Diary of my first pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago)

Hi darlings, sunny greetings from Sevilla!

I have been travelling in Spain the past weeks and I was able to do my first pilgrimage to the Catedral of Santiago de Compostela. It took me one week and about 155 kilometres starting from a small village called O Cebreiro to reach Santiago de Compostela. Today I am pleased to share my adventures and my friendly encounters with you.

Camino-entrance-Santiago

Entering Santiago de Compostela.

Mini explanation of the pilgrimage

The Way of St. James or in Spanish “Camino de Santiago” is an ancient Christian route.

There’re different routes such as the French, Portuguese, Primitive, Northern and English Way. Many people embark on this journey for adventure, religious belief, to make new friends or in search of enlightenment. One can do this pilgrimage on foot, by bike, on a horse or even running.

I wanted to go for a long time, but I have never gotten a chance to go… Until now! I wanted to go with a small group on foot, so I researched the different possibilities. 

2016-08-07 02.16.54

Statue of St. James at Parroquia de Santiago y San Juan Bautista in Madrid where I got my Credentials. One needs to get 1 or 2 stamps at every town (refuge, church or restaurant) in order to prove that you’ve been there. If you pass 100 kilometres you’ll get a certificate at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela.

Joining a group

Nowadays there are many organised groups and routes you can join, of course some for a hefty price. So after browsing a little bit more, I’ve encountered a website where the Spanish post announcements about the various pilgrimage routes and the dates they want to go. It was on this site that I found a girl from Guadalajara (Spain) and reached out to her. From then on we formed a group of four (3 girls and 1 guy), we lived in different cities so we planned everything on the phone and on WhatsApp. In less than two weeks we were set to go on this journey. As it turns out this was our first pilgrimage.

 

7-Day diary to Santiago

Route-from-O-Cebreiro-to-Santiago
The route we took starting from O Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela; the refuges we stayed at are also indicated.

 

Day 1 | Bus, taxi and starting the pilgrimage from O Cebreiro to Alto do Poio

We decided to do the French route, starting from O Cebreiro, which takes a total of about 155 kilometers to reach Santiago de Compostela in 7 days. In order to get to O Cebreiro we had to take a bus to this town. The bus journey from Madrid to Piedrafita do Cebreiro took about 6 hours (with 2 stops). Afterwards we took a taxi (beware: always ask for the fare as they may charge you more); which drove 7 min to O Cebreiro. We searched for a refuge, but we didn’t find any place right away; this due to the fact that those walking from a previous town are given priority. So we decided to head to the Tourist Information Office. After making a phone call to a refuge located 8 kilometers further; they told us that they still had available spaces. So we started the pilgrimage that same day to Alto Do Poio. After our first walk, we noticed that our backpacks were weighing us down especially walking uphill, but this seemed to be the stage with the steepest hill. When we reached our destination we quickly ate dinner and took a shower… I just couldn’t wait to get into bed… That night I slept like a baby!

On our way to Alto do Poio with our heavy backpacks!

On our way to Alto do Poio with our heavy backpacks!

 

Day 2 | Alto do Poio to Samos

On our second day, we woke up early (well, I woke around 6 am) and handed our backpacks to a taxi; they brought it to our indicated town and refuge. We passed many little towns, farmlands with cows, highways and tiny little rivers until we reached Samos. The landscapes were breathtaking and we even saw some pilgrims on horses. That day we walked about 24 kilometers. We stayed at the refuge of the Monastery of San Xulián de Samos along with others fellow pilgrims; some stayed at the same previous refuge as we did. After we registered and stamped our Credentials, we had lunch and rested the afternoon. Some of us decided to wash our clothes. The monastery offered guided tours, so we took the advantage to explore a bit. The monastery had some beautiful wall paintings! After the tour we had dinner and afterwards we went to monastery (the lights went out at 10 pm). That night I slept horribly, because there was symphony of snorers. 

The four newbies posing in front of a breathtaking scenery.

Posing in front of a breathtaking scenery with my fellow pilgrims.

The Monstery

The Monastery of Samos.

 

Day 3 | Samos to Ferreiros

The following day we woke up early and after a quick breakfast we headed to Ferreiros. On the route to Sarria we passed beautiful landscapes. When we reached Sarria we passed through a medieval fair. After some short stops here and there we finally made our way towards our intended destination. That day the sun was shining and it made our journey a tad bit more difficult. That day I started to feel pain in my upper-left leg, yet I kept pushing myself forward. We finally made to Ferreiros after walking about 30 kilometers! We were amazed to find a very modern refuge. It looked like a villa and it had a splendid view. After a relaxed afternoon we decided to have drinks at a nearby bar with other fellow pilgrims whom have been walking more than us. One guy came from the South of France and another one came all the way from Madrid on foot! After some chit chat we made our way to our refuge. The gin and tonic was enough to make me doze off very quickly that night.

Passing through Sarria and meeting joyful people at the medieval fair.

Passing through Sarria and meeting joyful people at the medieval fair.

 

Day 4 | Ferreiros to Ventas de Narón

The next morning was crisp and the day was a bit cloudy; as we were leaving Ferreiros we passed the “100,000 km” mark to Santiago. After that we were going downhill and through the woods. We even passed a town called Portomarín, after passing this area we started going uphill and the route became more challenging. It was another hot day and there were not many towns on this route. Nevertheless a lady indicated a little village and we rested for a while. After that we walked some highways and continued until we reached Ventas de Narón. This was my least favourite village, maybe due to the fact that we slept in a sauna. I even went outside to get some fresh air and got a nice glimpse of the full moon. That day I probably slept about 2-3 hours.

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Passing the “100,000 km” mark to Santiago.

 

Day 5 | Ventas de Narón to Melide

The next morning I managed to wake up at 5.30 hours and just wanted to start the journey to avoid walking in the heat. That morning we saw a wonderful sunrise and since we were surrounded by nature it felt magical and it only empowered me to keep moving forward. The scenery was constantly changing on this route and I got to walk by myself. I managed to take some photos of the towns, animals, monuments of St. James and churches. That day I went to two churches to get my Credentials stamped and talked to a nice priest who praised women doing the pilgrimage. After that I caught up with the rest of the group and we made our way to Melide. My left leg was hurting again and I couldn’t keep up with the group, so I decided to go at my own pace and not overdo it. That day seemed to be the hottest and it really took me a while before reaching the town. As soon as I reached it; I headed directly to have lunch and rest a bit before meeting the others. After that we made our way to the refuge, but sadly we had to say goodbye to one of our fellow pilgrims who had to leave due to work. That afternoon I had a long siësta to recharge my batteries in an air-conditioned room (what a luxury!). That night the air was a little bit breezy and I enjoyed a nice dinner with a fellow pilgrim. Yet when we arrived to our room (of 6 people) everyone was already sound asleep; one particular person was snoring obnoxiously. One person couldn’t handle it anymore and left the room. I respect everyone, but I had to tell him something (at least to change his sleeping position). After waking the poor man his snoring became less intense. So I finally managed to close my eyes for 3 hours.

There was an amazing sunrise behind the trees on our way to Melide.

There was an amazing sunrise behind the trees on our way to Melide.

 

Day 6 | Melide to A Salceda

This morning I was really moody. After not having slept enough I wasn’t in a mood to talk. We made our way through the countryside and through a lot of mist before reaching Arzúa. It was an interesting walk as we noticed more pilgrims walking towards Santiago. We also bumped into other people we met earlier. This stage seemed to have a lot of hills and I really gave it my all to advance. The Camino was testing me at this point… My left knee was hurting more and after taking paracetamol it helped ease the pain. The effect lasted a few hours. A friendly old man offered me a cream for the muscle pain and the pain was subsided. At the final part I started to walk on my own pace until I made it to our refuge at A Salceda. This was the first time we arrived before they opened the refuge and we were allocated to the room of our preference. One of my fellow pilgrims and I stayed in a two-bedroom; after all the sleepless nights we were finally going to recover our sleep. Yet we decided not to have siësta, which for me was so hard. This refuge was full of luxuries and had hydro shower, the best shower I had in days. We planned the last stage of our journey and I was thinking to shorten the next journey as my knee was hurting. Still I wanted to complete the journey with the group, so I decided to tag along to the bitter end. An Austrian guy even challenged me to walk the final 29 kilometres with him to Santiago (I thought he was crazy!). I was told he left that night. That afternoon/night we just chilled with a group of pilgrims before sleeping.

When we walked from A to B, we walked through a misty forest.

When we walked from Melide to A Salceda, we walked through a misty forest. This path really got my attention!

 

Day 7 | A Salceda to Santiago

The night before I slept wonderfully and I was ready to take on the day. It was a chilly morning as we made our way through the last stage of our pilgrimage. A part of me didn’t want it to end as I really enjoyed crossing different sceneries and meeting different people. Yet we made sure we took snaps and talked to pilgrims we met on our path. Some have walked the pilgrimage many times and have done extraordinary kilometres. One particular man we met, called José Antonio García Calvo, known as “José el peregrino” or Joseph the Pilgrim, has walked more than a 106.000 kilometers in different pilgrimages around the world (Jerusalem, Rome, Lourdes, Poland, Tibet and South America). This man to me is a legend!!! I wanted to know more about him… but after stopping so many times my muscles became cold. So I continued… The journey seemed longer as we made plenty of stops, but I really cherished every tiny little village we passed. I must admit that this route was not the prettiest. We even crossed a wooden bridge that was quite old and scary as we were entering Santiago de Compostela. As we were reaching the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela our emotions were running high. When finally reached the cathedral we danced in joy and embraced this moment. Through all the challenges, we made it safely and we proved to ourselves that we’re capable of a lot more if put our minds to it. That afternoon we went to get our certificates for having completed the pilgrimage and enjoyed a nice dinner together. Since there were festivities and concerts going on in the city; we stayed to enjoy the concert. They even sang the gospel song “Oh Happy Day!” What an amazing performance by the band. Our journey couldn’t end on a better note!

Embracing Mother Nature before arriving to Santiago de Compostela.

Embracing Mother Nature before arriving to Santiago de Compostela.

"José el peregrino" (on the left), Walter (wrote a book on his pilgrimage called "La soledad compartida"), Flan (Walter's dog) and my fellow pilgrim friend (on the right).

José el peregrino” (on the left), Walter (wrote a book on his pilgrimage called “La soledad compartida”), Flan (Walter’s dog) and my fellow pilgrim friend (on the right).

Arriving at our main destination: the Catedral of Santiago.

Arriving at our main destination: the Catedral of Santiago at the Obradoiro Square.

Last dinner with the girls! They have been really sweet to me and I'm so happy to have met them.

Last dinner with the girls! They have been really sweet to me and I’m so happy to have met them.

Ongoing concerts on the square next to the Cathedral of Santiago.

Ongoing concerts on the square next to the Cathedral of Santiago.

 

The next day we went through the Holy Door, we got to hug the St. James statue and even saw the crypt of the Saint (some of the Pilgrim Traditions). Afterwards we went to the mass of the Pilgrims and witnessed the Botafumeiro (incensory) move around like a pendulum. I read that this incense holder weighs about 53 kg and it takes 8 men to move it. It was definitely a priceless moment! That day I said goodbye to my fellow pilgrims as they made their way home by bus. I stayed two more days to enjoy a bit more of the festivities of Santiago de Compostela as the 25th of July was the day of St. James. Yet I left two days prior to the celebration to explore the northern coast of Spain and the Cantabrian Sea.

The Botafumeiro and the statue of St. James (on the left). A queue of visitors going through the Holy Door.

The Botafumeiro and the statue of St. James (on the left). A queue of visitors going through the Holy Door, which is only opened during the Holy Year (on the right).

The touristic train passing near the Cathedral of Santiago.

The touristic train passing near the Cathedral of Santiago.

 

Reflection

It was definitely an amazing pilgrimage; especially because it happens to be my first, definitely not my last! I was happy that I was able to do it in the Holy Year of the Mercy; the next one is in 2021. It really tested me in unimaginable ways. Nevertheless I adopted myself to every situation.

For the most part I truly loved being surrounded by nature and really enjoyed every sunrise. The journey has awoken my adventurous soul, I got to disconnect from the world and my stamina got stronger. At times I had to stop and appreciate the scenery, because some were just too magical and unspoiled.

Such a dreamy sky! Seeing the sunset in Santiago de Compostela.

Such a dreamy sky! Seeing the sunset in Santiago de Compostela.

Meeting different personalities from all over the world and getting to know them even if it was for one minute. I definitely empathize with those who have been doing this pilgrimage longer than I have. Most people I’ve spoken with have been walking for weeks and more than 700 kilometers. I have deep respect to what they’ve done, especially coming from a different country to reach Santiago.   

For me sharing an accommodation has been the biggest challenge. I don’t mind putting up with smelly clothing or sharing bathrooms, but I’m a light sleeper and even with the earplugs I still heard the snorers. Still I managed to get passed this as it was temporary. 

To conclude I definitely feel like this pilgrimage has opened my eyes in metaphorical sense. In order to achieve anything in life one needs to keep on moving forward even if there’re obstacles in the way. With all the suffering, there will always be rewards in the end.

As they say:

The Camino provides!

Just give it a try for yourself! Even if you’re walking outside; walk by fulling engaging with your surroundings and especially appreciate every step you take. You’ll realise it’s the best way to clear your mind and generate fresh ideas. Most importantly you’ll be thankful for God’s creations, whom ever you believe in.

Let me guide you..! Just follow the yellow arrows.

Let me guide you..! Just follow the yellow arrows.

Hope you liked my story on the Camino de Santiago and that it has inspired you to go on a pilgrimage.

Besos,

Miri💋

P.S: if you’d like to know what I took in my backpack and also tips, scroll down below.

 

What I took in my backpack and more

Aside from being in shape and spiritually (or mentally) prepared for a pilgrimage, one will need to carry the backpack during long hours and in different weather conditions (e.g. heat or rain). So it’s essential to take items that don’t weigh too much.

My backpack and the items I took with me.

My backpack and the items I took with me.

Backpack – The main compartment for the items needs to be suitable for your fit and height. I took a 40 L backpack, which was a decent size. In the future I might go for a smaller size though.

Sleeping bag – Most of the places or refuges that we stayed at had bunk beds. A sleeping bag may come in handy if there are no sheets or if the night is cold. I took an extra bed sheet just in case.

Fast-drying towel – A lightweight and compact towel is advisable for a pilgrimage because it dries very quickly.

Rain jacket – In Northern Spain it can get very rainy, yet we were lucky that we didn’t get a drop of rain. Just to be on the safe side bring a rain jacket.

Hiking poles – These items have helped me maintain my posture and have especially helped me go up steep hills. It also can be used for fending off animals or lunatics. You never know..! Moreover I saw that with ropes and a tent fabric (e.g. canvas or nylon) you can create a tent using these poles to sustain the construction.

Hiking shoes – I actually didn’t buy any hiking shoes, because it’s advisable to walk in them before going on the pilgrimage. So in my case I brought my comfortable white tennis shoes. I only had some blisters.

Slippers – These are very handy after a long journey on foot and when using the showers at the refuges.

Shirts or tops – I took three tank tops and two thin long-sleeved shirts. Usually they advise polyester T-shirts for a quick dry after washing.

Pants – I took 2 long dry-fit sporting pants and one dry-fit short. You can also buy 1 long hiking pants, which can be shorten (with zippers) into shorts.

Socks and underwear – I only brought two pairs of socks, four panties, two workout bras and one normal bra. I also brought my bikini with me, just in case we decided to go for a swim in the lake (optional during summer).

Sweater – This is a must for morning walks and colder nights. I also brought a tiny scarf with me just in case, which I also used as a headpiece.

Sun protection – I brought with me my sunglasses, a hat and of course sun screen.

Documentation and cash – In some places they ask for your ID, so it’s best not to leave without it. You’ll need to bring cash on a journey if travelling through little towns. Bankcards are a plus, but not to forget also your healthcare cards.

Credentials – Before going on this pilgrimage journey, you’ll need to find the nearest pilgrim’s association or church which can provide you with the Credentials for the Camino de Santiago. With this card you can get a stamp in the towns (refuges, hotels, churches and even restaurants) and at the final destination, the Pilgrim’s Office, you can get a certificate only if you have walked more than 100 kilometers.

Telephone, mini MP3 player, camera and charger – As a millennial I just can’t live without my mobile phone and it’s just handy to communicate with others or if something’s wrong you can easily dial the emergency number. I love to listen to music when I walk, so I took my mini MP3 player with me. I also took my digital camera to take better images (wasn’t really necessary because my phone takes great quality pictures). Furthermore I brought my mobile charger and a portable charger (optional).

Toiletries – I brought mini bottles of deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair comb, soap, mini sewing kit, facial cream, pumice stone (to remove hard skin from feet) and a tiny perfume bottle.

Mini First aid kit – Here I took with me Vaseline (used on the feet to prevent blisters), disinfectant, plasters, paracetamol, eye drops, bandage and muscle pain relief cream (advisable).

Hydration pack – I took a camelback as it easy to drink from without having to take off the backpack. One can easily refill it with fresh water.

Other handy stuff – I took ear plugs (used it almost every night), pocket knife, safety pins (also used to hang clothes on the backpack, which haven’t fully dried), detergent, clothing pegs and tiny rope.

 

— End of the blog entry —

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5 thoughts on “Diary of my first pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago)

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