After having read many accounts of ultra-hardy pilgrims trekking 800 plus kilometres across France and Spain to Santiago in record time, I feel I must put in a word of encouragement for those of us who don’t have the time/money/ fitness to do such a long Camino.
In Spring of 2010, I did a ‘mere’ 500kms of the Via de la Plata. It took me 25 walking days to cover the distance from Salamanca to Santiago. That averages out to a meagre (compared with other stories) 20kms a day. My longest day was 28.5kms, but I did a couple of short 10-12km days when I had an injury. I also had a complete day off after the first week of walking. Walking up to 20kms a day meant that it was at a very leisurely pace (mine!), and I arrived at my destination early in the afternoon, with plenty of time to recoup and do some sightseeing. My logic was that a pilgrimage is not a race, but a time and process to be enjoyed.
In the 3 months prior to leaving, I prepared specifically for this my first Camino. My walks (3 times a week), gradually gained length until in the last couple of weeks I had walked a couple of 20km days with no problems. I also attended 2 Pilates classes a week for general core strength and flexibility. I researched thoroughly as I had intentionally chosen the Via de la Plata as ‘The Path Less Travelled’ and I was travelling alone. I had no wish to be amongst crowds, but this also meant that I had to be more self-sufficient, so attended evening Spanish classes for the 2 years prior. (I felt that even if I didn’t end up going, a year of Spanish classes would be interesting then it became 2). Although my grasp of the language can still only be classed as basic, on this route no-one (except for the occasional fellow pilgrim of Germanic origin) spoke English. It is a very rural route, so all shopping or booking of a bed, ordering a meal etc was done in Spanish.
Most of the albergues on this route were very new, with a kitchen, although they were generally missing something random – at one it was a fridge, at another it was pots and pans. But the beds were always comfy.
At one point in my Camino I found myself in step with 5 other pilgrims and en joyed a couple of wonderful communal meals with 4 different nationalities. I didn’t walk with any of them during the day, but we caught up at the albergue in the afternoon. However when I chose to walk a shorter day because of a strained foot problem, I had to say farewell to them. I did miss the comradeship, but on the other hand it was lovely for it to be just ‘me and my Maker’ on the path again.
I can recommend the route. The markers varied, but were generally very good. The terrain from Salamanca also varied, from fairly flat land under crops, to mountain scenery. Beginning my Camino in Salamanca was a good choice, as there was a week or more of flat to undulating walking before getting to the steep bits.
I would encourage anyone considering a Camino not to feel that they need to start at a certain point or cover a certain amount of kilometres to have a worth while Camino experience. Just use the time frame you have available and do what you can do. Just Do It!!
When I have been asked what was a highlight of my Camino, I recall a day when I was sitting by myself in the grass alongside a dirt path in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country far from home, having a drink and eating my orange, without a care in the world. That’s it, bliss!