Walking the Camino de Santiago - My Way

Walking the Camino de Santiago - My Way

Wendy Starts the Camino de Santiago in Sarria
Wendy Starts the Camino de Santiago in Sarria. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The spirit of the Camino de Santiago is that everyone walks their own Camino. We may all be headed to Santiago, but our personal goals and how we get there will vary. Here is the story of my Camino.

I chose to walk from Sarria, the minimum distance required to earn the Compostela certificate. I would walk 10 to 16 kilometers (six to 10 miles) rather than the standard Brierley guide distance of 20 or more kilometers per day (13 or more miles). I had a bout of knee arthritis pain earlier in the year that led to this decision.

I wanted to savor my time on the Camino without the pressure of finding lodgings. Rather than stay at albergues (pilgrim hostels), I booked with CaminoWays.com who arranged for where I stayed each night and transported one piece of luggage there each day. In this way, I could walk with only a day pack. A lighter pack would also help prevent arthritis knee pain.

I chose to walk the Camino alone, reassured by other pilgrims that the route from Sarria was well-traveled and I would be alone only by choice.

To build in a day for any travel emergencies, I stayed the night of my arrival in Spain in Santiago de Compostela before going to Sarria.

Getting to Sarria to Start the Camino de Santiago

Sarria - Galicia - Spain
Sarria - Galicia - Spain. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I flew to Madrid and had a connecting flight to Santiago de Compostela. From there, you can take a bus or taxi to Sarria.

If I were traveling with a typical pilgrim's backpack, I would have taken the bus. However, I had a big bag as well and I decided it was easier to take a cab (although this is expensive, $150 euro). There is a Monbus direct bus once per day from Santiago to Sarria, leaving at 18:00 and taking 2:45.  Or you can take an Empresa Freire bus to Lugo and then a taxi or local bus to Sarria. Those options take over three hours but are inexpensive.

After an overnight stay at the Hospederia San Martin Pinario, I enjoyed going to 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It was held in a side chapel and conducted in Spanish, with about 15 attendees. It was an excellent way to bless my journey.

My taxi driver spoke only Spanish but I enjoyed the two-hour drive and seeing the countryside I would soon be walking through. The Camino crossed the roads we were on at times and so I saw peregrinos (pilgrims) walking. The trip is on winding roads, and I was glad I wasn't on a bus as I get motion sickness and I might not be able to sit in front.

I was very excited when I arrived and I hiked up the Camino to this viewpoint and marker.

Camino Day Zero - Sarria

Sarria, Spain - Old Town Albergues and Cafes
Sarria, Spain - Old Town Albergues and Cafes. Wendy Bumgardner © 2015

Sarria is the most popular starting place for the Camino, as you can earn your Compostela certificate if you walk the last 100 kilometers (62 miles), and Sarria is 111 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela. Sarria is a town of 13,500 people and has a range of services.

The albergues (pilgrim hostels) in Sarria are located in the old town along the Camino. By booking with Camino Ways, I stayed in a private room at small hotels and casa rurales rather than the albergues. My hotel in Sarria was the Alfonzo IX, on the river near the 112-kilometer marker of the Camino. The old town was about a kilometer away, uphill.

I stopped by the Orange store in Sarria and got an inexpensive phone and SIM card to use during my trip. As it turned out, my iPhone 6 with international roaming (cellular data turned off) worked as well.

I had a 3-course pilgrim's dinner at my hotel and the portions were enormous. I would have been happy with just the first-course salad, which included tuna. Bread, wine, and dessert are included in the price. These 3-course fixed price pilgrim's meals are standard along the Camino.

Camino Day One - Starting from Sarria

Camino Kilometer Marker 111
Camino Kilometer Marker 111. Wendy Bumgardner ©

My first day on the Camino was September 11, 2015. Sunrise for mid-September in Northwest Spain isn't until 8 a.m., and I was not in a hurry as I was walking a short distance each day. I didn’t get started until 9:30 a.m.

It was a glorious day. The morning started off a little foggy, but that cleared by the first mile. Temperatures would be in the mid-70F range by mid-afternoon.

At first going up through town I saw very few other peregrinos, as most got started earlier. You could definitely tell who was having their bag transported and who was carrying everything. I was in with the late-starting bag-shippers, most of whom were also starting in Sarria.

The Camino is marked with yellow arrows and Camino scallop shell graphics. Each kilometer (and many half kilometers) are marked with a stone marker noting the kilometers remaining to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

I was excited and emotional to be setting foot on the Camino at last as a pilgrim. I am now a peregrina!

Camino - Stamping the Credencial with the Sello

Camino - Credencial Stamp with Sello
Camino - Credencial Stamp with Sello. Wendy Bumgardner ©

When walking the Camino from Sarria, you need to stamp your credencial twice per day to show you walked continuously. Lodgings, churches, bars and cafes on the Camino have sello stamps.

I got my first stamp at the hotel in Sarria. I got a second stamp at a little wayside stop. You need to write the date for each stamp.

As I neared Santiago days later, I noted that the bars where I stopped for lunch had a sello. But a sign (in Spanish) that said it would not be honored in the credencial. This is likely due to the bar being located on a major road, where non-walkers might be stamping their credencials.

Camino Day One - Terrain and Roman Bridge

Camino - Sarria - Roman Bridge
Camino - Sarria - Roman Bridge. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The terrain on the Camino from Sarria is very hilly, with every kind of surface from stone streets to asphalt to small gravel to rocks. It definitely requires trail shoes rather than athletic shoes, to protect your feet from rocks. I wore Brooks Cascadia low-cut lightweight trail shoes as recommended by other pilgrims, and they worked great for me.

Most pilgrims also use trekking poles or a walking stick. I rarely found these necessary on this portion of the Camino, but I used them. I like the extra stability they offer, and they may have prevented a slip or two.

After passing over a Roman-era stone bridge we were into the woods/farmland. Imagine Roman soldiers marching in this area, and the deep history of the people who lived here. The Romans were here 1000 years before tomb of St. James was discovered and the Camino pilgrimage began.

At a corner about 3K into the walk there was a sello station (Camino stamp) and here I was passed by four guys on mountain bikes dressed in green alien unitards. Two of them were wearing the fabric completely over their head and face, appearing to be classic little green men. They were the most unique cyclists I saw on the Camino.

Camino Day One - Meeting Other Peregrinos

Camino Pilgrims
Camino Pilgrims. Wendy Bumgardner ©

One of my motivations for walking the Camino solo was to meet other peregrinos. I spoke with a group of pilgrims who turned out to be from my neck of the woods, the Northwest USA.

We broke out into a grand vista and the blue sky showed through the fog. I was passed by two young men from Mexico who were kicking a soccer ball all the way, and one had a rustic wooden staff flying the Mexican flag.

At home, I listen to podcasts or audiobooks while walking, but on the Camino I was unplugged. I thought it important to be able to talk to people and to absorb the environment. Pilgrims typically greet each other with "Buen Camino!" as they pass each other. I didn't want to lose any opportunity to interact with others and to hear the birds and wind in the trees.

The peregrinos included many people past retirement age, but also plenty of younger people. I passed an older-than-me American couple who were really struggling up a steep hill. I encouraged the gal to just take it easy. Later that day they caught up to me at a cafe and I noted she was praying the rosary as she walked.

At the village of Vilei they had another stamp and a nice hut with Camino mementos and supplies. I talked to a woman who was from Portland, Oregon who was walking with her sons. Her 83-year old husband was driving to meet them at their lodgings each night.

I was rarely out of sight of other pilgrims throughout my time on the Camino, although it was never crowded.

Camino Day One - Church at Barbadelo

Iglesia de Santiago de Barbadelo
Iglesia de Santiago de Barbadelo. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The next village was Barbadelo. I entered the Romanesque church of Santiago de Barbadelo. I've seen various dates for it, from 9th Century through 12th Century. Two years ago our bus/walking tour group stopped here, received the pilgrim's blessing, and walked five kilometers on the Camino.

The same ancient priest I met two years before was stamping credencials. I bought a candle for one euro. He lit it and I placed it at the altar. I prayed for safety and for the health of my relatives.

Camino Day One - Fields and Forests

Camino 102 Kilometer Marker in Woods
Camino 102 Kilometer Marker in Woods. Wendy Bumgardner ©

It is very pleasant walking the dirt paths/gravel paths shaded by the hundred-year-old oaks and chestnut trees. Often the path is lined by rock fences.

This first day was the warmest, but temperatures were still only in the mid-70F range. It was great to have shade and I zipped off the bottoms of my convertible pants (which seemed to be standard attire for pereginos).

Camino Day One - Farms and Hórreo

Camino - Hórreo
Camino - Hórreo. Wendy Bumgardner ©

There are lots of cows in the pastures (and dairy-air odor) and chickens in farmyards. You pass lovely stone barns and farmhouses.

Another common sight in Galicia are the hórreos - granary barns set up on stilts or pillars. As they often are capped with a cross, you might at first think they are some sort of mausoleum or shrine. But they were built to keep rodents away from the grain. The overhanging shelf at the bottom of the granary, above the pillars, is hard for a mouse to navigate.

Camino Day One - Bars and Cafes

Camino - Bar Morgade
Camino - Bar Morgade. Wendy Bumgardner ©

At Mercado (about 4 miles) I had walked for almost two hours. I was making photo stops every few minutes. But the Camino pace is always around 2.5 miles per hour at best, it is unhurried.

I bought coffee for 1 euro and used the bathroom. They had free WiFi, so I was able to go online while I sipped coffee in the sun. So nice to be doing the Camino “the easy way” and be able to stop and enjoy a sunny morning!

Soon after that, I linked up with Roxie from San Francisco and Joanne from Melbourne, Australia. Both are Camino veterans who had met each other at their lodgings the previous night. They were fun to talk to. Joanne coordinates a women’s camino walking group in Australia and plans to lead groups of ten next year.

We walked together the next few kilometers to our end point, Morgade. We got there around 2 p.m., perfect for lunch in Spain. I had a salad with cheese, plus the local beer, Estrella Galicia. It was great talking with the gals, and the group of Northwest walkers were also dining outside at the Morgade cafe. It’s also an inn, Casa Morgade, and my two new companions booked rooms there.

Camino Day One Ends

Camino - 100 Kilometers to Santiago
Camino - 100 Kilometers to Santiago. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Bottom line, I could have walked more but I far prefer walking a modest distance and taking my time and enjoying things.

I made a phone call to my lodgings for the night, O Foilebar guesthouse, a casa rurale. I got picked up in Morgade by the gentleman who was the head of the family-run inn and taken 10 kilometers (6 miles) away to it. I was very happy to see that my transported bag had indeed arrived. This was always the case throughout my journey.

The stone farmhouse was lovely and my room was large with stone walls and a four-poster bed. It was quite a romantic setting. Only the daughter spoke English, but we communicated pretty well. I need to hit the Spanish lessons harder before my next trip!

The drawback was that I wasn't in an area to meet other pilgrims and I dined solo at a table in their dining room. In the morning I met an Irish father and daughter who were also staying there, also booked by Camino Ways.

I walked 22,800 steps for the day, which is a significant number. On the next day, I logged 23, 700. If I were to do this as a single day, I would log more than I would on a day I walked a half marathon.

Camino Walking Day Two - Morgade to Portomarin

Camino - Stone Fence
Camino - Stone Fence. Wendy Bumgardner ©

My dinner didn't sit well and my stomach was ill to start the day. But I had a nice chat with the Irish dad/daughter duo who were also staying at our inn. Breakfast was the typical toasted thick bread and strong coffee.

Now I started what would have been the last half of a typical 23-kilometer walking day from Sarria to Portomarin. For me, it would only be 10 or 11K today (six to seven miles).

I got dropped off in Morgade a little before 9 a.m., just in time to meet up again with Roxie and Joanne who were heading out from the cafe inn. It was great to walk with them.

Once more we walked through the countryside on every type of surface from crushed granite to some areas of rocks to asphalt and pavement. We were rarely passed by other pilgrims, it was a quieter day for us.

There were lots of cows in the field and manure on the road. We saw a herd being taken down the road for milking. I love countryside walks and cows, so I was very happy even when the dairy-air odor wafted by.

Camino - Rest Stop with Fruit

Camino Rest Stop with Fruit
Camino Rest Stop with Fruit. Wendy Bumgardner ©

We stopped at two little rest stops stocked with fruit. You could make a donation in return. I had a most-welcome banana at the first one.

There were grand vistas at times, shaded lines, quaint stone houses and stone barns. At one rest stop the owner, Pepe, came out to talk. Roxie conversed easily in Spanish and learned he will be setting up some guest rooms. He loves meeting people.

Camino - Downhill to Portomarin

Camino - Stairs to Portomarin
Camino - Stairs to Portomarin. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The route to Portomarín includes lots of steep downhill towards the end, on the good surface (at least when dry). I said goodbye to my walking friends at the modern bridge over the river Miño as my stomach was feeling crummy.

The old Roman bridge into Portomarín is reduced to submerged pilings, and the entire town was relocated in the 1960's after they built a dam and flooded the original town site.

It was a little before 1 p.m. and my hotel, the Villajardin let me into my room. There is a mercado on the same block so I bought Gatorade and biscuits to replenish my electrolytes and get something soothing in my stomach.

Camino - Portomarín

Church of San Xoán de Portomarín
Church of San Xoán de Portomarín. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Portomarín is a modern town, rebuilt after they relocated it due to dam construction in the 1960's. They moved the 13th Century Church of San Xoán de Portomarín stone by stone. You can still see numbers on the stones. It was built as a fortress-church by the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.

This is the typical end point for the walking leg from Sarria. I wanted to experience the town but first  I took a long nap to help recover from my stomach upset. Wandering through town, I peeped inside the church and noted when the pilgrim Mass would be for the evening. The square had many cafes where peregrinos were dining, but I didn't see Joanne and Roxie.

I did my laundry with the Scrubba. I hung it outside in the sunshine and on the drying rack in the bathroom. My socks were still wet at bedtime, but my shirt and undies were dry.

Dinners are included in my Camino Ways lodging. I went to dinner at 7:15 at my hotel when they opened for the meal. I had caldo gallego broth soup (cabbage, some beans and potatoes), a little bread and flan for dessert. I skipped having a second large course.

I snuggled up to sleep in my Insect Shield bed sack. It probably wasn't necessary for the small hotels where I was staying. But along the Camino, I saw many pilgrims dotted with bed bug bites, and I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. The bed sack is very lightweight microfiber and I found it comfortable throughout my journey.