Slow Travel – Walking Across Spain

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Trekker extraordinaire, my mom!

Trekker extraordinaire, my mom!

When the Krrb editorial team was sitting around the proverbial conference table, discussing the different ways people slow down, a couple of important figures popped into my head: Forrest Gump and my mom. You see, a couple years ago, my mom Karen decided to walk across Spain. As a New Yorker, she keeps a fast paced life and the speed of her walking certainly matches. And being the thoughtful traveller she is, she decided that a great way to fully and thoroughly and slowly experience the country would be to walk right through it.

As she shares below, her journey on the Camino de Santiago was more important than the destination, and like Forrest Gump, she just wanted to keep walking. Luckily I have an insider’s knowledge into one woman’s trek of taking in a country as slow as you possibly can. Check it out below – and no mom jokes, please.

Religious figures pepper the trek as it used to be a primarily religious institution.

Religious figures pepper the trek as it used to be a primarily religious institution.

How long did it take?

Thirty-two days but I had to constantly remind myself to slow down. I’m naturally a very fast walker and could have probably finished in twenty-five days but this trek, more than anything else I can think of, is about the journey, not the destination… at least that was the case for me. The pure joy was in each day’s walk and each day’s discoveries. I didn’t want to get to the end because in no way did I want it to be over.

It took me 32 days to complete the nearly 500 mile journey (which started on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and ended in the far northwest corner of Spain) and I had 32 separate and 32 incredible adventures. Each day I viewed a new landscape as I passed through desert-like terrain, over mountains, through valleys and forests, along rivers and over every other possible terrain one can imagine.

A lone cross to mirror the sometimes solitary walk.

A lone cross to mirror the sometimes solitary walk.

What did you bring with you?

I love this question. I had everything I needed and nothing I didn’t. My backpack weighed less than twenty pounds and only contained the bare essentials. I packed soap, a light-weight sleeping bag, toothbrush, a first-aid kit, my camera, one book (people exchanged books all along the way to avoid the need for packing more than one), one extra set of clothing which I washed and hung dry each night and a few other essential items. It was so great to have everything I needed on my back with no clutter, no junk, no unneccesary gadgets… the stuff that clutters our houses and lives.

The terrain goes from desert to stone to lush forest.

The terrain goes from desert to stone to lush forest.

Can you tell us a little about the walk?

El Camino de Santiago is a Christian pilgrimage in the north of Spain. Christians have been walking the camino since medieval times and believe that the remains of St. James, the Apostle are buried beneath the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Most people that walk are looking to get right with God in one way or another. I did it just to walk. In fact, I will probably burn in hell for my “religious” pilgrimage.

The cathedral on the left is the Santiago de Compostela and was traditionally the end goal for pilgrims making the journey. The castle to the right is named Ponferrada and was built in 1178 to protect the pilgrims along the journey.

The cathedral on the left is the Santiago de Compostela and was traditionally the end goal for pilgrims making the journey. The castle to the right is named Ponferrada and was built in 1178 to protect the pilgrims along the journey.

Each day I passed through several small, ancient towns each with their own plaza to stop and enjoy an excellent cafe con leche or a cold Coke. I heard three different languages spoken as I passed through the various regions (Castilian, Spanish and Gallega) and enjoyed excellent specialty foods and wines from each of those areas. Each night I stayed in a different albergue (which are quite affordable and mostly lovely hostels) and best of all, in those moments when I chose not to walk alone, I met new and interesting people from around the world.

Most people I met were in search of something and their stories were fascinating. And if that’s not enough, all along the way I experienced wonderful treasures like the incredible cathedrals that double as art museums, gorgeous castles built in the twelfth century and churches and bridges built by the Romans. You can feel the extraordinary history all along the journey. I guess you can see that I thought the whole thing was pretty amazing.

Forget gallery hopping, the Camino offers art all along the way.

Forget gallery hopping, the Camino offers art all along the way.

Who typically does this walk?

I came across people who were looking for forgiveness or were asking god for the missing something in their lives or walking just to contemplate. I met amazing people with great stories. I walked for two days with a 24 year-old boy from Estonia who was trying to decide which of the two girls he was in love with to marry. He traveled with exactly no money, no blanket and torn shoes, lived off the apples, plums and cherries he picked along the way, and stayed only in donativos. (Donativos are hostels but free if you need them to be.) And maybe he relied a little bit on people like me for whom it was a complete and total pleasure to buy him a meat, potato and cheese filled empanada for lunch the day we met. I met Henrik from Norway, a 28 year-old man who looked a lot like Matt Damon and was walking because he wanted to forgive himself for the way he had treated his family and friends for the past five years while hooked on crystal meth. He was over the drug and looked strong and healthy but just needed to clear his head. I met three wild and crazy chefs from Valencia who began drinking wine and smoking hashish at 7am. The last time I saw them, they had turned around to go back to Barcelona for San Fermin, the running of the bulls festival. I met a crazy German guy who proposed to me after walking together for one day.

The towns developed and maintained for the pilgrims passing through are now primarily home to an older demographic that has not fled to the cities.

The towns developed and maintained for the pilgrims passing through are now primarily home to an older demographic that has not fled to the cities.

Why did you decide to walk across Spain?

I really just wanted to walk and walk and then walk some more. I thought about doing it in the US but nowhere that I know of has the infrastructure in place the way it is in Spain. The albergues which are only for pilgrims and cost on average 10 USD a night so there is no need to carry a tent, plus you can shower, wash out your clothes, etc. daily. There is also no need to worry about bears or other wild animals the way you do in parts of the Rockies or along the Appalachian Trail. Best of all, there is zero crime on the camino. As woman and for the most part alone, I never felt vulnerable or in danger.

Any plans for future walks? Are you still walking?

I would love to walk from New York to California but logistically, I don’t think I can make it work. I’d need three months and I have a full-time job getting in my way. I walk a lot though. I like to spend an entire day walking around the city while stopping on occasion to read, eat or do a crossword puzzle. It always makes me feel like I’m traveling.

Thanks, mom! How about taking me next time?!

While traveling or spending a leisurely day in your own town or city, walking seems like the perfect way to slow down and take in your surroundings. What’s the furthest you’ve ever walked?

 
  • Isaacredriguez

    I’m starting the Camino in Le Puy France! It should take about 70 days of walking! I start on 4/2/13

  • Wow! indeed sounds amazing. How I wish it was possible here in England. I guess even if we want to we’d not be able to considering the weather conditions here. I can count the number of days on my fingers that would have supported this kind of adventurous trek in this year.

  • Karen

    I believe, as do most walkers, that your camino is whatever works for you and whatever you need it to be.  Lots of people do it in segments.  Most of us don’t have a month available.  You might want to consider the last stretch.  If I had only two weeks to do it again, I would start in Sarria and end up at the cathedral in Santiago.  Here it is on a map.  I hope you get to do it.  I don’t think you’d regret it.  Buen Camino.  

    https://maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&q=serria+spain&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF-8&hl=en

  • Robin

    I’ve been wanting to do that walk since I knew I was moving to Paris. Not clear when I can do it however. Is it cheating to do it in 2 two-week segments?  And the fast in me is yearning to ask — which section offers the nicest two weeks (I know, that sounds like I’m missing the point).

  • and The writer’s uncle! haha

  • ahaha, literally laughing out loud right now. the suitcase or one of these. 

    http://images.allegrocentral.com/3B/98/Folding-Shopping-Cart-556635-PRODUCT-MEDIUM_IMAGE.jpg

  • Mark

    It only took two years to see a few pictures of the walk! Nice story!
    The walker’s brother.

  • Ctirado6

    Ah Jessica, A girl after my own heart…… I personally see myself going cross country in a mack truck…..Can’t you picture me walking across Spain schlepping one of those really big black suitcases behind me ?

  • A Harley sounds fun but how would you cart all the souvenirs back?? I try to be minimalist but I’m not going to lie, I probably would need an RV.

  • A Harley sounds fun but how would you cart all the souvenirs back?? I try to be minimalist but I’m not going to lie, I probably would need an RV.

  • Tannycb

    Wow! This sounds amazing. Now I want to do it too. A cross country road trip is generally more my style though- and my dream would be to do it on a Harley…