A real life goal for some, a simple personal challenge for others… Whatever is pushing you, go for it!
Over the years, the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage has become a major attraction known by many of us around the world. It brings all sorts of people for all kinds of reasons on its routes. Whether it’s linked to Religion, spirituality or a love for nature, hiking, the pilgrimage has something to offer to everyone!
This had been on my bucket list for a long time. I was very curious about it and always knew that I’d have to try it one day. I adore challenges and was very curious to give this pilgrimage a go because it was something totally different from what I had done before. Also, the whole idea about getting a good mix of hiking, nature, solitude was very appealing to me – Weird eh?!
I was lucky enough to experiment the pilgrimage for a few weeks. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the end, but it was a great first attempt. I have really learned a lot!
I had decided to leave in October and start from Tours. So now, I see you all thinking: Why October and why from Tours?
Well, I believe that if you tend to struggle in the heat, it’s best to wait for a period where the temperatures are cooler. Of course, the risk of getting drenched isn’t very appealing either, but sometimes you have to take the risk of being a bit uncomfortable.
As for the departure point… The main reason was that my hometown being nearby, it felt very easy to reach Tours and start from there. My other point was that the Via Turonensis is rather flat compared to the other routes and it seemed like a good idea to start “slowly” and get used to walking about 25Kms each day with my reasonably heavy backpack on my back…
How did I prepare?
Well… I didn’t really. The only thing I had planned was the first week of accommodation on Couchsurfing and I had my guidebook.
I didn’t feel like booking accommodation way ahead was wise because I didn’t know how many kilometers I’d walk each day and I didn’t know how far I’d go altogether. I think it would have been a far greater source of stress for me to have to follow a specific plan rather than having the flexibility to stop wherever I wanted.
When I think about it now, this was a really cool thing to do! Opportunities came up as I was making my way down to the South of France and I loved it!
How was the route:
I had bought a guidebook from “Lepere editon” and I was rather pleased with it until one day, when I found out that the places listed in and around a specific village near Mirambeau were not taking pilgrims any longer – Eeekk
Apart from that, the information and step by step directions provided were very accurate and helpful.
Lesson I learned: Check with the town hall or Tourist office and ask for an up to date list of accommodations at each stop as they are really well informed about that!
What I could do too is send an email to the editor of the guidebook and ask for any updates I should be aware of about that specific route.
As I discovered, the Via Turonensis is the least common route to walk to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port. I only met five other pilgrims in four weeks and that was when we were staying in the pilgrim hostels at night. On the road, I was spending hours on my own without seeing anyone else walking.
If you want to start before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and meet other pilgrims as you are walking, then take another route, really!
My thoughts: Although it’s nice to meet people and share our mutual experiences with each other, I am quite happy it worked out that way for me to be honest and this is why:
- I could afford to not book any accommodation, simply turn up at the hostels and there was always some space. These hostels are quite small, so you wouldn’t want to have 20 people chasing a bed!
- You walk at your own pace. I experienced walking with two other pilgrims one day and it didn’t work out for me because they were faster than I was and it’s a risk to get an injury!
- You get time to think and reflect. If you walk with other pilgrims, you’re bound to talk and it defeats the whole thing.
The people I met:
I would like to start with a massive “thank you” to everyone who kindly welcomed me into their homes! From all the Couchsurfing invitations I received to the people I met on my route and offered to host me. Christine, Marie, Denis, Cedric, Zeliha, Camille & your family, Daniele etc, you were all absolutely awesome!
I must say, I absolutely adore staying at people’s houses and experience the way they live. I met people from different walks of life, different generations too and they all had amazing stories to share with me. Each encounter was a treat!
What often strikes me is how relaxed they are about having strangers in their house. Loads of them just left me alone or gave me a set of keys, so I could just go & come back as I pleased. One hostess even just leaves her apartment door opened, so anyone who needs to come in can simply pass through the secured gate outside the building and then if she’s not in, you can still enter and make yourself at home!! How amazing is this? It’s good to see that there is still some trust out there.
First, I need to emphasize how much I love it! I have an Osprey pack, 36 Litres and it works perfectly for me. I wouldn’t take anything bigger or smaller. The only thing I’ve noticed though is that we need to be super careful with what we take with us. As the days went past, each night I was unpacking my stuff at night & repacking the next morning, I realised that I was carrying some excess. I had taken some things with me “just in case”, but actually, they were unnecessary and just weighing me down. There were a few times as I was getting tired, I really wished I didn’t have these extra “things”. One more lesson learned!
Why did I stop?
There were a few things actually, but my main issue was that the Couchsurfing platform let me down after some time… I suddenly wasn’t able to post public trip visible to others any longer. This meant that people didn’t know I was coming their way and so I couldn’t get any spontaneous invitations from them. This made finding accommodation much more difficult as I couldn’t afford to stay in hotels, B&Bs or even Pilgrim hostels every single night. Also, as explained above, the whole feel would probably have been quite different too in terms of human connections. Couchsurfing hosts deliver a much more genuine experience than a business owner who mostly wants to make money.
Without the accommodation glitch, I maybe could have managed to make it to Spain where the weather could have been better…? It surely was getting pretty ugly in the Landes area with some very strong storms and floods in some parts, so it wasn’t only uncomfortable, it could have been dangerous to continue.
Once again, I would have loved to be able to finish it and get to Santiago de Compostela the first time I tried, but it’s no drama. I had a great time, enjoyed the whole experience and have gained some great insight about it. I will try again and maybe a different route, who knows!?
All I can say right now is that I freaking miss it! Even if it was a bit tiring at times and I sometimes wondered if I was going to sleep, it was extremely positive.
I even surprised myself enjoying all the solitude I was faced with. I noticed that I spent a lot of time on my own (when I was walking), but my mind was always sort of “busy”. I was either trying to figure out where I was supposed to go or observing what was happening around me, thinking about the people I spent time with during my journey etc. I never regretted having set off or having chosen this particular route which is very encouraging I find.
What about you guys? Have you ever walked The Camino or would you like to?
Please share your experience with us 🙂