I have been incommuncado for the last couple of weeks – walking from the Cathedral in Porto (north Portugal) to the Cathedral in Santiago (north Spain); following one of the ancient pilgrim routes, The Portugues Camino, with my daughter.
The route we took was just over 260 kms, but when you factor walking around the towns we stayed in we managed just over 300 kms in 11 days (yes I had a pedometer) – carrying all our worldly (for the sake of the two weeks we were on the Camino all our worldly) possessions with us.
There was no religious significance in taking our pilgrimage over Easter, but I’m glad we did. Later in the year would have been too hot and we would have missed out on the festivals we stumbled across en route.
I can’t say that I experienced any great enlightenment on my Camino but it’s true that when your plodding uphill, with your rucksack, in 27c (wondering if you have enough water to last until the next time you find somewhere willing to sell you some more) one or two thoughts do flash through your normally empty head – but not necessarily religious ones.
En route we stayed mostly in Albergues – these were designated specifically for pilgrims, costing between €5 – €6 a night; row upon row of bunk beds, each room accomodating as many as 30 people. A friend once joked it was a great place to find out what a man was like without having to bother introducing yourself – you knew if he snored, showered or had money (the rich ones slept with their wallets under their pillows, apparently). The accomodation was very basic, flimsy disposable protective sheets, clean toilets and showers, rudimentary kitchens. Rumours of bed bugs abounds and admittedly fear of them meant we took along very cheap sleeping bags which we left in the last place we stayed in. The fun of the Albergues was meeting all the other pilgrims, often we met the same people again each night. You can’t book any of these places in advance – it is just first come, first served. Only once did we find the Albergue we had intended staying in was full – but the next one was less than 100m away.
As our Camino came to an end we hit the first bout of bad weather – which in a way made the last day or two slightly easier.
Doing the Camino was hot, often physically exhausting but a brilliant experience – to anyone considering doing one I say don’t dally …. Buen Camino.