I am underway on my next adventure: hiking 810+ km (500+ miles) across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. While there are many routes across Spain to take, all leading to Santiago de Compostela, I will be walking the most popular route, the route Frances (French route) beginning tomorrow, April 7th. I’m estimating the hike to take about 33 days from Saint Jean Pied de Port, the official start of the French route, to Santiago. Of course I will most likely be hiking an extra 3 days from Santiago to the Spanish coastal town of Fisterra, also known as the “end of the world” back in Christopher Columbus’ time.
My travel day began on Tuesday evening, flying Air France from JFK, New York to Biarritz, France by way of Paris.
From Biarritz, I shared a shuttle with a transportation service called “Express Bourricot,” who arranged to drive all interested pilgrims (aka peregrinos) from Biarritz an hour south to Saint Jean Pied de Port. You can opt to take a few buses and trains, but for the day before I set off on a 33+ day journey, I thought I’d save the adventure for tomorrow. And by sharing the transport, the one hour drive came to only €19 each!
We arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port around 3 pm. I immediately went to the Express Bourricot’s offices where I shipped my large backpack to Santiago, where I will pick it up at the end of my journey. This backpack has all my Europe essentials for my post-Camino Europe travel. As for the Camino, I’m taking a small 30L backpack with only the essentials. Basically two shirts, two pants, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, toiletries, microfiber towel, sleeping bag liner, GoPro, chargers, and jackets. And a rock. I’ll explain the rock much later on the Camino.
I then made my way to the Pilgrims office. Here, I received my Pilgrims Passport and officially registered as a pilgrim. The passport is to be stamped all along the way, at cafes, bars, churches, albergues (hostels), anywhere and everywhere along the Camino. In order to receive your certificate of completion of the Camino, you must have walked at least 100 km to Santiago. The passport is proof of walking that distance, or for most pilgrims, 800+ km. In addition, the pilgrims office gives any advice and information about the first few days. In my case, which route to take tomorrow…
Leaving SJPDP, you can take the Napoleon Route straight over the Pyrenees Mountains, or the Valcarlos Route, alongside the Pyrenees. Due to heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures the past few days, the Napoleon Route has been closed off by local officials. A bit of a bummer, as I wanted the challenge of crossing over the Pyrenees on day one, but people have literally died attempting the climb, so I was just as happy to do the Valcarlos route (which actually proved to be very difficult anyway).
I also grabbed a scallop shell while there. It’s a universal symbol of the Camino de Santiago and pilgrims wear their shell proudly on their backpack. The shell is everywhere on the Camino, pointing pilgrims in the direction of Santiago. Literally no GPS or maps are needed.
And before I left the Pilgrims office, I weighed my bag. It came to 10 kg (22 lbs) before food and water. They say your bag should be 15% of your body weight at most. Which means my bag should have weighed 21 lbs MAX. Oh no.
And the last order of business, accommodation for my first evening. I chose the municipal albergue. It was €10 and featured two rooms with 8 bunk beds each, a little closer than I would’ve liked. There were two showers and two toilets. This is literally going to be my life the next month or so (probably 9 months actually). Yay!
Now for an early night. My alarm is set for 5:30 am so I can get a good start for my first day on the Camino de Santiago! Wish me luck!
(Something I’m probably going to hear 200 times a day)