Three months ago I had this crazy notion about doing something completely different, discovering an activity that would challenge me on many different levels, something that would stretch me mentally as well as physically.
It was while searching the Internet I suddenly came across a name that I hadn’t heard about before – it was the ‘Camino De Santiago’. I did further research and discovered that for many centuries Christian Pilgrims had been walking the many pathways to Santiago Compostela, the capital city of Spain’s north-west region of Galicia and the alleged burial site of the apostle St James.
What I also came to realise that today still many thousands of people endeavour to walk or cycling these specific routes, either for spiritual / religious purposes or just for personal achievement. This really seemed appealing, so I made plans to embark upon my own personal journey to Santiago. I accepted that I had only seven days available in which to complete my quest. I therefore decided to walk the most popular and shortest part of the route – the final section of the “The French Way,” which is approx 110km. I had my route organised, stopping off each night at small establishments along the way and trekking between 25–28km a day.
The first two days I marched at an incredibly fast pace, following the designated pathway, which was clearly marked by signposts and the famous yellow arrows. On the third day the dark clouds gathered and it started to rain, making walking that much tougher. I accepted that these damp conditions were just another mental barrier that I needed to overcome.
On route to Santiago I mingled with many different people from all around the globe, the majority having the same aim as myself, to complete the Camino. It was toward the later part of my journey at a stop-off point that I had the opportunity to become acquainted with five British women over an evening meal. I was surprised to learn that all of the ladies resided in the Costa Blanca region of Spain. I was even more fascinated to discover that all of them were of a retirement age and each walking the Camino for their very own personal reasons.
The next day while continuing on with my journey I unexpectedly came across the ladies again. I politely asked if it would be all right to walk alongside them, which they didn’t mind. It wasn’t until several miles later that I started to realise that these five women had actually helped me slow down my walking pace, as well as point out the true splendour of our surroundings. I had actually begun to “smell the roses” or in this case the eucalyptus trees. Despite the intermittent rain showers my journey now seemed a lot more enjoyable.
After two more days of all trekking together, we finally trundled our way into the majestic cathedral city of Santiago Compostela, the destination for most pilgrims. After figuring out how to reach the main square, once inside we celebrated our achievement with big smiles, lots of hugs and plenty of photo opportunities. Later that evening while staying in our somewhat luxury hotel, the ladies and I celebrated in style, all dolled-up, holding a glass of champagne and chocolate bars, all before finally bidding each other a fond farewell.
One final duty before leaving Spain was to gain my certificate of completion from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. Along the way it was important to get the “Pilgrim’s Passport” stamped at various different outlets, documenting your progress. In order to receive the famous ‘Compostela’ certificate you have to prove that you fulfilled, at the very least, walking the last 100km without the aid of buses, cars or taxis.
Completing the Camino De Santiago means many different things to many different people. For me personally it signified three individual aspects. (1) The chance to meet a lot of interesting and friendly people. (2) Recognising the true splendor and beauty of my surroundings. (3) Getting to know myself a whole lot more.
Overall, I have to say that it was a life-enhancing experience and one that I would truly wish to repeat again.
By Martin Ducker