What’s a camino?
You mean, besides the 70’s era car? It’s an ancient Celtic pilgrimage to the “end of the earth” that was eclipsed by the Church in the 1100s to the burial site of Saint James, brother of John, Jesus’ right hand man. More history here.
When did you walk the Camino?
I left on April 16 and returned on June 6, 2013.
How long did it take you?
The average person takes about 33 days to walk it, but I gave myself seven weeks to fully immerse myself in the experience. I didn’t want to feel rushed, freaked out about beds, or miss out on the chance to walk the additional route to Finisterre. This was plenty of time and I loved it.
In addition to my time on the Camino, I also took a 4-week retreat afterward to decompress. Re-integration was hard for me and I’m glad I didn’t have the immediate added pressure of jumping right back into my work and paying bills and all the mental bandwidth this entails.
How did you get that much time off?
If you can endure the long hours and insecure income, ample time off is one of the benefits of self-employment. I have a lovely business called Inspired Home Office and I had fantastic helpers who held down the fort in my absence.
Why did you walk it?
The answer to this was was both simple and complex. It started out as a way on honoring of my 40th birthday, but the reasons became deeper and more personal as it got closer. I wrote about the whole enchilada here.
I kinda hoped I would lose some weight as a side benefit to the spiritual work, but I passed up few opportunities to eat pastries and drink vino tinto. So I lost about 5lbs lost, total.
“Can I join you?”
I got this question a lot before I left. My response, “I love you, but no.” (Read on.)
You went by yourself?
Yes. I can’t tell you how many people asked me some variation of this question. “Are you going with a group? Is Mary (my partner of nine years) going with you?” Sometimes the askers were incredulous, “You’re going ALONE?!”
I had read about how the Spanish are proud and protective of their pilgrims – both for the money they bring and the heritage of the journey. So, I didn’t feel terribly afraid.
Here’s the thing: as a culture, we’ve stopped knowing how to be comfortable in our own company. In our plugged-in lives, we’ve forgotten how to be alone. It’s an important skill to reclaim. I really like being by myself because I can hear my heart – and listening to it is important to me.
So, yes. I went alone. But I was never alone. That’s not intended to sound creepy. On average, 60 people complete the Camino each day, so it comes down to numbers. Many times I felt completely alone the woods, but when I stopped to have a snack, a half dozen people passed by.
I went feeling open to participating in the impromptu communities and “Camino families” I’d read about. I was open to being by myself for hours or days. I went feeling open to whatever experience presented itself – and some amazing synchronicities happened as a result.
But, weren’t you scared?
Heck, yes! Sometimes overwhelmingly! But being scared doesn’t mean “don’t do it”. It just means “weigh the risks and proceed wisely.” At the beginning, I needed anti-anxiety meds (I’m pretty high-strung), but I’d still prefer that to living in a plastic bubble. The view is way better.
Also, only one of my dozens of fears actually happened (I got caught with my pants down outdoors) and – miraculously – I did not die. In fact, it turned out to be no big deal. I can’t tell you how many hours I obsessed about that before I left. If you’re a fellow worry-wart, let this be a lesson. 🙂
Were you nervous being alone as a woman?
Not once. I think our culture holds an untrue and potentially harmful belief that a woman alone is a woman in danger. That by the very virtue of being sola, she is a target. This is a lie, and a dangerous one at that. Do bad things happen to women the world over? Yes. But bad things also happen to men and children and animals every day. What kind of life is it to live behind locked doors in exchange for the illusion of safety? That’s not living, that’s survival.
The Camino invites us to risk. To risk what we think we’re capable of, to risk trusting Something Bigger than us, to risk opening ourselves to uncertainty and find the blessings that reside in not knowing what will happen next. We are only as vulnerable – or as strong – as we allow ourselves to be. That’s not a woman thing, that’s a people thing.
How did you get there – and back?
From Portland, Oregon TO Saint Jean Pied de Port, France:
- United Airlines from Portland Airport —> Chicago O’Hare
- AerLingus from Chicago O’Hare —> Dublin, Ireland (I had round-trip tickets to/from DUB)
- RyanAir from Dublin, Ireland —> Biarritz, France (one-way ticket)
- Local city bus from Biarritz —> Bayonne (one-way ticket)
- Train from Bayonne —> Saint Jean Pied de Port, France (one-way ticket)
- Walked up the hill from the train station and got on the Camino. (amazing!)
From Santiago de Compostella, Spain TO Portland, Oregon:
- Local city bus from Santiago center —> Santiago airport (one-way ticket)
- AerLingus from Santiago, Spain —> Dublin, Ireland (one-way ticket – stayed overnight)
- AerLingus from Dublin, Ireland —> Chicago O’Hare (other half of round-trip ticket)
- United from Chicago O’Hare —> Portland, Oregon
How heavy was your pack? What was in it?
Depending on the snacks and how much water I was carrying, my pack was about 15lbs.
In case you want to check it out, I wrote my entire packing list here as well as all the things I wish I had/hadn’t brought with me.
How much did it cost?
While it is possible to do the Camino on about 30€ a day, I averaged about 45-55€/day because I splurged periodically on things like machine-washed laundry, hotel, medicine, gifts, and a pair of hiking poles. Results will vary, but it’s a good idea to go with a daily budget and room for emergencies.
The number above is independent of air travel.
How many miles did you walk each day?
Pilgrims use kilometers for measuring distance. This takes some adjusting for those of us still using imperial units, but at the end of the day kilometer totals always sound more impressive than miles.
The basic stats: SJPP to Santiago is 789.1 km. From Santiago to the lighthouse in Finisterre is 89.3. Of those, I walked 727.4 km (452 mi). This is because I took the bus twice (Carrion de los Condes – Leon 96.8 km and Astorga – Ponferrada 54.2 km). With 6 rest days and 2 travel days out of 49, that gave me 41 walking days.
My average distance was 17.7 km/day (11 mi/day). That said, my shortest days were at the beginning where I split Brierley’s stages into two until Pamplona. As I got closer to Santiago, my daily miles went up deliberately and included my biggest day of 34.4 km (21.4 mi). I felt like Super Woman!
If I wanted to walk the whole thing, I would have had to be there longer, walk longer, split up fewer days, and/or not get a fever/ear infection in Astorga.
Have you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed?
Sure have. (Saw the movie too.) And I’ve read a bunch of other awesome books about long walks that I’m happy to recommend.
What did you like most about the Camino? And least?
Liked most: I loved the people (locals and pilgrims alike), the scenery, the daily rhythm of getting up and walking, the food, the chance to get away from my responsibilities, the freedom, the opportunity to ponder some lingering issues in my life, a community of people who were pondering similar questions, the wine, and sense of shared purpose among pilgrims. I met some amazing people on my pilgrimage who inspired me, challenged me, and helped me grow in new ways. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.
Liked least: I struggled with foot pain at the beginning of my journey and with pneumonia at the end (I was one sick puppy). So that was no fun. I grappled with all the familiar things people dread: snoring, bag rustling, a smidge of competition, cyclists who didn’t use a bell – but I tried to use these opportunities to send compassion to others and look at my own reactions as useful information, rather than expecting others to suit my preferences. Also rain and mud.
Mixed: One experience I had falls into the both liked/disliked category. Toward the end of my journey I fell pretty hard for someone who was not my spouse. I didn’t expect it (even as I giggled over other Camino romances), and I was caught unprepared. While I didn’t act on my attraction, it brought up all kinds of grist for my inner mill. In the end, it was a long personal road for me post-Camino, but the experience made my relationship stronger and helped me express my truth more honestly than I ever had before.
Would you recommend doing the Camino?
Absolutely. With one caveat: Say yes to the Camino because you feel a call. If you’re “doing” the Camino just to check it off your bucket list, there are plenty of other long trails in the world to consider.
Say yes because it scares you. Say yes because you think it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted. Pilgrimage is supposed to make you feel uneasy. If it does and you do, then you’re going places, dear one. Buen Camino!
Have another question?
Comment below and I’ll be happy to respond!