Follow me on my Camino de Santiago, 40 days long life-changing experience. In this article, I will give you tips and my experiences, so that you can prepare your Camino walk, or you can just virtually travel with me.
Use the Camino Frances table of contents below to easily navigate this guide!
Day 1 Split – Paris, 3 July 2020
Excited for my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I left Split, Croatia for Paris by a Transavia Airlines flight. There were only about 15 of us on the plane, European borders were just beginning to open up due to the slowdown in the Covid-19 crisis.
So even the fact that the plane took off was a big deal. Namely, the changes were happening at incredible speed. The flight went very pleasantly, as they say in the aviation industry for flights like this: uneventful. I enjoyed two bottles of red wine and a sandwich and was looking forward to the trip.
I landed at Orly airport which was a big change for me since whenever I fly to Paris, I land at Charles de Gaulle airport. I hurried through the arrival hall, did not even ask how to get from Orly to Paris. It was simple – a taxi. Quickly and efficiently, without any waiting, the price is around 30 euros.
I booked my hotel near the Montparnasse train station because trains run from that station to Saint Jean Pied de Port. I arrived late at the hotel, around 10 p.m. I had a sandwich for dinner that I bought at the airport and went straight to bed.
Day 2 Paris – Saint Jean Pied de Port, 4 July 2020
It was very cold in Paris in the evening and even more in the morning. I didn’t even think in Split at 35 degrees celsius that I would need a sweater in hot Spain in the summer, and Paris never crossed my mind. So that morning I went in short sleeves to Montparnasse station, where I bought a sweater at Levi’s store. If I say I used that long sleeve for two-thirds of my Camino walk – I wouldn’t lie! And that, in the middle of summer. So, I used really a lot this seater on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, in the middle of summer.
I took train TGV Paris – Bayonne that took about 4 hours. In Bayonne I had a transfer, waiting for about 1 hour, and then on a regional train to Saint Jean Pied de Port.
I arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port around 4 p.m. I got out of the small train station and headed for the center. I didn’t have a hotel reservation, nor did I know how accommodation on the Camino de Santiago works. My first destination was the pilgrimage center, which I found effortlessly. Namely, everything is so clearly marked in this town.
Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes
At the pilgrims’ office, they were more than kind and accommodating. They explained everything to me: Camino de Santiago routes, the weather forecast, they gave me a list of all accommodation on the entire Camino de Santiago, even a map with the topography of the terrain, and a detailed description of the first day of the Camino – the crossing of the Pyrenees. In addition, I received my pilgrim’s passport, as well as a scallop, pilgrim’s symbol, which I hung on a backpack. I asked them if they had any suggestions for accommodation, and they said the municipal hostel for pilgrims was at the top of the street. And that was also my first address, that’s where I stayed.
I took a walk in this city that is truly beautiful! Besides, this is the Basque Country, which I thought was only in Spain. However, France also has its part of the Basque Country. That is why the architecture is typically Basque. We will be encountering this architecture in the coming days as well. I personally liked it very much.
At 7.30 pm there was a Mass in the church in the center, and I was very surprised when the Mass started: it was in Basque! Honestly one of the very impressive moments of my Camino.
I bought a sandwich and a salad, took it with me to the hostel and it was my dinner. Time to sleep, I’m going to the Camino de Santiago tomorrow!
Day 3 Saint Jean Pied de Port – Roncesvalles, 5 July 2020, 26 km
I woke up at 7 a.m., well-rested, happy. I used to get up every morning at around 7 am. Throughout the Camino, there are many pilgrims who would get up at 5 or even earlier to hurry as fast as possible. Even till the end of the Camino I never understood why they were doing so. We’ll talk about this phenomenon later.
The hardest part of the Camino de Santiago
I set off, the day is beautiful, especially considering that the next day was both rainy and windy. The first day of Camino de Santiago is said to be the hardest. And indeed it is so, for the Pyrenees, the high mountains, has to be crossed. And never again on the Camino is there so much ascent, and also so much descent to do. Since the feet are not used to such an ascent and descent, and the body is not accustomed to a load of the backpack – it is logical that the next day everything hurts. And the next few days too!
Preparation for Camino de Santiago
These problems and pains can be very easily avoided, by preparing for a few weeks back home for the Camino trail, as I did. I hiked for days on a hill in Split in the shoes I bought for hiking, as well as in the socks for hiking and against blisters, and my body got used to it. Throughout the Camino, I didn’t have a single problem with blisters, feet, legs, shoes,….
The first day of St James pilgrimage is 24 km long. First, you walk to Orisson some 8 km. Orisson is actually nothing more than an overnight stay, very convenient for pilgrims. The view of the Pyrenees is fascinating, it is a great place for a coffee break, and it also has sandwiches and cakes. Some pilgrims sleep here, so tomorrow is easier for them. I also tried a Basque cake in Orisson.
Let’s go another 17 km or so. We cross the Pyrenees, spectacular views reach endless distances. I had a very clear day! The scenery is perfect, I occasionally meet herds of sheep, black pigs, cows, horses, and also eagles and falcons have flown over me! At first, I couldn’t believe those were eagles with a huge wingspan and slightly smaller falcons. I even have to admit I was a little scared. Later, because of the intensity of those few days, I forgot about eagles and falcons, until the third day when I was passing through one part of the Camino from where eagles can also be seen. This time there was also an official billboard explaining the types of eagles that fly there. No less and no more than 8 species of eagles!
I also began to notice on the first day of my Camino de Santiago that I had seen some of the same pilgrims several times that day (this primarily refers to my first encounter with the first person, Sandra from Germany, and after that Pauline from America). This will later prove to be one big surprise for me, just people.
To me, the Camino de Santiago walk was a purely Christian pilgrimage. I hoped to pray, read the Bible, go to Mass every day, do daily rosary. But in the end, there was none or almost none of that, and on the other hand, I was constantly hanging out with the other pilgrims. It had never occurred to me before Camino that I could meet other people on Camino. And moreover, make friends. So, already on the first day of the way of Saint James, I started meeting people that I will be seeing over the next 30 days!
It was very interesting for me to cross the border between Spain and France. Generally, for some reason, it is very interesting for me to cross state borders. This one was special. There was no infrastructure. Lost in the cliffs of the Pyrenees, the border is literally an open gate, a fountain with drinking water, and for the first time yellow arrows, which will tirelessly follow me from that moment until the end of the Camino in Santiago de Compostela!
I arrived in Roncesvalles at around 6.30 pm, the day was still beautiful, pleasant, warm, sunny. But it felt like I came as the last pilgrim to Roncesvalles. That feeling of coming as the last one at the day’s destination will be repeating to me for almost the entire Camino pilgrimage.
As I have already mentioned, the vast majority of pilgrims rush to get to the place as early as possible and get up as early as possible. I was not such a pilgrim. I get up when I get up, never later than 7.30 a.m. Slowly without any haste, I get ready, and slowly without any haste, I go for today’s hiking. And it turned out to be a great pace, but not without mistakes first to learn.
But one learns from mistakes. That’s how I learned one important lesson, don’t start too late. Sometimes you need to hurry a bit. Luckily, I learned that lesson at the beginning of the Camino hiking. But I’ll talk about that a little later.
Roncesvalles exists probably only because of the pilgrims. The pilgrim’s complex located there is very impressive. I came to the pilgrim’s hostel around 6.30 pm, and I already knew I wanted a private room. I don’t want to go to the dormitory. The lady looked at me so rudely at my request as if she wanted to shame me for daring to ask a private room. I left the pilgrims hostel and went to a private guesthouse.
Accomodation on Camino de Santiago
At the same time, the final decision was made that I would always go to private rooms. It is great to go to pilgrims hostels, because they are really cheap, less than 10 euros per bed. But if one has a light sleep, it is difficult in a hostel.
The biggest problem is snoring, but also the carelessness of a large number of pilgrims who make noise and rustle getting up early in the morning, or before going to bed.
Find out more about Camino de Santiago cost in my travel tips article.
The guesthouse I was in was called Casa Sabina. Right after I settled in, I went out on the terrace of the restaurant and ordered a beer to enjoy the first day of the St James pilgrimage.
Camino de Santiago temperatures in July
At the same time, I noticed that it gets cold as soon as the sun starts to set. I praised that long sleeve of mine that I bought yesterday in Paris on one hand. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be amazed that in Split it never occurred to me to bring along a long sleeve.
I repeat, that long sleeve a used a lot. If not even more than two-thirds of my Camino de Santiago, and how it helped me! So, even in the summer, be sure to bring along a sweater.
And yes, that evening I started speaking Spanish, which I speak quite fluently in the first place, but I never had the opportunity to speak it in Spain. I’m not going to lie that at the end of Camino I was proud of myself for speaking Spanish.
However, when I ordered a beer the first evening in Spain, the waitress asked me if I wanted a caña or a cañon. As much as I wanted to sound like I could master the language perfectly, I couldn’t help but admit to her that I didn’t know what caña or cañon meant. But at the end of the Camino, I learned a lot more in Spanish than just caña and cañon.
I had dinner at that guesthouse and for the first time, I came across the so-called “menu peregrino”, ie the pilgrim’s menu. Then I remembered reading in one travelogue that the man was very tormented by the chicken in the pilgrim’s menu, in the sense that there was almost exclusively and only chicken on the menu. The guy told a lie. In each pilgrim’s menu, there were at least 4, 5 if not more choices for the first course, and the same number of choices for the second course. And as many choices for dessert. Plus, bread, wine, and water are always included in the price.
And the price? Bargain! Rarely does a pilgrim’s menu cost over 10-12 euros. I only saw once that the menu had “only” 3 choices for the first dish and 3 choices for the second. And I ate chicken I think only that first day, and it was good.
After that, I mostly ate beef. There was also pork, fish, salads. Everything. It’s only a little harder for vegetarians. And we won’t even talk about vegans. I say that because I later met both vegetarians and vegans, and it really wasn’t easy for them.
My legs admittedly hurt, and I lay on the bed for a long time resting my legs and thought everything would hurt me tomorrow. I also thought it was absolutely normal. Only when I woke up in the morning after a well slept night, I noticed that nothing hurt me.
I realized that I was very well prepared for the Camino hiking. I was fully prepared for the second day of the Camino de Santiago.
Day 4 Roncesvalles – Zubiri, 6 July 2020, 21 km
After a great night’s sleep, rested, fresh, I packed my backpack and set off for today’s 21km. I have to admit that I haven’t started paying attention to the kilometers yet, although the main topic for me in the coming days will be exactly the kilometers. More precisely, my first question about the next day would be how many kilometers I have to do that day.
As the days go by, I will also realize that today’s 21km is really easy-peasy. And It’s also only while composing this text that I realized that I didn’t really think about kilometers at all before heading to the Camino de Santiago.
Oh, how the question of kilometers will become important in the coming days and how I will learn all about kilometers! For example, I will learn that one covers 10 kilometers in 2 hours, and I will begin to plan my days more easily. But like I said before, let’s get going, so we’ll learn everything. Including about kilometers.
Cold and rainy weather in July
I woke up to cool weather, rainy, gray. And that in July! To remind you, we are in the foothills of the Pyrenees. After breakfast, or rather a long coffee at the very cozy guesthouse Casa Sabina, I head to my second day of the Way of Saint James. I had to use my poncho for the first time, and I like it, especially how I look in that poncho.
On the way out, so right in the morning, I met that American woman from yesterday, Pauline. She headed to my guesthouse for a coffee to warm up, as she froze in the pilgrim’s hostel. So, attention, it can be cold in the summer. You should pay attention to what kind of sleeping bag you carry with you. I took advantage of Pauline to take a picture of me in my poncho.
We chatted a bit and wished each other a “Buen camino” for the first time. From that day, this expression will follow me for over 30 days of hiking. People really do say that and that, if not in 100% of cases, then in 80 to 90% of cases absolutely yes!
Immediately after leaving Roncesvalles, you enter a truly beautiful, very picturesque forest, which is also called by a very particular name, the forest of witches! Walking through that forest in my poncho, as well as in my rain hat, I couldn’t notice in my pictures that I looked like a witch or a wizard. In the witch forest.
Already back home, getting ready for the Camino trail, I realized that every few kilometers there is a city, a village, a resting place for pilgrims. I noticed this on the second day on the Camino de Santiago. So after a few kilometers, I sat down for my first coffee, in some small Basque town.
Battery charging during Camino de Santiago
I was afraid that I would be left with an empty battery in my mobile phone somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the Camino. So I immediately plugged it at the first coffee bar. I later saw that I simply didn’t need to be afraid of an empty cell phone battery. Very often there are opportunities to recharge it.
And I haven’t had a chance to empty my cell phone because you don’t talk on your cell phone all the time during Camino de Santiago. And I would update my Facebook and Instagram during coffee breaks, while a cell phone was being charged. It wasn’t until the end of the Camino de Santiago that I started listening to the music on my cell phone.
Passing through not very demanding terrain, I came to the city called Zubiri where, according to a guidebook, pilgrims spend the night. In the Camino Frances guidebook that I studied before leaving for the Camino de Santiago, I saw that Larrasoana was that day’s destination. Then I downloaded one app. And then another one. So I had as many as 4 guides that tell me where to spend the night and that show distances. I quickly realized that I would go at my own pace though and that I would stay where I felt most appropriate.
Zubiri was a great choice. Maybe Larrasoana was also a great and logical choice. But it happened to me that I was in Zubiri, that second evening of my St James pilgrimage, I walked into pilgrims. Suddenly there were 20 of us at the table, and I used to meet many from that table until the end of the Camino. I stay in touch with some from that table even now that I am in Split.
In the center of Zubiri there is only one street and one cafe/restaurant with 5-6 tables on the street. During the dinner, it happened that we pilgrims all found ourselves there. And no one had known each other before.
I might not have met them, because I intended to sit inside and eat the pilgrim’s menu. However, when I entered the restaurant, there was Pauline again! And she immediately invited me to come to the table. I took a beer, sat down at the table, and met a lot of people. Later I met more and more pilgrims. That evening, my concept, my idea of the Camino de Santiago started to change, although at that moment I had not yet begun to realize it.
I settled in the guesthouse Zaldiki, a modern apartment of the Airbnb concept, and in the apartment next to me was a family from Spain, from San Sebastian. I had to share the bathroom, and as the Camino de Santiago progressed, so did I. It was only later that I realized that when I was looking for private accommodation, to also pay attention to the bathroom if you want it private in your room or a common one on the hallway.
How many times have I made the mistake of not paying attention to it! But then I learned to pay attention when making bookings, the bathroom to be in the room.
Day 5 Zubiri – Pamplona, 7 July 2020, 25 km
After another great night’s sleep, I’m off to Pamplona, 22km. Already in Split, I concluded that this is my Christian pilgrimage, but that in addition to that, the highlights of my Way of Saint James would be the scenery of the Spanish regions, through which I just love to hike, as well as the medieval Spanish towns.
At the very beginning of the Camino de Santiago, I knew that I would stop for two days in Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, and as many as 3 days in Santiago de Compostela! And it was not only for me to have a rest day, but also to visit the beautiful Spanish cities. And I was really looking forward to it, and in the end, it turned out to be a really good idea.
In fact, thinking even more about it, I thought I might even stay one extra night in Logrono and Ponferrada, but it’s also a great idea that I didn’t do it!
Booking accommodation during Camino de Santiago
So, today it’s Pamplona! Due to the Covid-19 crisis and the lack of tourists in Spain, I was able to book through Booking.com an amazing 4* hotel for two nights, next to the cathedral. It turned out to be a great thing! And let me just say, Booking.com was my faithful companion on the Camino de Santiago, use it to get great accommodation deals!
I didn’t like entering cities at all because there were a lot of roads. After having plunged deeply deep into nature for the previous 2 days, this was a rude awakening. And not only that! As I was leaving the mountains, the heat started. I’ll get used to the heat later, and to a lot higher temperatures also. But here we had to start to adjust to hot temperatures. It was new to me, the heat on the Camino.
In the previous 4 days, temperatures were much lower. Also, because of soaring temperatures, I will have to pay closer attention to organizing my water supplies. I didn’t pay attention to it today so I was a little short with water. But nothing terrible. It seemed to me that the day had dragged on, although in fact walking that day was not really demanding.
The 7th of July is the day of the city of Pamplona. It is on this day that the bulls run through the streets of the city, and it is on this day that Camino de Santiago pilgrims avoid staying overnight in Pamplona. And so, without thinking, it happened to me that I was right on the 7th of July in Pamplona.
There were no bulls, but people took to the streets en masse, dressed all in white and with red scarves around their necks. It was certainly an amazing experience to be in Pamplona on the day of their patron saint. The world began to emerge from the lockdown, and so did Spain, which was hit particularly hard. So it was really nice to see people taking to the streets and life coming back.
After arriving in town in the afternoon, I checked into my hotel and went out for a walk around the town. In the center, I stumbled upon a pilgrim I met at our table yesterday, and who actually sat down next to me. I asked him where the Albergue municipal was, to go see other pilgrims I had met yesterday. The Albergue was right around the corner, and consequently close to my hotel. I saw Nathan from France and his mother whom I had seen quite a few times yesterday.
We sat at the entrance of the Albergue and chatted. Then Jean-Ferréol, a young seminarian, also from France, joined us. Then came Mr. Edouard, also a Frenchman. And then we all went out for a drink. It’s just that the drink dragged on. So we went to dinner too. When I came with them back to the Albergue, I met Erik from Barcelona, one of those from yesterday from the common table.
He came to take the long sleeve because it was cold and said that everybody was there, behind the cathedral, and that I should come. I came, we sat 10, 15 of us on the grass, like in student days, with drinks, snacks, until late at night. That means until 10 pm because at 10 pm the Albergue closes its doors.
I went back to my hotel and straight to my bed. What a long day!
Day 6 Pamplona, 8 July 2020
Today is a day of rest, but also it’s laundry day. I had three changes of clothes and accordingly I had to do my laundry every three days. I thought it would be easiest in big cities, such as Pamplona.
I realized later that it is even much easier in smaller towns, more precisely in the guesthouses of the smaller towns. I don’t have to go out in the city to look for a laundromat. Instead, I have a washing machine and a dryer right in my guesthouse. Both cost 3 and 4 euros, respectively. Doing laundry will stress me out for a while, but over time I will learn, and it will become very easy.
Camino de Santiago washing clothes options
Many pilgrims who will not want to go to laundromats, wash their clothes in the hostels and each Albergue also has ropes for drying the clothes. Each checklist for the Camino de Santiago mentions that you bring clips from home. I brought them too. But they only served me once and only two of them. I accidentally stepped into the water that was deeper than I thought, I soaked my shoes and completely wet my socks.
I had to get out of the way, take new socks out of my backpack, and hook these wet ones to my backpack and let’s move on! I later saw that the same thing happened to Nathan from France in the same place and that he did the absolutely same thing. He also had two socks attached with clips on his backpack.
The day before Jean-Ferréol had told me it was at 9.30 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral, and to come. It was him, me, and another pilgrim at Mass. I really felt wonderful in the magnificent Pamplona Cathedral at Mass.
Later I will feel the same way at masses in the cathedrals of Burgos and Leon. I wanted to chat over coffee a bit with Jean-Ferréol, but he was in a hurry because it was already after 10 a.m. and the Camino de Santiago doesn’t start so late. Tomorrow I will see for myself why, and in a very ugly way!
I found a laundromat, right in the main square. It was very conveniently located, right next to many cafes. I sat down for coffee, and a message from Pauline came to me that she had come to Pamplona too. She came to the coffee shop where I was and we arranged to go out to a feast that evening. Not for the pilgrim’s menu, which really aren’t bad, we want tapas and sangria in Pamplona!
And it really turned out to be a fantastic evening, with great tapas, pinchos, and sangria! I was really glad that we took great pictures that evening, in very typical Spanish surroundings.
I have to admit that as much as Pamplona is a great city, I still was eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s day and to continue the Camino. That’s normal, it’s just the beginning for me and I haven’t hiked anything particularly much of my Camino, yet. I will be hiking a lot throughout the next month, but for time being, I was particularly eager to continue hiking towards Santiago de Compostela.
As I stayed a day longer in Pamplona, I lost people I had met the previous few days. But as we’ll see later during St James pilgrimage, we’ll keep seeing each other!
Day 7 Pamplona – Puente la Reina, 9 July 2020, 24 km
I got up, well-rested, I had a great night. Long morning coffee in the beautiful ambiance of my 4* hotel in Pamplona, right behind the cathedral. I took it too easy! At 9.30 a.m. Mass in the cathedral, beautiful, very invigorating! Back to the hotel, picked up my backpack, and we go on a new day of hiking. I am very happy, I can’t wait. It turned out that today would be one of the most difficult days for me, and only through my own fault. It was out of ignorance.
Water problems during Camino de Santiago
Anyway, I left late, I didn’t bother to carry more than my 80 ml of water. It was terribly hot, difficult terrain that day where one crosses a high mountain, and nowhere water! When I finally saw the water tap, I think I drank 2 liters of water! Soon after, another tap came along and I also drank a lot more than I needed, precisely because of the traumatic experience. Then I suddenly realized why Jean-Ferréol didn’t want to have coffee yesterday. He had a day of hiking ahead of him.
Hiking today is not difficult, as such. But it is difficult if you start hiking from Pamplona at 10.30 a.m. like I did because you have to climb this high mountain at the hottest time of the day. And from this point, I also wonder how it never occurred to me that you don’t really go hiking at 10.30 a.m. Not in this heat, not in this terrain where you have a hill.
It’s normal to get lost on Camino de Santiago
I survived. Maybe it would have been easier for me if I hadn’t deviated from the right path twice in Pamplona, so I got tired physically because I hiked longer. And mentally because I was angry that it happened to me to turn wrongly. I just needed to follow the yellow arrows. But well, I realized on the Camino that it’s normal to get lost.
And always it will be the fault of the one who strays, not the badly marked path. I got lost 5 times, and all 5 times it was my fault, recklessness, carelessness, distraction.
I got up late, had a long coffee, went to Mass at 9:30 a.m., turn twice wrong, and went back on the right road. And when I came to Cizur Minor, as if all this wasn’t enough for me, I sit down for a coffee again!
And me a Dalmatian (Dalmatia is a region in Croatia where I come from) as I am, we are known to take things easily, this coffee too got to be a long one. And now I need to cross that mountain. In the greatest heat. And as if I am totally oblivious of everything surrounding me, as if my brain is totally turned off, as if I have a total blackout. I didn’t think much about, high temperatures, high mountain to cross!
I move on, totally unaware of anything. It was then that I learned that I needed to read a bit about the specifics of hiking each following day of the Camino de Santiago. But like I said, I survived.
At the top of this hill called Alto de Perdón are statues of various pilgrims carved in metal. Anyone who has read a bit or inquired online about Camino has seen these structures because they are very striking. So did I, as soon as I got to the top of the hill I knew that I saw this before. It occurred to me again that I hadn’t read anything about today.
The descent was very difficult. I later understood that descents are actually harder than ascents. And I already had a descent from the Pyrenees, it was just my first day and I was really unaware of a lot of what was going to happen to me. Including that I have to pay a lot more attention to the descents than to the ascents.
That day, again late in the afternoon I came to an interesting medieval town called Puente la Reina. I will read later that many cities are made like Puente la Reina, the main street is actually the city. The very interesting long main street around which everything is located, that is Puente la Reina.
I will also start to notice that whenever I come to towns, in the early afternoon, there is nobody on the street. I mean, there is no one! And not only is there no one on the street, but the windows and doors of all the houses are almost barricaded! Whenever I want to talk to someone about it and ask why it is so, they immediately say it’s a siesta. Like I don’t know what a siesta is!
It was not clear to me what the Spaniards were doing for so long in the afternoon barricaded inside their houses. You can’t sleep the entire afternoon. What human body allows you to sleep at night after 3 or 4 hours of afternoon sleep?
Then I realized that actually half of those houses were abandoned. Young people do not like living in these small towns and villages. They move to big cities. And not just for work, but mostly because they simply want to live in these small desolate towns ad villages.
Everything is dead in the afternoon, including here in Puente la Reina. I settled into my guesthouse and immediately went to that main street. You will always find some terrace of a restaurant or bar. I sat and I stayed there for dinner as well.
I was alone that day, and I have to admit that it suited me very well to be alone because the previous 4 days I hung out a lot with people. Namely, I came to the Camino de Santiago to be alone with myself, but I always happened to be with other pilgrims.
I must take this opportunity to say that I noticed quite a few pilgrims on the table across the street, whom I did not know, including Catherine from France. But in the next few days, we will start hanging out.
Anyway, I extended my stay in that cafe, and I can’t describe the desolation and sadness of that beautiful main street of this entirely medieval town around 6 p.m. when I sat down in the cafe. Until about 8 p.m. Then an explosion, I don’t know where all these people came from at once. It was as if all of a sudden they all came out of nowhere! Everything was bustling with people!
The name of the town of Puente la Reina means the Queen’s Bridge, and the bridges will largely mark the way of Saint James. There are many bridges on the Camino de Santiago that were built a thousand years ago for pilgrims. In this town, there is one of the most beautiful bridges on the Camino, if not the most beautiful. And in fact, the town got its name from that bridge.
Day 8 Puente la Reina – Estella, 10.07.2020., 21.7 km
I used to get up between 6.30 and 7.30 a.m. Nights of sleep were regularly great because temperatures at night drop to twice as low as during the day. So if it is 35 degrees celsius during the day, it will be around 15 at night. A refreshing difference compared to Split. I leave the town over the bridge after which the town is named, a truly beautiful bridge.
After the mountain the day before, Alto del Perdón, the landscape changes. No more forests and no more hills. The views reach much further, everything is flatter, there are fewer trees. As an introduction to the Meseta that follows in a few days. It passes through several villages. Today’s hike is shorter, there are no uphills, downhills, very simple.
I have noticed that I am not particularly engaged in my Christian development, and this will only come to the fore even more later. By the end of the Camino de Santiago, I would be forced to give up. Namely, I have noticed that it is really difficult for me to organize myself for prayer or Bible reading.
Praying during Camino de Santiago
So what can be so hard here? During the Camino, I intended to pray. Only to realize later that I can’t because I have to hike, and the temperatures are high, I’m tired, I have to watch under my feet, pay attention when my next break comes, etc. Then in the afternoon when I get to the town/village where I stay for the night, first after I settle down in my room, I go for a drink to relax.
I was still regularly convincing myself that I was a pilgrim on a Christian expedition, not a hiker as I later called everyone who came to the Camino for non-Christian reasons. However I failed to commit myself deeper to the faith, and I was feeling guilty about it.
Thinking about it, I understood that I was a believer and I was Christ’s forever. No one and nothing can change that. So, accordingly, it is not a big problem if during the Camino itself I do not dedicate myself to the faith as deeply as I intended before the Camino de Santiago.
Speaking of drinks, in the beginning, it was beer, then sangria, and in the end, I discovered Tinto de Verano, and I stayed with Tinto de Verano. The beer is too light for me, the sangria is too strong, and Tinto de Verano is just the right measure. When we sit down to relax with a drink, it regularly drags on until dinner.
Namely, as these are small towns/villages, and I have been meeting pilgrims for days now, there will always be a company. Then comes dinner. Then we stay at the table a little longer. And I go back to my room around 10 p.m. when it’s time for bed.
Along the way, I meet Anne from France. And shortly after that, Karlien from Belgium and Sonja from Germany. So the four of us enter Estella, a city of approximately 13,000 inhabitants which is no small number for a town located on the Camino de Santiago. We enter the city over a bridge, which is also impressive, but we have already learned that there are many bridges on the Camino created for pilgrims.
Bridges on Camino Frances
Not just bridges, but the entire towns were built for the sake of pilgrims. Estella is the best example of this. After the bridge, we pass the main street which is also the center of the city, typically Spanish. And we come to our lodgings for today, Los Capuchinos, which until the end of the St James pilgrimage remained in my memory as one of my favorite lodgings.
Maybe because I love monasteries, and this is a monastery converted into a pilgrim’s hostel. It abounds in a monastic ambiance.
No need to mention I went out for a drink after a day of hiking. It was convenient because right across from Los Capuchinos is a local cafe. And of course, we stayed longer than thought. It continued in the evening with the other 3 pilgrims, followed by a bit of conversation. And the day is over.
Day 9 Estella – Los Arcos, 11.07.2020., 23 km
Immediately after leaving Estella, after only 2 km there is the Irache wine fountain. It is of the cutest details on the Camino de Santiago, and certainly one of the most famous. From that fountain flows wine instead of water, and it is logical that many people think that they will take advantage of this fountain for free wine.
Irache wine fountain
That is until they get to the fountain and realize it’s very early in the morning. You come to the Irache wine fountain right after leaving Estella. Who can drink wine at 7 or 8 a.m.? Or who would want to fill a bottle with the wine which would be completely warmed up along the way? Not to mention that in case he or she pours wine into his water bottle, would have no water.
So no matter how much it is famous, and no matter how eagerly many pilgrims wait for the Irache wine fountain, in practice, nothing really happens. It is like an ordinary photo spot, which in reality is all that it is. It’s really just a corner, and it’s kind of hidden too, so it happens that some even pass by it and don’t even see it. It’s actually just a faucet on the back wall of the winery.
Speaking of wine, it is worth mentioning that we are leaving Navarra, the first Spanish region which is on the Camino. Now we enter the second one on the Camino, La Rioja. The La Rioja region is known for its wine, which is valued all over the world. That is why it is not surprising that almost the entire region of La Rioja we will be hiking through scenery filled with vineyards.
Los Arcos is a small town that I really liked. Everything is typically Spanish, including the main square with the cathedral, and of course Los Arcos, the arches, city gates.
After settling into the guest house, I went out to the main square. I sat down in the deep shade, the temperature getting higher and higher. I enjoyed the sangria. I was joined, of course, by some pilgrims. The afternoon drink dragged on. So we continued on to dinner, and the evening generally dragged on. Nothing out of the ordinary, I already realized that this is my Camino de Santiago rhythm.
Camino de Santiago rhythm
When I entered the town of Los Arcos, again there was no soul anywhere. Everything closed, everything dead. My guesthouse was in the center of town, and I was looking forward to chilly nights when you have to cover up well, after a hot day. However, we have already understood that Spaniards leave their houses and go on the streets around 8 pm, and this applies to both youth and children.
At midnight the children shout very intensely down the street and the main town square where my hotel was. And then the young people started with their noise in the middle of the night. It took me a lot of such unpleasant experiences and difficult nights before I started to look for accommodation outside the town center! Take a guesthouse that is outside the town center if you want a good night’s sleep!
I learned this lesson near the end of the Camino de Santiago, and since then my nights have been absolutely great. One should not be angry at people who go out on the street, in the fresh air so late, one should only adapt to it. Finally, the sun sets in the summer in Spain only around 10.30 p.m.
Day 10 Los Arcos – Logroño, 12 July 2020, 28 km
In the next two days, there were more kilometers to cover than before. I was not afraid of it and I was not particularly worried that I have to cover as many as 28 kilometers today. The longest distance so far.
I woke up to thunder and the sky, especially in the direction I was going, was very threatening. Not only was I not afraid of the rain, but I was also looking forward to hiking the Camino trail in the rain.
Rain equipment for Camino de Santiago
The rain mostly bypassed me, but I still used my poncho. It was the second occasion that I used it on my Camino de Santiago, and also the last one. I almost need it a third time, at the entrance to the town of Ponferrada, but it didn’t.
So that’s it, I had twice some rain on my summer Camino Frances, but nothing scary or strong.
Camino de Santiago passes through vineyards and several towns and villages on today’s 28 kilometers, but it is definitely worth mentioning the city of Viana, which won me over at first sight. A beautiful medieval town.
I couldn’t resist drinking coffee on the main street, next to the main square. It is not a bad idea to stay overnight in Viana to shorten today’s 28 km. But my goal was Logroño because I wanted to visit cities on this Camino, and Logroño was an interesting city for me who knows geography well. And not only as one of the large cities but also as the capital of the Spanish region of La Rioja.
The entrance to Logroño was terribly strenuous and difficult. Before going to the Camino de Santiago walk, reading the guidebooks, I remember well that it is suggested in Burgos to take a bus to enter the city. Apparently, the 8 km entrance is through impersonal buildings. This long street right now that introduces you to the city of Logrono is simply strenuous. So I was convinced they meant Logroño. It was terribly difficult for me, hot, endless.
When I came to town, a mistake I had not yet realized, my guesthouse was again in the center, on the main pedestrian street. As soon as I walked into the room and saw this I knew it would be hard to sleep. Yet I still didn’t realize I had to book rooms outside the city center. But this night I used earplugs for the first time, and the only time.
Sleeping options on Camino de Santiago
I was well informed about earplugs back in Split because before going to the Camino I could not imagine what my sleeping arrangements would look like. And somehow I kept imagining it had to be with the other pilgrims in the multi-bed rooms. Until I came to Camino and saw that the Camino is really well organized and that there are accommodation types for everyone’s taste.
Of course, I also carried earplugs with me, made of wax. They are better than silicone ones. In Estella, Anne from France explained to me in detail how to use them. Yes, there are tricks.
Next time when I will do the Camino, I will stay overnight in Viana.
Logroño is quite a fine city. It has an impressive cathedral and a nice pedestrian zone. Drinks, restaurants, tapas everywhere. Logroño is famous for its tapas. Of course, I tried them. But before that, I went to dinner, for a pilgrim’s menu. It is still not clear to me how suddenly there were at least 10 of us pilgrims. And I only started with 3 of them.
After dinner, I went for a walk around the center of Logroño, and then I met the pilgrims I met the other day, in Zubiri. I felt “at home” when I saw them.
Firstly because I didn’t expect to see them anymore, secondly because then I realized that I was really going to be encountering all those pilgrims who started off when I did.
Someone always catches up with someone, and then someone speeds up the pace, then someone slows down, etc. I continued to hang out with most of them until the end of the Camino de Santiago.
Day 11 Logroño – Nájera, 13 July 2020, 30 km
Apart from the fact that this day was the longest on my way of Saint James in terms of mileage, it will remain in my bitter memory as a day when I turned wrong, so I made an additional at least 5 km! And in the awful heat! I was so angry with myself that it happened to me that out of anger I came, I would say among the first pilgrims to today’s town – Najera!
I hurried because I was driven by that rough urge, anger! And it’s not anger at the fact that I took a wrong turn and went the wrong way, but anger at myself because I remember exactly where I took the wrong turn, and how stupidly I took the wrong turn. Totally unnecessary!
Marked trail on Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago trail is very well marked. Indeed yellow arrows are everywhere and stones with a blue mark on which is the yellow scallop sign. But here and there it happens that a turn is not very clearly marked. Yet with today’s technologies and applications, it’s easy to see where you are and where to go.
Even today I will not understand why I went the wrong way at that turn where there was no sign. I turned wrong because it seemed more logical to me to go the other way. And if I had just looked at Google Maps! It shows clearly the “Camino de Santiago”, I would not have gone in the wrong direction. Oh, how I remember that day!
I already mentioned that on the way out of Pamplona I went in the wrong direction twice, so I had to go back. As irritating as it is, especially the part where you have to go backtrack, it is perfectly normal to sometimes turn wrong on the Camino walk! More annoying yet is constantly thinking about how unnecessarily you’ve made some extra mile
After Najera, I made two more wrong turns, meaning I did additional kilometers. The fact is that sometimes, but very rare there is no clearly marked turn. In larger cities, it is also sometimes easy to get lost. But only if the yellow arrows are not followed carefully.
And I’ve learned a lesson. When you’re not sure, turn on Google Maps. It largely shows you the Camino de Santiago or turn on one of the many Camino apps. These apps, like Google Maps, when you turn them on, just guide you.
Let’s forget this incident where I turned wrong and did a lot of extra kilometers. I did laundry, walked through the town, sat down, drank, had dinner, hung out with other pilgrims. I relaxed very quickly and forgot about the stress of the day.
Day 12 Nájera – Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 14 July 2020, 21 km
Hiking the Camino de Santiago today is quite pleasant. True it is hot, but the scenery is quite beautiful. There are lots and villages along the road for water and refreshments, and the mileage today is nothing particularly strenuous.
Beautiful medieval town
Today’s goal, Santo Domingo de la Calzada will remain etched in my memory as one of the most beautiful small Spanish medieval towns. Small towns like this I imagined in my head before the Camino. The town is truly beautiful. Full of historic buildings, mostly religious since the city is closely connected with the Camino de Santiago.
Not only did I really like the city but I also liked everything else today related to the Camino. That also applies to the people, the pilgrims. A Portuguese couple invited me to join them for dinner, I had a drink in the main historic street with 3 pilgrims from France, then in the main square I met again the same group I had been seeing for days, and I sat with them on the sidewalk, had a drink. I even read the Bible with one hippy hiker.
All in all, today was a very pleasant day, carefree and easy.
Day 13 Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Belorado, 15 July 2020, 24 km
In the first village today where we sat down for breakfast, Grañon, I performed a somersault. I fell off my chair and rolled over. Had it been recorded, it would surely have gone viral. Funny from this aspect, however, it could actually have been very bad.
You realize from the first day of the Camino that it is usually not possible to have breakfast in the hostel where you spent the night. There is no restaurant in the albergues. It’s just a place to stay overnight. And when you start hiking, it is generally very early, and there is still nothing open in the town/village.
Breakfast options on Camino de Santiago trail
It is therefore common to have breakfast after the first long walk that day, after for example 1 or 2 hours of hiking. So even today, after 6 km, just over 1 hour of walking, comes the town of Granon. Often there is a cafe with ready-made offers for pilgrims at the very entrance to the village. These cafes are there specifically for pilgrims.
The terrain for hiking today is quite pleasant, without any major efforts, except that it is very hot. I arrive at my destination today, the charming town of Belorado at my usual time, that is early afternoon. Everything is asleep, there is no soul anywhere, everything is closed.
So a classic image that follows me and that will follow me throughout my St James pilgrimage. After settling into my Caminante guesthouse, I head to the main square, around the corner, for my usual drink for relaxing. I was alone for a very short time. Namely, as soon as I sat down, Catherine joined me. Then other pilgrims began to join me at the table.
And so until dinner, and then I went to dinner at my guesthouse, where I finally ate a typical Spanish dish – paella. Here a great blogger, Negah, from Germany enters the scene. We will be meeting until the last day of my Camino de Santiago.
By the way, I started using Booking.com exclusively to book accommodation on my Camino de Santiago. I say exclusively because I would call by phone till now. However, communicating over the phone could be weird, complicated, etc., so I just decided to switch to Booking.com. And I gave the first review, also the last one on Booking.com.
Great hosts in Camino de Santiago accommodations
I couldn’t resist Booking.com’s automatic message to rate the facility I spent the night at. Because the two ladies who served at the guesthouse were exceptional. And the guesthouse was absolutely good. This was my first and last review. Since I used Booking.com very intensively on the Camino de Santiago routes, I realized that I wasn’t feeling comfortable to say clearly what I think about the facility itself, when the hosts are simply great.
This was especially evident in Mansilia de la Mula. The hosts were exceptional, but there are also quite unpleasant things in the guesthouse that bother you, and you can’t tell the real situation. I say this because I also looked at the reviews when choosing the guesthouse, and I realized that the clients would rate the host as exceptional, but never mentioning the guesthouse itself.
Clients would not have the heart to say that the accommodation is actually bad, that there is a lot of noise on the road, that it is dilapidated, etc. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s business, so I didn’t give anyone reviews on Booking.com anymore. But these two ladies and their guesthouse “Caminante” in Belorado deserved it, and a very good review too.
By the way, today I entered the third of the four autonomous provinces in Spain through which the Camino trail passes. After Navarre and La Rioja, I entered the autonomous province of Castilla y Leon. Spain is divided into 17 autonomous provinces.
Day 14 Belorado – San Juan de Ortega, 16 July 2020, 24 km
Today is an easy day on our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage as far as the terrain is concerned. Everything is flat, however, the heat is strong. I wanted to spend the night in a small town, as has been the case so far. In these small places, I have all the necessary things that civilization has to offer, and on the other hand, I have quiet nights.
So I was a little suspicious today since my destination is a place with about 30 inhabitants, I thought there would be nothing. Later I will have more such situations where I am located in some more places like this. But it turned out to be a real hit for me.
On one hand, it has everything you need as a pilgrim, like a hotel, restaurant, cafe, church, the main square. On the other hand, it is very quiet to sleep. And we’ve already figured out how important silence at night is to me. On top of that, if it’s a cold night, there is nothing more to wish for! And here was a very cold night, and no living soul anywhere!
I saw the Portuguese couple, Elena and Oscar again, with whom I had dinner today. And at the entrance to the village, I was greeted by an exclamation of my name, the group of 7 pilgrims that I have been seeing since day two was sitting right there.
Groups on Camino de Santiago trails
Just to clarify, they all went to the Camino on their own. However, they found themselves on the same wavelengths and continued to hike together. They became the so-called “group”. I also became part of that group, although as I explained at the beginning of the blog, I didn’t expect to meet people. But by the end of the trip, we were still together, and we became friends.
I even got the nickname Gandalf, after the wizard from the Lord of the Rings. Because we had in the group one fan of the Lord of the Rings, Ruben, who gave us all the name of some character from the Lord of the Rings. I was Gandalf because I would always show up out of nowhere. Like for example today. The seven of them sit at the table and drink, and here I am slowly entering the place right next to their table!
Groups are really being formed, and everyone belongs to some group, totally not expecting it. It just happens because you constantly meet the same set of people and friendships and sympathies are born. This is not to say that other pilgrims who are not part of that group will be less important, by no means! My “group” counted for me, in addition to these 7 at least, 10-15 other pilgrims, including this Portuguese couple with whom I am going to have dinner tonight.
Because all of this, I remember quite fondly of San Juan de Ortega.
Day 15 San Juan de Ortega – Burgos, 17 July 2020, 25 km
Today I am going to Burgos and am looking forward to it for several reasons. Firstly because it is another large city that I will get to know better after Pamplona. Secondly, because this is where I have my day off. So I’ll have a whole extra day. In the morning when I get up, I have absolutely no plans.
Today’s day of hiking the Camino de Santiago is also quite undemanding, except of course the heat that intensifies as the day progresses. However, I definitely need a long sleeve in the morning, up to 10 a.m because it’s chilly. But even at 11 a.m., it’s still not hot. And by 11 o’clock we have already covered a large part of today’s way.
Getting up early to avoid the heat
In fact, this is the answer to the question of why early risers rush to the day’s destination as early as at 6 and even 5 a.m. To avoid heat. But my way of thinking was different.
First of all, I always wondered what to do in that small village at 11 am. To this question, other pilgrims answer me that they are going to rest. Okay, but are you going to sleep all day, until evening, then go to dinner, then sleep again?
Cudos to the body that can do this biologically. Plus, at the time you come to the destination it gets hot in the multi-bed rooms, where it is like a sauna because the sun is at its strongest. And the sun is the strongest around 3, 4 p.m.
Also, I’ve always wondered at those who complain a lot and incessantly of “oh, it’s so hot.” So what will happen to you if it’s hot, even if it’s terribly, very hot? We’re covered, appropriately dressed, we have water, you have shade every so often to sit down and rest. The heat didn’t kill anyone. I was never in a hurry because I didn’t want to come to the destination at 11 a.m. and the heat didn’t bother me that much.
I would get up without an alarm clock exactly when my body wanted it, between 6.30 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. Never later, only once did I get up at 6 a.m. Without haste I would get ready, I would slowly start hiking that day’s Camino. Without any pressure, no hurry, slowly, with frequent breaks, enjoying the scenery, meditating. And from this point, I think my way of doing the Camino was correct. And I am deeply convinced of the irregularity of getting up before dawn, rushing, hurrying, marathons, stress.
When to start hiking Camino in the morning
I would advise all future hikers and pilgrims to walk the Camino this way. After all, just today’s day of hiking can testify in my favor. Beautiful views, all sorts of things along the way, including the Atapuerca site, where the oldest human bones, nearly 800,000 years old, were found. The Atapuerca site has been declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site.
Today I come to the city of Burgos, meaning a little more than 500 km from my final destination, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I remember one detail about Burgos, preparing and reading about Camino de Santiago back in Split. And that is the entrance to Burgos.
When you come from nature to where Burgos starts, that is where a long, flat road begins and is 8 kilometers long. The first part of that long road is the industrial zone, and then it turns into a residential area, tall and inconspicuous buildings on both sides of the road.
Take the bus for entering Burgos
Glowing asphalt, all somehow inconspicuous, and very strenuous. For “entering” Burgos, I read that you should take a bus, which will take you through that tiring entrance to Burgos within a few minutes. For some reason, that detail stuck in my head. When I got to that “entrance” to Burgos, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.
I took that bus. That turned out to be a really good thing. Especially since I saw from the bus two pilgrims I had previously met who were walking that 8 km, Carina from Germany and Alina from Russia. They later told me it was really difficult.
Let’s add to this that this bus is hard to resist. When you come to that, let’s call it the “entrance” to Burgos, there, at that crossroads, is a cafe/restaurant. It is very well located in terms of distance done and fatigue of pilgrims, for coffee, sandwich, refreshments.
You relax, maybe you don’t want to walk anymore when you see that endless flat road that leads you to the city center. You see the bus stop right in front of the restaurant! There’s no way I’d walk to downtown Burgos.
Many do not want to get on the bus because of the principle. Namely, many pilgrims are called “cheaters”. And this applies to those who do only part of the Camino de Santiago. Only a portion of it, for example, a week, or who go by bike, or who shorten the Camino and go by bus every now and then to the next city, who send backpacks by taxi to the next destination, etc. Caling them cheaters however is just an innocent joke.
The real pilgrim/hiker will be the one who started in Saint Jean Pied de Port and ended in Santiago de Compostela, walked all the way, always carried the backpack, there was no skipping routes. But I think that this 8 km of entering Burgos can still be “forgiven”.
Burgos is beautiful, the cathedral is something truly amazing. Of course, I was with the pilgrims, took a walk around the city, and left a more detailed visit for tomorrow.
Day 16 Burgos, 18 July 2020
I dedicated the day to Burgos. The Cathedral of Burgos is something so magnificent that neither can it be described nor can images faithfully portray that splendor. That is why the cathedral in Burgos is inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. And you should definitely visit it. And get a stamp in the pilgrim’s passport. Because while some pilgrims took the stamps in every cafe, one was enough for me every day, in the guesthouse, and in the cathedrals.
Magnificent cathedral in Burgos
In addition to visiting the cathedral as a tourist, I was in the cathedral twice more, yesterday and today, at Holy Mass. I always come out of Mass incredibly refreshed after meeting the living Christ, but here the very glow of the cathedral left an even stronger impression on me. And the Holy Masses were not even in the main nave of the cathedral but in the lateral chapels. Impressive!
Now I have already been to Masses in two cathedrals, in Pamplona, and Burgos. And the next one will be in the also very impressive cathedral, in Leon.
With the pilgrim Negah, I went to the “must-see” landmark of Burgos, the Museum of Evolution. As previously mentioned, we passed through the town of Atapuerca where the oldest human remains in the world were found, almost 800,000 years old. And what was found in the sites in Atapuerca is exhibited in the modern Museum of Evolution in Burgos.
Burgos Museum of Evolution
And while the museum is truly impressive as a building and very modern in concept, yet what is on display requires quite a bit of imagination to put the two and two together. But still, it’s definitely worth going to visit this museum.
In Burgos, of course, I also took advantage of the big city, the laundromat. As I mentioned before, I later realized that every guesthouse in small towns and villages has both a washing machine and a dryer, and since then I have always done laundry in those small places. I no longer walked around big cities with a bag of dirty clothes to the laundromat and back to the hotel.
With other pilgrims, I went to have some drinks, food, tapas… and I began to eat more intensely the so-called “pulpo Gallego”, or octopus in the Galician way. It feels like I’m slowly heading towards the Galicia region, whose capital is precisely Santiago de Compostela.
Day 17 Burgos – Hontanas, 19 July 2020, 31 km
The area that follows between Burgos and Leon is called “Meseta”, and it caused some awe in me, but the fear definitely – not! All the guidebooks always emphasize that this is a difficult section, that everything together is very scary, etc. But everything is about good preparation!
Meseta is a huge Spanish plateau, known for its extremely high temperatures, routinely above 40 degrees Celsius in summer. Without a shred of shade, and very sparsely populated. But, as we have already said, with good preparation everything is easy! So, make sure that you always fill the water at the fountain, be very well aware of the kilometers, that is, when the next resting area place comes. When the shade comes, have some rest. And with this, you are ready for the Meseta!
Meseta – high temperatures in summer
I am not in mid-July and the temperatures are really very high. But it is not wet, it is dry, so it is bearable. You need to have a big hat to cover you well and that’s it. Still, make sure the hat isn’t black as it was in my case. Black attracts the sun. The only thing I would change from this point of view, and only maybe, is that I would have a light long sleeve. Because in short T-shirts, the sun was burning my arms a lot.
Another tip, I started to apply the rule to drink lots more than necessary of water at the water fountains, knowing that it would evaporate through sweat. But at least I was a little safer at the Meseta knowing that I was well rehydrated.
And we set off for the Meseta. After a couple of small towns, I came to the vast, actually endless wheat fields. And that’s it. This is the Meseta. Nowhere a single tree, nowhere a hill, no change in terrain. Just opaque fields of wheat. And strong heat. But if you have prepared properly, the Meseta is not a big deal. And when I say that a single tree is nowhere to be found, it is true.
However, here and there a tree comes across, but for example only every 2 or 3 kilometers. And then you have to take advantage of the shade that that tree offers. It is actually said that if you have come to the Camino de Santiago to meditate then this is the time to do so! It even seems as if there are no other pilgrims! Such desolation reigns here, of course only at first sight.
A little later I started seeing electric wind farms. And then more and more often. And as soon as I saw them, in this environment, it reminded me of Cervantes, and his Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I never read Cervantes, but I knew he set the story in Castilla. And I was in Castilla now. And those modern wind farms are really kind of reminiscent of the mills that Don Quixote fought against.
It was only later that I learned that Cervantes referred to the lower Castilla. Because there is lower and upper Castilla, two different autonomous provinces. One is Castilla y Leon and the other is Castilla la Mancha. But never mind, they are both Castillas. And speaking of Castilla, it is worth noting that in Mexico and other Latin American countries Spanish is spoken. But that same language in Spain is called Castilian, Castellano. Because what we call Spanish is a language from this region.
We will also find out, or perhaps we already know, that other languages are spoken in Spain too, such as Basque, Galician, Catalan. And we are not talking about dialects, but about real, different languages. And we won’t even start talking about dialects and their richness in Spain.
I’ve already started using apps more intensively, especially Google Maps to see how far I’m away from today’s accommodation. And while in principle I didn’t use the applications often, and especially not so in the beginning, purely so as not to demotivate me and not to lose the meaning of Camino de Santiago, this time however I was looking at when will I come to today’s village.
I got tired, it was a very long day, very hot. Google Maps, shows only 400 m, then 300 m, then 200 m, but the village is nowhere in sight. All just a vast plain.
And then at one point in front of me, down, Hontanas. As if in some kind of a crack down below is Hontanas. And I went down to the village, settled into my guesthouse, and went for a beer! But the village is so small and sleepy that there are no cafes!
Swimming pool on Camino Frances route
However, there is a municipal swimming pool to which residents of all the surrounding small villages come. And there is a cafe at the swimming pool. I later realized that in many small villages like this there is a swimming pool and many pilgrims use it to relax and enjoy. So, all future pilgrims – be sure to bring bathing suits if you go to the Camino de Santiago in the summer!
So with a drink, then dinner and chilling out after dinner, I ended my first day of walking on the Meseta.
Day 18 Hontanas – Boadilla, 20 July 2020, 30 km
Today was the first time that I had two long sections walking the Camino trail, one after the other. Two sections 10 km long each. At the first destination after 10 km, I found nothing open, and then the other 10 km followed. I’m not used to 10km + 10km without a coffee break. Which made me nervous. And with the heat that prevailed, I was afraid of running out of water. Also, I didn’t read my guidebook well and that’s why I backtracked at one point!
Lesson learned – read the Camino guidebook
Namely, I made an additional1.5 km in one direction to one village for which I misread that it has water, a cafe, etc. all closed. Then I also backtracked 1.5 km. And then I continued my way. So, on that difficult day, thanks only to my carelessness because I didn’t read the guidebook well, I did the extra 3km on an already difficult day.
The village I was looking for was maybe just 1 km in front of me. I almost cried! I wouldn’t even know that the village is only 1km ahead of me if it hadn’t been for Carina from Germany calling me to ask where I was. She’s right there in front of me, just sat down for coffee. I said I was coming right away, and I really came in about 15 minutes.
To this day, I don’t know if I would cry or laugh about this awkward day. What I know for sure is that this day created trauma for me and that I fell into depression for the next few days. All because I didn’t read the guidebook for the day. But at the same time, that day I told myself that I would read in more detail what awaits me every following day.
One learns from mistakes. So I learned an important lesson, and only halfway through the Camino de Santiago. So people, read before the departure of that day what kind of a day awaits you!
I am convinced that because of this trauma I fell into a depression that kept me for a good few days. I was really in a bad mood, although it wasn’t visible on me. Almost all the guidebooks say that pilgrims come to this state of mind at a certain moment and that this is absolutely normal. And it’s not because of a trauma, but in general, because of the Camino itself.
It is said that at one point, more or less everyone is going through some kind of crisis. I am sure I know what was the reason for my depression. So, I had a good reason for this crisis.
Upon arrival in Boadilla, I was greeted by something I was not used to on the Camino – the air conditioning in the hotel! And as soon as I walked into the lobby, I felt very refreshed. After unpacking, I sat down in the air-conditioned lobby and ordered the first of several drinks.
Then Carina the German joined me and we continued with a drink, and then moved to the terrace of the hotel for dinner. And there was a swimming pool! Many pilgrims enjoy the swimming pool very much. Wherever they found one, they would readily use it. Like today in Boadilla or yesterday in Hontanas. After all, Carina hurried to the swimming pool too.
Personally, I could go easily without the pool. Either because I’m lazy, because after a strenuous walk I just want to relax with a drink, or because I’m from a city that is on the coast so I’m not eager to swim in the swimming pool. It was so enjoyable in Boadilla today that Carina decided to stay another day here and res.
Day 19 Boadilla – Carrion de los Condes, 21 July 2020, 25 km
Camino de Santiago continues to cross the Meseta. Today’s goal will be a nice, typical Spanish town, Carrion de Los Condes.
I’m embarking on a new 25km hike, and I have to admit that it’s really cold in the morning. After the first 6km, I sit in the first cafe for breakfast. There are already some pilgrims that I met previously, a young couple from France. We chat having a coffee. And here comes Carina, and she said she would stay an extra day in Boadilla. She changed her mind and moved on today. Now the 4 of us are having breakfast and are chatting.
One of the untruths I’ve read about the Camino de Santiago is that you’re only 5% of the time in nature and as much as 95% along roads and the sounds of traffic. It is quite true that you are often by or near the road, and it is quite true that the sounds of traffic are often heard. But I wouldn’t even say 50% of the Camino. Much less actually. Mostly it’s really in nature and it’s really beautiful.
But it’s often along the roads as well, and I have to admit it spoils the experience. But if you forget that you are next to the roads, the road will be no problem. Unless, of course, what happened to me happens to you too. The worst moment of my Camino de Santiago was when a cat ran right in front of me to the road under a car. I don’t want to tell the sequel. In any case, today the road follows us a lot.
And let it be, there must be an introduction to Leon, because getting in and out of Leon is really tiring. I would say there are roads around Leon that follow us at least 7 days. So it will be for the most part along the road today. So much so that today I didn’t even have anything to take picture of. And otherwise, I take a lot of photos.
I arrived at today’s destination. The last 8km I went with Carina. It was obviously very difficult for her to walk the last few kilometers, but she pushed through.
I continue to hang out with the pilgrims, here I see again some pilgrims that I had completely forgotten about in the meantime. And now we all go to dinner and socialize together. This is Camino for you!
Day 20 Carrion de los Condes – Ledigos, 22 July 2020, 22 km
The longest section in one piece on the Camino de Santiago comes today, 17 km. The next longest is 13 km, and only in a few days. And that’s. The other sections, if they were really long, are, say, 10 km. But in principle, every few kilometers there would always be towns, villages, rest areas, etc. But today we start the Camino with the longest section – 17 km.
Prepare food and water
For today’s section, walkers and pilgrims prepare quite well, both in terms of water and in terms of food. Luckily I don’t have to eat until lunch, so food is not a problem for me. But I still bought an extra 1.5 liters of water the day before. And we all reminded each other of today’s long section. And we set off without fear.
Halfway through, an enterprising guy set up a caravan van with sandwiches, refreshments, ice-cream, coffee, all sorts of things. Also, there were plastic chairs and stools, sun umbrellas. All this in beautiful nature, on the grass. Splendid! We commented on that wonderful coffee break, what a pity that we were so worryingly preparing for today. Which actually turned out to be quite a simple day.
In the next village, I left an unopened 1.5-liter bottle of water, to help some other pilgrims! 1.5 liters is a heavy extra load.
When I came to Calzadilla de la Cueza, I was so happy! After 17 km I reached civilization. Needless to say, this is where I rest and also had a coffee. Lately, I’ve started taking ice-cream too. Strange because otherwise I never eat ice-cream. A married couple from Portugal, Oscar and Elena somehow got me hooked on ice-cream because they take ice cream after every lunch and after every dinner! I was happy and relaxed. It was not even 6 km to my today’s destination, Ledigos.
In Ledigos, in addition to the already mentioned Carina, there were also Eric and another Karina (with K). He is from Spain, she is from Germany. So we hung out all afternoon in Ledigos, then went for dinner at my guesthouse, and then some more socializing over drinks. I would like to emphasize that I really liked the guesthouse La Morena, I would say it was the best guesthouse so far on the Camino de Santiago. Not diminishing the value of the monastery Los Capuchinos in Estella.
The village has only a few dozen inhabitants, hence it was very tranquil. The night is downright cold, helped me sleep soundly. Amazing!
Day 21 Ledigos – Bercianos, 23 July 2020, 26 km
While on the Way of Saint James, I couldn’t write down, although I wish I had kept some kind of diary. But as I see it, it’s not necessary, because I remember everything as if it was yesterday. If I forget something, I look in my guides where I’ve been. Then I look at my photo gallery, and everything is clear to me. On Booking.com I look at the guesthouse I was at, and then I have a completely rounded day, I remember it all.
Yet, for today I can’t say I remember anything else than that I greeted Carina when she came to the village. This is important because the group later held me even more strongly as Gandalf, to appear out of nowhere. So this time I had a drink in Bercianos at the beginning of the village, at the very entrance. And Carina was glad to see me, a familiar face in an unknown place to wave to her! Then another Karina joined us. O.p. both are from Germany, one is Carina, the other is Karina.
Apart from this, I have no other memories of today. Also when I go through the picture gallery, I see that I was only taking pictures of the road that day. The Camino today was basically a road.
The Camino was pleasant that day, the accommodation was quite good. All in all, an easy, quiet day. I would like to mention that I still felt the trauma of the other day when I did another 3 km in vain on a very difficult day, but also that I was slowly coming to my senses. A little more and that trauma will stay far behind me.
Today we are on half way of the Camino de Santiago, both in days and mileage.
Day 22 Bercianos – Manslia de la Mulas, 24 July 2020, 26 km
I’m still on Meseta, it’s still extremely hot, but everything is going well. The truth is that it gets a little harder for me around noon, 1 pm, 2 pm when I come to the day’s destination because that’s when the temperatures are the highest. But I really put up with it with no major problems.
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but already on the first day of hiking I felt something very natural: as soon as I enter the room I take off my heavy hiking shoes as well as hiking socks and put on flip flops. Only on the first day, in Zubiri, I made the mistake of not taking off my shoes right away. Instead, I went out in my shoes to a cafe for a drink. But I repeat, it was only the first time.
After that, literally every time I come to the guesthouse, I first take off my shoes and put on my flip-flops, and second, I go out for a drink.
At first sight, hiking today was quite monotonous I would say, but that would be a big lie. The views are still beautiful, I love nature very much, every nature. Even when it comes to the plains and wheat fields, I still feel a lot of beauty. And since I’m coming to Leon tomorrow I started to feel the fourth Spanish autonomous province on the Camino de Santiago – Galicia, everything was great for me. Speaking of Leon, that is where my third day of rest is, after Pamplona and Burgos.
I came to today’s destination, Mansilia de las Mulas. I booked the guesthouse again through Booking.com. It was never difficult for me to choose because in these small towns on the Camino. On one hand, there are not many choices. On the other hand, you just check the price and reviews and the choice is easy. However here I told myself that I would never write reviews because I could write all sorts of ugly things about accommodation. And here I actually realized the absurdity of reviews not only on Booking.com but also everywhere.
Great hospitality, bad accommodation
Namely, the couple that runs the guesthouse received incredible praise in reviews. They also have a restaurant. And to put it mildly, I was fascinated by their kindness. Such a natural kindness, I don’t even know how to describe it. They paid so much attention to me, and it is clear that the two are simply good people, and they did not force themselves or try.
But the accommodation is simply bad. First of all, the rooms are above the restaurant, so you can’t close your eyes because of the noise. The mattress on the bed is so sunken, it’s so uncomfortable lying on it, the room is so cramped you can’t turn around, the toilet and the bathroom are in the hallway, I mean horror. But how to say anything bad, when the couple who runs this place are simply two amazing persons. I wanted to write a negative review, not against the couple, but simply so that the future clients have a more realistic picture. And I couldn’t! Although I was very dissatisfied with the accommodation.
In this restaurant that caused me a difficult night, I ate well and hung out with Carina, Karina and Erik.
Day 23 Mansilia de las Mulas – Leon, 25 July 2020, 18 km
Roads, roads, roads, everywhere. I think they followed me for a week, before and after Leon. They really bother, but we have to get over it. However, today’s section is quite short, among the shortest. It is also very urbanized, so I didn’t have many opportunities to take pictures. In fact, today I started listening to music on my cell phone so that time passes faster. So far, I haven’t listened to music not even once in 20 days. But here today I started to listen to music.
I was looking forward to Leon, as another beautiful Spanish city to visit. And it didn’t disappoint me, the city is really beautiful. I saw that on the first day. But I didn’t go sightseeing the first day because I met a lot of pilgrims I have been encountering in previous days. As soon as I settled into the hotel, I came to the main square, the Plaza Mayor, and ordered Tinto de Verano, although my first choice was sangria.
Tinto de Verano – my choice of drink on Camino
But there was no sangria, and the waitress offered me Tinto de Verano, red wine with soda. And from that day on I fell in love with Tinto del Verano, It felt it better than sangria. I can drink it more than sangria and less than beer. Extremely refreshing. The right choice.
I’m in the main square and I’m all by myself, but not for long. Shortly after, there were a dozen of us pilgrims who had been meeting each other since day two, from Zubiri.
Day 24 Leon, July 26 2020
I spent the day in Leon, I really liked this city. The city is the right size, it is full of life, it has very beautiful monuments, and the cathedral, as we have already learned in Spain is breathtaking! In Leon, I went to Mass in the cathedral, and with that, I still partly retained my Christian sense of the pilgrimage.
Spanish food during Camino de Santiago
I enjoyed typical Spanish food, I ate more and more octopus the Galician way, pulpo Gallego, and I completely switched to Tinto de Verano. It also seems to me that I was left alone in Leon, all the other pilgrims left this morning. But then in the afternoon Negah came, and I went to dinner with her.
It was a very relaxing day in Leon.
Day 25 Leon – San Martin del Camino, 27 July 2020, 24 km
Leaving Leon, I find myself about 300 km from Santiago. But today, the Camino takes me along the roads the whole day. So no Camino today in beautiful settings and gorgeous nature. In fact, this is where the only bad event of my Camino happened, when the cat ran under the car literally in front of me. But let’s forget that!
I’m coming to my today’s destination, San Martin del Camino. Fortunately, the accommodation is located right at the beginning of the village. The day was actually interesting to me insofar as, after settling into the hostel, I went to the terrace and stayed there until late in the evening. I didn’t move from that terrace the entire day!
I came here very early that day, the earliest so far. I would say around 12.30 pm. And it seemed to me that everyone who comes to this village goes to this hostel. So it was interesting, a lot of pilgrims/hikers. I sat down at a table, joined by a pilgrim from Germany. Then came Carina, followed by Karina. We sat there all afternoon.
When dinner time came, and that was at 8 pm, we went to eat. After that, we went back to the terrace and continued our conversations. What to say, this is Camino de Santiago for you.
I really liked that part too. However the bed as well as the hostel itself were perhaps the worst so far. But I survived and slept well.
Day 26 San Martin del Camino – Astorga, 28 July 2020, 26 km
Right behind Leon, I can’t help but notice, the Meseta stops. Landscapes are different, there are trees. And from now on it will be greener and greener. No matter we are in the middle of summer.
We arrive at the Hospital / Puente de Orbigo, one of the most impressive bridges on our Camino. This is also where I have my first coffee today. And here I am in the company of several pilgrims. It has now become common to be always more and more of us on coffee breaks than before. But during the hiking, everyone would go their own way.
In fact, that part was very important to me during the whole St James pilgrimage I wanted to be completely alone during the hiking. But I loved so much hanging out with the other pilgrims on coffee breaks, as well as in the afternoon when I arrive at my destination that day.
The city of Astorga has a cathedral with a truly impressive portal, and a house built by Gaudi. Anyone who knows Gaudi’s architecture from Barcelona will easily recognize the author in Astorga as well. The socializing was intense, it started again in the afternoon, and continued until dinner, and even after dinner. And there were at least 10 of us pilgrims who had been seeing each other for days.
Day 27 Astorga – Foncebadon, 29 July 2020, 26 km
The ascents have started, and that’s nice. The views have changed greatly compared to the sections from Burgos all the way till after Leon. One would say that those portions on Meseta were monotonous. However, to me, they were anything but monotonous. Yes, it was hot, but at the same time, there is an indescribable beauty in those plains. But we have passed that part and from today we will have forests, hills, and mountains!
It also seems to me that the Camino de Santiago is now “intensifying” again, precisely because of such a more varied relief. And maybe it’s because Leon was like the last major city, and certainly the last city with a “day off”. From now on, no rest days until Santiago de Compostela. Maybe also because in the air it starts to feel like we are approaching the town of Sarriá, where a very large number of people start their Way of Saint James.
How to get Camino de Santiago certificate – Compostela
Namely, to get the certificate (Compostela) that you have done the Camino, you have to do at least 100 km of hiking. And it starts in the city of Sarriá. Because of all this, I started to get the feeling like the Camino de Santiago was heating up again.
Here, new faces begin to enter the scene, now exclusively Spaniards. So I met Arnau and Octavi from Catalonia, as well as Marcos and Konstantino from Galicia. They joined my already well-established group of pilgrims.
Foncebadon is a small village that was abandoned, but because of the pilgrims, it came alive. Now there are several hostels, restaurants, cafes, and other service activities intended exclusively for pilgrims. In other words, there are no inhabitants, it is on the hill. So it promised a calm and cold night. And so it was.
But before going to sleep, we hang out again, have some drinks and dinner.
Day 28 Foncebadon – Ponferrada, July 30 2020, 27 km
On the way to Ponferrada, I couldn’t help but notice the more and more frequent red crosses on the stone pillars marking the Camino. It became clear to me why when I read that Ponferrada had an important fortress of the Templar Knights. And that castle is impressive! As from a fairy tale! And it stands in the very center of Ponferrada.
But, first things first. When we leave Foncebadon, we come to the so-called Cruz de Ferro. A plain cross on a pile of stones. However, this point is the most important to pilgrims on the Camino, apart from Santiago itself. Tradition dictates that you take a stone from your town, and put it on this pile.
Leave your burden
This should mean that you symbolically leave your burden, your problems behind. You close that book, and you move on. That is why many pilgrims are both mentally, and physically lighter after this because they have left a stone behind. But it is usually a very small stone. I left the stone with a lot of pleasure, but I can’t say that I felt any special relief. For some reason, I had an idea that the stone has to be thrown into the distance. But no, you just put it there on the pile.
Ponferrada is a very interesting city and the last major city before Santiago de Compostela. Here is a very well-preserved crusader castle, a very beautiful cathedral, and the medieval old town. Since I didn’t know anything about this city before the Camino, I was very surprised at how beautiful and pleasant it was.
All the pilgrims go to the Albergue municipal, so I stopped there to hang out. Many of us went together to a nearby restaurant where everyone goes for a pilgrim’s menu. We were surprised by the quantity and quality of food in as many as 5 courses, all of that for only 10 euros! A real feast. Unfortunately, the socializing could not continue because this Albergue, like all other albergues, locks its doors at 10 pm.
Day 29 Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo, 31 July 2020, 23 km
Today we go deep into nature. We are still in the region of Castilla y Leon, the heat is still strong. Bierzo is an area in Spain with a distinctive character.
Upon arrival in Villafranca del Bierzo, I come across Marcos and Constantin who are already drinking beer. I join them and order Tinto de Verano. After settling into my guesthouse that day, I head back to the main square to continue relaxing. Then I noticed the current temperature in the town square, it was 40 degrees celsius!
It really felt those 40 degrees! But luckily there was also a lot of shade. But perhaps above all, it is important that the nights are downright chilly, so one sleeps really well. I went to the main square and saw other pilgrims. We talk, we hang out. Some leave, some more pilgrims come and so it goes on and on. I really feel at home! It went that way until dinner. And then for dinner, we all go to the restaurant together.
Villafranca del Bierzo is beautiful. Unbelievable that such a small town, hidden in the hills, has so much cultural heritage. And monuments are big too, and gorgeous!
Day 30 Villafranca del Bierzo – O Cebreiro, 1 August 2020, 30 km
Leaving Villafranca del Bierzo, the Camino de Santiago follows the new motorway that connects La Coruna with the rest of the country. That is why you hear noise and you see roads, but it doesn’t matter, it still feels deep in nature. Namely, there are hills, mountains, forests, rivers everywhere, we are in a real mountain area.
Breakfast time is about one and a half hours from Villafranca. Upon arrival, at the entrance to the village, there is a cafe and a welcome committee. Lots of pilgrims, many tables occupied. I even had a problem which table to sit at since I know people at each table. Indeed, on the Camino de Santiago, it really feels like at home in situations like this.
Today we have a lot of kilometers to cross on our Camino de Santiago walk, and today we are hitting, after crossing the Pyrenees, probably the most beautiful section of the St James pilgrimage in general. We ascend the mountain up to the fairytale village O Cebreiro. And besides, today we enter the last of the 4 Spanish regions through which the Camino passes – Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia.
Just before entering today’s destination O Cebreiro, there is a sign with the inscription Galicia, and few do not take pictures there. I have already become a friend/follower with many pilgrims on Instagram and Facebook. As my now friends pass this way, they regularly post a picture of themselves with this board on social media.
The views are just incredibly beautiful and one can’t help but enjoy these views. True, the ascent is rather steep, and there are some very difficult sections, but no one is in hurry. There is no excuse for not enjoying these views. I was lucky that the fog started to descend a bit as I approached O Cebreiro. It was the fog that contributed to the amazing ambiance of this interesting place.
O Cebreiro is more like a movie set for Lord of the Rings than a small town. In fact, this is neither a town nor a village. Nobody lives here. How to describe it? It is just a group of some pallozas. Palloza, that’s what huts are called in O Cebreiro. The architecture is quite unusual and such architecture in Spain is found only here.
Outside O Cebreiro, we find such architecture in Scotland, Ireland,… Namely, the Celts settled Galicia a long time ago. That’s why so much is reminiscent of other Celtic countries. Nothing to do with Spain. The music we hear in the bars is Celtic. Many of the inhabitants of Galicia are tall and blue precisely because of their Celtic roots. So not very typical Spanish.
The fog contributed to the unusual ambiance. And also, it was very cold! In the middle of summer, when the sun sets down, not even a long sleeve was enough. You need a real winter jacket! As I was taking pictures of the village after dinner, around 10 pm, I was shivering. That’s how cold it was. No way to catch a steady hand to take pictures properly!
All in all, O Cebreiro remained in my memory as one of the greatest highlights of my Camino de Santiago. In fact, already as I approached the place I felt that there was something different here, something interesting because there were a lot of tourists, a large parking lot for buses, etc. Then I learned that many tourists come to O Cebreiro for a day trip. And they make a big fuss. That’s why it was interesting to spend the night here when tourists leave and the village is empty. Just like on another planet!
Later, the pilgrims who came the day after me told me that there was no fog, so the ambience was less strange than the one I was lucky enough to experience.
Day 31 O Cebreiro – Triacastela, 2 August 2020, 20 km
Leaving O Cebreiro, I was still accompanied by extremely thick fog and very cold weather. I couldn’t resist taking quite a few more pictures in O Cebreiro. This place simply mesmerized me.
The Camino pilgrimage continued with interesting nature, very beautiful landscapes, through the fog. Afterward, the fog dissipated and one could enjoy the beautiful hills of Galicia. And so through the beautiful nature, I come to the little town called Triacastela.
I have to admit that it was refreshing to walk through such beautiful landscapes that gave new strength to the Camino just as the Camino was slowly approaching its end. And we needed such beautiful landscapes after many hard days of Camino de Santiago before and after Leon where we were followed by roads for days.
Triacastela is a typical Spanish small town on the Way of Saint James. It has all the amenities of the city, it has a main street where there are accommodations as well as a large restaurant/cafe that looks like the center of the town. Needless to say, I again met many pilgrims in Triacastela, and we drank and ate together.
In addition, here I met some new pilgrims that I will be encountering in the coming days. Tomorrow we arrive in Sarriá, so the intensity increases. To get a pilgrimage certificate, Compostela, it is enough to walk from Sarriá. But many start the day before. Certainly, the Camino de Santiago has gained a new intensity: a lot of new people are coming to the Camino, the scenery is just as beautiful. For us who have been on the Way of Saint James for a month now, Santiago is mentally getting closer and closer.
Day 32 Triacastela – Sarriá, 3 August 2020, 17 km
Hiking the Camino de Santiago today is undemanding and very easy. It is only 17 km, and consequently, today is the shortest day of the Camino. However, there is another route for today that can be taken, 8 km longer, passing through the town of Samos, where there is a very impressive monastery. But for me, as for many others, it was not at all a question of which route to go. We will go the shorter route!
Sarriá with its approximately 13,000 inhabitants looks like a very big city after the small and very quiet towns of the previous days and lots of nature. I didn’t look much where to sleep, I never did research related to accommodation because it would take me a lot of time, but here in Sarria, I could have easily made a mistake.
Namely, after the modern part of the city, the old town comes which is located exactly on the Camino. In many ways, it helps to be located in the old part of the city. In the old Sarria, there is the main street. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any of the pilgrims this afternoon. It was only in the evening that I arranged with one pilgrim, Cosima, to go to dinner.
Day 33 Sarriá – Portomarin, 4 August 2020, 23 km
Because of the crisis in the world caused by COVID, nothing was normal in the world. That’s why the Camino de Santiago wasn’t as crowded as it usually is. I really didn’t feel any crowd. The whole time the Camino was very pleasant, easy, simple, no problem to find accommodation, no problems whatsoever. I was told that usually in summer the Way of Saint James is incredibly crowded. Well, I haven’t experienced that on the Camino de Santiago, at least not till today.
On today’s easy, simple day, I started hiking around 8 p.m. My guesthouse was very close to the beginning of the Camino trail in Sarria, and when I got off the road to the Camino de Santiago, as out of nowhere a multitude of people began to appear from all sides, all entering the Camino path. I couldn’t even come to my senses, it was very stressful for me. I’m just not used to this crowd.
A lot of pilgrims both in front and behind me all the time. But even that seemed to be only a fraction of the number of people on the Camino in normal years.
Today, many start the Camino de Santiago because from Sarria you can reach those 100 kilometers which are enough for the Camino certificate, theCompostela. The city is big enough, it also has a train station, it is easy for many to get to Sarria and start their Camino from here. But the original meaning of the Camino de Santiago is completely lost here.
The meaning of the Christian pilgrimage
The meaning of the Christian pilgrimage has already been largely lost for those who leave from France and do the whole Camino. They are no longer Christians but simply people who love nature, want to hike through a civilized and well-maintained hiking area, want to visit the beautiful Spanish medieval cities. And on top of all that, the social moment is very important, because as I already mentioned, whether you like it or not, you just meet people.
You even make friends with many and stay in touch. But at least we do the whole Way hiking, we don’t skip sections that seem harder to us, we don’t send backpacks by taxi, we don’t rent bicycles to make the Way easier, etc.
Already up to Sarria it was problematic for me that all the people on the Way of Saint James are called pilgrims. Because they just aren’t pilgrims. That is why in these notes of mine I call such people hikers. That’s what they really are. Talking to others about the motives for coming to the Camino, almost no one said that their motives were a Christian pilgrimage. That’s why it bothered me so much that we were all called pilgrims.
I have nothing against hikers, actually, the route is more than attractive for hiking. But I think Camino participants should be classified into two categories: pilgrims and hikers. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Moreover, many adventurers and hikers were very bothered by the Christian meaning of the Camino.
Certainly in Sarria, the illogicality of calling all the people on the Camino de Santiago a peregrino, or pilgrim, came to the fore even more. Namely, whole families, friends, groups start from here,…. They just laugh, have fun, chat, hang out, not to mention that they yell. Rarely does anyone carry a backpack, everyone sends it by taxi, and the taxi service for backpacks on the way of Saint James is well developed. Each time you send a backpack by taxi costs 5 euros.
Also, I noticed that hikers no longer have hiking equipment, not even hiking shoes. Moreover, everyone is now much more urban, no longer sportily dressed. Some people even hike on the Camino trail in jeans. And when you ask why they are on the Camino, everyone will tell you for fun. No more Christian motive, especially not for hikers from Sarria.
But well, I accepted that. I arrive in Portomarin, a small town that was relocated in the 1960s to build an accumulation lake. It is also a very pleasant town. It was a real pleasure to spend the afternoon in Portomarin. Not to mention that I found myself again with some pilgrims for socializing and dinner. This time it was Cosima from Germany and Silvia from Italy.
Day 34 Portomarin – Palas de Rei, 5 August 2020, 25 km
After yesterday’s stress with an enormous number of newcomers, today I was much more prepared for the crowd. The day is undemanding for hiking, the Camino passes through the beautifully wooded parts of Galicia. Now I’m really quite relaxed, totally feeling like the end of the Camino is approaching. But not the end in the sense that something is coming to an end, but the end in the sense of the goal of my journey. Santiago de Compostela is around the corner. I was happy because I almost reached the goal of the Camino.
As one of the few pilgrims on this Christian pilgrimage, I was looking forward to coming to the tomb of Christ’s apostle, St. James. That is why more and more happiness awoke in me. I could almost touch my goal of this extremely long pilgrimage.
I became very relaxed. So much, that for example that day for the first time in over a month I walked all day in the company. I have never done that before. To all the dear people I met during the Camino, I said in a very clear manner that I wanted to hike alone during the Camino de Santiago itself. No one resented me. Namely, we hung out as soon as we reached the destination of the day, from the very arrival, through dinner, to going to bed.
But during the hike itself, it was extremely important for me to be alone. Until today. Today I started walking 25km at the same time as Antonio from Spain. And we went the entire day together! Including coffee breaks and breaks for rest and taking pictures. Only around 4 pm we arrived at today’s destination – Palas de Rei, which is very late for only 25 km. That’s how much relaxed and carefree I was!
Relaxation and carefreeness continued that day. Immediately upon check-in at my hotel, I went for a pulpo Gallego. This was easy because my hotel also had a well-established restaurant with a terrace. Right upon arrival at my hotel, I saw some pilgrims on that terrace. And we said to meet in 15 minutes. And so began the fun that lasted well into the night that day.
I ordered the pulpo Gallego and Tinto de Verano. In addition to these hikers, some more came (Cosima and Mirko). In the meantime, I also sent Antonio the location where we were. And so it went until evening. Then we went to the hostel/restaurant across the street after dinner, where the party continued.
I had one typical Spanish evening there. It was crowded with hikers from all over Spain, and some other countries (such as me, Mirko, Cosima). We enjoyed the merry guitar playing of one Spaniard, the others sang, clapping their hands, and someone danced. All this with sangria and Tinto de Verano. Then Spanish tapas came to our tables. What an evening to remember! I really liked it. However, here too I cannot fail to notice how much the Camino has become one ordinary secular pastime of the Spaniards. Just fun, socializing, carefree.
Still I will always remember this evening as one of the most enjoyable of the entire Camino de Santiago!
Day 35 Palas de Rei – Arzúa, 6 August 2020, 28 km
I am very relaxed, but it is still 28 km today, so I wanted to avoid coming as late as yesterday to the destination. And today’s destination is Arzúa.
Upon arriving in Arzúa, after settling into the hotel, I went to the main square. On my way to the center, I met Carlos on the street. A hundred times I thought how I feel at home in situations like this where I meet a fellow pilgrim in a city unknown to me. Carlos went to do the laundry but he told me that Cosima was in the main square, drinking and that he would join us in a short while.
And so in the main square, in pleasant company in the deep shade, there was a concert of traditional music. We were joined by many other pilgrims. From one table where only Cosima was sitting, all of a sudden there were several tables connected and again there were very many of us!
I had dinner with Cosima, Silvia and Mirko. And then everyone went their separate ways. Just a little more and we’re in Santiago!
Day 36 Arzúa – Pedrouzo, 7 August 2020, 19 km
Well rested after a great night’s sleep, I’m going on today’s “only” 19 km. Santiago de Compostela is even closer to me, but I’m still in no hurry the last kilometers. I still enjoy every day immensely. I can’t say that the views were particularly beautiful today. To be honest, I don’t even remember what nature looked like on this day of walking. Maybe because I felt so relaxed that I started listening to music more and more as I walked.
Upon arriving at today’s destination O Pedrouzo, what I remember the best is again pulpo Gallego. But that’s because I ate two of them today, one for lunch and one for dinner. I didn’t spend much time with the pilgrims today, only in the afternoon for a drink with Miguel, and in the evening for dinner with Mirko from Italy.
Day 37 O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela, 8 August 2020, 19 km
Here I come to Santiago de Compostela today! So the Camino took me 35 days. If I hadn’t taken extra days in Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon, it would have been 32 days. And I think this is optimal.
On average, you hike some 25 km a day, which is covered with some ordinary readiness in about 5 hours. But it makes sense that you take breaks along the way and that is why the Camino lasts longer than 5 hours daily. But some don’t want to take breaks and want to hike very intensely and avoid the heat.
Some do more than 30 km every day, up to 40 km. They came with a fixed and clear idea to literally just hike the length of the Camino de Santiago. I can’t help but notice that they don’t hang out with absolutely anyone, they don’t have any social life on the Camino. They don’t even experience the Camino religiously, because during the hike one gets tired and can’t think in a concentrated way. But everyone has their reasons.
View of the Cathedral of Santiago
There was actually a lot of nature and forest today which really surprised me because usually when you approach a big city more and more roads start to appear around us. From Mount Gozo you can finally see Santiago. Even in very ancient times, this place was very important for pilgrims because from this place you can see the Cathedral of Santiago, and I guess there would be an outpouring of emotions. I personally felt nothing.
I definitely wanted to get to the sign marking the entrance to the city of Santiago, and immortalize it with a good selfie. And that’s what I did.
Entering Santiago de Compostela, I saw a lot of other hikers and pilgrims on the “Santiago” city limit mark. I really didn’t see any outpourings of emotions. For them, it was just important to fulfill their goal, and that was to hike to Santiago.
And be sure to get your “Compostela”, a certificate of completed pilgrimage.
And it is important for everyone to get to the main square Obradoiro, where the cathedral is located. There I did see some outbursts of emotions.
The city is absolutely impressive! The whole center is like a museum, full of valuable and very beautiful monuments. The architecture of the buildings itself is different than in other parts of Spain. It is no wonder that this city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is a mass for pilgrims at 12 o’clock. I stayed 3 days in Santiago and not even once did I go to Mass for pilgrims. Mass as Mass is very important to me because every Mass is an encounter with the living Christ.
But somehow I didn’t really feel any desire or need to go to the mass intended for pilgrims because I knew that people go to that Mass because of the Camino tradition. I am simply uncomfortable to be at Mass where people do not understand the sacraments, nor what happens at Mass.
Camino de Santiago hikers, not pilgrims
I have already said my personal view that the Camino de Santiago participants should be called hikers, not pilgrims. In doing so, I do not diminish the importance of anyone or anything, I do not want to belittle hikers. The Camino is perfect for hikers: beautiful nature, beautiful medieval towns, you meet a lot of people, you hang out. And all this with daily exercise! Really great.
But I think it would just be nice to call things what they are, and that is that they are not pilgrims but hikers. After all, even at the apostle’s tomb, many of these hikers just pass by to take a picture. Many of them even talk to each other, giggle, make noise. They don’t understand what’s in front of them.
I had the misfortune that the cathedral was almost entirely under scaffoldings, it was being restored. But you can see how impressive it is.
And already that first day I got my Compostela, although I didn’t expect it. I intended to come the next morning before the hikers had arrived in Santiago, and thus avoid the crowds. And there really is a crowd, and it’s quite some crowd in front of the pilgrim’s office that gives Compostela. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any emotions there either when they gave me my Compostela. I still hope that I will have a “late moment”, that I will feel something after all because of this feat of mine.
Day 38 Santiago de Compostela, 9 August 2020
Every pilgrim stays in Santiago for a few more days. The hikers mostly do not stay. They came to the Camino for a few days of recreation and immediately upon arriving in the city they rush to get their Compostela, and they are already on the way back to their homes. Many continue towards Finisterre (“the end of the world”), both hikers and pilgrims.
The goal of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage
But the goal of the pilgrimage is the apostle’s tomb in the cathedral of Santiago, not Finisterra. Still, Finisterra is an interesting trip. In the time of the Roman Empire, Finisterra was considered to be the end of the world, hence the name Finisterra (in Latin “fin” means “the end” and “terra” means “earth”).
The pilgrims that have been seeing each other on the Camino for over a month now start to gather in Santiago. Some came the day before yesterday, some yesterday, some today, and some will come tomorrow. We use the time in this beautiful city to discover it as much as possible. We also socialize intensively.
Day 39 Santiago de Compostela – Barcelona, 10 August 2020
I spend a quiet day in Santiago, without a single worry in the world. I hang out with other pilgrims, enjoyed life to the fullest. It’s time to go to the airport. My flight with Vueling Airlines was supposed to be tomorrow morning. However, Vueling sent me a notification that the first leg, Santiago – Barcelona is leaving tonight at 9.50 pm.
The second leg, tomorrow’s flight Barcelona – Split remained unchanged. I actually really liked this change because I had to have a hotel that night anyway. Either in Santiago or Barcelona at the airport. This way it turned out much better because I didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. I would have a good night’s sleep at the airport in Barcelona, and then at 11.30 a.m. I go home to Split.
Day 40 Barcelona – Split, 11 August 2020
I had a great night at the hotel at Barcelona airport. Fresh and well-rested, full of impressions, I go home to Split. I cannot wait! Barcelona Airport showed all the sadness of the current situation with the Corona. And while in a few years we will be laughing at this madness that has befallen us, now it is sad to see this large, beautiful airport so empty and underutilized.
The large non-Schengen terminal gaped empty. There was only a flight to Split at 11.30 am. Dublin was leaving in an hour. All in all 5 or 6 flights from that magnificent terminal. There are a huge number of shops, but only one coffee stand was open. There were more departures at the Schengen terminal. But all in all, it seemed extremely sad and shows how strongly Spain was hit by this pandemic.
The Vueling flight to Split was quite full, all only Spaniards, I only heard one person speak Croatian on his mobile phone. The flight was, as they say “uneventful”, and almost 2 hours of flight flew by in an instant.
I didn’t think my car would start. After all, for 40 days it was exposed to strong sun and high temperatures in the parking lot of the Split airport. But it started. I came home very fulfilled, happy, satisfied. My thoughts kept returning to the people I met during the Camino. Fortunately, it has become very easy to stay in touch.
First time on the Camino de Santiago
The Spaniards regularly asked me if this was my first time on the Camino de Santiago. Till almost the very end of the Way of St James pilgrimage, I kept wondering why the people ask me this question. The answer was quite clear to me, this is my first, my only, and my last time to be on the Way of Saint James.
However as the end of the Camino de Santiago was approaching, I finally understood their question. I was no longer sure that this was my last and my only Camino. And now I know I will do the Camino again. I will do again this same original Camino Frances.
Special thanks to amazing people I met along my way. Without them, my Camino would not be the same amazing experience it has been.
In alphabetical order:
- Oscar and Elena