17 Nov 22
Finding Our Way: 41 Days on the Camino
The Camino can be life changing, as RAW Travellers Emma & Ross from Queensland discovered after walking 41 days from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in September and October of 2022.
Prior to setting off, many wondered what would make us set foot on the Camino. What would possibly drive us to cover almost 800km on foot? As we discovered, the Camino is truly more than just kilometres upon kilometres and day by day. There is so much more to it that can’t be put into words. There is something about the Camino that transforms you; some who have done it say it is life changing. It’s honestly so hard to put into words just how it touches you in different ways. However, it doesn’t reward you without effort. It is hard and demanding and there are many times it will make you question your will to keep going.
‘The Camino always provides’ is one thing you will certainly hear along the way and indeed the Camino is generous with you, when you are generous with it. When you are able to give yourself to other pilgrims, and find true solidarity in daily co-existence along your journey. When your able to just listen to the sound of your feet, the whistle of the wind or the sound of cow bells in the distance. When in the vast landscape you see everything, yet nothing. Then that is when the true Camino miracle happens.
Arrival at Saint Jean Pied de Port
We have arrived at Saint Jean Pied de Port and are just hours away from starting our journey from the base of the Pyrenees in France across to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in 40 days’ time. We’ve got our first stamp, our bags are packed and we’re ready to go. The weather looks great for the Napoleon Route today, the route favoured by the French general Napoleon to get his troops in and out of Spain during the Peninsular War. This can only be done in good weather so we are lucky.
Day 1 – The hardest day on the Camino
We completed Day 1, known as one of the hardest days on the Camino due to the never-ending elevation! We walked out of the gates at Saint Jean at 8.15am, arriving in Roncesvalles at 4pm. The 25km took us 7 hours of pure walking, 20km of which was solely uphill. Plenty of stops for photos, snacks and coffee at Refuge Orisson. We had a lovely meal with new friends and a good rest.
Day 2 – Making new friends
We took our time to enjoy all the towns we walked through today. Plenty of leafy shade and only a few hills to cover to Zubiri. We spent most of the day walking with our new friend from Sydney. We have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him so far. Pretty hot by the time we got to Zubiri so a refreshing beer and putting our feet in the river was just what was needed.
Day 3 – The spirit of the Camino reveals itself
We are so fortunate we met some new friends from Italy today. They recommended we stop at the church in Zabaldika to ring the church bell. It was a moving experience. There were stunning gardens where we could sit and enjoy a picnic. We loved the walk into Pamplona, arriving around 3pm with stops also at the church in Puente de Arte that has a stunning medieval bridge. How lucky to have arrived on a Friday! This is the night the choir sings to the pilgrims before mass. Three beautiful songs. Helping keep the spirit of the Camino alive. We also managed to get to Cafe Iruna, where Ernest Hemingway spent a lot of time and then we enjoyed tapas at Bar Gaucho.
Day 6 – Pamplona to Puenta la Reina
The hardest day yet. It was forecast to be 36 degrees so we got up early to start walking in the dark. We got to the highest peak of the day Alto del Perdón just after 11am. Then it was a fairly steep decline into Uterga before turning off the track to visit the Romanesque Church of Santa Mariá de Eunate, a striking octagonal church built in the 1100s and modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Day 8 – To the wine capital of La Rioja
With the cooler weather we were able to get to Los Arcos just after 12.30pm, following a 7.45am start. Thankful for the cool change as the last 9km had no shade at all so it wouldn’t have been fun in the heat. We are staying in the most gorgeous 17th century converted house to hotel and really enjoyed relaxing here yesterday afternoon. We also have almost 30km ahead of us today to Logrono, the wine capital of the La Rioja region. I’m already thinking of the good wines I’ll be having when I finish today!
Day 9 – Viana’s running of the bulls
Absolute highlight was stumbling into the tiny town of Viana and into their running of the bulls. The whole town must have been off work to participate and we definitely saw a few injuries and a few close calls! That gave us a real pep up to finish the last few hours of the day into Logrono where we enjoyed our new favourite drink of the Camino – gin and lemon which they seem very happy to free pour from the bottle at every bar. Another big day today, 29km with a few hills.
Day 10 – Vineyard after vineyard
We were a little anxious about another long day today at almost 30km however thankfully there was a cool change and a lot less hills than the prior day. We had a gorgeous walk through vineyard after vineyard in the La Rioja region and as it’s harvest time there was plenty happening. On arrival in Najera there was another local festival happening, a tapas competition and Ross got given a red scarf from a local who was so welcoming. They were still parading down the street when we went to bed at 11pm last night and must have continued to the early hours of the morning!
Day 11 – The Gothic chicken coop
It was a pretty quick 21km into Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The town name refers to its founder, Dominic de la Calzada, who built a bridge, hospital, and hotel here for pilgrims on the French Way the most popular path of the Way of St. James. Something interesting in this town is that inside the Cathedral is a Gothic chicken coop, built in the mid-15th century, which houses a living rooster and a hen in commemoration of the miracle of the hanged pilgrim, one of the most widespread Jacobean legends throughout the Middle Ages. The Cathedral is truly stunning, in particular the crypt.
Day 12 – Meeting Ana and Ana
A sunny yet much cooler day made for a perfect day of walking. Only 18km as we stayed 5km out of town due to lack of availability. So fortunate we did as we stayed in a beautiful family home run by Ana and her mum Ana (yes they both have the same name!) which operates as a BnB in the summer time and is a family home in winter . We had the best home cooked meal and enjoyed a bottle of wine. Nothing else to do in this tiny town so it was good to relax and catch up on some sleep. Only 2 days of walking before a rest day in Burgos!
Day 16 – Tapas and beers
We had a wonderful rest day in Burgos exploring the Burgos Cathedral with the tomb of El Cid. Also enjoyed plenty of tapas, beers, some roast lamb (which the city is known for) and a pilgrims massage. We are now onto the Meseta stage of the Camino. This stage for the next 7 days is renowned for its long days, empty landscapes, and big skies, all of which mess with perceptions of time and distance. They say this part of the Camino is likely to get under your skin and test your mind. Bring it on!
Day 17 – The Meseta
The cool vastness of the Meseta coupled with stunning villages, churches and ancient ruins along the way – awesome. Then walking into the town of Castrojeriz with its beautiful castle in ruins on the hill made the day just so special. We ended the day enjoying a beautiful bottle of wine on our hotel terrace and a home cooked meal whilst looking across the stunning plains and hills in the vast distance. There’s just something about this town that we have absolutely loved. Why people would skip this part of the Camino seems crazy to me!
Day 22 – The halfway mark!
We are excited and sad to have passed the halfway mark in Sahagún 2 days ago, receiving two beautiful certificates to mark this moment. We covered over 185km across the Meseta in the past week and over 465km since we started walking on the 8 September, exactly 3 weeks ago. Looking forward to a rest day ahead to explore Leon, often described as the most beautiful town on the Camino, before another 9 day stretch into the hills of Galicia.
Day 26 – Astorga & Gaudi
We are back on the road again after a fabulous rest day exploring Leon, including the stunning Cathedral with its stained glassed windows. We walked 32km to a stunning casa rural and enjoyed a wonderful meal by the fire in this historical river mill home, where we were able to rest our legs in the cool water. After another 21km, we are currently in Astorga, a lovely town, also with strong links to Gaudi through the Episcopal Palace (Bishops Palace). We’ve met some fabulous people along the way from Leon, including a cheerful guitar player on the way into Astorga. The kilometres seem to be quickly ticking away. We’re now counting down the 200’s and wishing time would slow down.
Day 28 – The legend of Cruz de Ferro
A really special moment reaching the Cruz de Ferro or Iron Cross yesterday, the highest point of the Camino at 1505m, walking hours in the dark to reach it at daybreak. Legend says that when the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was being built, pilgrims were asked to contribute by bringing a stone. The tradition is to throw a stone, brought from the place of origin of the pilgrim, with his or her back to the cross to symbolise their journey. Our journey now into the hills has been rewarded with stunning green landscapes and gorgeous towns. And have enjoyed the company of countless people from all parts of the world – America, Alaska, Brazil, Germany, England, Wales to name a few.
Day 30 – Torta de Santiago: the cake of St James
Fabulous 2 days of walking from Molinseca to Villafranca del Bierzo and then onto Las Herrerias via the green route over the mountains. On the way we spent time exploring the Castillo de los Templarios in Ponferrada, a sprawling fortress occupied by the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages. This town is also known as Little Santiago – pilgrims who were unable to travel any further from here could receive a Pardon. It’s been wonderful to be back walking through vineyards, across lush green hills and into some of the most stunning towns yet on the Camino. There is plenty of Torta de Santiago, the cake of St James, an almond cake or pie from Galicia with origin in the Middle Ages and the Camino de Santiago. I’ll be eating one every single day from now on!
Day 31 – The magical town of O’Cebreiro
An absolute stunner of a day climbing up to the magical town of O’Cebreiro and crossing into Galicia. We celebrated with a number of cold Estrella Galicia beers at the finish. It is often said that Galicia is the seventh Celtic nation, as it’s thought by some historians that Galicia was founded by a Celtic tribe called the Gallaeci who settled in the area. It is also stunningly green with gorgeous rolling hills, and (normally) plenty of rain, reminding many of Ireland.
Day 33 – Galicia’s Samos Monastery
Gorgeous misty morning from Triacastela to Sarria via Samos. We added an extra 6km to our day to specifically visit the Samos Monastery. This monastery is one of the largest and oldest Galician monastic foundations, whose origins date back to the 6th century. It is currently an active Benedictine monastery, with more than 1,500 years of almost uninterrupted monastic life. Although I am unsure how many monks are currently living there, the whole tour was in Spanish so I didn’t understand a thing!
Day 35 – Sarria and a side-trip to Lugo
We were fortunate to have a rest day in Sarria and caught the bus to visit Lugo – a town full of Roman artefacts and history. The walls of Lugo are the most complete and best preserved example of Roman fortified architecture found anywhere. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and were twinned with the Great Wall of China in 2007. We totally lucked out visiting during the Fiestas of San Froilán, a celebration of the traditional costume, culture and customs of Galicia. The city was absolutely pumping with music, dancing, eating and drinking. We got a front row seat at a great restaurant to enjoy a bottle of local Albariño wine and watch all the action. The Camino is so much more than just a walk!
Day 37 – Our final week
We crossed the 100km mark a few days ago, and now before we know it we have less than 40km to go. It’s been a stunning week of walking, not only for the landscapes but also for some of the best meals and hotels yet. There’s also been incredible history, such as ruins of the Castromaior fort. Developed in the Iron Age, it was inhabited between the fourth centuries BC and I AD – that’s some seriously old ruins! Numbers of pilgrims have also increased exponentially from Sarria, as you only need to walk the last 100km to receive a Compostela. It has only added to the buzz of the journey.
Day 41 – What a journey!
The Way rewards you with ties so strong, they will mark you forever and indeed that’s what it’s done for us both. What a journey. It may have finished physically but it’s truly only just begun.
Emma & Ross
All text and images © Emma Wallace