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Camino de Santiago Week 1: Don’t Knock the Walk!

Whoever thought that when we were planning our RTW trip that one of the most challenging things we would have to do is …well…WALK!

We have put on 7 days and 145 kms to date. There have been ups and downs, but for the most part, we believe this will be one of the greatest accomplishments either of us have ever achieved.

Here is a Reader’s Digest version of what we have done so far, followed by a brief summary of how each of us are feeling so far.

August 7th – St.Jean Pied-de-Port to Orisson (8 kms) – we stayed in the Refuge Orisson
August 8th – Orisson to Roncesvalles (18 kms) – we stayed in the Refugio de Peregrinos de Roncesvalles
August 9th – Roncesvalles to Larrasoana (27 kms), staying in the Albergue de Larrasoana
August 10th – Larrasoana to Pamplona (16.5 kms), staying in the Albergue Casa Paderborn
August 11th – Pamplona to Puente la Reina (24 kms), staying in the Albergue Santiago Apostol
August 12th – Puente la Reina to Villamayor de Monjardin (31.4 kms), staying at the Dutch-run Albergue de Peregrino
August 13th – Villamayor to Monjardin to Torres del Rio (20.2 kms) staying at La Pata del Oca (swimming pool included!!)

Skott’s Thoughts

Most of the time, I cannot get over how incredible this is…we speak to many pilgrims who are only able to take 2 or 3 weeks off and so, they are simply going to walk as far as they can. Shawna and I are in such a fortunate position…there is really no time constraint. Simply, we walk as far as we want, or are able to, each day. And then relax, and mentally prepare for the next.

There are some negative moments no doubt – I think we have realized that our footwear is not ideal, and we are still carrying a little more weight than we would like (despite sending Shawna’s full backpack by mail to the finish line), but for the most part this has been an incredibly positive experience.

Our little double room in Orrisson

We have been given little gifts along the way. Double rooms in Orisson and Puente la Reina, when everyone else was in larger dorms…it is simple things like this, which really make us smile.

It has been very challenging, with Days 5 and 7, being the toughest mentally, and 1 and 2 were very exhausting physically.

We are now into the mad summer heat of Spain, and it borders on ridiculous if you are walking past 1PM….but we have been sure to keep hydrated, and I tell you, not much feels better than when the small Spanish town you were looking for suddenly appears over the hills, and you can finally call it a day.

It took us a few days, but we now have a routine. Wake up early, 5AM….a quick breakfast (but there is no way Shawna is letting me skip the meal altogether :) ), and then we walk…starting 6:00-6:30. Usually a coffee break at around 10AM, and a late lunch around 1PM. Those last few hours are a lot tougher though, and so some days, like today…we call it quits just before lunch.

Our walk has taken us through sheep pastures, over the Pyrenees, past tiny Spanish towns, into an “enchanted forest” (or so I am told), and around dozens of vineyards (Shawna keeps trying to get drunk off the grapes).

I am still amazed that although we left during the busiest time on the Camino, Shawna and I can walk for a few hours with the entire path to ourselves….just us and the sun.

One week down, likely four more to go…I feel challenged, but very fortunate that I have a tough walking partner to push me when I get lazy!

Shawna’s Thoughts

One of the craziest things that happened after just 3 days of walking was the way I felt each night going to bed and each morning when I woke up. Oddly enough, although I was exhausted every night, I felt such a sense of accomplishment, and in turn, so at peace, that I had the greatest sleeps and went to bed feeling excited to walk again the next morning (although maybe my hips weren’t). I was simply too exhausted to have any trouble drifting into a delightful slumber (and the super-ear plugs helped too) and I woke up feeling rested and excited to push to the next stage.

A long way to go!

The first 3 days were really different from what I expected as far as weather and terrain. I had packed for hot weather, thinking that I would be melting from the hot Spanish sun but the journey to Roncesvalles was wet and cold and I found myself wearing every layer of clothing I had. All I could hope for when we arrived at the hostels was a HOT shower and a bed. Thankfully, my wishes came true…but the beds were a little different than the lovely queen that Skotty and I share at home. For example, in Roncesvalles, we were given numbers for our beds and upon arriving on floor 2, we saw that essentially this was an entire floor the size of a department store filled with bunk beds row to row with just a half partition separating every 2 sets. No privacy here!

The Spanish heat found us as we arrived in Pamplona. After that, we got smart and started getting up at 5am with a goal of being on the road by 6am to beat the heat. These early morning hours, when we are trekking with just the glow of our headlights, have become my very favourite. Each day we witness the sun rising and look at each other with a grin as we take in our surroundings for the first time that day.

Our kilometres per day vary based on how our bodies were feeling but we have been covering about 20-30km per day. On our longest day so far, we decided to gamble when we arrived at the end of our “stage” (this is the recommended end city according to our guide book) and continue on another 7km to get ahead for the next day. We left the city in good spirits after a lunch of gazpacho (my new favourite Spanish food) and bocadillos (small sandwiches with ham, egg or chorizo in them). However, we arrived in the teeny tiny town of Azqueta only to find that they didn’t have a pilgrim’s hostel. Oy…we had no choice but to push on to Villamayor de Monjardin…another 2.4km, which doesn’t seem like much unless you imagine yourself doing it on an incline inside a steam room. We had the hugest grins on our faces when we came over the hill to see our little city. There was a Dutch hostel that had room for us and they served the best breakfast we’ve had so far.

It hasn’t all been glory though and there are days when I’ve arrived feeling a little tattered and broken. Fortunately, it seems there’s usually some small miracle that helps me pull myself out of potential misery-anything from a conversation with another pilgrim who’s feeling the same way, a swimming pool, or just a surprise stop along the side of the road serving cold drinks or coffee.

Life as a pilgrim is a simple existence. On my “to-do” list each day are just the following:

-drink water;
-fuel your body with healthy foods;
-hand wash our clothes;

The interesting thing is that when these are the only things taking up space in your head, and in your day, you are left with time to think about important things…like dreaming about future aspirations and possibilities, thinking of people back home and appreciating all the wonderful things I’m blessed with in life..all the while, trying not to think about the pain in your legs. It sounds a little corny, but I guess that’s what walking over 150km with basically just your own thoughts can do.

Looking forward to sharing what week 2 brings us!

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13 Responses to “Camino de Santiago Week 1: Don’t Knock the Walk!”

  1. MPB August 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    I love your blog, Shawna! Keep posting on the Santiago de Compostela part of trip so I can prepare myself for next summer!

    • Shawna August 26, 2011 at 9:37 am #

      Absolutely! I’m so game for sending advice…especially on which Albergues to stay at because these make a world of difference to your entire Camino experience!

  2. Erica August 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    This is super awesome! I get pissy when I have to walk from one end of the island to the other in the heat. I couldn’t imagine doing it while hauling things for 20km. Inspiring!

    • Shawna August 26, 2011 at 9:30 am #

      Thanks Erica! We try to beat the heat by leaving early in the mornings. Isn’t it amazing how much the heat can slow your whole body down!!??

  3. Kirstine August 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi Shawna,
    I know JUST how you feel, ‘just’ walking, walking and walking. I had the exact same experience in Nepal, trecking for a month, non-stop, in the Himalayas… and I think it is SO healthy for the soul :-)

    • Shawna August 26, 2011 at 9:24 am #

      Hi Kirstine! So pumped you made it to our site! I always love hearing about your past traveling adventures-they are so motivating. You’ve done so much and you never let anything get in your way. I think it really will be healthy for the soul and also a great learning opportunity. The biggest thing I need to do is just appreciate every moment because although it feels really long some days, the Camino is almost half done and I bet I will miss the simplicity and serenity when I’m done. Thanks again for popping in, keep in touch!!!

      • Kirstine September 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

        Hi again Shawna,
        haven’t had time to read your blog for a few weeks, but will catch up! I gave birth to the most beautiful little boy the 23rd of august – Vitus. Frey is a proud and very loving bigbrother, but finds it a bit difficult to share his parents! Enjoy your adventures :-)

  4. Paulette September 2, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Hi Scott,
    Glad you are having a great time. I wanted to say thank you for all your hard work on our behalf at Merle Norman. I am envious. Now is the time to travel. Enjoy!
    Paulette, Scotia Centre

    • Skott and Shawna September 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

      That is super sweet Paulette – thank you so much! It was amazing working with you and the MN crew!

  5. Gia May 3, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    I admire your stamina. MY sister and I were wondering if we can do the walk from Fatima to Santiago de Compostella in 2 weeks and what would the approx. cost be in Euros. We are on a very strict budget.

    I would really appreciate if you would get back to me as to what I might expect.



    • Skott May 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      Hey Gia – unfortunately Fatima is not part of the Camino Frances (I am quite sure of this), but instead is part of the Camino Porto, running North from Portugal to Santiago. The Camino Frances is the one we walked, so I am sorry I cannot be of more help to you. We do have a post on the Camino budget posted on our blog as well…. Thanks for reading and let us know if you have further questions!

  6. jen June 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Reading your Camino story brings back so many memories for me. I walked it in June 2011 and rewalk it daily in my mind and soul. The pull is definitely strong……thank you for sharing your journey!

    • Skott June 16, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      Never a problem Jen – it was indeed a very magical experience for us! I do hope that someday I will be able to walk it again…. yup, it was THAT amazing!

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