You got to do what you should
With each other
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other"
You got to do what you should
With each other
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other"
On 20th April I landed at midnight in Madrid after an exhausting 7 hour stopover at the Moscow airport (the airport is in desperate need of renovation). It was pouring in Madrid and I had booked an overnight hostel close to the airport to catch the first flight to Santiago de Compostela the next morning. A lady wearing a black leather jacket came to pick me up in a black SUV and easily lifted all my bags. We picked up a few more passengers from other airport terminals and reached the Hostal El Cruce (a guest house) around 2AM. I rearranged all my stuff to create a separate backpack with only the basic and most important things that I would need for my solo travel for the next 7 days. As I got into bed, I put on multiple alarms to avoid oversleeping.
I managed to wake up on time at 6 AM and found the check in manager with soccer style cropped hair waiting for me. My 20 euros (incl. taxes!!) Ryanair flight to Santiago de Compostela was running on time and for the first time I felt nervous about what I was embarking on. I bought a local SIM card just as a backup and was on my way. After a 1.5 hour flight, I descended into the small town of Santiago de Compostela, which was ironically the end point of my journey, my Camino.
To successfully complete my Camino, I would have to demonstrate that I have walked at least 120km starting from a town called Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, collecting all sorts of very interesting and unique stamps from local hostels, churches and restaurants on the way. While waiting for my bus to Sarria, I was tempted by the sole cafe on the airport for a hot cuppa and was surprised by how good the rich hot cocoa was (with an extra treat of churros), which certainly got me pumped up about the journey ahead. The bus arrived exactly at 10am and I was the only person to get on the bus on the otherwise deserted airport. The air was cool and I was reminded that I had come to the temperate forest lands, so different from the tropical climate that I was accustomed to. It was still pouring and I was dreading my 120km walk starting the following day.
|My Camino marked on the Google maps|
|My hot thick cocoa with churros|
As the bus drove, I started noticing the Camino signposts and people in colored raincoats and trekking sticks - these were my fellow Caminos. I felt more optimistic watching them walk intently despite the heavy rains. I soon arrived at my stop Lugo, a curious little stop on my way to Sarria. It was here that I had my experience of what a siesta for the Spanish is, literally everything was shut between 1-4pm. I had some free time until my next bus so I put on my heavy backpack for the first time and practiced walking with it. In my two hours of walking, the weather swung from 5 to 15 C, from minutes of strong sun to cold rain. With the temperature varying so much in such a short while I also practiced the concept of layering clothes, an essential skill for any hiker / backpacker.
After a short while, I was on my bus to Sarria, thanks to a local girl who helped me communicate with the driver. I dropped my bags at a hostel in Sarria (called albergues in Spain) and set out to explore the town. What an interesting little town it was! So many shops catering to the Camino pilgrims with messages of goodwill. I came across the main Sarria church where I got my Pilgrims passport or stampbook. This book would be my proof of my Camino and a memoir for life. Happy with the book I continued walking and came across the starting point for my walk the next day. It looked lovely and I was now excited of what lay ahead of me!
|A church in Sarria|
|My room in the albergue|
|My starting point - the town of Sarria|
|The Camino symbol|
Day 1 - Sarria to Portomarin (22kms)
I awoke early the next day only to realize that the other folks from my hostel had already started for the day. Most of the pilgrims, I realized, were quite experienced, having started from the original starting point for the French Camino (there are two more, the English camino and the Portuguese Camino) in a place called St Jean Pied De Port in France, and having walked for at least 30-35 days until Sarria. Being the newbie, I was clearly not used to the routine and hurriedly packed all my things, wore my layers of clothes and left the hostel.
The air was cool but the weather was pleasant. I crossed the bridge and was met with a lot of fellow Caminos wishing me something I didn't quite understand - only realized a few minutes later that they said Buon Camino! I walked through several farmlands and passed by several intriguing cottages for the next 2 hours. Some of these cottages had been converted to albergues or were just places to rest and eat. There were several ascents and descents and muddy patches because of the rain and melting snow. My strategy to cover the 20 odd kms in front of me was to shift the weight of the backpack on different straps after every half an hour and then rest for a few minutes after every 2 hours.
|The bridge leading me onward|
|Farmlands along the Camino|
|The Camino signposts|
|Beautiful creeks along the Camino|
After a few hours of walking, I came across a nice resting point by a creek. I sat down and starting stretching my legs which were starting to feel the walk. As I was resting, a lady passed by and we greeted each other. I continued walking after a few minutes and I caught the same lady and we got talking. Gina, I learnt, was on the Camino with her sister Binky, and another couple, Kim and Arlen from Oregon, whom she had just met on the trip to the Camino. Tired from the walk, Gina and I started looking for a place to eat and came across a cutely designed cottage that had some great food (they even had vegetarian for me!). Shortly afterwards, we were joined by Kim, Arlen and Binky.
After the lunch, I walked with my new found friends, sharing stories and appreciating the sights and sounds around us. Gina, a hospitality industry veteran, liked to concentrate and walk fast. Binky, her older sister had lived in Hawaii for several years and would appreciate the plants and the birds we saw on the way. Kim loved beer and tattoos and had the most distinctive haircut, and Arlen, one of the fittest persons I have seen at 60, had just climbed the Mount Kilimanjaro last year. Together we walked through muddy patches and passed by cattle and farmlands. My legs rather my back hurt but the journey was so much fun that my mind just pushed me to keep going. And like that in a few hours, we arrived at our destination for the day - Portomarin, which was a small town across a river. On arriving in Portomarin, we had to climb a fleet of stairs which felt evil after a long tiring day but nevertheless, we reached our destination and I walked to my albergue.
|My albergue - Aqua Portomarin|
Day 2 - Portomarin to Portos - 19 kms
On Day 2, I woke up relatively early and got ready to leave. My legs were paining a little and so was my back so I completed a few important yoga stretches to gear me for the day ahead. I had my breakfast, put on my backpack and started walking. The day was dull and cold. The first few minutes of the walk was a steep ascent and I was panting by the time I reached the top. To add to that, it started drizzling. I quickly covered my backpack with a cover and put on my rain jacket. This was exactly what I had been fearing all along- walking in the cold heavy rains. As I kept walking, the rains only grew stronger and after a few minutes, it made no sense to walk further, so I stood under a tree's little shade with the rain pouring. I spotted a few other Caminos in their brightly colored raincoats who had also taken shelter under the trees. It continued raining for about 30 minutes before which I could walk again. The road had become sludgy and I was wet, and cold, and hungry. Surely this was a day to test my patience, I thought. In any case, I continued walking, with no other alternative really. After about an hour of walking through the muddy roads, I was relieved to find a tavern a few meters ahead of me. I walked into the restaurant, cold and soaked up in rain, when the song "One" by U2 started playing. I hummed along the tune and looked around the place, only to find Gina, Binky, Kim and Arlen calling out to me. I was just so happy to see them! I sat down with them and ordered myself a hot Galician broth - a potato and turnip soup. The rain had momentarily stopped and I urged my friends to continue walking while the skies were clear, as my soup was taking some time. After a few minutes, I put on my backpack and continued my solo walk. With the weather on my side now, the uphill journey was a lot better and there came a point where I crossed a plateau of bright yellow flowers. All this while, I was thankful of the regular Camino signposts so I knew I was on the right route.
|The yellow thorny flowers lined my walk|
|Thankful for the regular Camino signposts|
|The bright yellow flowers cheered me up|
After another 4 hours of walking, I managed to reach my destination town of Portos. I was amused to see that Portos was actually a hamlet with less than 4 huts, with one of them being my albergue for the night. The albergue looked so quaint and pretty that I was now excited to stay in there. When I went in, the lady checking me in told me I was the first Indian she had ever seen and took me to this huge world map of travelers that had stayed in the albergue. Can you imagine my excitement when I drew the first line from India to there! There were only 2 other people besides me staying at the albergue and we had good conversations during the dinner which was specially prepared for us by the hosts. I was so in love with this little cottage that wished I could stay longer, but I was also excited to see what the next day would bring.
|My albergue for the night - A Paso de Formiga|
|The world map in the albergue|
|My albergue from inside|
Day 3 - Portos to Melide (20 kms)
After a restful night, I was up and out with my backpack and all excited for the day ahead. It was a bright and cool day and after walking for about an hour, I ran into Kim and Arlen. They were such a fun couple that I tagged along with them for the whole day. Together, we passed through several small hamlets, creeks, hills and plains, ate at a cute cottage, had beer and lively chatted all the way. I was having such a good time with them that I did not even realize the weight of my bag or feel the stress of walking. Around 3PM when we reached Melide, I had to bid them goodbye as they were staying at the next stop about 6 kms ahead of Melide and would be reaching Santiago a day before me. I was so sad to see them go and kept wondering what I should do about it. As I walked towards my hostel, I remember thinking to myself that this was my Camino and that I could make it the way I want. I had come to this Camino not knowing what I was getting into and here I was, having found some amazing people that made my trip so much fun, that I wanted to finish my Camino with them. And so, by the time I reached my hostel, I had decided that I would catch up with Kim and Arlen the next day. This meant that I was required to walk 34kms the next day and boy that was going to be grueling! But the prospect of finishing the Camino with these new found friends got me so excited about doing this that I couldn't wait for the next day!
That night in my hostel, I found a few folks I had stayed with in my previous albergue. They introduced me to some seasoned Camino walkers, from France, Italy, Bulgaria, US, Australia and more, who had been on the road for the last 30 days having started the walk from the original starting point in France. At dinner, we ordered wine and people ate the famous octopus pulpo, all the while discussing stories from their journey - the saga of broken shoes, the tales of sore feet, the techniques for covering distance despite the snow and frost bites - it was so entertaining to just listen to them.
And just like that, it was the end of Day 3. It's truly amazing how the Camino turns strangers into friends with shared stories and experiences.
|Walking with Kim and Arlen|
|One of my favorite photos of the Camino|
|Passing by interesting architecture|
Day 4 - Melide to O Pedrouzo (34kms)
The next day began literally with a bang with the woman on the bed below me accidentally dropping a big can of Relispray on the floor. Thank god for that else I would have overslept on what was going to be my longest day of the Camino. I packed my stuff, which was now a routine and headed for breakfast. I was preparing myself for the 34kms ahead of me when I thought to myself that I should transport my bag and save myself a few kilos of trouble. Luckily for me, the backpack transport guy had still not left and I paid 3 Euros to transport my bag to my designated hostel. This service was truly fantastic and I could have done this before but then it wouldn't have felt like a true adventure. Nevertheless I took a shortcut on that day by transporting my bag and now I just needed to make sure that I reached my hostel in O Pedrouzo before sunset. And so the day began, as I kept following the yellow arrow signs paved by generations of previous travelers and local authorities.
Keeping my mind set on the target, the kms on the Camino sign kept decreasing slowly. I would take short breaks after every 2 hours, stretch my legs and re-fuel myself with water. It was quite hot that day which was tiring me out even more. By noon, it was amusing that I had already reached Ribadiso, about 12 kms from Melide, which was going to be my stop for the day as per my previous plan. I stopped there for lunch and had the famous Galician broth again with some cheese and bread. By now, my feet were turning soar and had started peeling. Thankfully I was carrying some band aids and some powder which I applied on my feet and added another layer of thick socks to add the cushion. In hindsight it was a smart thing to do given I still had another 22kms to go! Energized by the lunch and the new arrangement on my feet, I was ready to hit the road which would now turn inwards into a dense cover of pine forest. This was quite a relief on that hot day but I missed the company of my friends who were ahead of me by at least 7-8 kms. I found myself get into a walking rhythm that day and just kept going for the next few hours listening to my Spotify playlist. After what seemed like ages, and having run out of water, I finally came to this small tavern. I sat down heavily on the wooden bench and asked for water. That's when my eyes caught sight of a fresh orange juice squeezer and I asked the lady for some. I cannot fathom how sweet and tasty and relieving that orange juice tasted on that day, as if literally I was drinking some sort of life giving juice!
I couldn't stop there for too long, for I had to reach my destination before sunset, and so I got up and walking again. All this while, Kim and I kept exchanging our coordinates so we would know how far we were. I was still about 3kms behind them and had to cover an extra 2 kms to reach my hostel. So without wasting any more time, I jogged for a few minutes to cover some ground in the damp forest and surprisingly felt good about doing that, however not for long. I had about 7kms to go and dusk had already started kicking in. I got into my rhythm again and even though my legs hurt like crazy, I kept walking for another hour. Just around sun set, I finally reached where my friends were staying but I decided to continue my walking rhythm and just get to my hostel before darkness. Thankfully, I managed to enter the town of O Pedrouzo as the darkness kicked in, and I escaped spending a night in the woods. That night, I was famished and completely exhausted, and walked into the first pizza parlor I saw. Without caring about the calories, I feasted on a full 8 inch pizza which tasted as if it was crafted in heaven. There I sat reflecting on the day and was amazed that I had indeed covered 34kms on foot that day! All I needed now was a good night sleep and I did just that.
|My lunch place in Ribadiso|
|More interesting sights on the Camino|
|The life savior orange juice and water|
|Interesting flowers in the forest|
Day 5- O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostella (19kms)
It was now the last day of the Camino walk!! I woke up late that day and felt my legs lighter than I would have thought. I had my toast, butter and Cacao milk in a local bar and was off for the day. Kim and I exchanged our coordinates again and after a few minutes, I finally caught up with them! I was so happy that we would now be able to complete our Camino together. And so we started heading towards our final day of walk with more hills, creeks and plains and soon we were on the road to Santiago de Compostella.
As we entered the streets of Santiago, the concrete streets of the town soon merged into the stone cobbled alleys that opened into beautiful structures, churches, piazzos and fountains. After a few minutes of entering this well preserved stone maze, we headed towards the main cathedral and the pilgrims office where we would get our Camino certificates. Our little pilgrims book was now full of funky stamps that we had collected on the way and it was now time to collect our hard earned certificate. When I entered the pilgrims office, they were intrigued to see a person from India and were incredibly nice to me in giving me a personal certificate with my name on it. I was so happy!
That day, the walk was definitely easier than before and the great company made it even more fun. This day was especially memorable for me as Binky and I spoke at length about things deeply personal to us and somehow and somewhere, it was extremely comforting. This Camino had made all of us such great friends that we could share and love, and laugh and cry together, and I was truly thankful about it.
|My breakfast bar|
|Finally made it to Santiago de Compstella with my friends - Arlen, Kim and Binky!|
|The precious Camino certificate in Latin|
|A nice Spanish dinner with Gina and Binky - I was sooo tanned with all the sun B-)|
Day 6 - Santiago de Compostella
The next day, there was no more walking, and all of us decided to meet around 11AM to witness the holy mass in the main cathedral. As I entered the cathedral, I was enchanted to see the walls, the organ pipes and the fine architecture of the place. I have often wondered how such age old structures can be kept well preserved and as I was lost in my thoughts, I saw my friends who had reserved a seat for me. The mass started and the priests spoke in Spanish. I didn't quite understand everything given this was only my 2nd time at a mass but attending it was a great experience nonetheless. There was such positivity and calm in the air that it felt good.
That afternoon, I joined a group tour with my friends around Santiago de Compostella. Our guide was a 70 year old lady with a good sense of humor. It was nice to stroll through the stone city and get lost in such an old historic place.
As the day ended, I bid goodbye to my friends. Life does surprise you sometimes - what had started as a solo 120km walk, was now ending with ups and downs of a great journey with some great friends and some great stories. I look forward to keeping in touch with these lovely people!
|The beautiful stone architecture of Santiago de Compostella|
|Merry-making for having completed the Camino|
|These musical pipe organs were so huge!|
|The main cathedral of Santiago de Compostella|
Day 7 - Santiago de Compostella to Finisterra and back
Having got an extra day because of my change in plans, I decided to visit Fisterra or Finisterra, which literally means end of land, as thought of in the ancient times. I took a 2 hour bus from Santiago and arrived at the small coastal town of Fisterra. From the bus stop, I walked for about an hour along the coast of the Atlantic ocean which welcomed me to go further. This was one of the western most point of Continental Europe and I felt great soaking in the sunshine, hearing the crystal blue waves break against the rocks. As I reached the lighthouse at the farthest point, I gave a silent thanks to my sleeping bag and my backpack for having been my companions for the last few days, and collected my last stamp on my passport. This had been such a fantastic journey and as I sat looking at the wide blue ocean in front of me, I was content and happy.
|The beautiful waters of the Atlantic ocean|
|Fisterra or Finisterra - which means end of known world - the western most point of continental Europe|
|Such lovely sights on the way|
|A silent thanks to my bags that had been my companions for the last few days|
|A happy me having completed my Camino!|