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A Look Back at our 2018 Camino de Santiago

June 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Pilgrimage, Spain

Final notes and thoughts on our spring 2018 pilgrimage along the Camino Frances to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela …

–Our final statistics, over six days: 122km (about 75 miles), 30 hours of walking, about 200,000 steps.

–We found a new (to us) and difficult shortcut into Portomarin — a harrowing, nearly vertical descent down a narrow and rocky path. A few minutes earlier, a sign on the trail had alerted us to three ways to enter the town, and we went for the most direct. The one that led to the frankly scary scramble down over rocks of irregular shape and size. Peregrinos have been marveling at it since it first came along, in 2015, apparently. Said one: “I was terrified. Don’t go that way unless it is dry and you are young and fit,” adding, it was the “most difficult thing” on the Camino Frances. Said another: “It is so steep with rocks that I was sitting down and sliding on my rear for some of it. I don’t recommend it to anyone.”

Amen. Which is what we said when we reached the bottom.

–The Camino has not quite been overrun by senior citizens … but Boomers of 60-and-up comprised nearly 30 percent of the 40,665 pilgrims who got their diploma (compostela) for finishing the walk, in Santiago. My sense is that even more seniors did parts of the trail for a day or three and did not finish. The under-30 crowd makes up only 15 percent of those who finished, with the 30-to-60 age group accounting for the majority (57 percent) of successful peregrinos.

–More women than men are making the pilgrimage, according to church statistics: 51 percent of the May finishers were female.

–The scorn of the long-walkers towards those who start at Sarria and do 75 miles to Santiago, instead of 500 miles from France … remains an unpleasant aspect of the walk. Not everyone has the constitution to start in France, cross the Pyrenees and put in the 30 days or so it takes to go 500 miles. Also, not everyone has a month to spend, settling for the 5-6 day walk, instead. Yet, short-walkers can depend on a few dirty looks from the heavily laden pilgrims who started in France, and some graffiti, too. One scrawl read: “Jesus didn’t start in Sarria.” It is common for Camino veterans to argue over what constitutes a legitimate pilgrimage — how long, what sort of accommodation is used, etc. The church says 100km is enough.

–Thinking about doing the Camino? We suggest avoiding the height-of-summer months of the increasingly popular walk. Consider May or October, the shoulder months, when the trail is not crowded as it will be in July and August. Our May walk had 40,600 people, compared to 35,000 in May of 2017. More than 47,000 finished in July of last year, and nearly 58,000 finished in August.

–Even after spending two weeks there over the past two years, I continue to be discombobulated at how cool and wet Galicia, the northwest region of Spain, can be, given that most of the world thinks of Spain as sunny and hot. We did not witness 10 minutes of sun in six days on the trail this year, and rain was a threat throughout — though we managed to elude most of it. Unless it is August, don’t plan on wearing summer clothing on the walk, and bring a poncho.

–For two of us, it was the second time along the route, and we found it more difficult because we had not prepared as thoroughly as we did in 2017. We did not do a training walk longer than 5km, and the average Camino walk is more like 20km. One of us was unable to do the final leg because of foot problems and both were exhausted nearly every day.

–The Camino is not expensive, once you have arrived at your starting point. From Sarria to Santiago, two of us paid 620 euros (about $730) for six nights of lodging and breakfast. The small hotels range from “acceptable” to “nice and spacious”. The ride from the airport in Santiago to Sarria cost 80 euros, and it was 20 for luggage transfers to the next hotel. That covers everything except dinners (usually plain but hearty) and souvenirs and maybe some coffee on the trail.

–If I had to live somewhere along the walk from Sarria, it would be in Portomarin, which was moved up to the side of a hill when the Spanish government created a large reservoir at the bottom of the canyon. The town has great views, and water sports of all kinds are available, The town may be small but is surprisingly well-supplied with key businesses, like markets.

–What value does the Camino give? The satisfaction of having completed it ranks high. So are those moments when the walkers are strung out along the trail and it’s just you and (mostly) nature. Green hills and forests, mostly modest climbs up and down, old homes and farms and churches — and lots of time to think. It is a respite from the modern world, and when it is over a lot of pilgrims, even the one-weekers from Sarria, have trouble integrating back into the world of planes, trains and automobiles.





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