Travel Solo Not Alone: The Camino Santiago
Jenny Cranfield has been living in Dubai for 18 months and wanted to experience a different kind of trip from her normal travel itinerary. Here she shares with us her experience of trekking the Camino de Santiago, also known as ‘The Way of Saint James’.
Why did you want to take this trip?
The trip has been on my bucket list for a few years. I became aware of the Camino De Santiago after watching the film, The Way. After that I kept researching articles about it and looking it up on the internet and then one day my son said to me, ‘why don’t you just go?’ So I did! I took the plunge and decided to travel solo. I flew over alone from Dubai and met the group at the start.
Have you ever taken a trip like this before?
No, never. I’m a widow and previously when I lived in the UK I used to go on holidays with a group of girlfriends. I also go to Spain a lot to visit friends but I’ve never travelled with a group of people I didn’t know before nor have I done a specific active trip like this. Initially I was a bit apprehensive about going on a trip on my own, it wasn’t something I’d considered before. However, after wanting to take this particular trip for a while and not getting much enthusiasm from others I knew to join me, I realised that perhaps the only way it was going to happen was if I went by myself. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Did you have to do any special preparation or buy any special equipment?
I didn’t buy anything other than ordinary hiking equipment such as walking trainers. The main preparation for the trip was walking on successive days. I already knew I could complete ten miles but I didn’t know if I could do it every day, so before I left I started doing some big walks every day to prepare.
Could anyone do this trip or do you need to be really fit?
Not really fit, but you do need to make sure you’ve got the right footwear. My feet really took a battering even for someone like me who is used to walking. I did end up with some pretty big blisters as did the rest of the group. Our saviour was our amazing guide. He advised us to purchase some walking sandals rather than the heavy boots we were wearing as the weather was dry and the terrain wasn’t tough. These made an enormous difference. They weren’t pretty and won’t win any awards in the style stakes, however, they saved my feet! If I did the trip again I think the trick would be to take two pairs of very comfortable walking trainers with a back up pair of sandals.
What were the highlights of the trip?
A big highlight for me was the camaraderie along the route. Stopping and chatting to other people who are also hiking along the trail and then meeting up with them again at the towns along the way was a side of the trip I wasn’t expecting. It was incredibly social and had I not been with a group already I felt I would have be quite happy to do the hike alone and meet people along the way.
Reaching Santiago was also a highlight. When we finally arrived at the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela, it felt a little bit emotional. This is where pilgrims for hundreds of years have arrived after their long journey on The Way of St James so there is a real sense of history about it. The old town is beautiful and a few of us in the group hired a guide for ½ a day which was a wonderful add on to the trip. We were given all the history about the town and the Cathedral which we would never have known otherwise. We were lucky enough to observe a service during which the Cathedral’s botafumeiro was used (During special services at the cathedral, a 170-pound censer swings like an enormous pendulum through the sanctuary, leaving behind a trail of smoke and the fragrance of incense). It was an incredibly fitting end to a wonderful journey.
Our guide was fantastic, he was an absolute asset on the trip. A genuinely lovely man and very knowledgeable about the trek. He was also excellent at choosing restaurants. They were all booked in advance and each one he recommended because it had a local delicacy on its menu. We were free to eat wherever we liked and there was no pressure whatsoever to go to the restaurants however, every night all the group dined together and each place was wonderful. Not only was the food fantastic in every one but they were all very reasonably priced as well.
The accommodation was also a pleasant surprise. We stayed in 1 and 2 star pensiones, which were all scrupulously clean with nice bathrooms and great breakfasts. There was plenty of food and each one was delicious.
Were there any downsides?
The only small downside was the arrival time at the start of the trip at 2am. I know it was due to flight timings so there wasn’t much to be done about it. It just meant the first day we were all quite tired. Overall it was a hugely positive experience. The scenery is stunningly beautiful and so peaceful and quiet.
Would you to recommend this or a trip like it, to other people?
I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend this trip, I had a brilliant experience. This has set me off on the road for more adventurous travel, next I really want to do the Hidden Japan trip. Taking the leap and travelling alone for the first time has very much encouraged me to join more group travel expeditions. This definitely won’t be my last!
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