140 Miles. Backpacking El Camino de Santiago… ALONE

This past summer, I took a leap of faith and decided to travel alone for three weeks in Spain. Becoming a solo female traveler was one of the most freeing activities I’ve ever done. Here is my journey becoming a pilgrim on El Camino de Santiago, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage in Northern Spain.

This is generally a positive account, but let me start off by saying that I began my journey with a SINUS INFECTION. In the middle of nowhere in Spain.

I also had insane body aches, especially as I went to bed. I would just be lying down and my whole body would hurt.

My feet also felt like I was walking on pins and needles.

And it was very hot.

And the beds were never comfortable.

And people got very sick from the food.

And blisters.

And smelly clothes.

And rude Spaniards.

And homesickness.

And the complete loss of energy.

And mental TRAUMA that I had to wake up every dang day and keep moving.

OKAYYYYYYY now that we’ve got the negatives out of the way, let’s get on with it:

This is all I carried with me for three weeks:

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I always carry a journal with me when I travel. I call it my “travel journal.”

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I flew to Madrid (Click HERE for my Madrid video), then took a 4-hour bus ride North to Ponferrada, my starting place on the Camino.

In order to be an official pilgrim or “peregrino,” I had to get a pilgrim passport or “credencial.” This allowed me to stay at albergues/hostels along the route. Each place I went, they gave me a stamp.

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After all my stamps and my completed journey, here is my passport:

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The shell is a symbol of the Camino. All the pilgrims had some sort of a shell on their body or backpack. Many get shell tattoos once they reach the end. Gosh, writing about this now, I miss it! I wore a shell necklace and bought a shell ring at the end (that I still wear to this day).

I knew where to go because I followed these yellow signs. That’s how I found my way for 140 miles!

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My second day of hiking offered a steep incline yet beautiful views. I felt like I was in Switzerland. And heaven.

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This sunset is what I most often talk about with people when I discuss my Camino journey. It was 6:15AMish. The three people I had decided to walk with that day (1 Italian and 2 Germans) wanted to get up early to hike… I wasn’t exactly ecstatic. BUT I’m sure glad I did, because this sunrise was magical.

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Friends! Germans: (they walked hecka fast)

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My beautiful Italian:

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These crazy Spainards!:IMG_5414

Me, a Spainard, & a German. I bumped into the Spainaird many more times throughout my Camino. He would always say, “Hola Shanaaaaaaaa!”

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I walked along SO many cows and cowherds… and cows count as friends, right?

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The Camino community is filled with love and acceptance. There are many open churches for pilgrims along the way. here is one of the first churches I entered along the Camino:

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F3758CE2-DCEC-449D-9160-92EC164E2B6EDESSERT. Okay, so after a day of walking 15–20 miles with a 15-20 pound pack, I was often ravenous. I was always ecstatic if my dinner meal, called the “Pilgrim’s Menu,” had a gluten-free dessert. The shell is the symbol of a pilgrim on the Camino:

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My albergue this night was right next to a body of water! I swam in it with some kids from Madrid– it definitely helped my sore muscles.

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This staircase led into one of the towns I stayed in, called Portomarín. They were supposed to have really good “pulpo,” also known as octopus. I didn’t like the octopus. 7F82FAD3-62DA-41C9-9B7A-8D940BFCE864

I remember this day so clearly. It was pretty cloudy. I arrived in Santiago alone. I finished by myself. I did it. By myself. For myself. With God. This is the grand church of Santiago. I’m holding my certificate of completion of the pilgrimage. IMG_5519

To comemorate my journey, I bought this shell ring. I’m wearing it as I write this. To me, it symbolizes more than just the Camino journey and more than just I am a pilgrim. It helps me remember that I am strong enough to go out on my own. I traveled through Spain for three weeks, by myself. And I’m so proud:)

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Through all the triumphs, through meeting fellow pilgrims and learning their life story, through the laughs and smiles and beautiful views, there were A LOT of hardships.

I was maneuvering my way through a new part of the world, exhausted.

I encountered rude Albergue owners, walked with pilgrims having panic attacks, and cried every single, dang day.

YES, I cried every day because I was so scared. I was so tired.

I was so DONE.

I didn’t want to walk anymore. But I had to, I kept going.

And I proudly wear that ring!

(I then stayed in the airport for 19 hours due to a delayed then cancelled then another delayed flight… I went on to Barcelona and Sitges… but that story is for another time)

If you want to travel, you just have to take the leap of faith, trust God, and jump right in! Book those plane tickets. I recommend traveling alone. It’s exhilarating and frightening and magnificently liberating.

*Click HERE for the travel video*

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