We walked for 33 days from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago - exactly 796km in our footsteps. When I was preparing for this trip, I thought that it would be a nice change of pace, but what we found out later on was actually more than what we expected.
The story about The WAY:
This way is very known from the middle ages when millions of people every year did the way. The main reason for this was for religion. Today it’s a completely different situation. We met only one person who made this way for a religious reason (very friendly man from Washington – USA). This way became extremely popular again in the last ten years and at this time, a minimum of 100 thousand people per year have done this magic way.
There are several ways which are connected to the name of St. James, but the only one is marked as an official UNESCO site. This way starts at St. Jean Pied the Port, a small town inside the Pyreneje Mountains in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, exactly 796km away from the starting point. At the starting point you should buy a credential – a pilgrim passport which allows you to stay a night on your way for a maximum of only 10euros (sometimes it is possible to stay for only 5euros or even for just a donation). Another advantage is that you have a discount for the entrance to some museum or church. So we bought our credentials and went to the way.
The journey at the way is actually nicely marked so we only got lost twice – in the morning before sunrise. The paths are marked by yellow arrows or by a scallop shell. You can catch them approximately about every one hundred meters or less if you are inside some town etc. In nearly every village or city there are many places to stay in. Some are private (the price for this one is higher – minimum of 10euros), some are in the hand of local authorities called Albergue. In this place you’ll be staying with many other people in one place – sometimes hundreds of people, but everyone has their own bed and it’s cheaper than private accommodations of course.
On the way, you will go through four regions of Spain – Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y Leon and Galicia. All of the four regions has its one unique atmosphere. Navarra for its four seasons, La Rioja for its incredibly delicious wine, Castilla y Leon for the nice cities (Burgas, Leon and Astrorga) and the last one Galicia – the region similar to the setting of Lord of the Rings, is really a nice one. When I was preparing for the way, I though that it will be better to stay in all the big cities for one extra night to have more energy. But after one week on the road, we met some really beautiful people and from this time we became part of the camino. These people became our fuel, our energy and we didn’t need any extra day for regeneration. As one of our friends – a professor of Judaism from Jerusalem told us, “It’s magic way – so many people do the same thing, with nearly the same conditions in same days and everyone has the same goal: to reach the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. I must tell you that every day something will surprise us. If there was nothing noticeable in the country, landscape etc., there’s something special in our free time after walking – we’ll meet some interesting people or explore some nice monuments or the other way around”.
The story about LOMO:
Of all the roads we embarked on, we didn’t have any bad experience with people, except for a situation in Santiago, wherein as we entered the city, there were so many people, that in the crowd somebody stole my camera. My sweet, LOMO LC-A RL+. I was very tragic for me, but fortunately the ten analogue films that contained all my photographs from the trip were inside my rucksack so I’m still able to share my photos with you. (Click on this link – http://www.lomography.com/homes/aikosmile/albums/1652727-santiago-de-compostela) – the photos are on the other way round, so the first pictures are already very close to Santiago and the last one is in St. Jean Pied du Port. As you can see, sometimes I used a wide lens. If you asked me why I used this particular analogue camera: I told myself I didn’t want to make thousands of digital pictures, instead, I choose this Russian specialty. I would like to take only three to five pictures per day and save the rest for my memories.
The story about the messages that we learned on the way:
For us it was the way of real spirit and we caught some really important messages on the way. The first one (and for me, the most important) is that people can actually live even with a small amount of material things – we only had our rucksacks and inside was everything that we had to make do with for 33 days and we really didn’t need anything more. Another important message is that, there are so many nice people in the world, who will help you out if you have problems. On this way, nearly everyone we met was really helpful and I hope that it would be the same in normal life. And the last lesson learned was that after we did the Santiago Way, we know better now and not to take for granted the real value of our everyday “luxuries” such as a home, bed, warm water etc. I must mention also that we also developed a deeper connection with nature; we started our daily walks at 6 o´clock and it was dark everywhere, after an hour, we’ll then be greeted by the sun rising, it’s a really nice experience and leaves a strong feeling for the magic of Mother Nature.
The story about – Can I do it ?
Because everything that I have written about Santiago, I strongly recommended the way for everyone. But if you have a problem with having to walk for 20 to 30km per day, then this isn’t for you. We met many people who weren’t able to finish because they started to suffer from inflammation in their legs etc. So if you would like to go, we strongly recommended that you undergo training first for a minimum of one year by walking. As for expenses – when I counted everything (the round trip ticket to and from the Czech republic included), it was around 800euros – for a nearly two-month stay in a foreign country! You can simply live only for 20euros per day – with already everything you need (10euros for accommodations, and 10euros for meal (with para peregrino a three-course meal available for a maximum of 10euros already). The total cost is easily comparable with a regular two-week holiday. Even if you don’t know anyone in Spain or speak in English or another language (like German or French) it’s still possible to go on this journey – we spent some times with a Slovakian man named Jáno who only spoke Slovak and Hungarian and he was able to enjoy the trip. But of course, if you would like to go to another place and meet people, I still recommend knowing some English or even better, some Spanish. It is very common that in the evenings, a dinner table will be filled with people from 20 different nationalities.
If you would like to find out more information about the Way try this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_St._James
I would like to dedicated this article to our friends which we met on the way to Santiago and they really left a lasting impression in our hearts: Yossi, Carlos, Julie, Jáno, David, and Julián.