Walking the Camino De Santiago for Trocaire
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
I have always found it quite simple to put pen to paper. I have always read travel blogs. I have travelled the world using the nuggets of information’s sought from travel blogs. So, - I decided it’s time to share my own insights, and maybe someone will have an easier journey because of a little bit of insider knowledge!
Although some of my upcoming blogs will be retrospective, I will try and keep them as current as possible to have real-time information available for my readers.
Since I was 18 I have been exploring the world “on my own”, so that is 10 good years of Europe, Asia, North America, and more…So I better get started!
I hope you enjoy!
Camino De Santiago Blog – September 2019
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
This was my second time walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain, but this time was special, - it was with my dear old pops! It has always been a dream of his to walk “The Way” of St James to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, so this September we decided to go for it! We commenced our journey in Sarria..and five days later, (I) hobbled triumphantly up the steps of that said Cathedral! It was an experience of a lifetime, and sharing it with Daddy K made it all the more special.
We over nighted in the quaint town of Sarria in Northern Spain, the first stop of many pilgrims. To walk from Sarria to Santiago is the necessary distance to be deemed applicable for your Compostela certificate so a lot travellers opt to walk this final stretch which can be from 100-122km based on your resting location.
We stayed in the lovely “Albergue O Durminento” in a private room with shared bathroom facilities. I would definitely recommend as a base. There was a small common area with basic kitchen facilities and a lovely upstairs terrace facing the church for lovely summer evening views. The majority of accommodation throughout the Camino is hostel based ranging from large dormitories from €10 a night, - up to single rooms similar to bnb/3 star hotel standard, ranging from €20 per person sharing up to €100 or more. We decided to travel more comfortably as I had previously travelled via the budget route and wanted a bit of sleep this time around!! We received out first official stamp at the local church and headed to sleep! It is always good to get an early start on your Camino trip, you may be walking in the dark for a short period of time, but to get that little bit ahead of the crowds, and the midday sun, - is priceless.
Recommendations for Sarria -Dinner at “Meson O Tapas” and make sure you go to the Iglesia Santa Mariña de Sarria Church at the bottom of the town to get your Camino Pilgrim passport and first official stamp. (If you have not received it from the Camino Society of Ireland already like we did)
Pay attention to the signs: “Please do not allow dogs to follow you, most of them have homes and become homeless forever.” – This is so true as we met a canine friend every single day!
Day 2 – Our first Day of Walking, - Sarria to Portomarin (24km and 5 hours)
We started our journey at 7am, aided by the glow of the Sarria street lights and the golden scallop signposts guiding the beginning of our hike to Santiago. In my opinion, the first day of walking is the most exciting, and the most beautiful. The atmosphere of each pilgrim starting their journey, (or continuing their journey if they are the diehards) is electric. The iconic Spanish scenery leaves little to the imagination, with rolling hills and continuous farmland , there is plenty to photograph and take in. Although saying that, there are plenty of moderately strenuous hills to climb in order to view these sights! There is no point lying, the hiking sticks came in very useful on some of the steeper slopes, and a moderate level of endurance fitness is required for these lengthy days.
There is good access to road side cafes and Auberge’s on this day of walking so very little rations are required, but don’t forget to keep hydrated! We had our breakfast after about 5km at Barbadelo, a quaint lodging where you can get your first stamp of the day. It is recommended that you get at least two stamps in your passport a day, but we easily managed at least 5 as most restaurants, shops and lodgings have them, but I would recommend seeking out the official stamps which are found in most church buildings throughout the day. Just under 24km later, we crossed the bridge and landed in Portomarin, our stop for the night! This is a moderately sized town with good access to supermarkets and cafes. We stayed at “Pension Portomino”, another private twin room with shared bathroom facilities. This was very basic clean accommodation but with no common area so it was functional but not very people friendly if you were a solo traveller.
Day Three – Second day of walking – Portomarin to Palas de Rei – 25km and 5.5hrs
A big hill to start.
I won’t lie, waking up, already tired but ready to face the day is one thing, facing into a steep climb before breakfast is another! But, once you get to the top, the views and sense of relief is so worth it. Dad’s backpack at this stage had two flashing lights, an Irish flag, some shells, holy memorable, a gourd and probably more. I definitely was not going to lose him in a hurry!! This is a tougher day, as the second day, the stamina may have dropped slightly, but once you get over one hill, you know you will be able for the next. The beautiful trails continue on this walk, but the access to food stops are getting slimmer, so be mindful to stop when you can, even if it feels too soon to eat. A nice slice of Spanish omelette will cure you! About halfway through our day we came across a lovely little eatery around Lugar Ventas, which had a small church where you could receive your stamp of the day, - don’t walk past it like many travellers did.
On arriving in Palas De Rei, 25km later, we were relieved. We stayed at “Albergue A Casina Di Marcello”, - this was a dormitory room with 14* people in a room not fit for purpose. You may read my review on Booking.com if interested. A Pass.
In my opinion, bypass Palas De Rei if you have the energy, it will be worth it, - keep walking towards Casa Domingo (another 3km and small hill) where you will find a beautiful lodging with restaurant much more scenic and ideal for weary feet and tired heads.
Day Four – Day Three of Walking – Palas De Rei to Ribadisio – 27km <7hrs
This is the long one.
Some people prefer to split this day into 2 making 6 days of walking instead of 5, but if you would rather power on and if you have the ability, it is well worth the extra trek. Breakfast in Casa Domingo (where I wish we stayed) is definitely worth it to set you up for the day, especially because we set off in the rain. Bacon eggs and a stamp is the way to go! Here we met some other lovely pilgrims on the same route, and the sense of accomplishment thus far was obvious. We told ourselves to slow down and take our time today, which is easier said than done, but we managed. We stopped at various road side cafes and food stands to try the local cuisine, and of course to reassess the plastered up feet! There was a significant elevation increase on this day, which of course meant more hills, but nothing is impossible! Even though at times I wish a stray donkey would waddle up to me and carry me the rest of the way…I was not that lucky! The town of Melide was our halfway point of the day, (where some stop to break up the walk) and it is a beautiful picturesque town. The largest you will meet before Santiago so worth a quick wander around on your lunch break. There are a vast amount of cafes and Octopus sampling ! We stopped to eat just on the outskirts at “Casa Alongos” and it is a definite recommendation. The staff were polite and helpful and the food was reasonable priced. (You will see a lot of variation in price due to the remoteness of some trails) The areas surrounding Melide serve as ideal photo opportunities with the intrinsic churches, winding village paths, Romanesque missed with Gothic décor and old fashioned infrastructure. You will meet your first of many “complimentary routes” on this journey, - meaning that you have a choice of 2 paths. One is the main route but may be more difficult due to river crossings/mountains/unstable terrain, so be careful and plan ahead, -and don’t be a sheep and follow the crowd!
Finally, - Ribadisio was in sight! We crossed the iconic bridge where weary travellers sit and dip their exhausted feet in the river, and we were home for the night. A stunningly quiet, remote village that just housed Aubergues and one restaurant - Ribadisio is well worth the stop. We stayed in “Pension Albergue los Caminantes” in a private twin room with a private bathroom looking out on a lovely terrace. We could not ask for more after a long day of walking, - even though I am pretty sure I heard the farmer next door slaughter a pig at one stage….but these are the memories you take!!
*Some people will spilt their travels into 2 shorter days stopping at Meilde and then Ribadisio/Arzua
Day Five – Day Four of walking – Ribadisio to O Predouzo – 22km 5hours
Nothing like a hill in the morning.
The views over Ribadiso and the surrounding valley was breathtaking in the morning sun, with signs of Arzua and the first glimpse of city life appearing.
Today was busier than the rest as we were meeting a lot more travellers who were joining the path from various other paths across Spain, so a lot of new faces were met! There was a large amount of forestry trails and green paths to wade through today which again provided us with many fantastic photo opportunities and pitstops just to admire where exactly you were. As the previous day was quite lengthy, it was tough to get motivated for ths 22km, but the energy of the fellow pilgrims really gave that necessary boost to keep trudging on, and up! The elevation climbing, the weather getting a little colder, but the eyes were never weary as the surrounding views always presented something new to admire.
We arrived in Predouzo and boy were we glad, - another smaller town with all of the necessary amenties, and the best pizza all week! (Very cultural, - I know!) “CH Pizza”. We stayed at Pension Avenida which I would definitely recommend. Private rooms with shared bathroom facilities, a lovely common area with a coffee machine (that would wake the dead at 7am we learnt) and in close walking distance to the main street and local church – which is well worth a visit. We attended a pilgrim mass at 7pm and the large scallop backdrop of the alter makes it all worthwhile! For the first time, maybe you realize that everyone here is battling through something personal in order to come out the other end with some sense of achievement, belonging or self satisfaction. It was a quite spiritual experience.
Day Six – Day Five of walking – the final day – Predouzo to Santiago 19km <5hrs.
It finally arrived! In one sense it was a long week of tired feet and sore calf muscles, but on the flip, where did the week go!!! It was the final day and we were only getting into the swing of it. The thought of this being the shortest day had some sense of satisfaction before we even set off, as we knew we had battled much tougher climbs, and that today was the home stretch. We had a new lease of life, and we reflected upon all of the people we had met on the road already, and wished them a silent good luck for their final pilgrimage!
There were many natural tarmac icnlines today as we watched the city of Santiago get closer and closer. The last 12km found us at a natural stopping point with an (expensive) café and local church to acquire a bit of sustenance and our stamp of the day! The “egg and bacon” song ran out loud as we skipped in hungry! The road the Santiago was a solemn one as everyone marched on in their own little step closer and closer to the end point. We met a market along the way…some Irish natives.. (always nice) and final, - Santiago!
While I hobbled towards the cathedral, and Dad bounced in like a spring chicken, there was an awesome sense of achievement that we had actually arrived. Some thought it was an anticlimactic experience, but I think walking into the square, with that magnificent cathedral louring down on you gives you an immense sense of.. YAY!
Many weary travellers all arriving at the same time, resting finally on the flagstones of this magnificent building, taking the photographic proof and finally relaxing. It was inspiring.
Day Six – Santiago Pilgrims downgrade to boring old tourists again.
We woke up in our lovely hotel, “Hotel Rua Nova”, which provided us with interesting street views, close proximity to the square, and final a big bed to relax in! We aimed to beat the tourist groups and headed for the catehdral bright and early to visit St james Tomb and crypt. We were there when it opened at 930am and had no problem with queuing. Unfortunately the cathedral is still under construction and repair in the light of the upcoming holy year, but it is still a magnificent building to behold. The golden cherubs looking down at your from the immensely decorative roof will certainly give you a creak in your neck. We lit our candles, gave our donations, and headed out around Santiago to be full on tourists!
Recommendatons for the Camino
-On arriving in Santiago de Compostela, don’t rest just yet!! – Walk straight to the Pilgrim office (around the corner from the cathedral towards San Francisico church as you must get a number from the machines at the bottom of the garden to which you must then wait to receive your ceritifcate of completion. We witnessed a lot of people missing out on getting theirs as they were too late and they only issues around 1000 a day. Get in early, before midday if possible, get your ticket, - then relax!! It is a 2 minute walk from the Cathedral.
What To bring?
Caldesene/baby powder for your feet every morning and in your shoes! I did not get one blister!! (Coming from the girl who cant wear high heels for more than 20 minutes without crying)
Plasters/elastic bandages/knee + ankle supports. – You will discover muscles you never knew you had, unless of course you are an avid walker !!
Invest in one thing only. – Good Hiking shoes. I purchased fantastic Regatta hiking runners in Athlone town centre which were waterproof, uber comfortable and lasted the whole trip with no issue.
Trail sticks – bring a pair between two if you are unsure.
Deep heat/Deep freeze – I got a little rollon in Boots in Dublin airport and it saved my calves!
Torch and batteries – a small bicycle torch even, tie it around your wrist or on your stick
Poncho and light rain coat.
Bug repellent and pillow cover – Do I need to explain? (although, we were very lucky!)
Send your bag ahead by courier – don’t be a martyr, it is a pilgrimage but why suffer ? We used Camino Comodo, you place a luggage tag with €3 in it every morning with the address of your next hostel and it is sitting their waiting for you when you arrive. (If you have pre-booked all of your hostels of course, but you are safer too, especially in busy seasons)
Every lodging house will have the luggage tags, or you can arrange online in advance but it can be more expensive. The local postal service also offers the same service but we found them more expensive. – Take note of their number just in case, but we never had an issue.
Lastly, enjoy yourself! Take Photos and write a diary!
Finally, I hope you have enjoyed my little synopsis of our Camino De Santiago in Spain, we raised over €1000 for Trocaire Ireland and were very proud to be able to achieve this for such a worthy cause.
I will write a separate, Santiago & Fineisterre blog for those interested in what to do after the Camino, but for now I hope some of these recommendations help fellow travellers!!
Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for all 1500 + photographs of the experience (as these are phone pics - this is how far behind on my editing I am!!)
Check out my Instagram highlights for all the fun throughout the week, and please feel free to still donate to Trocaire !!
I would love to hear from you so get in touch with your experiences or if there are any questions I can help with, - I am off to rest up my feet as they are still talking to me!! :)
Be safe, and Buen Camino!