The Camino de Santiago: What Does the Camino Provide?

Four thousand nine hundred ninety-three miles away from our great city of Bellevue lies the destination of a world-renowned pilgrimage route: the Camino de Santiago. I decided to talk with one of the travelers who embarked on this trail. 

After graduating from Pepperdine University in April, Elizabeth Brummer decided to embark on the long and demanding journey with a best friend of hers. Though there are multiple caminos one can take to end up in the city of Santiago de Compostela, Elizabeth took what is known as the French Way. In early May, they flew to London, England and then to Berets, France. From there, they took a train to Baon and a bus to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port — also known as the start of the trail. 

A traveler can get what is called a “Pilgrim Passport,” which they can get stamped where they pass through.

On May 5, the two kicked off their 35-day journey on the Camino de Santiago trail: “…we were tired and we had just graduated. Just said goodbye to our friends and family. And [we] didn’t really know what to think of everything. And before we knew it, we were at the start of the trail.” When asked if she was intimidated by this long trek, Elizabeth shared that because it was in the works since Thanksgiving, it grew to be: “I think so just because we have been saying it for so long. […] Then you kind of start to think because it’s like a 500 mile trail. You’re walking like 15 miles a day. And then you’re like, ‘my body’s really about to do this.’ And I think that was a little nerve wracking.” However, thanks to previous trekkers’ experience, Elizabeth soon went forth with a different energy: “Everyone that I’ve talked to about it before that had done it had such a calm, kind of spiritual, energy about it. And it’s supposed to be a spiritual journey, so I felt pretty calm going into it. I kind of just let myself be guided through the process.” 

Elizabeth’s routine started with waking up at 6:00 in the morning. By 6:30, she would be out of her hostel and on the road.

Hearing from past hikers’ experience was only the start to learning about how impactful individuals are on the Camino. “The first day that we started walking,” Elizabeth shared, “we got up really early in the morning and there was some guy walking ahead of us that had these blue crocs dangling off the back of his backpack. And we’re kind of like, ‘This is odd,’ like a man walking the Camino with crocs? And he ended up actually being one of our very best friends that we met on the Camino.” When asked what wisdom he shared with the friends, Elizabeth disclosed that, “He really emphasized taking advantage of life while you have it.”

Guy [left] and Elizabeth [right] on their first day of the “floating” section.

“There were some hard parts, you know,” Elizabeth relayed, “there are some pretty big uphills and then there were also just some bad days when your feet are hurting, your body’s hurting and you just don’t want to do it.” There are ways to avoid such discomfort in the case of injury, such as shipping your backpack day-to-day or taking a taxi from town to town, but Elizabeth traversed the 800km trail with her pack and on foot: “We just kept walking and so we were really proud to say we did the whole thing.”

A village called Cirueña

When asked if one needs to adopt a mindset to accomplish such a task, Elizabeth shared, “I probably learned as I was just walking — how to kind of calm your mind, I guess, because it’s just so much time that you have with your mind. I feel like I learned to pay attention to my surroundings and focus on conversations with people that I was having.”

Additionally, Elizabeth states that she “learned to just be in the present a little bit more. I think that’s hard. That’s been hard. For me, especially, coming from a time where I’ve just been in school my whole life, and I feel like our culture in the U.S., it’s just very accelerated. […] So, my mind was kind of looking towards the future a lot. But I think doing the Camino — not having my computer, not having my iPad, just having my phone in a backpack for 35 days — just let me chill out and realize that the world keeps moving even if you’re not stressing out about things.” 

Experiences that take one away from the online world are often enriching; however, the experience’s benefits do not end once the journey does: “I think some of the beauty of the Camino is that I’m still waiting to have those big realizations. I think a lot of people go into it with questions they want answered, or things that they want to figure out or things they want to feel. But my friends and I talked about it a lot, and I feel like in some ways, a lot of those realizations aren’t going to come until further down the road. Like, I didn’t really have any big aha moments, but I’m kind of waiting for them to subtly come up as I just live my life and move forward.” 

After discussing a day not too long into the trip when she and her friend arrived in a fairly desolate town and had drinks with other travelers on the Camino, Elizabeth shared, “I feel like there’s not a lot of days I have where there’s just nothing to do. I couldn’t do anything except to just sit and be in the moment with this man [other hiker] Pierre in the hot dusty town. And we just sat on the sidewalk as it turned to night.” This was one of the moments that led Elizabeth to realize, “one of the most special things about the Camino is the people that you meet.”

A community dinner set up by a hostel in a town called A Balsa.

Elizabeth was told that the Camino is often about the individuals you encounter, but she set off with the mindset of not expecting to form relationships they would carry off the beaten path. However, she was soon proven differently: “I got to meet so many cool people and from so many different lifestyles and places in the world, and just hearing everyone’s perspective helps you realize so many things about your life too,” Elizabeth shared. 

According to a survey taken from 2007 to 2010, the frequent reasons individuals walk the Camino are the following:

  • 28%: to express or think about their spirituality 
  • ~18%: because of their religious beliefs 
  • 17%: because the natural heritage of the route attracted them
  • ~12%: attracted by the route’s historical and architectural heritage
  • 10%: chose sport as their motive
  • 8%: explicitly declared that their journey was exclusively recreational

There are three parts of the Camino. The first 100 miles and 10 days are dubbed the part where one ‘dies’: “supposedly because of the physical challenges. Like, your body’s not really used to getting up early everyday and walking so much,” Elizabeth explained. “The next 10 days are through this barren desert-like field area. Very dry, very hot.” The next part of the journey is when one is “reborn,” and it is followed by the “floating” section of the walk: “because you just have this newfound energy. And you just let yourself float to the end and it’s beautiful. […] After being in that arid environment in the Masada for 10 days, you go into these lush green mountains with rolling hills and there’s cows with dangling bells. It’s so pretty. So, you feel like you’re reborn, and then you float.”

A cow in the Meseta, also known as the part where the traveler is “reborn.”

In the middle of our conversation, Elizabeth revealed a common saying among the hikers: “The Camino provides.” She went on to say, “Honestly, that’s the mindset I adopted. I adopted the mindset that the Camino provides, and I’m trying to carry that with me into my life. Because I’ve always believed very strongly that everything happens for a reason. And, you know, sometimes you don’t know what that is. Sometimes you do later down the road. And the Camino provided so many times. And so now I’m just trying to say the Camino provides, like, things will work out.” 

The Camino provides and continues to provide when one reaches the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The trail provides friends across the globe, discomfort, gratitude, new perspectives and mindsets, and an experience one can only have after traversing 800 km across Spain.
If you care to see a more in-depth glimpse of Elizabeth’s adventure, check out her travel account’s Instagram reels to see her vlogs on the Camino de Santiago.