Let’s face it: the “Stages” of the Camino are about as artificial as many of the other “new” things happening on the Way. That’s not a bad thing, though. I’ll take stops with nice pilgrims and lots of comfy albergues over having to beg for a night in the manger or the forest any day.
So, in essence, the Camino is a series of easy day hikes from one very comfortable bed to the next.
I was never one to spend money on guide books, and just followed the rest of the pack. You could say I am more a follower than a self-educator or reader, and you’d be pretty right about that.
That said, I am thinking in stages, too.
Pre- and Post-Sarria
It’s not just the amount of albergues and pilgrims that goes up for the final 100km (all that’s needed for a Compostela). Crime rises, too, as do bars, restaurants, and the prices for a night in a bed or food somewhere. Post-Sarria, that’s holiday tourism Camino.
That’s not a bad thing, if I am honest. After 25 days walking through a world that is vastly different from that at home, it’s a good thing to slowly slide back into civilization. And, as Ginny said to the pilgrim shouting “Jesus didn’t walk from Sarria:” he didn’t walk from SJPdP, either. For everyone looking down on someone for walking less, there’s someone who walked even further. Don’t judge, lest you be judged by a short woman with a temper and 3000 kilometers on her Camino.
Body, Mind, Soul
This old Camino line has found a permanent ink spot on my arm, even. It’s my favorite division of the Camino, by far:
Body – starts as soon as you start to walk. Sure, it’s only 25 kilometers, five to six hours, on foot, but do it daily and you’ll soon notice a slide from pain over discomfort and resolution to a much better physical fitness. Not only that, after ten days or so your body just walks. Your old VW Bug without power steering has become a self driving Tesla with three times the horse powers.
Mind – you’re on autopilot now. Time to clear your mind. This part usually starts around Ages for me, shortly before Burgos. The landscape becomes different as well, and the Way gets flatter, so you can just let your body do its thing and think. This is where I decided what I would do with my life, where I fell in love with Spain and the Camino, and where I made some pretty deep changes.
Soul – this happens to me around O Cebreiro. My mind is now made up, a clean slate, and my body walks by itself. This, combined with more and more signs that the End is near and there are only days until Santiago, leads to deep soul-searching. Using the question “was this all I hoped for?” as the tarmac for my soul’s take off into the wild blue yonder of emotions and, yes, tears.
As I said, I really like this classification, because for me (and many others) it seems automatic. It won’t take conscious effort, and seems to work better on those who do not try to force it.
Food, people, soil, even languages and laws change frequently along the Camino.
The rocky green hills of Navarra are followed by the vineyards and sandy soil of La Rioja with its amazing wines, braised beef cheeks, and white lentils.
After Belorado we cross into Castilla y León, where wheat and other agriculture reigns supreme, leading to new types of baked goods. More fields means less cattle, and so the main dish here is pork, from Torreznos, pork cracklings, to suckling pig and some of the finest jamon (ham) in all of Spain. The wine is as unsweet as it gets, but the sun produces amazing hops for sweet beers.
O Cebrero, finally, leads into Galacia. Part seafarers, part farmers, the people of this region are hearty, use few words, and rarely mince them. Seafood, like Pulpo a Feira, market style octopus, or Mejillones al Vapor, steamed mussles, are staples, the beer is bitter and the wine mostly imported (there are some amazing Galician wines, however). Oh, and if you’re into Gin, Nordés is worth a few sips. Or a lot of them.
Of course I like this approach: what better way to stage your walk than between foods?