A Race to Santiago: 315km on the Camino del Norte

When I say I have a lustful desire for discomfort and situations for self growth, I know that I am not alone. For centuries, people from all parts of life have traveled to Spain in search of spiritual enlightenment, inner peace, or simply the hike of a lifetime by dedicating their vacation days to walk the world renowned Camino de Santiago. 

albergue in el camino, spain

Horses on El Camino, Spain

My camino began over a decade ago, talking with my father by the campfire about the trails around the world we wanted to touch ground on from the ancient Kumano Kodo in Japan, where the samurai have walked since 1109, to the 11-day trek through the forests of Sri Lanka to Adam’s Peak, renowned for its “Sacred Footprint”. These dreams of the way of Saint James were nestled into past travel stories and experiences and were hardly seen as experiences that I would have in my early youth, but after buying a one-way plane ticket to study for six months in Spain, an opportunity presented itself. I had two weeks before I needed to be on an eastbound train to Valencia and with no money and no plan, I took a car to Asturias with only a backpack and a camera. 

The Camino de Norte starts in Irun, just 23km from San Sebastian, but from this point it would end up taking me over a month to complete. In my case, only having two weeks to complete my pilgrimage, I started in Aviles; a beautiful town of medieval, checkered streets and made my way west. 

green flag in el camino

Every person seeks out the Camino de Santiago for different purposes and I saw this diversity on a daily basis by interacting with those I met at the albergues at the end of each day. One of those individuals being my colleague, Luca Fumasoni, an Italian from the mountains outside of Milan. I met Luca midway through my second day after a 38.5km first day to Soto de Luña. Through the long hours walked, we shared stories about our lives and the difficulties we encountered and as a result, developed a lifelong bond. 

I can easily say that despite my past troubles backpacking around the world, this was the most physical and mentally challenging endeavor I have pursued to date, but my luck prevailed as I completed the 315km journey in 10 days without any sign of blisters (a problem every pilgrim faces regardless of hiking experience) or mental breakdowns. Did I finish without a night under the stars? The student budget would argue and ask what a proper pilgrimage would be without an evening spent on a park bench? All I can say is that, although I am not a professional hiker and do not possess the physicality that I once did, the Camino de Santiago left a lasting impression on me and gave me a deeper respect for the simplicities in life and the pursuit of things that don’t come easy to us. 

Cathedral Santiago in the sunset

person backpacking to cathedral santiago

Click here to watch a documentary on my camino experience:

Jack Hatzfeldis a student at University of Kansas and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is currently studying with ISA in Valencia, Spain.

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