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My camino experience: A general overview

22/04/2018
Bom Caminho!

© aNadventures

I left Porto on a cloudy Thursday morning. From the hostel, I followed a very long street that eventually led to the Atlantic Ocean. I had set up my mind to follow the coast line for as long as possible. In the outskirts of the city, I somehow felt stupid carrying the large backpack. Only when, after about one and a half hours of walking, the first person wished me “Bom caminho”, it started to sink in: I’m a pilgrim now. For the next days and weeks my major occupation in life would be walking, gradually making my way from the Portuguese city of Porto up north to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The Camino Portugués, the Portuguese Way of Saint James, is the second most popular pilgrimage route to the Apostle’s tomb in Santiago de Compostela. There is not just one route as, even on the Portuguese Way, there are many options to reach the final destination.

I was probably one of the least prepared pilgrims since I hadn’t looked at the route in detail before setting off. My decision to walk the camino had been a spontaneous one. I had purchased my Credencial del Peregrino (pilgrimage pass), a one-way flight to Porto, some basic equipment (backpack, hiking shoes etc.) and off I went. The day before I actually started hiking, I got myself a small guide to the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela. This came in quite handy as it contained information about the several possible stages of the route as well as on where to sleep and eat.

On my way.

© aNadventures

So here I was, walking next to the Atlantic Ocean, breathing in the salty air and listening to the voices of the sea gulls and the soothing sound of the waves. As it suddenly started raining, I hesitated before finally taking out the bright orange “plastic condom” to cover my backpack. This kind of rain protection is quite typical all along the camino and it helps spotting fellow pilgrims from a distance.

The first pilgrim encounter I made was with Annika who became a close friend. We started talking in English before noticing that we were both from Germany, like most pilgrims on the route. If you ever wish to practice your German language skills, go to the camino.

In the course of the following twelve days, I met many special people, both locals and pilgrims. Even though I went to the camino all by myself, I was hardly ever alone. Sometimes, I was in a chatty mood, some other times I found myself trying to get away from the people around me to spend time with myself. It was a mix of both, socialization and me time, that made the camino experience enjoyable to me.

Pilgrim friends following the yellow arrow.

© aNadventures

Walking with Annika, time went by quite fast and we soon reached our first pilgrim lodging in Labruge. Getting there was exciting as it was the first ever time we saw one of the church-run dormitories from the inside. It was the first time our pilgrimage pass was stamped to certify we had spent the night there. It was the first time we unpacked our backpacks, put our belongings to dry, washed our underwear and prepared our beds for the night. This was when I noticed a sleeping bag would have been useful.

I was surprised by how quickly my body, mind and soul got used to the new daily routine: Getting up, having breakfast, walking for hours and hours, finding a place to stay for the night, having a shower, finding some food, taking notes, going to sleep. Even though the daily procedure was similar, every day was unique. Small and big adventures took place every day. I noticed how the landscape gradually changed leading me from the sea side through smaller and larger villages, woods, crossing rivers and creeks, valleys and hills. It was also nice to witness two similar yet different cultures: the Portuguese and the Spanish ones. When I crossed the bridge joining Valença (Portugal) and Tui (Spain) around halfway of the journey, I instantly noticed the echoes on the street getting louder and more vivid.

Me and my beloved rain poncho wandering through the woods.

© aNadventures

I encountered some physical challenges along the way, such as crossing a very long bridge of considerable height under windy circumstances with cars to my left and the water to my right. On some days I walked around 30 km which left me exhausted but happy. I experienced walking in pouring rain and by the drum of thunder for hours with nowhere to shelter. Every single cell of my body got soaking wet. The next day, I got myself a waterproof long grey poncho that also covered my backpack. It made me look like a wandering rock but I never suffered from the rain again.

I was thankful I didn’t get any blisters. This must be due to the fact that I got my feet familiar with my new hiking boots BEFORE starting the journey. Rubbing them in aloe vera cream every morning and evening probably also helped to keep my feet happy. Nonetheless, at some point, the Achilles heels started making themselves noticed, and quite intensively. The last five days of my hike were accompanied by a strong pain. I had to slow down my pace and walked like a granny at some stages. The pain just wouldn’t leave. Stopping the mission was not an option. So I kept going and, step by step, made it to my final destination ― after having walked a total of 260 kilometres in 13 consecutive days.

When I arrived in front of the Cathedral in Santiago, I could hardly believe I had already made it. I was sad the experience was over. I even noticed myself walking more and more slowly on the last kilometres to prevent the adventure from ending. But as a fellow pilgrim told me: The actual journey begins at the destination. Or, in other words: The ending of the journey is the beginning of the journey.

How about YOU? Have you ever been a pilgrim? Feel free to share your experience in the comment section.

 

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