20 Reasons why YOU should also walk the 800km Camino Frances
My wife and I love to travel. We have visited Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Morocco and Vietnam to name just a few. Everywhere we go we have always asked people: “What is your favorite place?'” They would tell us, and we would add it to our list. One day we changed the question to “What has been your favorite experience of all time?” “The Camino” came up so many times that we had to discover it for ourselves. In June 2019 we did just that – and were blown away with the experience. Here are 20 reasons why you should also walk the 800km Camino Frances.
The journey – “Camino” in Spanish means “the way”. It is a journey to reach an end point, and really, can start anywhere – even your home. There are several official routes you can take. The “del Norte”, which is the northern route (about 466km/290miles), the Primitivo, which is the quiet original route (about 315km/196miles), and the Portuguese Coastal Camino (178km/111miles) are the best known. The Camino St. Francis is roughly 800km (484miles) – the longest of the routes which you can walk or cycle. The official starting point is at St. Jean Pierre du Port in France, and the end point, as with most “Camino’s” is in Santiago, Spain. We chose this one and walked between 20 and 30 kilometers every day, for 35 days to reach Santiago. Although it sounds a lot, you really walk in 2 – 5km stretches, from town to town, daily, until you have reached your destination for the day, and repeat that until you reach Santiago. But the Camino in not really about the walking…
The people – Every day you will meet new people, will walk with new people, and will walk away from others. Some you will walk with for days, and some not at all. It is very similar to your life and the parallel is significant if you get it. We met so many amazing people it is crazy. You get to talk about anything with anyone at any time, or not at all. The choice is up to you. But, you will meet new friends, people your age, as well as older and younger people – from many countries and cultures. They each come with their own stories, viewpoints and goals. But the end goal is often the same – get to Santiago – in the amount of time that you have.
The animals – Along the way you will find cats, dogs, cows, ducks and horses to name just a few. They each have their own contributions to your journey – sometimes just for show, and other times for companion. It was quite amazing to see so many of the animals that we don’t see on a daily basis, roam freely, relaxed without a worry in the world. Perhaps this could be a lesson too? If you really wanted to – you can even run with the bulls. I did! A great lesson in life is to be present – to be where you are – not in your head and in the past of the future – the present. And I tell you what – nothing like being present when those bulls are running down a narrow alleyway right towards you. You are super present, and absolutely alive!
The scenery – The landscape varies on a daily basis. From St. Jean you cross the Piranese mountains, which have some of the best scenery of the trip. There are steep climbs, various forests and footpaths ranging from tarred road to springy, leafy paths surrounded by sounds of nature. What was amazing is that every day, if you looked to the horizon, what you would see is the destination for the day with a whole lot of land in between which you will cover that day. Every day brings several surprises. Sometimes its open stretches, sometimes vineyards, other times mountains and hydro windmills. There are grain fields, grass fields, mountains, valleys, gardens, flowers, streams, rivers and many many bridges. One thing is certain, for scenery, you will not be lacking and can drink each day in!
The churches – A fascinating thing about Spain is that towns are no further than 15km’s apart, with most of them between 2 and 5km apart. And most of these towns have churches, from the smallest little one room chapel, to the multi-level, multi-room magnificence of the cathedrals in the main cities. The final one being the Santiago de Compostela in Santiago – your end point for the journey – or is it – the starting point for your next journey? Either way, if you are looking for amazing architecture and a spiritual journey, you will be handsomely rewarded!
The food – Spain has a fixation on ham. Ham and cheese, ham and cheese sandwiches, pork chops, and every kind of ham you can think off. I must admit that it felt like there was a bit much of that – but even that is part off the story. It made you appreciate food and the variety of tastes we are so used to. Not to say there was’t variety – there was plenty. There was egg and potato, steaks and tapas a plenty. A definite highlight was a place called “Bar Gaucho” in Pomplona. We could choose from so many amazing little treats and every one of them was off the charts in terms of taste, texture and satisfaction! Breakfast was usually coffee and orange juice, a bread and if you were lucky an egg and/or some fruit. And for the record, their orange juice was amazing! Since most towns have bars for restaurants, you can be certain that your favorite alcohol beverages are available in the plenty!
The serenity – One of the main reasons people go is just to “get away from it all – the hustle and bustle of the city.” To get peace and quiet. You will find that here. There are many places where you can relax: Next to a river, under a tree, overlooking a mountain or river. The peace and quiet is abundant and one of the main reasons I loved it so much. Peace. And quiet.
The simplicity – One would expect that to navigate 800kms in a foreign country could be quite tricky. The truth is – it is not. The system is actually a primitive – and brilliant solution – just follow the yellow arrows. The arrows are either artwork on the walls, laid out in the paving of sidewalks, or simply painted on a rock, a railing, a roadside curb or any other place which is semi obvious to those who are looking. If you look for them, you will find them. Simple. But its not just the simplicity of navigation which is amazing. The simplicity of eating, walking, resting or sleeping is refreshing. Simple tasks – do them diligently and you will reach your destination. Surely there is a life lesson in that too?
The quiet – When you are in the cities – naturally – there is the hustle and bustle of the cities cars, buses and people going about their daily business. But when you are in the countryside, the quiet is almost absorbing you into nature. You can hear the wind, the trees movement and the birds. Just these. And it is bliss and an oasis from the day to day noise we face.
The beauty – If you look, it is everywhere. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful people, beautiful mountains, trees, flowers and animals. And, beautiful people – which brings us to the next reason:
The goodness of mankind – As most people are as new to the experience as you, they are as fascinated with everything as you are. And the local people? They want you to succeed. To get to Santiago. Stranger and volunteers will bid you a “Buen Camino” (good path) so many times that it cannot be counted. To see the beauty of a country, its people and its visitors – on that scale – is truly a life changing experience.
The companionship – I consider myself very lucky. I have an amazing wife. We have been married for 10 years now. She is my friend and my companion. My voice of reason and my source of sanity. She takes care of the details and lets me be me – even if I have my own unique quirks. She planned the whole thing: The flights, the accommodation, the gear, the route and even the mini-trips. When you have nothing but time and distance, that beautiful companionship is a true treasure. You are alone but not lonely. You are together but apart. You travel together but on your own. You ave a dedicated voice and a dedicated ear. There are many travelers who also walk the journey by themselves. Some prefer it, some need it and some do it to meet other people. If you are open to the goodness of humankind, you will find companionship here – more than you can imagine!
The self – Some of the biggest reasons people go on this journey is either to 1) get away from something/someone 2) figure out something/someone/themselves 3) just walk. Whatever your reason – the Camino will provide. The saying goes that the Camino does not give you what you want – it gives you what you need. You will have abundant time to eat, think, rest, walk, talk or be silent – whether with yourself or with others. When you have no schedule, no deadline, no deliverable and no expectations – you will get to know yourself better. And this by itself is worth the journey!
The friends – We went by ourselves but we met so many people on the way. Amazing people. Some that keep you company, others that keep you entertained. Some inspire you. Others encourage you. Some serve you and others help you. Inevitably, you will meet some amazing people along the way that will become your friends.
The fun – Every evening you will rest in a new town or place, meet new people and see new things – and will have fun! Some share stories, others food or conversations. Others catch up on much needed rest. I always said that if I ever got to Spain I would want to run with the bulls. Since our journey didn’t pass through Pomplona during the running of the bulls (we missed it by 7 days) – I felt somewhat disappointed that we could not experience that. But, the Camino provided. In Astorga I finally got to run with the bulls.
The unique stories – Every person has a story. Some good, some sad, some quite extravagant, and some quite mad. But you will hear stories of ones you know, of ones you have met, and others you will never meet. Some, you will be lucky to experience. We walked with someone who traveled with no money, and others who walked barefoot.
The life lessons – If you are open to it, the amount of life lessons you can get from just walking is almost insane. Follow the arrows – your life may be going in a direction that you choose or without direction. You need to work, rest, eat, sleep, relax, spend time with people and time with yourself. Simple things can bring big pleasure. And things you take for granted can be your biggest sources of inspiration. I don’t want to give the many lessons we have learnt away here because I want for you to experience your own journey, your own lessons and your own learnings. Trust me – if you are open to them – there will be many!
The reality – When you start, you cannot imagine how long it would be. When you are in the middle you cannot image you had made it this far, and once you near the end you cannot believe that this journey will end. And, once you are done you will have to return to your “real” life. The Camino changes your perception about distance, about other people, about nature, life and yourself. This incredible “journey” will change your life in a way that words seem to be unable to explain adequately. It turns dreams into reality – and reality into dreams.
The lessons – The lessons we have learnt along the way are too many to mention, and they will be different, and personal, and relevant to you. However, some will be universal: 1) You need to eat. 2) You need to drink water. 3) You need to sleep. 4) You need other people. 5) You need to take care of your body. No matter where you come from, who you are or want to be – those lessons will apply – every day.
The most amazing journey you can ever undertake – The Camino Frances was without a doubt the most amazing journey we have ever done. Would we do it again – definitely. Do we recommend it? Without a doubt! You should definitely walk the 800km Camino Frances – there is nothing like it – and it will change your life!