I’m leaving soon to walk my 2nd “Camino” as a returning pilgrim! Apparently, I didn’t get enough of Spain’s beautiful scenery & the pilgrim lifestyle the first time around – so I’m going back for more!
My 1st Camino was in September/October 2016 when I walked the second half of the Camino Francés – taking 19 days to cover 230 miles. This time, I will be walking the first half and I estimate the 250 miles will take me around 21 days! Both times, I am traveling like a “traditional” pilgrim – walking solo, carrying everything I need in my 20# backpack, and primarily staying in pilgrim hostels. It’s definitely quite the unique adventure!
Spain’s Camino de Santiago has become increasingly popular over the past ten or so years. In fact, in 2017, the various Camino pilgrimage routes attracted a total of 300,000 walkers! The Camino Francés (French Way) drew the bulk of the pilgrims, at 60%. That’s because it’s a great route with charming towns & villages, gorgeous scenery, and wonderful services (food & lodging) for pilgrims all along the way.
In this post, I am sharing a little about the Camino & my upcoming journey. Just before my 2016 Camino, I wrote a detailed blog post answering the most common Camino questions I was asked. In later review, the post turned out to be quite accurate – except for my overly optimistic desired weight for my backpack. So, for more details about the overall Camino experience, you might want to check that 2016 blog post out.
What is the Camino?
The Camino de Santiago is a series of pilgrimage routes from all across Europe that ultimately lead to the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Its magnificent cathedral is believed to contain the remains (and relics) of the Apostle St. James. FYI: In Spanish, Santiago is the name for James.
For over a thousand years, pilgrims have traveled by foot or horseback – including the bicycle in modern times – to reach the Cathedral to pay their respects to the Saint. The most popular route is the 480-mile-long (780km) Camino Francés. This “French Way” starts in France in the foothills of the Pyrenees and winds its way across northern Spain before reaching Santiago de Compostela.
The early pilgrims walked the Camino strictly as a religious pilgrimage and suffered great hardships. Today, people walk the Camino for a wide variety of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with a religious or spiritual motive. They’re just seeking a grand, outdoor adventure. But regardless, we are all called pilgrims. And today, I promise you, there is much less suffering!
You may have seen the excellent movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen from 2011/12. In the film, Martin’s 60-something character “unexpectedly” walks the entire 500-mile Camino. The movie may be fiction, but it’s a wonderful, inspiring story. Plus, it was filmed entirely on location on the Camino Francés, showing off the route’s stunningly beautiful scenery. In fact, “The Way” is what inspired me to walk my first Camino, like it has so many others!
My Camino #2 – Crossing the Pyrenees on Day 1
This time, I am beginning my walk at the traditional start of the Camino Francés – in the charming French town of St. Jean Pied de Port (population 1,800). “Pied de port” means “foot of the pass” in French, and the town is nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
From St. Jean, the Camino’s steep, arduous and beautiful Napoleon Route crosses over the Pyrenees (and the French border) into Spain. After an exhausting 25 kilometers (15.6 miles), pilgrims triumphantly arrive in Roncesvalles. This tiny Spanish hamlet (population 30!), which is centered around a medieval monastery, focuses on the daily care and feeding of its many in-transit pilgrims.
Many people walk the Napoleon Route from St. Jean to Roncesvalles in one long, grueling day! To me, this is the ultimate “Welcome to the Camino” or perhaps “Baptism by the Pyrenees Fire!” Many pilgrims say that after this first day, everything else is easy! These hills are a key reason I have been training particularly hard for this Camino!
On the Napoleon route, the highest peak sits at 1,450 meters (4,750 ft). It doesn’t sound like much until you realize St. Jean lies at only 170 meters. Thus, the daunting elevation gain on the walk/hike is 1,300 meters (~ 4,200 ft.). And, then it’s capped off by a final steep 500-meter downhill into Roncesvalles. Sigh…
Luckily, there are some alternatives including the “2-Day Pyrenees Plan” which, gratefully, is what I have opted for. I will break the crossing of the Pyrenees into two more manageable days with an overnight in Orisson, another small French hamlet. I’ll stay at the simple but charming albergue – “Refuge Orisson” – with space for 28 lucky pilgrims. There, I’ll be sharing a communal dinner with my fellow walkers – a great way to make new Camino friends.
Camino #2 – More Routing / Plans
So, I’ll only be in France for two nights – St. Jean Pied de Port & Orisson – and the rest of my Camino will take place in Spain. From Roncesvalles, the Camino Francés travels through the beautiful, mountainous, and fascinating Basque country. I’ll be spending a night in Pamplona, where I can’t wait to view streets where the famed bulls make their run each July – and gore a few locals & tourists crazy enough to put themselves in the path of those very sharp horns.
I’ll be passing mostly through small towns and villages, with Logroño and Burgos being the only other cities on my “first half” Camino route. Around Burgos, the landscape flattens and the open plains of the “Meseta” begins. I’ll have around 6 more walking days before arriving in Sahagun – the “half-way” town where I began my first Camino 1 ½ years ago!
Upon reaching the town, I’ll walk straight to the Sahagun train station and catch the next train to Santiago de Compostela. Of course, Santiago (and its magnificent cathedral) is the ultimate destination of all Camino pilgrims. In early October 2016, I walked into Santiago as a happy & “victorious” pilgrim and proudly collected my Compostela – the certificate of completion – at the Pilgrim Office.
This time, on Camino #2, no such grand entry! However, Santiago is a beautiful, historic city, and filled with a fun pilgrim vibe (plus lots of regular tourists!). So, I am excited to return to Santiago to explore the city a bit more – plus attend the daily – and very special – “pilgrim’s mass” at the Cathedral.
Hopefully, if my “tentative schedule” pans out and I have enough time, I’ll then journey (by bus) to the nearby coastal towns of Finisterre & Muxia. I would love to spend a couple days exploring these two towns before returning to Santiago and taking the 5-hour train to Madrid to catch my flight home the following day.
So, let me answer some of the final burning questions you might have:
How Far Will You Walk Every Day?
I will admit that on my first Camino, I had NO IDEA how far my body could – or would want to – walk each day. Now, after my past experience of almost 3 weeks, I really know. On Camino #1, my daily mileage ranged between 9 and 16 miles, averaging a very “sane” 12 miles. It was a comfortable pace for me – and my body (and feet!) held up well. So, that’s pretty much the ballpark of what I expect to do again this time. Here’s hoping…
What’s the Weather Going to Be Like?
I chose spring – in particular May – for Camino #2, so I would have a different seasonal experience. May/early June is a good time to walk the Camino, as is September/October. Both “shoulder” seasons offer more temperate weather and less (but still significant) crowds than the miserably hot summer months of July & August.
In checking weather charts along my route, May offers great hiking weather – which means cool! The “usual” temperatures range from 41 – 73 degrees F, with evenings and early mornings quite nippy. My daytime hiking temps should range from low 50s to the mid/upper 60s. So, as in all travel, layers are key! Unfortunately, the probability of rain is strong, especially in the first half of my walk. I was certainly spoiled on Camino #1 with minimal rain. Maybe I’ll get lucky again? Please send some prayers to the Weather Gods!
Where Do You Sleep At Night?
I plan to do very similar to what I did the first time. I will stay primarily in “pilgrim hostels” (called albergues) which provide lodging in coed dorm rooms, filled with rows of bunk beds (with a mattress and pillow). We pilgrims bring our own sleeping bags. Surprisingly, this “communal living” experience was actually fun and a great way to meet fellow pilgrims. However, you do need “industrial strength” earplugs because there is a lot of rigorous snoring going on!
I was pleasantly surprised at how nice many of the pilgrim hostels were. Some of them had lovely gardens and lawns for relaxing après-walk. They all provided areas for washing and drying clothes – a daily ritual. And, you can’t beat the price, which usually ranged between 5-10 euros per night! Many hostels also had cafes or restaurants where you could get breakfast and/or dinner for an additional fee. If not, Spain is filled with many great food choices.
A few of the nights, I splurged and upgraded to an individual room at a pensione (one level down from a hotel). I loved having my own room and bathroom (which occasionally was shared with one other room). Not to mention real bath towels (vs. my backpack’s thin microfiber version!) and total control of when the room lights went on & off!
Who Will Be Your Fellow Pilgrims?
Walking the Camino, especially the highly popular Camino Francés, is a very social experience. In fact, meeting pilgrims from all around the world is one of the Camino’s greatest joys. The first time, I met many Europeans (Spain, Germany, Italy, France, UK, Ireland) as well as Americans, Canadians, Australians, Brazilians and South Koreans, plus a smattering of folks from many other countries.
I also love that the Camino community is so diverse. Not only do pilgrims come from all over the globe, but people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, marital status, socio-economic and other types of backgrounds walk the Camino. On my first Camino, I was delighted to see that quite a few pilgrims were “more mature” like me – in their 50s, 60s, and early 70s – and they rocked it too!
How Are You Getting To Spain/St. Jean?
In my usual spirit of being a “sight-seeing pilgrim,” I will be flying into Barcelona as my international gateway city. (Last time, I chose Madrid.) I want the chance to get over jet lag & tour a wonderful city I haven’t seen in years. Thus, I will spend 4 nights/3 full days exploring the enchanting city of Barcelona (a traveler favorite!) with a good friend Regina who’s flying in from Munich for the weekend to join me!
From Barcelona, I’ll take a 4-hour high-speed train to Pamplona where I’ll spend the night – to get a head start on exploring this picturesque town, reportedly filled with great tapas bars as well as those raging bulls. The next afternoon, I’ve booked a 2-hour bus to St. Jean Pied de Port, where I will spend one more night before starting my Camino the next morning! Apparently, St. Jean is a charming mountain town worth touring so that I will do!
Walking my first Camino was truly an amazing adventure! I met so many wonderful people – from the friendly locals (in hostels, cafes, and shops) to my fellow pilgrims. Every day was a completely new experience – with the Camino’s varying scenery, the small, charming villages to walk through, and new towns to explore each afternoon/evening. Plus, each albergue where I stayed was truly unique. I was never bored! Challenged yes, bored never!
So, I look forward with great anticipation to Camino #2. I am curious to see how the experience compares to my first one, especially now that I am a “veteran” Peregrina (pilgrim). Plus, having a better idea what to expect and more confidence in my physical abilities to actually do this, I wonder if I can relax even more into the whole pilgrim experience and/or view it with a slightly different perspective.
Even though I am much less nervous about Camino #2, believe me, I will be stepping way outside my comfort zone yet again! Despite having gone a similar distance, 250 miles is still a long way to walk! And, since I plan to stay in mostly pilgrim hostels – that means shared dorm rooms, occasional coed-bathrooms, and a chorus of snoring pilgrims. Yikes, more fun & games!
I also have a few worries about the weather – and whether it will be kind to me, especially in the Pyrenees where conditions can change quickly. Even though I am doing the “easier” 2-day Pyrenees Plan, it’s still one heckuva mountain to climb with a 20-pound backpack on day #1! Yet, I am still optimistic that regardless of any challenges, it will be another wonderful experience!
Here’s My Pre & Post Blog Posts From Camino #1 (if you’d like to know more):
- Walking Spain’s Famed Camino: My Upcoming Pilgrimage
- Spain’s Camino de Santiago – Tales from a Successful Pilgrim
Comments: Have you walked the Camino? Is it on your bucket list?