I thought that the Santiago’s road was an itinerary made essentially by Catholic faithful, until I watched this video by Victor Iemini and realized how much backpacker culture is present. He made a documentary of just over 5 minutes about the adventure that took him to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and gave super useful tips for anyone who also dreams of going there.
Of course, the video made me want to travel, so I contacted Victor to understand a little more about this experience that he defined as a physical and spiritual journey. Every trip is a journey – but this one, in particular, takes the definition to the letter.
The Camino de Santiago are routes that start in different parts of Europe and converge in the north of Spain. The main one starts in the city of Saint Jean Pied de Port, in the south of France – and that’s what Victor did, covering 772 km over 33 days. Nothing prevents you from choosing a closer point to start the path, but certainly the more distant routes are richer.
“I’m not Catholic or even Christian, but for me the Camino was a very intense experience. Already on the first day, the poor, the rich, the old, the bankrupt, the European and the foreigner become equal, no one is more or less than anyone else, after all, for the next 30 days we will travel the same trails, get to know the same cities.
After a few weeks, we forget about life as it was before, the morning walk of 25 km creates a feeling of contentment, like finishing an important task, and that is a collective feeling. This dose of self-esteem and humility calms the mind, helps to see life from another perspective”.
When he made the trip, in June 2012, Victor was living in Madrid. He flew to Pamplona, Spain, and from there took a bus to San Jean Pied de Port. The walk only started the next day, after obtaining the Pilgrim’s Credential, which is a kind of passport that must be presented at each stop.
Only those with stamps that prove a trajectory of at least 100 km can be entitled to the “Compostela”, which certifies the completion of the route.
Legend has it that just follow the path of the stars to reach the tomb of São Tiago, in Santiago de Compostela (I read that the origin of the name is exactly that: São Tiago do Campo das Estrelas). I don’t know if it’s true… But anyway there are signs, arrows and yellow shells indicating the whole way.
Victor says in the video that the ideal is to start walking very early in the morning, before 8am. This way, you can reach the next city in the early afternoon, when the hostels open to receive pilgrims, and there is still some time left to get to know the place and socialize with the other pilgrims.
It’s a trip back in time through the interior of Europe, with churches and medieval buildings along the way. I wanted to visit the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, a work by Gaudí.
There are those who do the route by bicycle, but Victor preferred the pace of the walk to chat with other pilgrims, enjoying the landscape and nature along the way.
“If I wanted, I could run after sheep that were grazing, invade a wheat field, or follow the sound of water to find a river… Several times I saw snakes, lizards, frogs and flowers that I had never seen before” – one full plate for those who like to photograph.
Some tips in the video are essential, such as using a staff to support and lighten the weight on the legs, as well as appropriate sneakers or boots for trekking. It is also important to always carry a bottle of water and protect yourself from the sun. Victor says that long walks under the hot sun can cause hallucinations after a few hours…
It goes without saying that physical preparation is indispensable, right? On the first day, it’s already 20 km uphill to cross the Pyrenees, mountains that divide France and Spain.
To spend the night, each must use their own sleeping bag. Accommodation is cheap (around 4 to 8 euros) and options include parish and municipal hostels, as well as private Bed&Breakfast hostels. The presence of volunteer hosts is common, who have traveled the path before and felt a special connection with that place.
Reservations are not possible at municipal hostels, which are the cheapest and of good quality. The most common thing is for pilgrims to resort to the list provided by the information center in Saint Jean Pied de Port or their pocket guides (which vary slightly according to the authors and the countries in which they were published).
After a whole month on this journey, the arrival in the city of Santiago is celebrated with a mass in the Cathedral. Tradition has it go up behind the altar and embrace the statue of the saint, the Apostle James, whom the pilgrimage honors.
In addition to the website of the Associação Brasileira dos Amigos do Caminho de Santiago, indicated in the video, some others can help with the preparations for the itinerary, such as Camino Adventures, the Guardians of the Path of Santiago and the Peregrino Portal.