Hannah Kingston reflects on her time spent on the Camino De Santiago, a 791 km pilgrimage from the Pyrenees to Galicia.
When you envision a cheap holiday, you think about booze cruises, scarily inexpensive alcohol and crisping skin by a pool that has too much chlorine in it.
Holidays should be about fleeing the daily grind and escaping into a totally different routine and culture. Surprisingly, this can still be achieved on a budget minus fluorescent lighting and late nights.
The Camino De Santiago is a pilgrimage originating from St. James. Leading from the foothills of the Pyrenees in France and stretching 791 km over Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Three things can be expected from this type of trip: 1) An envelopment into Spanish culture. 2) A mental de-cluttering and 3) Dodgy tan lines.
At the start of the Camino way, each pilgrim is given a passport and must collect stamps along their path to ensure their certificate at the end of the trip. It also acts as proof of your “Pellegrino” status and allows you to avail of cheap hostels precisely for that cause.
I think a common misconception about a trip like this is that you need to be religious. This is not the case. Most people that I came across were in it for the culture and the beautiful views from the top of those knee buckling hills. If you had said “Hiking holiday with your Mother” to me a year ago, there is absolutely no way I would have jumped at the opportunity. However, this is the type of trip which requires a well-known companion who has seen you at your most horrific, both physically and mentally. When the sun comes out in force and the blisters start to arise, you need to be in the company of someone you can shout at. And who’ll shout back at you.
The only negative aspect of this trip is that you really get inside your own head. Some could see that as a blessing; others a curse. Without a constant source of Wi-Fi, you begin to forget about everything that’s going on at home within days. Shortly you even get sick of your iPod and start to actually look around at the beauty you’re surrounded in.
Walking 25-30 km seems daunting at first but everyday is new. You’re walking through grapevines, cherry trees, roads that haven’t seen attention in years to the side of the Spanish equivalent of the M50. Every night is different as you sleep in a new bunk bed and forget about your previous 25 kilometres. Each hostel has something new to offer. My least favourite was the one that smelled like something died under by bed and only had one bath between forty people. My favourite was one nestled among the trees at the top of a hill, a vegetarian commune offering hammocks, herbal teas and a baby owl.
One of the greatest parts of this holiday is meeting new people that you would never have talked to at home. You begin your day bleary eyed and sore and end it talking to a 60-year-old, recent divorcee over cheap wine and tapas. There is this undying sense of solidarity from start to finish, it really isn’t about the end line, it’s about the journey. Everyday you see people ahead of you will the sea shell hanging off their bagpacks, and you know there’s people behind you with the same. Everyone is rooting for one another.
This is a holiday I would recommend to the twenty-something. It’s so unbelievably underrated but offers so many things to so many different people. For those that don’t want to go on a grand expedition every day, there is usually some form of hostel every 5-10 kilometres, there’s cheap wine, delicious food (if you know where to go, steer clear from the pulpo; octopus), sun and people all around the world to chat to while you attempt to de-crisp your shoulders and dodgy back-pack lines.
I would recommend staying two nights in the big cities as the atmosphere can bring you back to life having wandered through the wilderness for days on end.
Yes, it is the road less travelled but it’s one I will always highly acclaim and, for the first time in my life I’m going to tell you, for the love of all that is holy, wear sensible shoes.