‘Buen camino!’, it sounds so exotic when you first hear it. After a few days on trail, it’s the most common greeting that leaves your mouth as easily as ‘hola’. And that is what the camino is all about. These two words, buen camino, sum up the journey perfectly. There is an amazing sense of comradery. Wherever you started walking, you are now all in it together. Walkers all greet each other with a smile and those two words.
I got the chance to spend a week on the camino to Santiago de Compostela. Together with my group I walked the last 118km of the old pilgrimage to the burial place of St James the apostle. We started in Sarria, with some steps past small shops and cafés. It led to a small monastery and church. Together with one of my travellers, I knocked on the door and it was opened by a friendly man who gestured to us that we could have a look around and offered us our first stamp.
Stamps are another essential part of the camino. Along the route we collected stamps from churches, cafés, hotels and restaurants. On the last 100km you need to collect 2 stamps a day to prove that you actually walked the camino. Upon arrival in Santiago you can then go to the pilgrims office to collect your ‘compostela’, the official certificate of the camino.
The camino wasn’t just a great way to hear the stories of other pilgrims, it was also a unique way to see the province of Galicia. If it wasn’t for the camino, I would probably never have visited most of the towns we walked through. We walked through forests, past corn fields and through tiny villages with beautiful people. Occasionally we encountered the rural traffic jam; a group of cows crossing the path.
Along the way we ate pilgrims menus in restaurants, cafés and hotels. It is a very affordable region to travel through, with a 3-course meal costing between 8 and 12 euros. The walking was fairly easy, with occasionally short steep climbs. I’ve experienced all weather types in the 6 days that we walked. I’ve heard amazing stories and tasted good food. When I entered Santiago de Compostela I felt sad that it was all over.
That night we went to the pilgrims mass and the music and choir gave me goose bumps. They say the finish of the camino isn’t an end, but a start to a new beginning. Even if you’re not very religious, the walk is well worth it. I hope that one day I get to do more of the camino, start earlier on in the trail. It is truly a great experience.