Camino de Santiago is a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain. I walked “The Way” in 2012, and it has thus far been the most transformative travel experience of my life. I’m starting to see a lot blogs with pilgrims documenting their trips to Santiago de Compostella this summer, which allows me to relive my time in Spain vicariously. My uncle Jim is walking to Santiago, too! Although, he is not blogging about it. Every summer, I start to think back on my journey, and the many lessons it taught me. Every photo I took tells a story, and captures a moment in time that made me the person I am today. Here are 23 photo moments from my journey to Santiago.
1.) One of my very first photos from day 1 after leaving St. Jean Pied de Port at 6:00 AM. On this day I would cross from France into Spain and begin my pilgrimage towards Santiago. It was upon taking this photo that I had my “I’ve arrived” moment.
2.) Within a few miles of beginning my walk, I met an Argentine fellow who was living and working in Sweden. My time in Argentina had taught me enough Castellano to carry on a decent conversation, and this gave me a lot of confidence as I headed into Spain. We made sure to take photos of each other to capture the morning majesty of St. Jean Pied de Port.
3.) This photo is a look back on the trail before crossing into Spain and descending to my first stop, the town of Roncesvalles. There were sheep, horses, and green hills in every direction. For a split second, the world stopped spinning, and I was just a part of it.
4.) Everyday on the Camino, you pass through small villages and towns. You’re dirty, you’re tired, you’re hungry, but you’re a pilgrim. We all shared in the struggle together. It was a strange feeling to see the big cities ahead and only want to pass through them. The trail was my home, and the pilgrims were my family.
5.) The bridge in Puenta La Reina is the junction of the French Aragonese Way. In the morning, with the arches reflecting into perfect circles, it was hard not to just stop and admire how lucky I was to be there.
6.) Walking in to the town of Cirauqui was when I really started to hit my stride. I no longer had doubts or anxiety. My legs felt fresh and ready to walk each morning, and my mind felt free and clear.
7.) It had been a long day when I reached the beautiful town of Najera, amongst cliffs of red rock. I sat down with fellow pilgrims over a pizza dinner, and discussed the all important “how do you derive happiness in life?” question.
8.) Some days are filled with picturesque beauty, others are a never ending run of the same scenery. It’s a bit like life in that regard. I found that regularity defined perfection. With each step I took, the way I saw things began to change.
9.) The sunflowers on the Camino were the anthem to my summer. Resembling the sun itself, reflecting warmth and happiness, even in stormy weather.
10.) Chasing shadows at dawn was a ritual I learned to love. I left Castrojeriz to get an early jump on the heat of the Meseta, and caught this stunning moment just after daybreak.
11.) Every now and again I would look down at my feet and think about how many pilgrims had walked the exact same steps over the hundreds of years before my time.
12.) This view caught me off guard, as the sun opened up a keyhole portal in the sky. It was like a dream upon waking, only in existence for a short moment. It made me think of how many similar moments I had missed, by simply not being present.
13.) I had never been much of a morning person before the Camino. As a pilgrim, no one tells you when to get up or what to do each day. Still, I found myself waking up before sunrise to catch the day breaking over fields of sunflowers.
14.) Sometimes it’s the simple things in life. Every morning I would start the day with 5-10km of walking before grabbing a coffee and pastry at the first cafe I came across. For lunch, I would eat a bocadillo, and for dinner, I would order a special from restaurants from their “Pilgrims Menu”. My favorite snacks were breads and fruits. It was so nice to share food and stories with other pilgrims, enjoying the shade from trees that protect pilgrims from the sun, year after year.
15.) There was nothing quite like the smell of the boot room or boot rack. At most albergues, the host would ask that you leave your boots in the lobby before heading to your room. Each pair had a story, with wear marks and tears to tell you where they’d been.
16.) With only 100 km left to go, I was overcome with excitement and sadness at the same time. I was so delighted to be closing in on Santiago, but I didn’t want the incredible journey to end. The Camino is the perfect metaphor for the journey of life in this regard. I’ve learned how to enjoy the path to every destination.
17.) There were many places along the Camino where I considered moving in and staying for a while. So many of the small towns and villages were picture perfect. One notable building was the white structure in the photo below, just outside Villafranca.
18.) Staring up at the gates of Santiago de Compostella after walking nearly 500 miles was something I’ll never forget. Words can’t describe the energy and enthusiasm emanating from the pilgrims streaming into the cathedral grounds.
19.) The swinging of the botafumiero is one of the most iconic images from inside the cathedral. I was very fortunate to catch the proceedings just as I arrived.
20.) After walking through the cathedral, I made my way to the pilgrims office to receive my Compostella. It was just a piece of paper, but it meant so much to me.
21.) The only token of the Camino that meant more to me than my compostella was my pilgrims passport. On it’s pages were the stamps of each albergue I stayed at. From start to finish, a journal of The Way.
22.) After Santiago, I knew I had to continue on to Finisterre. Finisterre translates to ‘the end of the earth’. At the lighthouse on the cape, lies the final waypost reading 0’00km. There is no further a pilgrim can walk from there. The landscape and climate began to change as I walked closer to the coast, it was a very fitting end to such an adventure.
23.) I met new friends on the way to Finisterre and we enjoyed a lot of time on and off the trail recounting our favorite moments and stories. Learning to listen and not just hear was a lesson that has stuck with me. There is no rush to finish a conversation when you have all day to talk. It’s amazing how this can change the dynamic between friends.
24.) As I approached the lighthouse in Finisterre, I knew my beautiful journey had come to and end. Words failed me then, as they do now. I returned home a new man. Pilgrims walk down from the lighthouse and burn their clothing in a symbolic gesture to signify the shedding of their old self, and their rebirth as someone new, washed clean. Fog rolled in over the water as I took it all in, watching the sun set. A month of memories flashed though my mind, and I felt the pilgrimage come to a story book ending.