Lifelines member Kieran who some of you will know as a regular participant in Spin, Circuits and boxing classes has been on a remarkable hike in Spain!
We have made Kieran the member of the month after he told us of this amazing walk he achieved on the Camino De Santiago. His story below is inspiring and very interesting, and shows anyone can achieve this at a really affordable price.
"Walking the Camino De Santiago got me back on track.
In 2014 after my business failed I felt lost and did not know what do with my life. I had time on my hands but each day seemed pointless. I have always loved running which meant I was fit most of the time. While out running one day I remembered many years before hearing about a special walk from France to Spain. After a bit of searching online I found the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St.James). A network of pilgrimage routes that lead to the shrine of the Apostle of St James the Great in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
I studied a few videos on YouTube, packed a backpack and very shortly, after a long walk to Luton Airport, found myself on a flight to Bordeaux and from there a train to Bayonne and from there a bus to Saint-Jaun-Pied-De-Port. It was the end of May and the season had begun. Saint-Juan is small busy Roman walled town at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains and the starting point of the ancient Pilgrimage spanning about eight hundred kilometres from the south west of France and across mainly Basque Country to the far North West of Spain. I signed up at the official Camino Passport office in town and received my pass that would be stamped in the many Hiker hostels (Albergues) and churches If that is your thing, along the route. A fully stamped passport (or Credencial as it is known) would qualify the walker (Pilgrim) with a document of Compastela or proof of completion or transformation and the forgiveness of sins. All very Catholic.
There are still many Pilgrims along the way, but these days it is mostly hikers and adventurers. My intention in starting this journey was not religious in nature. I was caught in indecision, I wanted answers but did not seem to know what the questions were.
I met other walkers that evening at the Albergue. Some more experienced than others. Most were starting their journey, some well into their journey through the many walking routes through Europe. One couple had walked from East France and another from Holland! Our room had about eight bunks in it, shower facilities and a kitchen. Not bad for six Euro. You get what you pay for. (Prices are about twice that these days) I am glad I brought my ear plugs! We ate together at one of the many restaurants in the town displaying their own version of a “Camino” or “Peregrinos” Menu, which was a constant along the way for those who did not want to cook for themselves. It was good value at ten Euro and usually consisted two or three courses with wine or a soft drink. I followed a crowd later and attended the Camino Blessing at the church by the exit of the town that evening. I also lit a candle in the church in memory of my parents.
My group set off at varying times over the next morning after an unsettled sleep. The standard greeting from many friendly local people and to each other is “Buen Camino” which means “good Way” or ‘have a good walk’ you will hear it a thousand times. I would share my experience with many of these guys over the next five weeks. There were Italians, Americans, South Koreans, Spanish, French, Dutch and a few English. I am an early starter and watched the sun come up as I headed through the gate for the notorious first day climb over the pyranees and down the other side to Roncesvalles. My running had prepared me for this. Many were not sufficiently prepared and got blisters. It was the most beautiful and most rewarding walk of my life. At the top I rested a while and had some food from a little van parked there. My strategy through out the Camino was to start early, get a few hours walking under my belt, then stop at one of the many villages and towns along the way for coffee and food. Others liked to eat breakfast first and start walking later. Twenty-six kms later, I limped into a clean and comfortable well-run and enormous Albergue, there was lots of groaning and chatting and laughing with those that met on the way. I ate and slept well. I was awoken by the friendly volunteer staff of Roncesvalles (made famous by the film ‘The Way’ starring Martin Sheen) playing a guitar and singing to wake us all up to start their next stage. Not all were as friendly or clean or hospitable) So it went on. Every day the same routine. Every day with a clear purpose of walking from A to B with my belongings on my back enjoying village after village and all of the countryside in-between.
I visited several big cities along the way, Pamplona, Estella, Burgos, Leon, Sarria, Arzua and of course Santiago. But the Basque city of Pamplona was my favourite. An exciting city. Rebellious bohemian, proud and political made famous by it’s Bull Run and Tomato festival. The Cafe’s spilled over with locals eating Pinchos (Very small samples of tasty local food a bit like Tapas) and drinking while enjoying the early evening. I met some English lads who bought buckets of beers filled with ice. This was because people sat on the street chatting and partying. We had to be in by eleven! Albergue rules - early to bed, early to rise, and we needed good sleep. Regular good sleep was one of the most transformative aspects of my walk. Many walkers choose to take a day out in cities to rest in a hotel. I didn’t as I would lose my group. Every day is a different group.
As we settled into the walk, those of us using Municipal Albergues took turns to cook. My speciality was an omelette. Not any old omelette, an omelette stuffed with bacon, Chorizo, chopped potato, tomato, whatever greens we could get hold of. We would all cook for up to twelve people. I enjoyed it. We all chipin in for the cost. The Italians would cook Carbonara as it should be . The Americans/Canadians would cook Pork, There would always be a veggie option, and the Vegetarians would produce something delicious with lentils, The Spanish couple cooked a hearty soup.
Local food was generally good, two local delicacies were Octopus chopped with the suckers left on, and Tripe in stews and soups. I tried both. Once. Couldn’t eat the Tripe.
The down side...
I witnessed lots of snoring. I used my ear plugs. No probs. Some people were so apologetic. For their snoring. Part of my transformation was to live and let live. Snorers can’t help snoring, plus people sleep deeply after a long work. Some people complained about them. And the cleanliness of some of the Albergues. My thinking was ‘What do you want for a few Euro? Get a hotel if you don’t like it.’
I also heard about bed bugs. I did not experience any in the Municipal Albergues I stayed at. Others may have experienced them or at private Albergues and and Hostels. They were a thing though. I always ask people complaining about the downside of walking the Camino what their actual experience was. The rest is just second hand stories. Since covid all of the mattresses have been swapped to rubber ones which are much more hygienic (and sweaty unfortunately). Disposable sheet and pillowcase packs are also provided. Bring your sleeping bag or a blanket.
There have also been stories of woman feeling unsafe along the way. I have walked over two thousand kilometers over the last nine years and I have never met or witnessed anyone being abused or attacked. It has happened though. Any abuse I got was when I was leaving cities early and bumped into drunken Spaniards, mostly friendly but occasionally aggressive on their way home from a night out. I would imagine this could be distressing for a female lone walker.
Woman will watch each other, and if there is walker being inapropriate, accommodation owners and staff will call the police, or call ahead to the next place with the passport details of the suspected offender. He will not be admitted.
I have heard of people having property stolen in cafes and some hostels. Again, this happens everywhere. A tired Pilgrim can easily leave their property unattended. Generally, hikers watch out for each other. Thieves operate in every city. Lockers are provided in many places.
Cheap as chips
It doesn’t have to cost much. The average Municipal (Local Council run) Albergues cost around ten Euro these days. With food and coffees, budget for £30 per day plus flights. Private Albergues vary, in price and some include food. There are also ‘Donativo’ (Donation only) Albergues. If you see one, stay there if you can and make a donation of the average price of an Albergue. If they provide a free meal add ten Euro on for that. The income will allow them to let people who have no money stay there for free. Some walk the Camino when they are destitute. Some sleep in forests and fields, dropping in for a shower and food. I have walked with several Pilgrims with no money. I have also walked with multi millionaires. There is a levelling out along the way. The real wealth is found in your ability to keep walking.
Wi-Fi and amenities
Most cafe’s and Albergues have wifi these days so it is easy to stay connected. The more organised walkers or those trying to deal with work responsibilities book ahead to the next place to insure their bed and amenities. This is becoming more common now. The Camino routes are getting busy, especially the French route that I took. Some even have their back-packs sent ahead in a taxi so they do not have to carry them. Pilgrims question this as did I until I walked with a lady who had a life long back condition called Scoliosis. She would not have been able to experience the Camino carrying a back pack. Everyone has a story, so I learned to not judge too quickly.
There is something that bonds people together on the Camino. Especially on difficult assents and descents. I mentioned the Pyranees. There was also Cruz Faro, O’Cebreiro in Galicia, Alto de San Roque. There were a few rainy days too when we felt miserable . Another Pilgrim would invariably cheer me up. It was great seeing them all at the end of the day. We had all made it.
Why Would You Do That!
Most Hikers and Pilgrims have a ‘why.’
Some are hiking, some are grieving, some are thinking, some hearts are broken, some are looking for a life partner, some are losing weight, some are running, some are procrastinating, some are ticking the Camino Box, some are dying, some are learning how to live. All are walking, just walking one day at a time. It’s just a long walk for some, but a life affirming experience for others.
On your bike!
Many cycle the Camino on mountain bikes. Usually travelling about sixty to eighty KM daily. You can usually hear them chattering their way up behind you. They are very polite and wish you “Buen Camino” as they are passing.
Well, you can’t really. There are the iconic yellow arrows every few hundred yards. At every junction, every path and through every town. The other iconic symbol is the Scallop shell. It is sometimes built in to the foot path as you navigate through cities or on walls, or built into special concrete marker posts. They always lead you through the most historic parts of a city. Always past the most spectacular Cathedrals and sometimes galleries. Always past the Municipal Albergue to insure you do not get lost. You have to be stupid to get lost. I got lost a dozen times!
Arrival at Santiago is a wonderful experience. I was lighter, fitter, happier. I was focused, spiritually, mentally and physically. I was emotional actually. My problems, though not all gone, had become right sized. As a result I was able to think clearer.
The square in front of the Cathedral was filled with walkers of the French Way but also of all the the other routes I would go on to walk in future years. Actually, you only have to walk the last hundred kilometres to get your Compestala. That is all some can manage.
There is a Religious service in the Cathedral at midday that everyone, what ever their beliefs. A highlights of this service, in recognition of completion of your Camino, is the centuries old tradition of the Botafumerio. A large incense burner that swings back and forth reaching great heights in the cathedral.
Many of us chose to continue on for an additional three day walk to Finnisterre. The light house was once known as the end of the world. It has been made popular in the UK by the shipping forecast. It was nice to end my adventure by dipping my feet into the Atlantic.
What I learned when walking the Camino de Santiago is the importance of embracing each day. It is the journey not the destination that counts. I learned to accept life on life terms. I stopped judging people when I don’t know their story, I learned bad luck is sometimes good luck in disguise. I was reminded that good health is priceless My expectations are the building blocks of my resentments. Finally, some doors only open from the inside.
I did not get all of the answers I wanted in my career, but I have consistently got what I needed. I am still a work in progress. I do a job I love. Since completing the French Way I have gone on to complete the Northern Route along the Bay Of Biscay. I did it over three stints. I have started the Portuguese route from Lisbon to Fatima I will continue to Santiago via Porto next year. This year I also walked most of the Primitivo route, the toughest route of them all. I have time on my side but I mustn’t overdo it, I am sixty after all. I have developed Planter Fasciitis this year in my right foot which I am getting treatment for.
I do not run much these days. The way I use Venue 360 and the Lifelines gym to keep ‘Camino-fit’ is by attending Spinning classes and Boxing classes and some general fitness. I should do yoga but I don’t. This club is by far the friendliest and most community driven club I have ever been a member of. I have a soft spot for Luton as I have been visiting here for fifty years. I have family here and have worked here on and off for eighteen years. The most important preparation for walking the Camino De Santiago is to walk. Walking is free, it is healthy and is good for the spirit. I live in St Albans and work in Luton, so a few weeks before I go out to Spain I drive as far as Harpenden in the morning and walk the excellent paths along the Lower Luton Rd to work and back again at night. If I am not listening to the world around me I love Audio Books and Podcasts which keep me company.
What ever your journey, Buen Camino!"