On Monday, June 27th, 2016, I embarked on perhaps one of my greatest adventures of 2016, to fulfill Bucketlist item #109) Walk the Camino de Santiago from France to Santiago, Espana.
The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is 490+ mile pilgrimage often starting in St Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain where it is believed that the remains of the Apostle St. James the Greater are buried.
People make the pilgrimage for many reasons: a retreat for their spiritual growth, to discover their past or reveal their future, in hopes that a miracle will touch them or someone they love, and many other reasons.
It all kind of sounds like some mystical, religious, self-discovery adventure right out of a C.S. Lewis or Paulo Coehlo novel and there can be some of that if that is what you truly seek. But while you walk on the Camino for days on end, there are also many real life quirks, funny truths, and even insanities that accompany you on this journey.
Here are some of the major ones, Enjoy!
You will give away the deed to your house back home for a bottom bunk
It doesn’t seem to matter if you are 18 or 80, the idea of climbing up to the top bunk at the end of a hard day of walking is enough to make anyone cry! In most albergues, it is kind of a first come first serve situation, while in others they have an over 40 rule. However, you will bargain your treasures for the bottom bunk. If you are unfortunate enough to get the top bunk, then you must take care of everything before the climb because you will then enter the contest of “how long can I hold it before I have to climb back down to use the bathroom!”
You will politely HATE ALL CYCLISTS!
The first time you see a cyclist struggling to push their bicycles loaded with their saddle bags up a mountain, a sense of pity will encompass you. Don’t fret, that will only last about 4 hours because then you will pray for them to crash down a mountain. Why? Because these cyclist will come zipping by you, out of no where, at top speeds nearly clipping your arms and shoving you off the trail as they happily shout, “Buen Camino!” It’s insanity to say the least. They own a $1,000 bicycle and can’t afford an effing $2.00 bell to warn you! Stupid Cyclists…”Buen effin Camino!!”
By day 3 everyone qualifies as a registered podiatrist
Feet, feet, feet! Everyone discusses their feet or the feet of others on the Camino. Between blisters, bruises, twisted ankles, and lost toe nails every possible subject regarding feet is discussed – by everyone! The earliest records of visits paid to the shrine dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela date from the 9th century. So, as you walk you will start to wonder what type of space aged leather the pilgrims used for shoes as the Roman roads beat your feet into mush like Ivan Drago beat Apollo Creed’s face in Rocky IV!
Everyone admits to seeing The Way, reading The Pilgrimage, or owning a Brierly guidebook
You are so excited to start walking in the beginning, especially after seeing THE WAY or reading The Pilgrimage or your Brierly guidebook! You will ask everyone if they have seen or read them and openly admit that you they are the catalyst to this adventure for you. I mean why not, they make it seem so wonderful and easy! But by the first week, you will wonder what map Martin Sheen had because his character was all over the place! On day 2 you will start to create voodoo dolls of John Brierly and wonder if he has ever even walked the Camino because this is way harder than he describes. With regards to The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo, you will think he must have been tripping out on some serious shrooms as you walk through towns he visited and had his visions yet see nothing that resembles the mystical world!
Spain’s metric system is more of a general average rather than an exact science
Spain’s definition of 1 kilometer seems to vary from place to place and sign to sign with a +/- variance of +4 or +10! Wait or was it -22?
But seriously, reading your guidebook or maps will drive you insane as you walk for endless kilometers on end with no similar scale from day to day. Even legitimate government road signs will vary along the many hours you spend walking toward Santiago, only to find out the next sign added 5 kilometers to the initial sign you read that morning!The Funny But True Things about the Camino de Santiago is really funny! #Camino #travel Click To Tweet
You will hate energy & water conservation, but only in the bathroom
Spain seems to be doing wonderful work with energy conservation as you see the beautiful horizons lined with windmills. However, after awhile you are willing to sign any petition that will get the timers off the bathroom lights or the shower water button to last longer than 38 seconds!
No one will question that you are following graffiti to your destination
The Camino de Santiago might be the only time in your life where you will deliberately follow crappy yellow spray painted arrows across an entire country and no one will think you are crazy! I mean imagine if you were back home and you told your parents that you found some spray paint markings under some bridges or on random trees & you wanted to see where they led. They would definitely try to talk you out of it! But on the Camino, you search for them and start get nervous when you don’t see them after awhile!
You will carry the Camino with you every day
No this isn’t some sort of deep thought! This is a literal statement. Every time you take off your boots you will pour out pounds of dirt, rocks, and unknown particles! Suddenly you will feel like Andy from the Shawshank Redemption as he emptied his escape route into the prison yard.
You will become a Pyrenees Snob
Well you might become a Pamplona snob, a Burgos snob, a Leon snob, or another location snob to anyone who starts after you! I mean come on, you suffered far harder circumstances and have become an expert on the Camino in the 3 days before they started! Well, everyone can agree that the jerks that start in Sarria will never understand! It’s weird when you realize your contempt for those who start in Sarria as they complete the bare minimum length of the Camino. Even in John Brierly’s guidebook, he warns to “Beware of signs of irritation at the intrusion on ‘my’ camino…” as new pilgrims enter at Sarria!
You will Gain Weight
The Camino de Santiago must be the only event where you will burn 9 million calories a day hiking and come home 15 lbs. heavier! How? Perhaps, it is because the only things to do besides walking is eating & drinking! Every day you stop for a second and third breakfast before lunch. Then, there is the pilgrim’s menu served everyday for $10 or less where you eat like Arnold getting ready for a Mr. Universe body building competition. Plus, with 95% of the Camino participating in Siesta, the only thing you have to do in the afternoons is eat and drink wine or ice cold pints of beer!
Everyone smiles in the same language
It doesn’t matter where people are from or how good your foreign language skills are, you will be able to talk to anyone – if you want. Don’t get me wrong, you may become an expert at charades by the end of the Camino, but it will be worth all the laughter and memories!