that I’ll walk again. No doubt I’ll face new pains, troubles, and challenges, and in general, many more opportunities to seek discomfort knowing that it’s all temporary and that by the middle of June it’ll all be over when I land back in Bucharest. Having said that, what I can definitely be sure of, is that when I arrive in Bucharest, I won’t be arriving as the same person I was when I set off; and it’s that thrill of change, of what I may learn and who I may become, that makes an adventure like the Camino so god damn appealing.
Day 19 – Judgement
Journey: Santa Marta de Terra > Mombuey, 36km
Total Distance: 690 / 974km
Weather: Cloudy with periods of Sun, 21°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrinos Mombuey
Lesson: Judge them not too harshly; they are as you would be given the same circumstances and situation – Abraham Lincoln
Yesterday’s short walk gave way to a much needed day to relax and recharge. I was in for the day by 11am and spent most of the day writing, as well as washing, cooking, backing up photos, and caring for my poor blistered feet. After a productive day, I was in bed by 22:00 and I slept all the way through till 5:45am. To my surprise, even though the room was dominated by 5 men with an average age of 60+, there wasn’t one single snorer in the room so I woke up feeling refreshed and in a very good mood.
Today’s walk was different. The walk passed through forests, with tall lanky trees (I’m not sure what they are called) elevating strong into the air, symmetrically placed in lines of perfection. I then followed a few canals and met with the river Tera which I followed until I crossed a large dam, admiring the power of water as it spurted out ferociously from a bottlenecked spout.
My boots were still squashing my toes, and although the pain wasn’t as severe yesterday, I decided to walk the last 15km of today’s journey in my flip flops, which after 20km feeling like i was walking on needles, felt like I was walking on feathers. Although my feet were incredibly mucky by the time I reached Mombuey, it was a trade off I was happy to take today instead of pain.
Notes on Judgement
I’ve kept a journal since I was 7 years old and I’ve been writing journal entries like this one for a large part of my life and for a long time I wouldn’t let anyone read the words I wrote. I’d hide my journals from my mum in fear that she’d read them and judge me for what I’d written. It wasn’t anything personal against my mum; I was afraid of anyone reading my journals for that matter because writing has always been a highly intimate affair and something that I’ve kept very private. That was until a couple of years ago when I finally opened up and let a close friend read some of my journal entries for the first time. It felt strange at first, knowing someone had access to the rawest thoughts of my mind, but I rolled with it, and to my surprise, the judgement I’d worried about so much, never materialised, and instead, abundance took its place.
This experience made me rethink my approach to writing, and in 2016, when I walked my first Camino, I decided to make my journal entries public. I knew that by putting my raw thoughts on social media, I was opening myself up to scrutiny and the possibility of judgement and ridicule. But to me, there’s nothing more important than the truth and speaking from the heart, so I knew that by putting my words out publicly I was opening myself up to a good opportunity to learn to be ok with authenticity and vulnerability.
Since posting my first entry in 2016, I’ve received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from people. In many cases, my words have inspired people to walk their own Camino, or find courage in other areas of their life, and in some cases, even feel comfortable opening up to me about some of the difficulties they are going through. However, there is a downside to posting publicly which I was fully aware of before pressing publish on my first post. The downside is that there will always be critics. I call them the 5% club; the 5% of people who you simply cannot please. They dislike what you do and say; and given any opportunity will be there to put you down, ridicule you, or tell you how the world works right from their armchair.
In the context of my current journey, 95% of the comments and messages I’ve received from people have been abundant, beautiful and positive. The remaining 5% of messages made rash assumptions about my journey and criticised the way I am approaching my journey. It’s been really interesting to observe. Many of these people have never met me. They don’t know anything about who I am or my back story. They don’t ask questions, and I don’t get the feeling that these people really want to discover the truth, but instead simply push their frame of reality on my walk.
They tell me things like:
•I’m not prepared and I’m walking too long distances.
•I’m walking too fast, rushing and not seeing anything.
•I must not walk on the highway.
•My spreadsheet is doomed to fail.
•I’m depriving myself of eating.
But the funny thing is none of this is true. They would understand this too if only they took the time to ask questions and get to know me. I think a good term for these people is ‘armchair pilgrims’ – who are quick to judge, drop their opinion on you and love to tell you the ‘right’ way to walk your journey. So to avoid any more misguided comments, I want to clarify the assumptions above:
•I’m not prepared and walking too long distances – I am 28 years old, young, healthy and fit and have been a passionate sportsman since I was 5 years old. I did 6 months of dedicated training for this Camino. It’s my 4th Camino, and when I am not on the Camino I train 6 days a week, running on average about 70km and cycling about 100km a week. With my current level of fitness, walking 60km a day is comfortable without incurring any injuries. I planned to walk 2/3 of my walking comfort zone, somewhere in the region of 30-40km daily with the occasional longer day. I also did my research and laid out a mock route in a spreadsheet well before I even took my first step, so that I knew where I was going and whether there was going to be food, water and accommodation available.
•I’m walking too fast, rushing and not seeing a thing – No I’m not. I walk slow and long. I walk at about 4 – 4.5 km/h. That’s a comfortable and natural pace for my body. People see the long distances I walk and assume I am rushing and don’t see a thing. It’s not true. Let’s look at this with a hypothetical example. If Pilgrim A walks 20km over 4 hours and Pilgrim B walks 36km over 12 hours, who is the faster walker? At first glance, if we only see the number of kilometres walked then we’d assume Pilgrim B is walking way faster. But it’s simply not true. Pilgrim B is walking at 3 km/h, whereas Pilgrim A is walking at 5 km/h. Not only is Pilgrim B walking slower, but they also spend more time on the trail (albeit at the expense of socialising and resting), which ironically means they have more time on the trail each day to ‘see more’. Conclusion: there’s always much more context than simply the distance that’s being walked daily.
•I must not walk on the highway – What’s wrong with walking on the highway? People assume that because they don’t like walking on the highway, someone else won’t either. But I love highway walking – I find it oddly beautiful and a good chance to mix things up. The other day I opted to do a 44km day that took a diversion on the highway to Tabara so that I could gain an extra day at the end of my trip to head to Muxia. Someone got mad at me on the comments. They said it was dangerous and silly of me. I am fully aware it’s not the safest option, but his comment also confused me because quite a large portion of most Caminos involves highway walking that all pilgrims must do unless they get transport to the next part of the trail. To add to this, even parts of the Via de la Plata have been on the exact same highway I walked on that day.
•My spreadsheet is doomed to fail – I received this comment this morning after sharing my spreadsheet for the Via de la Plata to help pilgrims who are going to walk the route. Someone commented telling me he was a Chief Financial Officer and said: “your spreadsheet is doomed to fail.” I am 19 days into my journey, and using my spreadsheet has been one of my most useful tools for organising my journey and making sure that I am in the know about where I am going and the distances between towns.
•I’m depriving myself of eating – I said I was hungry in one of my posts and someone jumped to the assumption that I was depriving myself of eating. That day I had already eaten a yoghurt, a full avocado, a punnet of cherry tomatoes, 500g of strawberries and a muesli bar. I’ll say no more about that.
I understand that most people have good intentions and want the best for me, but in many cases, I often feel like people are trying to push their reality onto mine, and it just doesn’t mesh. They speak from their frame of thinking, making rash assumptions without knowing me, and it’s tiring to explain myself again and again. In addition, to my detriment, the posts I write daily are only about a 1% reflection of my journey stating what I am feeling and what I am going through. I write them quickly once I arrive and most of the time my writing is sloppy and raw because I’m tired, so I probably don’t explain things as well as I should.
So this is a post for the ‘armchair pilgrims’ out there – please let us all hike our own hike, just like you are free and welcome to hike your own hike too without judgement too. Let us be free to make decisions for ourselves. Let us go fast if we want to. Let us go slow if that’s our style too. Let us walk backwards, forwards, do handstands every 5km if that’s what we want to do.
Because there’s one truth that stands and that is that there is no right, better, or superior way to walk. All ways are equal. And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘“judge them not too harshly” – by all means ask questions, be curious, and take time to try and understand. But in the grander perspective of things; it’s their life, it’s their path, and they have the right to choose how they walk it.
Day 20 – 1 Million Steps
Journey: Mombuey > Puebla de Sanabria, 30km
Total Distance: 722 / 974km
Weather: Cold and cloudy with periods of Sun, 15°C
Accommodation: Albergue Casa Luz
Lesson: The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing – Socrates
I woke at 4am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep so I decided to reflect on my journey so far and write out the 10 most important lessons I’ve taken from this walk so far. I’ve condensed them and written them up below. I was out the door at 5:50AM and I can definitely tell that the more north I go the temperatures are decreasing rapidly. I decided to walk in trousers this morning, and to be honest I could’ve done with some gloves for my cold hands for the first couple of hours. Instead, I improvised keeping my hands well and truly in my pocket until the sun came up just before 8am.
There was an abundance of wildlife accompanying me on the trail this morning. 100s of rabbits darting across the way in front of me and a rare glimpse of a fox or two lightened up my morning. But the animal that got me thinking the most this morning was the deer. They are such a gracious, beautiful animal, but my gosh, aren’t they overly anxious and funny to observe?
For some reason, they are petrified of humans and love making a HUGE scene out of nothing. You can be 200m’s away from a deer that’s very well camouflaged in a bush with close to zero chance of spotting it, and it will still decide to fly out of the bush at about 30 km/h and make a run for it as if its life depends on it, leaving me for dust, waddling 300m behind at a casual pace of 4 km/h with no agenda to hurt the poor anxious deer but just to be friends. Perhaps this analogy of deer is relevant to life as a human too, and a few questions crossed my mind: Are we overly anxious? Do we overreact? Do we create our own misery when everything’s actually ok?
Anyways, I digress. It was a special day today because 25km into today’s walk at 715km in total for my journey, I crossed the 1,000,000 mark for the total number of steps on my Camino so far. It was about 12 o’clock, and by this time I was walking in my flip-flops so thankfully the millionth step wasn’t painful and one that could be celebrated. I arrived in Puebla de Sanabria by about 1pm, and I’ll stay the evening here. I’m a little sleepy this afternoon, but I think it’s important to celebrate all small wins in life so I’ll head down to the bar this evening by myself and enjoy a fresh Orange Juice!
So without further ado, here are my 10 learnings from 1 million steps so far on the Camino Via de la Plata…
10 Learnings from 1 Million Steps
1. A smile is the universal language that unites the world – A sincere smile cuts through all language, culture, beliefs, stereotypes, prejudice & opinions – it’s the warmest form of communication, can light up anyone’s day and one of the most important things that the whole world shares in common.
2. Hike your own hike (Live your own life) – It’s your journey; approach it how you want to approach it. This extends to life as well – no one has the right to tell you what to do or how to live.
3. The power of vulnerability – The bravest thing you can do is not to appear strong, but to express how you feel and be willing to be vulnerable. When you show humility, authenticity, and share your truth, you open the door to empathy and help from others.
4. Movement is an opportunity – It’s a blessing to exercise and move the body each day, not a chore. Be thankful for the opportunity of movement; it literally keeps us alive. Thanks, Lindsay from Australia for sharing this one.
5. Embrace change – The only thing that we can be certain of in life is that things will change.
6. The time is now – If you have a dream, goal or something you long to do but you’ve been holding off, the best time to start it is now. Don’t wait for things to fall into place because life doesn’t reward waiting for the right time. What is rewarded, though, is intention and action. Start now.
7. Clean the inside of your cup – It’s no good to always focus on cleaning the outside of our cup when the inside is dirty and mouldy. Going on a journey into ourselves allows us to enter the inside of the cup and gives us the opportunity to clean parts of ourselves that we’ve avoided by constantly being stimulated by the external world.
8. Seek Discomfort – From time to time, it’s important to consciously put ourselves in difficult and testing situations because it’s only by stretching our current reality and bounds that we can improve, grow and change. Go with caution though; know your limits, know when to stop; know when to rest.
9. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail – Some structure and planning is good, but too much structure can be destructive. It’s all about finding the balance between chaos and structure. If you find the sweet spot, not only does the journey become less stressful (because you’ve planned), but you also get to enjoy the spontaneity (giving leeway for chaos). Structure + Chaos = Serendipitous Magical Adventures
10. You can learn something from every single person you meet – Last but certainly not least, it’s people that make the journey so magical, and everybody is wise in some shape or form. So if you’re willing to listen carefully instead of speaking all the time, you’ll always find something to learn from every single person you meet.
These are the most important lessons I’ve taken from this Camino so far.
I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from a Camino/Life/Your journey below in the comments.
Day 21 – Roll With It
Journey: Puebla de Sanabria > Lubian, 30km
Total Distance: 751 / 974km
Weather: Cloudy, followed by Heavy Rain, 15°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrinos Lubian
Feeling: Comfortable, fit and healthy
Lesson: Sometimes you’ve gotta roll with the flow of life.
I’m going to keep this brief. I arrived well early in the day, at about 12:30pm. I had a plan to shower, write and add my stories to social media, finishing with some journalling later in the day.
But when I arrived at the Albergue I met a wonderful pilgrim who I’ve been talking to non-stop for the last 4 hours. It’s better when conversations flow and take their natural course, and after an hour of speaking, we still hadn’t properly introduced ourselves to each other with our names. For a little bit of fun we decided to continue our chats without knowing each other’s names, deciding that until we found each other’s names out she would be known as ‘A’ and I’d be known as ‘B’.
It wasn’t until 10 minutes ago, about 4-hours into our conversation, when ‘B’ was showing me her journal and I randomly saw on the front page ‘If lost please return to Vitctoria…’. . I find it beautiful to think that up until this point, that even though I didn’t even know Victoria’s name we’d been having conversations about all kinds of personal things like family, struggle, and dreams, as well as a game of Naughts and Crosses with orange peel.
Maybe you can relate, but I often find it easier to open up to strangers or people who I’ve never met before, and perhaps that’s a big reason why I’m comfortable sharing what used to be very private journal entries on Social Media with many people I’ve never met before.
But today is going to be different. Sometimes you have to crush your plans and roll with the beautiful serendipity of life as it unfolds. Other than this journal entry, that I’ve spent 10 minutes writing, I’m not going to be posting anything else on social media tonight… no instagram, no posts to other groups, no messages, no phone – just totally with who and where I am at right now.
It’s raining outside for the first time in 3 weeks of walking, and all the pilgrims want to cook with each other and spend the evening sat around the table chatting and sharing stories. So rather than spending the next hours uploading pictures and text on weak wifi signal, being somewhere else when I have a great opportunity to get to know other pilgrims, here is my last sentence for the evening:
Making plans can be useful but sometimes beautiful moments pop up in life that can’t be ignored and you’ve just gotta scrap those plans and roll with the magic moment that’s right in front of you.
Day 22 – Childhood
Journey: Lubian > Campobecerros, 44km
Total Distance: 794 / 974km
Weather: Light morning rain and fog, followed by clouds with pockets of sunshine in the afternoon, 15°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Rosario
Lesson: Children know the real secret of life, and if we’re willing to go revisit our childhood and live like a kid again, many of the answers to our destiny are waiting to be (re)discovered.
Last night I met some lovely pilgrims and had a night away from my phone, and didn’t go online until I an hour or so ago once I arrived in Campobecerros. I spent the evening cooking with Victoria (USA), and several other friendly pilgrims from Spain, Argentina and France. We ended up cooking a 3-course meal, all chipping in and helping each other. It was Pasta Soup for starters, followed by A Spanish Omelette (I’m confident I’ve got the recipe locked down now), finishing off with some cookies smothered in melted dark chocolate for dessert.
After some lovely chats and sharing stories, I got to bed and was out the door this morning a little later than anticipated at 7:15am. Today I was entering Galicia, and the chilly, foggy, rainy and cloudy weather for the morning was a happy reminder. Early on, I lost my way. I usually trust my map and GPS. It’s has been very accurate, until today. The route ended up sending me into an overgrown field with no trail. Not only did my feet get soaked, but I seriously lost my way to the point I had to scramble up to the Highway and walk an hour on the road before reconnecting with the Camino just after entering Galicia.
Galicia is special and holds a dear place in my heart. It reminds me of England, and today was one of the most scenic days of my entire Camino. The morning was spent weaving in and out of lush green trails with mossy stone walls, passing beautiful streams and rivers. And I spent the afternoon walking on the rooftop of Galicia at about 1100m with clear views of picturesque rolling hills for miles and miles – it was glorious!
I arrived in Campobecerros at 5pm after about 10 hours of walking, covering 44km. I’m not so tired, so I’ve been productive and have already showered, washed my clothes and caught up with my journal. Tomorrow, I’ll walk 34km and I’ll be arriving in Ourense on Sunday!
Notes on Childhood
After listening to Linkin Park (one of my favourite bands from childhood) on repeat as I walked today, I spent a significant part of my day thinking about my childhood and its relation to the Camino.
From what I can remember, my early years up until 12 years old were full of beautiful memories. I grew up in a small countryside village called Burnside in the heart of the Lake District in the north of England. I’ve always held an affinity with nature, exploration and movement. Playing and being outdoors in nature was the most important thing to me as a kid. I’d spend my days out with my best friends going on grand adventures, exploring, building dens and treehouses, and then writing about all the places I discovered once I’d get home in the evening. I always wanted to be out of the house. I loved play time and spending time outdoors so much, and my mum knew that too, so if I was naughty, she’d ground me and stop me from going out, but I was a cheeky kid and would climb out the window and run away to play when she wasn’t looking.
If you watch children, you’ll see that they understand the essence of life. They have an abundance of imagination, curiosity and boundless creativity and will make magical things happen out of the things that most adults consider to be normal. Life is very simple and beautiful as a kid, but for some reason, on the way to adulthood, things change. We gain responsibilities, become more rational and as things like careers and the stressors of life pop up, we lose touch with our childlike essence.
In 2016 I was going through a hard time, so after taking the advice of a friend, I decided to walk the Camino Frances. I had no responsibilities or obligation. The journey was very primal in many ways. All I needed to do each day was walk each day, spend time in nature, eat and sleep. It was a magical journey for many reasons, but my main conclusion was that the journey reminded me of what it meant to be a child. I was doing exactly the same things I loved as a 6-year-old child. I was exploring. I was amongst beautiful nature. I was writing about my adventures. I was 22 years older – an adult – but everything was novel, and I was playing again on paths I’d never trodden on before.
The simplicity of life walking the Camino mixed with the sense of adventure and novelty, not to mention the wonderful people you can meet makes it a very special journey indeed. And it’s no surprise that many people struggle to readjust to ‘normal’ life when they finish their Camino and return home.
I believe that the Camino gives us the opportunity to be a child again – to sing, laugh, dance, play and have fun, knowing that you have no responsibilities other than to get from A to B in one piece. Not only that, but I also believe that our destiny and many of our dreams, goals, passions and even fears and traumas are rooted in our childhood, so anytime spent reliving life as a child or reflecting on our childhood is time well spent.
The Camino helped me rediscover my own love for adventure, journalling and being in nature, and I realised that I am still a child in many ways (and happily) because I am still doing all the things I loved as a kid to this very day.
I don’t think you need to walk 1,000km to reconnect with your childlike self. But in a world that is dominated by responsibility, rationality and logic, I think that the characteristics that children hold (imagination, creativity and an innate ability to play) are just as important, so I want to finish with one question for you to reflect on:
What was life like for you at 6 years old?
Day 23 – Mental Baggage
Journey: Campobecerros > Vilar de Barrio, 34km
Total Distance: 828 / 974km
Weather: Warm again; sunshine and clouds, 19°C
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrino Vilar de Barrio
Lesson: Just because you have baggage doesn’t mean you have to lug it around – Richard Norton
I really enjoyed my stay in Campobecerros yesterday evening. The smell of burning firewood as I took the steep descent down into the town brought back sweet memories from my times trekking in Nepal back in 2014. Thanks a fellow pilgrim, suggesting that I try out moldable wax earplugs, I’ll no longer be having problems with snorers keeping me awake any longer. 6 snorers quickly became no snorers when I put in my wax earplugs last night, and I slept all the way through – I’m amazed!
I got off just before 7am this morning, and the walk today was, without doubt, the most scenic part of the trail yet. The weather was glorious with clear views for miles. I walked along mountain pass trails, through pine forests, thoroughly enjoying all of the ups and downs in altitude that Galicia handed me. In As Eiras I was delighted to find a pretty small table of food (biscuits, fruit, tea, coffee) and provisions left by local Friends of the Camino for fellow pilgrims. As I left the village, I saw an older man picking cherries from a tree. I stopped to watch him and he called me over, kindly handing me some of the cherries and using his big stick to pull down a higher up branch so that I could grab a few for my way. This made my day.
After a steep 300m ascend over 4km to Alberguería, I caught up with some German pilgrims who I knew and stopped off at the Rincon del Peregrino – which is a bar decorated full of shells from pilgrims who have walked the way. I finished the day with a steepish descend into Vilar de Barrio, where I’ll be staying the evening.
Notes on Mental Baggage
For some reason, my best ideas come when I am in a state of semi-sleep just before I go to bed, or just as I am waking up in the morning. This morning, just as I was waking up, I felt compelled to write today’s post about the baggage that we carry in the context of the Camino.
At first glance, you may think I am referring to the physical stuff we carry in our backpacks on the Camino, but I think mental baggage is just as important to consider too. Let’s get the physical part out of the way first. From my own experience and what I’ve learned from other pilgrims, to avoid injury, generally speaking, less is more and it’s a good idea to carry no more than 10% of our body weight. When I walked my first Camino in 2016, I made the mistake of taking double that, about 20% of my body weight, with my bag weighing about 12kg. The short story is that I paid the price for all the extra weight I was carrying and once I finished the Camino I had a bad back for about 3 months. It’s safe to say since then I’ve learned my lesson and my bag now weighs about 5kg.
But enough about physical baggage, what about the mental baggage we carry with us? After all, sometimes it’s just as heavy, metaphorically speaking. Our regrets, the people we’ve done wrong, our mistakes, failures, and losses that we haven’t yet come to peace with. No one is immune, and we’ve all got baggage to deal with. The easy option is to avoid our baggage and carry it with us all our life. And there are endless ways we can avoid confronting our baggage: impulses, indulgences, materials, people, distraction, food – the list goes on and on. But the cold truth is that if we don’t face our baggage then over time our bag is only going to get heavier and heavier, weighing us down and sapping us of life and energy.
There is a better approach in my opinion, and that is to confront our baggage and work through it. There’s no certainty we’ll find peace or let it go, but what’s the alternative?
Walking the Camino gives us chance to introspect, reflect and work through our baggage, because when you have 1,000km in front of you, and 30 to 40 days of walking 8-10 hours a day in front of you in nature, and possibly alone, there’s only so much singing you can do. For me, walking the Camino is like therapy, and I discovered this when I first decided to walk back in 2016 when I was going through a tough time in my life. The special combination of nature, introspection, walking and writing gives me space and time to work through much of my own baggage. Of course I’m not saying that Walking the Camino is the only way to work through our past, there are so many alternatives, but for me I found my first experience of walking the route so profound that I decided to make it a compulsory trip each year for the sake of taking care of my mental health, just like I would exercise my body.
There’s no guarantee that the Camino will bring about the clarity you’re searching for or that you’ll be baggage free by the time you reach Santiago, however you’ll only know if you walk. But after 3 years of walking 4 different Camino routes, I certainly feel like I’m going to be arriving in Santiago with a much lighter bag than I had 3 years ago when I first set off walking.
I don’t know whether I’ll walk any more Camino routes in the short-term future, but I’ll definitely have at least one adventure a year like the Camino which combines nature, physical activity, introspection, and writing.
To finish, I’d love to hear from you and whether you can resonate: Has walking the Camino or going on an adventure or journey helped you confront your own mental baggage?
Day 24 – Gratitude
Journey: Vilar de Barrio > Ourense, 36km
Total Distance: 864 / 974km
Weather: Foggy morning followed by clouds, 19°C
Accommodation: Couchsurfing with Iria
Lesson: There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing someone doing what they love, helping others and giving so gracefully.
Last night was a beautiful hospitality experience I’ll never forget. For dinner, I headed to Casa Carmina together with Dieter – a friendly German pilgrim who I’ve bumped into a good 5 times now on the trail. Casa Carmina is a familiar, homely and family run restaurant named after Carmina – a beautiful 70 year old Spanish lady who runs the whole place by herself. She’s the waitress, the bar tender, the cook, and the cleaner; and somehow, to my amazement, she runs the whole show majestically.
Upon arriving she welcomed us both with a hug and seated us at the table while laying a paper cloth over it and showing us what was on the menu for the evening. About 5 minutes later, she came out with drinks followed by a plate of salami and cheese. Apparently this was a “snack” while we waited for the starter which was set to be Cauliflower and Potato Soup. I’m not sure how she managed to make it work by herself because she was also waiting on another French couple at the table behind us, but out came a huge bowl of soup, along with a basket full of bread which could’ve easily fed 6 people comfortably.
Dieter and I looked at each other in astonishment, puzzled how we were going to eat all this food. We tried, but the soup defeated us, and when Carmina came back to see that there was still a bit of soup a bread left at the table, the motherly love emerged and she jokingly tried to make us eat more.
After the soup then came the main dish which was a huge platter of steak, eggs and chips, accompanied by an enormous tomato and onion salad. Again Dieter and I tried our best but we were defeated by the enormity of food in front of us. Also I have to admit, after being brought up by a mum who always told me to never to leave food on my plate, I felt guilty when I saw the food going back to the kitchen.
For dessert Carmina brought out huge slob of ice cream, but she wasn’t finished there. She scuffled behind the bar and pulled out an old bottle of some Galician liquor she had made herself. Of course I don’t drink, but Dieter was very happy to have a couple of shots with Carmina and a few giggles about the strength of her home brew.
The meal was delicious – real traditional Galician food, and a very pleasant surprise after many below average meals on the Via de la Plata. However, it wasn’t the food that touched me the most, but rather Carmina and her genuine approach to hospitality. Since my line of work is hospitality, when I go to restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels, hostels and shops I love to observe how the people running the place treat their customers. You can learn so much by simply observing, and as I watched Carmina as she popped in and out of the kitchen it was clear that she was genuinely loved to care for others and make sure that the people she served left her restaurant with a smile on their faces and a full stomach.
I was very grateful for the experience at Carmina’s homely restaurant, and it was confirmed that her hospitality does in fact come from the heart when she brought the bill and only asked for €10 each from Dieter and I. We both ended up giving her €15 each, and after her trying to give us the extra money back, thinking that we’d counted up wrong, she eventually accepted the tip, giving us a big heart-felt hug as we left the restaurant.
I thought a lot about the experience at Carmina’s restaurant as I walked today and came to the conclusion that when you genuinely love what you do it shines through and your passion can bring other people along for a beautiful ride too. Carmina probably won’t get to read this, but hopefully a fellow pilgrim will visit her in Vilar de Barrio and pass on my gratitude to her for reminding me what it really means to do what you love with grace and a smile on your face.
I’ll write more about my journey to Ourense tomorrow and another beautiful serendipitous meeting with a fellow pilgrim, but now I’m going to enjoy the evening with Iria – a local from Ourense who I’ll be staying with this evening.
Day 25 – Loneliness
Journey: Ourense > Oseira Monastery, 34km
Total Distance: 898 / 974km (into my final 100km)
Weather: Clouds and some sun, 17°C
Accommodation: Monastery Oseira
Lesson: Loneliness is a feeling. It isn’t much about being physically alone; it’s all about how you feel inside your head.
I had a beautiful evening in Ourense staying with a local lady called Iria whom I met through Couchsurfing. After sharing a Galician fish pie together, we hopped on her motorbike and zoomed off to the Hot Springs at the other end of town for a much needed period of relaxation after 24 days of continuous walking. The hot springs were great, and watching the sunset over the River Minho while soaking away to the sound of minimalist piano music from Ludovico Einaudi was a memory I’ll cherish from this Camino.
I’m not usually a forgetful person, but I managed to leave one of my beloved Havaianas flip flops at the hot springs. It was hard to say goodbye to them because those blue flip flops have been with me on all 4 of my Caminos and i’ve walked a fair amount of kilometres in them, including a 60km day on the Portuguese Camino. They were always there to save my feet when blisters threatened my feet and i needed to mix things up.
At about 22:30 we headed into the city centre for pinchos and drinks at Iria’s favourite local bar, and by 12 I was tucked up in bed for a later than usual 8am start. After a glorious sleep and sharing breakfast with Iria, she sent me on my way with a little bag of food for the day. It was a pleasant walk, and I spent much of it laughing to myself, as well as a good 2 hours doing accents from Britain and different countries around the world (you can see them on my Instagram if you want a laugh). The day flew by and I arrived in Oseira by 3:30pm where I’ll be staying the evening at the Albergue which is inside the monastery. It’s so peaceful and tranquil here – exactly what I need with much to write, leading up to the final 2 days walking to Santiago.
Notes on Loneliness
I want to write about loneliness today. I purposely chose to walk the Via de la Plata because of the solitude it presents. It’s delivered that in many ways, and for the 25 days I’ve walked, 24 of those I have walked by myself. When I say by myself, I mean not walking with any other humans. I used to be the type of person who could never be alone. I needed to be around people, and if I wasn’t I’d feel anxious and nervous and go off in all kinds of different directions in my mind.
A lot has changed since them days, because now I seek the opposite. The nature of my work running a hostel business means that I am around people everyday. Over the last couple of years of running a hostel business, I’ve found myself seeking solitude and my own space more and more. Nowadays I am a lot happier in my own company.
My vision for walking the Via de la Plata was that I’d walk completely alone for the whole journey. That nearly went to plan, apart from the one day when a funny Spanish man called Pascual caught up with me and we ended up walking together, laughing and strangely enough, singing Christmas carols while walking through the barren lands of Spain in 35 degrees heat.
I’ve loved walking alone. After a while it sends you crazy, but in a really beautiful way. I smell the flowers, dance, sing and talk to myself, and even climb the occasional tree. Loneliness is a feeling. It’s a thought in the mind. And even though I’ve been physically alone, I haven’t felt alone for one moment of my journey. Nature has been with me all the way – trees, flowers, stone, birds, dogs, cows, sheep, snakes, goats, cats, sheep, horses, beetles, caterpillars – the list goes on and on.
In many ways being physical alone has helped learn to love myself a little bit more than I did when I started. But although I’ve loved being alone, I am glad this journey is temporary because I cannot deny i miss touch, intimacy, affection and all the other things that make me human. I don’t think we are wired to be alone permanently in life. We are social animals. We need to belong. We need to be part of a tribe.
But sure, pockets of alone time is very good for the soul because they give us the space and time to get to love and understand ourselves. Although I don’t like to label things, from walking this journey I have learned that I am more introverted. I find energy from within, inspire and motivate myself, intrinsically rather than relying on other people to bring me up.
I’m going home with a new perspective with what loneliness means because how is it possible that we can live in huge mega cities with 12 million people surrounding us yet we can still feel lonely?
My own conclusion is that loneliness isn’t actually anything about being ‘physically’ alone, but rather, all about how you feel inside your head.
I have 8 more days of solitude to enjoy and then I’ll return to Bucharest.
Day 26 – Off-Balance (The Night Before Santiago)
Journey: Oseira > Bandeira, 46km
Total Distance: 940 / 974km
Weather: Cloudy and blue skies, 19°C
Accommodation: Albergue de la Xunta de Bandeira
Lesson: Every day is a good day, but some are better than others.
It’s 20:00 and I’ve only just sat down to write. It’s the final evening before I arrive in Santiago tomorrow afternoon, and I’ve spent my day in a very different way to how I expected it to pan out.
I’ve been in a good mood for the majority of this Camino. It really has brought the best out of me, but I can’t say that about today, so in truth, I want to tell you that today hasn’t been my finest. I trust my intuition, and yesterday evening I felt a negative feeling of energy when I arrived at the monastery in Oseira. I’d been told before I arrived that you could only stay in the ‘pleasant’ part of the monastery if you were staying 2 nights. I’m not fussy when it comes to accommodation, but I arrived at the front door of the monastery to be ushered away by a smiley monk and told to go and find the albergue for pilgrims who are only staying one night, which I later found out from speaking to some pilgrims was known amongst the monks as the “refrigerator”.
The ‘refrigerator’ was an accurate description, and as I walked through the door and took my bed for the evening, the eerie damp feeling of the space hit me. There was nothing majorly wrong with the accommodation, everything a simple man like me needed for the evening. I just didn’t feel good there, and sometimes there isn’t an explanation for that.
I sat outside on the bench for a while watching my clothes dry on the rack when I heard the bells of the monastery ring for 5 o’clock. Something was off with the sound of the bells as well though, and as I concentrated on the dings and the dongs I realised that the sound of the bells was playing from a speaker, not being orchestrated by a monk, which dug at my eerie feeling even more.
A little later I went over for dinner at the only restaurant/bar in town. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I haven’t had the best luck with food on this trip, and that theme unfortunately continued last night. From reading her body language, the Spanish lady seemed upset that she had to cook but eventually took my order. I don’t know why but I ordered Eggs, Chorizo and Potatoes, and I won’t say anything else other than I didn’t eat much and that I am now scarred for life from anything cooked in vegetable oil.
I decided to call it a night early to sleep off the fuzziness. I slept quite well until 4am in the morning when I woke up with a strong inclination to get out of the monastery and leave for walking. I left with no fuss by 4:30am and the best part of my experience came at that moment, leaving, and seeing a full night’s sky lighting up the sky above the monastery. It was dark, wet and miserable this morning, kind of in-line with my state of mind. I put my head down and listened to some music, using the light on my phone to help me navigate pools of muddy water (welcome to Galicia) until the sun came up.
I thought the sun would change my state, but the day had different plans for me as my phone buzzed and a problem with my business back in Bucharest came up. Little did I know that for the next 8 hours of walking, I would be buried in my phone trying to solve issues that were 3,352km away in Bucharest.
I am fully aware that those problems are there and I am here, but at the end of the day I am also responsible for my business and I don’t have the benefit of choosing when problems occur. With that said, although the 45km of walking went fast today, I didn’t see much, because I was on the phone making and taking calls most the day. I got into my albergue for the evening in Bandeira at 3pm, and then I received an email with an even bigger set of problems related to my business which has occupied my headspace for the last 5 hours or so. I’m finally done with all the issues and things are in better motion now, and I have a couple of hours before bed to enjoy and mentally prepare myself for my arrival in Santiago tomorrow.
Of course, I had visualised today being different, not on my phone, but looking around with childish eyes, admiring the landscapes I am privileged to walk through. But sometimes life has different plans and the day doesn’t always turn out how we expect it to. But these feelings and states are temporary. They are like seasons. They don’t last forever, and now I am feeling good again. As I sit writing this, a quote from my good friend Russ from the USA comes to mind, whom I admire for his positive outlook on life. Here it is:
“Everyday is a good day, but some are better than others”
I’ll write a bit more before bed, listen to some piano music (it’s linked to my childhood and always does the trick) and get an early night for the 6am wake-up call and final 34km to Santiago de Compostela.
P.s. No matter how overwhelmed I’m feeling, I’ll always find time for a smiley picture.
Day 27 – Arriving in Santiago
Journey: Bandeira > Santiago, 34km
Total Distance: 974 / 974km
Weather: Cloudy, 19°C
Accommodation: Hostal Costa Azul
Lesson: It’s time for new balance.
After 27 days, mostly spent in the solitude of my own company, today was the day that I arrived in Santiago. My journeys in life have never been about getting to the final place, but rather enjoying the process, and today was no different. To tell the truth, after a hectic day yesterday dealing with business issues, I woke as if it was another normal day of walking, and got on my way by 6:30am. The walk was breathtakingly beautiful – fog rising over the lumpy green Galician hills, passing through cute villages while getting chased by dark rain clouds that spat now and again, threatening to soak me on my day of ‘glory’. I arrived in Santiago at about 1:30pm, perfectly coordinating and joining up with my friend Ioana who was coming from the Portuguese Camino. We met in Alameda Park, at a bench overlooking the city – my special go-to place for journaling, where one can enjoy spectacular views of the city and cathedral.
After spending 20 minutes or so admiring the view and catching up with each other, it felt the right time to walk the last 500m together to the Cathedral. Since it’s my 4th time walking and arriving in Santiago I decided to do a live recording walking into the square (If you’re interested in watching you can access the public video on my Facebook Profile even if we’re not connected on Facebook). Ioana and I had talked about it before and we’d agreed together that she should walk ahead for the final several 100m and soak up the moment of arriving in the square herself.
It was beautiful to watch Ioana walk into the square with peeled-eyes, and a big smile on her face. It reminded me of the first time I arrived in that special square in 2016. Even though it’s my 4th time in Santiago, the feeling is still special, just different. As I headed towards the square, I noticed that not much had changed in that the shops, restaurants and cafes were still the same, and even the waiter hadn’t moved (I’m hoping it was a different person) and was still there handing out biscuit testers. Although it seemed nothing had changed physically speaking, my mindset had and I was perceiving all that ‘sameness’ in a completely different way.
Arriving in the square again was a nice feeling, seeing Ioana look up in awe at the cathedral, and other pilgrims laying back on their backpacks with big smiles on their faces contemplating the enormity of the journey they had just been on. I understand them too. 27 days of walking has rolled by at the flash of light. It feels like yesterday I was in Seville, all fresh, and raring to go, and now I am here. A lot happened in between. There was pain. There was excitement. There was joy. There was gratitude, and above all, there was an enormous amount of kindness shown from the people I met.
Right now it’s difficult to sum up my journey with words, but the journey and my time walking is not over yet, and I’ll try my best in the next several days as I walk to Finisterre and then onto Muxia on Sunday. Because this walk wasn’t religious. It wasn’t to collect a Compostela to show that I’d walked 1,000km. It was for nature, to learn, for new experiences, and to enjoy myself. That’s why my journey will finish at the coast; like all my Caminos have.
I’ve got much more I want to write, and I will in the coming days, but after a beautiful day celebrating with new and old friends, it’s time to get a much-needed sleep because I’ll start the journey to Finisterre early tomorrow with Ioana.
Day 28 – We Walk Together & Crossing the 1,000km Mark
Journey: Santiago > A Peña And Piaxe, 30km
Total Distance: 1,004 / 1,092km
Weather: Morning Sun, Clouds & Rain in the afternoon, 16°C
Accommodation: Albergue Alto da Pena
Lesson: The journey only ends if you decide it ends.
Last night was nice with a group of new and old friends coming together, sharing stories from our journey over the ‘Final Supper’ in Santiago. Afterwards Ioana and I headed to Cafe Tertulia – a cute and cosy cafe nearby our hotel – where we shared pancakes and a nice warm tea, while catching up and planning our next several days together. Ioana is Romanian and she and I met at my hostel back in 2016 and have become good friends since. On the back of a change of job, she made a spontaneous decision to walk her first Camino a couple of weeks ago. She decided to walk the Portuguese Route from Porto and we timed our journeys to perfection to intersect and meet each other pretty much right on the same hour so that we could walk the final steps into Santiago together.
For me the Camino finishes at the coast in either Finisterre or Muxia, so I’d planned from the very beginning of my walk to finish my journey in Muxia. Ioana and I decided that we were going to walk to Finisterre together, arriving by Saturday and then finishing my Camino in Muxia on Sunday evening with a final sunset. Since starting in Seville 27 days ago, I’ve walked alone for all but one of the days, so it’s a welcome change for me to be able to walk to Finisterre and Muxia with Ioana. I told her that I’d love to walk her way, speed and rhythm and other than our 4 day deadline for the trip, the way the journey pans out was up to her.
After a well deserved longer sleep, and heading up to the Cathedral to get a quieter photo, we were on our way by about 9am. We covered 30km today arriving in A Peña And Piaxe. It was a lovely day, spent catching up, laughing, joking and singing, as well as discussing some deeper things. Ioana is super easy to walk with and we make a good team. We got in at about 5pm, and there’s good reason to celebrate this evening, and that is because I’ve officially crossed the 1,000km mark.
Tomorrow we’ll walk another 30km, aiming for Logoso for the evening. I’ve looked at the weather forecast and it’s looking fantastic for the final days of walking, and I cannot wait to catch the sunset in both Finisterre and Muxia.
I’m tired this evening because I got to bed late last night in Santiago, so I’ll get to bed now, and write again tomorrow.
Day 29 – Friendship
Journey: A Peña And Piaxe > Logoso, 27km
Total Distance: 1,031 / 1,092km
Weather: Sun & Clouds, 16°C
Accommodation: Albergue O Logoso
Lesson: Life is about creating meaningful, fun and interesting experiences alongside people we love.
After a much needed sleep I woke this morning at 5am well-rested and energised. We were out the door just after 7am and on our way for a 28km to Logoso. It was a beautiful trip down memory lane today. This would be the 4th time I’ve walked to Finisterre now, so all the turns and landscapes were familiar, and I kept noticing the places I’d been before, telling Ioana the stories as we walked.
It’s nice to walk with someone else after days and days on the Camino by myself. Ioana and I are great walking partners. Walking, we take it slow and easy. We stop often to admire our surroundings. We have lots of breaks and treat each other with little surprises here and there. Today, Ioana treated me to an orange juice, and I treated her to an ice cream. One minute we’re laughing about something childish and innocent; the next minute we’re talking about deeper and philosophical.
After a great day’s walk we arrived in our planned destination of Logoso for about 3pm. I spent the afternoon and evening chatting to fellow pilgrims. While I was having dinner I met a couple of pilgrims called Anne and Josh from Germany who were walking the Camino with Theo, their 10 month son, strapped to their back. You could feel from talking to them that they were kind-hearted people. Anne had walked the Camino herself many times but this was the first time they were doing it as a family. They told me how when picking up their Pilgrim Passports in Santiago (you need one of these to walk the Camino and by getting it stamped at every albergue you stay at, you can pick up your certificate at the end of the journey) they asked if their son Theo could have a Pilgrim’s Passport and unfortunately he wasn’t allowed one.
Back in Sevilla, at the start of my journey, I was advised to pick up a couple of Pilgrim Passports because my journey was set to be longer and I might’ve ran out of space for stamps with just one Pilgrim’s Passport. I quickly realised that i actually wasn’t picking up many stamps and that now I had a spare Pilgrim’s Passport. It crossed my mind to simply throw the spare Pilgrim’s Passport away, but then I thought about giving it away to someone close to me who wants to walk the Camino. Instead of throwing it away, I kept it safe and neat in my laptop case. I wasn’t sure who I was going to give it to, or when, but i knew i would give it away.
As I was sat at the table with Anne and Josh, watching them feed Theo part of their hearty pilgrim’s meal, the time and place felt right. I told them about how i picked up the spare Pilgrim’s Passport in Seville and that i hadn’t needed it and that I wanted to donate it to Theo to stamp on this Camino. Anne and Josh accepted and were very grateful, and while saying goodbye to them all, I gave them my contact details and as a nice idea, I told them that after the reach Finisterre and get the final stamp in Josh’s Pilgrim Passport that they should put it away for him to take on his own Camino when he’s old enough to walk by himself. They loved the idea and we left it that.
I love doing meaningful random acts of kindness like this. I’d been waiting for the right person to give the Pilgrim’s Passport to for most of my Camino, and as i was looking at little Theo trying his best to eat bread across from me at the table, I saw the future pilgrim in him, and it felt more than right to pass on the passport to him. So who knows, perhaps in 18 years, I’ll get a knock on my door from Theo wanting to tell me all the stories about his first Camino and show me his completed pilgrim’s passport.
Tomorrow I’ll be arriving at the coast in Finisterre. We’ve got about 28km to walk, and I know from previous times walking that this stretch is one of the most picturesque and memorable of all the Camino routes. Once we arrive in town we’ll hang out in my favourite cafe (The World Family), enjoy some seafood, take a walk on the beach, and then head up to the lighthouse for the tradition of watching the ‘final’ sunset over the Atlantic with fellow pilgrims.
Day 30 – The End of the Road But The Start of A New Journey
Journey: Logoso > Finisterre, 30km
Total Distance: 1,064 / 1,092km
Weather: Sun & Clouds, 17°C
Accommodation: Pension Cabo
Lesson: It may be the end of this road, but life has other magical surprises, and the journey goes on.
Yesterday evening was magical. After an enjoyable coastal walk and a trip down memory lane, I arrived in Finisterre for 1:30pm. It felt strange walking into town, retracing the old steps from my last 4 Caminos, trying to work out which memory connected with which route. But the dominant thought that filled my mind as I walked today was “When am I going to be here again?”. And the honest answer is that I don’t know. I do not plan to walk anymore Caminos anytime soon, and I am content with that.
I walked originally in 2016 because I was going through a tough time, and the Camino has shown me that an annual journey is therapeutic, and a compulsory part of taking care of my mental health. But after over 3,000km and 100 days of walking in Spain since I first stepped foot on the trail in 2016, I am ready for new challenges, and a different journey.
And although I know I might not be walking on the Camino in the short-term, I do know that I’ll eventually be back here. I would love to walk with my family, or a loved one in the future. I’m not usually the type of person who goes back to the same places to retrace old routes, but I’ve learned while walking the Camino that even though the place may not have changed so much, my mindset and the way I view it, changes dramatically every time.
I came into the Camino in 2016 in a tough place. I didn’t feel good in the head and I was struggling with myself. But it’s funny how time and new experiences have their way of changing things, because I’m leaving Finisterre for my final 28km to Muxia full of life, and excited for where I am going. I could happily come back to the Camino every single year and enjoy a leisurely walk, but life has other surprises because the world is full of other wonderful and magical places to explore.
Next year I will cycle the entire length of Great Britain – the country I was born in and feel like I’ve forgotten because I haven’t lived there for 7 years. Beyond that I want to cycle from North America to South America, meeting and interviewing people along the way about what they’ve learned from life. I’ve pondered on these journeys as I walk, and they feel right, which leads me to the conclusion that, in the face of a new opportunity to learn, sometimes in life we’re given the subtle signs that we must give up something that’s comfortable and now familiar (like the Camino is to me) to make way for new opportunities and adventures. I don’t know where my new adventures will lead me or who I will meet along the way, but indeed like any great adventure there’s only one way to find out…… go.
Last night my friend Michael – author of Wise Pilgrim Guides for Camino – drove out to Finisterre to join Ioana and I. It was a magical evening and everything naturally flew the way it should. First we enjoyed a restaurant meal together and then headed to the World Family Cafe (a personal favourite) to chat and meet with fellow pilgrims. Just before the sun went down, Ioana and I made the final 3km walk up to the lighthouse. We reached the zero km marker, and took the compulsory photos and then jumped in Michael’s VW van and he drove us to a beautiful high point with no pilgrims in sight for the final sunset. With the sun beaming right into our hands and the full moon lighting a new path on the ocean directly behind, it was magical. We chatted and enjoyed chocolate and coconut water, and as the sun lowered and lowered, more and more pinks and oranges bombarded the sky.
This morning I will put my hiking shoes on for the last time on this trip for a beautiful coastal walk to Muxia and I’ll walk alone, just like I did when i first walked the route in 2016. I’ll spend the evening in Muxia, and tomorrow I’ll head back to Santiago to get ready for my flight back to Bucharest. Indeed it’s clear that this journey may be ending, but really it’s just the end of a chapter, and the start of many more beautiful adventures to come.
I’ll write again tonight or tomorrow in Muxia.
Day 31 – It’s Time To Move On
Journey: Finisterre > Muxia, 28km
Total Distance: 1,092 / 1,092km (Done 🙏)
Weather: Sun, 17°C
Accommodation: Apartment Vida Muxia.
Lesson: Sometimes it’s time to move on in life.
It’s a strange feeling putting your boots on for the last time, not knowing when you’re going to be coming back to Spain to walk the Camino again. For the last 3 years, I’ve spent my holidays hiking in Spain. I’ve walked 4 different Camino routes and spent more than 100 days covering 3,000km through some of the most splendid nature I’ve ever set my eyes on while meeting some of the kindest and compassionate people I’ve ever met in my life.
Since my first walk in 2016, I always knew I was going to come back and do another route each consecutive year but this time I’m leaving with a different feeling. After all the time I’ve spent walking the Camino, I feel like I am ready to move on, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Spain to walk again. Of course, I cannot say this with certainty, because life is unpredictable and has a funny way of bringing out the most spontaneous experiences, but what I can say, is that in my heart, I won’t be coming back to walk anytime soon. And I feel good about that because compared to the difficult place I was in with myself back in 2016 when I first walked, I feel like I am leaving Santiago content, fulfilled and excited for new challenges ahead.
I decided to walk alone for my last day yesterday. I’ve walked from Muxia to Finisterre, but never the other way around. It’s an interesting feeling when you walk the same route but in the opposite direction. When viewed from a different perspective, even a well-trodden path looks different and I could barely recognise the route even though I’d walked the other direction twice before. Before leaving Finisterre I received a bit of advice from a veteran pilgrim and took it upon myself to take the coastal route to Muxia instead of the traditional Camino route. At some point, probably because I was in my own little world, I lost the trail but instead of instinctively opening Google maps and trying to determine my GPS location, I opened my compass and decided to have a bit of an adventure for my final day walking.
Following my compass North, I crossed beaches, took my boots off to cross a river, and meandered through overgrown trails and small Spanish towns and farms, making my own way to Muxia. I called the route ‘Camino Dano’, and taking my own path and dropping the need to follow those cute little yellow arrows reminded me of that thirst for adventure that has been inside me ever since I was a kid. The story has a happy ending too, because I managed to find my way to Muxia, and had a fantastic day not knowing, concretely, where my route was taking me.
The Camino has given me a special gift, and now i need to take that gift and do something else with it, so one of the reasons I am moving on from the Camino is that I want to try something a bit different next year for my annual adventure. I want to cycle across Britain to rediscover my home country; a place I haven’t lived for the last 7 years. Instead of following the traditional route from Lands End to John O’Groats, I’ll make my own route, passing good friends along the way.
I spent the evening in Muxia with Ioana and Ivan. We went out for a wonderful meal at a seafood restaurant in Muxia and then wandered down to the shorefront to set catch the sunset. It was a magical ending to my Camino. We found the perfect rock; a front row seat right on the doorstep of the Atlantic ocean for one of nature’s finest shows – the Final Sunset. Despite the rock being littered with Seagull poo galore, it wasn’t enough to dampen our enthusiasm, and we managed to find a nice row of space where we could perch our bums for 45 minutes to watch Nature’s show. And boy, did she turn up – it was a magical sunset gifted by a clear horizon. And to our delight, as we turned our heads to look behind us, we were spoiled when we witnessed the finest full moon illuminating majestically just above the church to top off a great evening.
We had all felt the end coming and now the journey was coming to a close so it felt like a fitting time to play a song. The song that came to my mind first was Fatboy Slim – Praise You, so I flicked open my Spotify account and pressed Play, and we all sung our hearts out until the sun had gone down. I want to paste the lyrics here because I think they are fitting for everyone because we all know what going on a journey feels like:
“We’ve come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you, baby
I have to praise you like I should”
And as my final journal entry for walking, I think that’s where I’d like to leave this for all of you who have been on a journey. I am beyond grateful for all the love, compassion and kindness that I have been shown on my own journeys in the last years, not to mention the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way.
The Camino literally changed my life, and after every single one of those 3,000km I’ve walked, and all the wonderful people that I got to encounter along the way, whether physically in presence or virtually on social impact, have been part of my journey… I’d like to celebrate and praise you all. Every single one of you.
I am back in Santiago now and I feel ready to return home. Tomorrow morning I have an early flight out to Madrid and I’ll spend the day there waiting for my flight back to Bucharest at 4pm. I’ll use this time to write my Final Report and Reflection about all 4 of the Camino routes I’ve walked since 2016 and that will be me closing the chapter on this journey, which I’ll post tomorrow.
As a final note, a lot of people asked me why I I was so public about documenting my raw feelings and thoughts from this journey. After many years of keeping my journal entries private, the first Camino I walked had such a profound effect on my life that I decided I wanted to share that with others in hope that my words, pictures, videos and stories would encourage others to walk.
And it’s funny, because after trying so hard to depict the spirit of the Camino, I’ve realised that no words, pictures and videos can ever truly capture its essence, and means that the only way to really understand how the Camino feels is to put your own boots on and walk your own path.
So if you’re sitting on the fence about going walking the Camino, hesitating whether you should spend the next month of your life walking 1,000km across Spain, don’t think twice – just go – because journeys like this are once in a lifetime, and a beautiful opportunity to get to know yourself.
I feel like I know myself a little bit more than when I started out walking in 2016 now, but my journey here is up, and it feels right to move on… But before I leave I want to leave future pilgrims with the two most important words you’ll hear every single day, without fail, while you walk your way….
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About the Author
Hi, I’m Dan – a 29-year-old, British entrepreneur from the north of England, living in Bucharest, Romania.
With a love for well-being, business and people, my mission in life is to use business as a force for good to create purpose-driven businesses, while teachings other people how to do the same.
I’m also the founder of Podstel – a vision to help bring the world together to belong and grow by creating a network of ‘homes’ that bring locals and travellers together to share their stories, passions and skills. The first two Podstels are open and thriving in Bucharest, so if you’re in town, be sure to come and say hi or stay the night with us.
You can also follow me on Instagram, where I document my journey and thoughts on daily life.
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