9/25/17 El Camino de Santiago – 300,000 Steps Later

I just got back from Spain after walking El Camino de Santiago Primitivo with my dad. We traversed 235 kilometers of Northern Spain over the course of 12 days, averaging about 20 kilometers per day (12.5 miles). We began hiking in Pola de Allande, where my dad’s uncle lives. We saw the house that my dad’s great great grandfather grew up in. The village has a population of about 500 people. A couple of the villages we came across during our journey had populations of 170 and 53 people. The Primitivo route is the most difficult, which usually people don’t attempt until they have tried El Norte or El Francés.

The scenery was beautiful. We climbed over several mountains in the first few days, which had spectacular views. There were countless farms and rolling hills we saw. Cow shit laced the path, and my dad stepped right in a pile of it after getting distracted by an oncoming car. This was the first time my dad and I have had this amount of time together with this few distractions. It was like we were walking into the past, 500 years ago. Many houses and fences were constructed with slate rock slabs. There were lots of homes that were abandoned with fallen in roofs.

Villagers we saw were very friendly and we received many “Buen Camino’s” along the way. Everything was super cheap compared to America. The albergues (hostels) we stayed in were between 6-12 EUR per night. The peregrino (pilgrim) specials at restaurants were either 10 or 15 EUR for a primary dish, main course, a dessert, and a bottle of wine. We were living like kings for about 30 EUR per day. What was weird was how cheap the house wine was at cafe bars. It was cheaper than water. I was at one cafe bar and ordered 2 cañas (drafts) and 2 glasses of wine for a total of 5 EUR. I looked at the receipt and saw the house wine was only 0.80 EUR per glass.

Mahou and Estrella 1906 were the best draft beers we came across. Spain is not a Mecca of craft beers. But, they do know their wine. They also know their coffee. They serve you a cafecito (little coffee) in a small tea cup, unless you order an American coffee, which they put in a larger cup. I made the mistake of ordering an Americano after not drinking coffee for about three months. My heart was racing pretty fast and I was very jittery. We were walking for an hour or so and took a break in a wooded area. I looked through a clearing between the trees and felt like I was on drugs. Everything was moving.

The hiking was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Also, my shoes weren’t broken in, so I got a couple blisters I had to deal with. My heels were very sore after each day. It felt like my heel bone was bruised. The mountains and inclines we climbed weren’t the most challenging in the world. But, after hiking for miles and miles, it becomes more of a mental challenge to endure the pain. You dream of taking your shoes off and taking a nap. I hiked at random times barefooted to give my feet some time to feel better. But, there were lots of thorny bushes that had been cut down, which were all over the path. Also, the bastards decided to put a bunch of gravel down everywhere.

The albergues were a lot better than I expected. The first two we stayed in weren’t the nicest, but after that each place was pretty nice. There were showers and some places had laundry machines and even Wi-Fi. We got lucky several times because we showed up to the albergues later than everyone else. They put us in another room, so it was just us. One night, the only room left was a private room with its own bathroom and clean towels. That was some serious luxury I had not expected. It was almost like being in a hotel.

Overall, I think the whole cost of the trip was around $1,300 per person. It was definitely one of the cheapest two week vacations you could have. Here’s a rough breakdown of the costs:

$460 airfare

$400 food and drink

$130 trains

$130 housing

$75 taxi cabs

$45 Uber

$50 miscellaneous

= $1,290 total

You could do this trip even cheaper if you bring your own tent and drink and eat less. But, for the way we were living and suffering, I was pretty happy to eat a full meal and have a few glasses of wine to end the night.

I think my favorite part of the experience was meeting all the other pilgrims. There were some interesting people we met from all over the world. We met people from Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Israel, France, the UK, Belgium, Brazil, South Korea, and Japan. Everyone had a unique story to tell. It was pretty funny listening to people speaking English, German, and Spanish at the dinner table all trying to translate for each other.

For me, the cathedral in Lugo was the most special place on the trip. The artwork on the ceiling and walls was incredible. I sat down in silence in the pews and listened to my thoughts and had a sort of emotional breakdown. I figured out what I need to do. Everything became clear for a brief moment. I know what I have to do and I can’t trick myself into not doing. Things need to change. I can’t keep circling around doing the same god damn thing for the rest of my life. Someday, I may not have the option to change my life or my circumstances. The time to change is now.

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