Upon seeing my workaway.info profile and Facebook, my would be hosts in Madrid started putting together some “THINGS TO DO”. They saw that I did a decent amount of hiking when I was in Tenerife so they proposed doing El Camino de Santiago upon my arrival in Madrid. I’ve never heard of this trek but a quick Google search turned up the Wiki page. For me, I like to challenge myself in different ways so walking 100 kilometers (62 miles) over a four day period sounded like it would be quite the experience! I have never heard of this trail before but El Camino de Santiago is a well known trek through France and Spain.
I was SHOCKED to see so many other people throughout our journey! The infrastructure of the trail is dedicated to accommodating all the thousands of wandering souls… it is dotted with hostels and refuges where you can finally rest your feet and hopefully get some sleep – yet with limited beds, it can become a race to get to your destination (typically a small village along the way) early enough to find a free space! All in all the trek was…. well….mmmm… a shit load of walking. There is no other way to sum it up. Some people do it for religious purposes while others do it for sport. We were in the sport category so for me it was a mantra of “just keep walking, just keep walking” — I also decided to not bring any headphones so that I could just be one with my thoughts (which I had PLENTY of time to think and later regretted not having them for nighttime when we were trying to go to bed at 8:00pm and it was SO noisy). My active mind thought of a few products to create…several books to write… and created survival plans should I get kidnapped in the deep dark woods on our early morning walks.
Here is a bit of Wiki knowledge about El Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James, St. James’s Way, St. James’s Path, or St. James’s Trail (commonly known by its name in Spanish:El Camino de Santiago) is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes (most commonly the Camino Francés or French route) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat, for their spiritual growth. Continue reading below for some stories and photos of my four day adventure on the trail!
Day 111 – August 5 (19) – Tuesday – Madrid to Portomarin (drive), Portomarin to Palas de Rei (walk)
Rise and shine!! Given we had a 5ish hour drive from Madrid to our starting point on the trail, we woke up at 3:30 to get our travels started. We picked up another couple in Madrid who my hosts found through Bla Bla car — which is a service in which you can list a driving route and other people can join you (aka a great way to bring down your personal gas costs!). From there is was a LOOOOONG morning of sitting in the back of a car and trying to get some sleep… but being a tall person…every time the car hit a little bump my head would go bump against the side of the car. Plus the dude next to me kept falling asleep and creeping up into my space haha!
We eventually got to the village where we would start and found a cafe to stop and fuel up on some coffee before beginning our stroll. Once we got started there isn’t really much to report. It was HOURS and hours of walking. We finally reached our destination for the night and were faced with the challenge of finding a place to sleep. It’s challenging to book ahead because you never know if you are going to either a. make it to your destination without falling apart OR b. want to continue walking. The first two places we stopped at were strike outs… then we were directed to another hostel a bit more down the road — which was ALSO full. BUT BUT BUT the nice man who operates the hostel offered for us to stay in an extra room in his house. He had just got bunk beds and also gave us another mattress in a private room. He explained that he usually keeps space for people who are doing the trail without any money… we paid him 10 Euros each for a bed. PLUS they gave us a beer and made us a delicious salad for a late lunch!
After we took a quick shower and changed into clean clothes, we headed back into the town square area to enjoy a glass of wine in the sunshine. We ended our evening with a stop by the market to pick up some snacks before returning back to our room. One of our snacks were olives (WHICH I FREAKING LOVE)…but what I didn’t realize is that these olives were stuffed with anchovies. I gagged and nearly threw up all over my bed. GROSS. Ew. After sharing some laughs we turned in early to finally get some rest! I didn’t sleep that well and heard an alarm go off and asked — “Is it time to get up?” — to which I was told it was only midnight. From there on out it was a tossing and turning of sorts. NICE.
Day 112 – August 6 (20) – Wednesday – Palas de Rei to Castaneda
Well hello there 5:45am! We wanted to get an early start and eat breakfast before we got our start on the trail. We ended up skipping breakfast and headed out the door around 6:30…the trail was already buzzing with activity as fellow walkers passed on by. Shortly after our departure the sun started peeking up over the trees and we found a nice little cafe to take a rest and drink some coffee. As I was sipping on my delicious mug I heard a familiar accent — that of a fellow American! I asked the lady where she was from and she said Chicago! She had been on the trail for 33 days!!! WTF??? She had started at the “starting point” in France and had been walking around 25km a day. WHAT kind of crazy person does this?? I was only on day two and I was looking forward to finishing. Walking for 33 days in a row? NO THANKS! Not appealing to me!
Once again we were back on the trail and there is not too much to report aside from the fact that my left foot felt like one big blister. Aside from some breaks to rest and a pause to eat lunch… it was nothing but walking. We got to the one resting spot/restaurant but had to wait it out to see if the people who reserved the room had showed up. We got something to eat and a cold beer — and of course stripped off our shoes as soon as we could! And not to my surprise… my left foot was blistered all over – gross. As we were playing the waiting game til 2pm to see if the other people showed up and DA DA DAAAAAAAAAA – they didn’t!!! SCORE! We were in a room upstairs above the cafe that had two bunk beds in a room.
Upon entering the room there was a man sleeping on one of the bottom bunks… I offered to take the top bunk over him and then quickly made my way to the shower. We wandered downstairs for a glass of wine before heading to bed at 9pm – YES 9pm! I don’t think I’ve voluntarily gone to bed at that time since I was a child! A decision was made at some point during the day that we would start walking on day 3 at 2:30am — the next village had very minimal sleeping spots so we wanted to ensure we got there early enough to secure one. All was fine and dandy until the man below me returned and reeked of body odor so bad I could barely get a breath of fresh air. We briefly chatted with him and he shared that we was doing the WHOLE trail as well and was about two weeks in — and walking 50 kilometers a day! He had shoulder length bleach blond frizzy hair and was deeply bronzed. He said that his schedule is he walks all day then “drinks a bottle of two of wine at night” — which I believe considering he was holding an open wine bottle and took it into bed with him. He said sometimes he would just sleep in the forest if he couldn’t find a bed. When he exited the room to go to the bathroom and I yelled over to Tania to quickly hand me her perfume and madly sprayed it everywhere….especially my pillow. With my eye mask on and my ear plugs in… it was off to dream land for me.
Day 113 – August 7 (21) – Thursday – Castaneda to Santa Irene
Never have I ever thought that I would be waking up at 2am in a foreign country to trek through the woods using my cell phone flashlight app. SO MANY TIMES throughout my travels I have been in these “never have I ever thought…” situations. AND this is precisely what I love about travel :-). We got on our way by 2:30am and it was a morning of walking and walking and walking some more (as I said – the trail is just a shit load of walking). We navigated our way through the forest and village using our flashlights and ran into some misty rain along the way. Around 6:30 we located an open cafe and were in desperate need of coffee and breakfast. Post caffeine consumption we were back on the trail and reach our resting place around 11am!
For our third evening we would be staying a public refuge…. no reservations required – BUT there are only 32 beds so you must arrive early (hence our early morning start). There were only about 10 other people ahead of us so now it was just a waiting game for the refuge to open at 1pm. Which wouldn’t be so bad had it not started raining and was freaking COLD. We sought shelter in a bus stop thingy where we ate glamorous sandwiches of tuna with tomato sauce and chatted with some other hikers (well my hosts did while I sat there understanding about 1% of the conversation). Once the refuge open we were assigned our beds (top bunk again – am I in summer camp or something?) and rushed to get to the shower before the rest of the crowd loaded in. Given we been up since 2am and it was now 2pm — it was time for a little siesta. I am still shocked that I was able to fall asleep with 22 other people on the room!
The room was simply one giant room filled with bunk beds! I guess when you are exhausted ANYTHING will do! There was this one Italian family and was SO freaking loud and obnoxious – thank god for ear plugs! Post nap time we wandered up to the cafe to grab some dinner and drinks. Because of our success with getting an early start today… it was decided we would start early again. There is something about walking through the woods in the dark that just makes the trail go by faster! With a 4am wake up time, I was back in bed by 8:30pm. No one seemed to care that we were trying to go to bed early (given it was still bright out) –so there was quite the racket as I forcefully shoved my ear plugs in as far as they could possibly go!
Day 114 – August 8 (22) – Friday – Santa Irene to Santiago de Compostela
Haha joke is on you noisy people who didn’t care if we were going to bed early last night! My alarm went off at 4am quickly followed by Tania’s alarm singing out “I feel goooood na-na-na-na-na-na-na”. I quickly and as quietly as I could got up and prepared myself for the last day of our 100k journey. As we were getting ready we realized it was raining a bit outside… and after our trek the past three days left us feeling worn out, Zaida decided to be smart and take the bus to the final destination given she wasn’t feeling that well. Tania and I decided to trek on and hit the trail at 4:30am. We had about 23 kilometers til we would FINALLY reach Santiago. Luckily as we got started it wasn’t really raining… but our luck didn’t last long and I ended up getting quite soaked in my thin coat. Add in the fact that there was a 15 minute uphill battle at one point… I got to the point where I was just jogging to make the kilometers go by faster.
Having started at 4:30am… we didn’t reach a proper place to rest until 8:30 when we finally stumbled upon a little cafe. A little while before the cafe we came across another female walking alone. I ended up chatting with her and she was a teacher from Seattle who was doing the WHOLE WALK alone! She was about three weeks in — once again WHY? SERIOUSLY? I kind of get it but it still doesn’t appeal to me. At least chatting with her passed the time a bit. After our coffee and breakfast stop we continued quickly walking towards our ending point…. in the cold… in the rain… but the fact that I would at some point today be finished walking — gave me enough spirit and energy to continue on!
We eventually got to Santiago… then DA DA DAAAAAAAAAA ended our trek at the cathedral in town! We met up with Zaida for the last few kilometers and all finished together… Rocky style! We played the Rocky theme song as we entered into the cathedral square. I feel its my duty to bring some Philly flavor wherever I go in this world :-). With the 100k behind us it was time to make it official! We headed over to the place where they write you out a certificate and had to wait in line for a bit (Me and lines just don’t mix.. add in that I had been walking since 4:30am – it was just not pleasant). We eventually got our certificates and went on a mission to find some wine. We checked out multiple places before deciding on this empty cafe. I gave absolutely no shits that it was only 11:30am… I was going to have me a celebratory glass of vino! It was also a necessity to eat given I had only had a small egg sandwich during my hours and hours of walking. I’m typically not a big bread and sandwich type of person but if there was way for me to make love to that sandwich… I would have done it over and over again. Each bite was just so HEAVENLY.
Zaida’s father and his wife and three kids were in town on holiday so they met up with us as well and we walked around town a bit. We had to wait until 4pm for our ride to the one town to catch a bus to eventually get back to our starting point and the car. So what else do you do when you don’t feel like moving and can’t really go anywhere – you drink MORE wine of course! We found another wine bar and enjoyed a delicious bottle of wine from Galicia (the region of Spain we were in). Eventually 4pm rolled around and we had to hike it across town to meet our driver. Once we piled in the car we all pretty much fell asleep during the one hour drive. Waking up at 4am and drinking wine before noon is the perfect elixir for a siesta. Once we got to the town we had to then catch another bus to reach our starting point. The journey doesn’t end there…. after we were in our car we had a almost 6 hour drive back to Madrid!