Walking the road to Santiago de Compostela has always been on this long list of things I would like to accomplish in my lifetime. The Camino de Santiago — or what people often refer to as just the Camino — is a network of pilgrim roads marked with yellow arrows leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where St. James or Santiago is said to be buried. Every year, tens of thousands of people traverse these roads in search of some form of spiritual enlightement, a physical challenge, or simply just an adventure.
I first read about the Camino from brazilian author Paulo Coelho who wrote about his mystical 800 kilometer journey from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela on his first novel The Pilgrimage. The idea of flying all the away to Europe only to walk hundreds of kilometers seems crazy. But, for someone who wasn’t sure of where she was going in life, the prospect of walking a medival road laid with arrows pointing to a specific destination was attractive. When I walked, I was in dire need of a break to figure out what steps to take in my career and the road offered an ideal environment to reflect. That November, I packed my bags, flew to Madrid, took the train to Galicia, and embarked on the journey that would eventually change my life.
I began my journey in Sarria, a small town just a little over hundred kilometers away from Santiago. One can start from any point along the 9 official routes or anywhere for that matter. In fact, a man I met when I arrived Santiago walked all the way from Italy. Sarria is a popular starting point for pilgrims because the distance from the town to Santiago covers the necessary kilometers to receive the Compostela — an official document issued by the church that certifies the completion of the camino. To prove you’ve travelled all 100 kilometers, you will be asked to show your Credencial or Pilgrim’s Passport which contains stamps you’ve collected from the different towns you’ve visited along the way. I had 5 days to walk to 5 towns: Palas de Rei, Melide, Arzua, O Pedrouzo, and finally Santiago.
My first day required walking 25.6 kilometers to the town of Portomarin. For those who have been walking from France it was a walk in the park, but for someone who had just started it felt like it was a baptism of fire. Ask anyone walking the camino and they will tell you that the…