Rebecca Brown is a freelance translator passionate about her work, and grateful for the travels it has taken her on. She has recently started writing about some of her experiences at RoughDraft. All images here are her property, reproduced with kind permission.
Hiking the Camino de Santiago alone
Known in English as the Way of Saint James, El Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimages that lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the place where the apostle Saint James the Great was allegedly buried.
Pilgrims from all over the world, have walked the Way of Saint James routes for centuries, for different reasons. Some had religious and spiritual motives, others found a physical challenge in El Camino, while many just wanted a unique journey and memorable experience.
The best route for hiking the Camino De Santiago, for me was in Portugal
From its many routes, I chose to walk The Portuguese Coastal Way because I wanted to cross both Portugal and Spain, my favourite countries. I was a recently single woman, who had never travelled alone before, so I decided to walk El Camino by myself. Did I have other reasons, besides wanting a memorable experience of my own? Well, yes: finding my true self, since I was told walking El Camino gives you answers even when you don’t know the questions.
I began in Porto, walked 260 kilometres, and spent 14 days on the Camino, mostly alone, but I found myself many times chatting with fascinating people from all over the world. I traversed the charming beaches of Northern Portugal, admiring the beauty of the Atlantic, visited Portuguese and Galician breathtaking villages and vineyards, and indulged in tasty wines and fresh seafood.
I had a memorable experience, indeed.
Why I chose to hike the Camino alone
When I decided to have the Camino experience alone, people asked me if I was afraid. To be honest, I began questioning my decision, but once I realized there are so many other pilgrims who decide to go into the adventure by themselves, I went back to being relaxed about the trip.
And the truth is I felt very safe while crossing both Portugal and Spain. I met and befriended many other men and women, who were walking the Camino de Santiago on their own. Sure, we were all different, and our reasons for being there were many and varied but everybody was friendly and open, and nobody was scared.
Staying in Albergues on the Camino
Like the other pilgrims, the villagers were also nice, friendly, and always willing to offer their help. Some even spoke English, especially those who were hosting pilgrims. Everybody wants visitors to have a safe and memorable experience because many of the villages and towns financially depend on the pilgrims.
During my trip, I usually chose albergues for a night of good sleep. I did, however, spend a few nights in hostels and even cabins with shared bathrooms. I felt safe everywhere, though the level of comfort wasn’t always the same.
My favourite night was in Castelo do Neiva, not only because Albergue Castelo do Neiva was very nice and comfy, but my hosts were very warm and friendly. We spent some time talking about the surroundings and its people over a few glasses of wine, and I felt at home even though I was so far away and on my own.
Pic credit: Albergue Castelo do Neiva
What I loved, and what I learned on my solo hike
When people ask me which my favourite part of my pilgrimage was, I find it very hard to choose. I fell in love with the sandy Portuguese beaches, but I was also fascinated by the small villages that offered me a perfect shelter. I loved the food and wines, but I was also always eager to have remarkable conversations with my fellow pilgrims, the friendly villagers, and my joyful hosts.
I enjoyed the fact that walking the Portuguese Way gave me the chance to get away from the beaten track, and I let the local culture amaze me. But I also liked meeting people from all over the world and listening to their stories.
Walking El Camino helped me reach out to myself. I realized I am still the friendly, positive, and curious person I used to be. And, besides connecting to myself, I also relearned to connect with people around me. Yes, walking the Camino of Santiago alone, forced me to engage with strangers, and overcome my social anxiety.
Is it safe to walk the Camino de Santiago alone?
If you are thinking about walking El Camino alone, I’d say: You go, girl! There is nothing to be afraid of unless you don’t really like spending time by yourself. But even this issue can be solved, since, thanks to all the other pilgrims, you don’t have to be alone every moment of your adventure.
The best advice for someone who wants to have this kind of escape is to choose the route wisely. All are different and offer amazing experiences, but you have to decide which one is for you, according to your likes and dislikes. For instance, if you want to meet lots of people and make connections, El Camino Frances, the most popular route, is your answer. On the other hand, if you want more time alone, go for El Camino Primitivo.
Another advice is not to let the down moments get to you. Of course, your feet will hurt, feel tired, and want to quit and go home to sleep in your comfy bed and have long, bubbly baths. But instead of doing that, focus on the beauty of the journey, on the landscapes, the food, the authentic people, and yourself, your feelings, dreams, and wishes.
Don’t let those few moments of sadness and sorrow ruin such a life-changing experience! And be open to every experience, conversation, or new dish. Let newness guide your journey!
Catch up with Rebecca at Rough Draft