Tag Archive: Pilgrimage Walk



I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 




The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago to Nagiso in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 




First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Maybe I’d fail and go home limping, mad and frustrated with myself. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Valcarlos (Done)

      Valcarlos to Roncesvalles (Done)

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms) — DONE




Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 




Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  




I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


The equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the Via Francigena. The first ends in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain but involves many routes with the same final destination. The latter starts from Canterbury, England and ends in Rome. Specifically, in the Vatican. We walked the last 100+ kilometers from Viterbo to the Vatican. This is our story. 


Day 0: Viterbo

Day 1:  Viterbo to Vetralla

Day 2:  Vetralla to Sutri

Day 3:  Sutri to Campagnano

Day 4:  Campagnano to Isola Farnese

Day 5:   Isola Farnese to Rome/Vatican

Day 6:  Roma, Finally. 



Just click on the links to read the blog for each VF walking day. Buon Camino!

       


Hola, witches! 

I got back this early morning from Rome where I completed my Via Francigena . The last 100 km-Camino from Viterbo to Rome, Italy was most certainly backbreaking and hard on my poor knees. You bet we all felt wasted after each day of 6-9 hours of walking! 


The first day was without a break for coffee, beer or even pee stops. If you need to go, it’s bush land for you. No town in-between. Somehow, I missed the lively vibe in the Camino Frances’ last 100km stretch. Walked 5 days and Day 2 was excruciatingly difficult at 30kms with only 1 break for late lunch before meandering in woodland. We crossed a stream 3 times and I must confess those improvised bridges weren’t meant to encourage walkers. Day 3 was cold and wet. Day 4 was hot and humid. The 5th and last walking day towards Rome was most uninspiring. Roadside walks but most times, no sidewalks. Was I glad we were a big group and a fun group too. In all, we met only 9 other pilgrims. They, on the other hand, must have been pleased to meet our group of 11 pellegrinos.


So unlike my Camino Frances last year. Same last stretch of the final 100+ kms. But no way like it. So here are some lessons learned from this Italian Camino.

  1. None to Barely any breaks for snacks, toilet or just to sit it out. Water bottles a must or dehydrate!
  2. Prepare for ALL weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Needless to say, you need a good raincoat and walking shoes that keep your feet dry. Layer up! Peel off as necessary.
  3. Medications, first-aid kits welcome. We met a couple along the way. The man took a bad fall and they had to quit. They hitched a ride back to town. As we walked, we imagined how it could have been much worse if it happened in the bush land, where we meandered for well over 3-4 hours. 
  4. Lunch stops are for lunch. But don’t overstuff yourself just because you’ve been walking hungry for hours. An energy bar when you’re feeling tired and deprived should suffice. Quit the coffee and beer. With no toilet in sight, it’s best to walk semi-hungry. Alcohol is dehydrating. Save it for dinner times. 
  5. Don’t count on meeting people along the Camino trail. Pellegrinos are very, very scarce. Neither is the trail lined with cottages with people living in them. 
  6. Souvenirs? Forget it. No Camino shells, VF t-shirts, pins etc. I’m no collector, but I would have bought refrigerator magnets and key chains if there were any. 
  7. Stamp your pilgrim passport in the hotels and trattorias where you stayed/ate. There were hardly any tiny chapels along the trail nor in the hamlets we passed. When found, the chapels were either closed or without stamps. At times, we wondered if they’d know if we walked or bused in.
  8. The equivalent of a Pilgrim’s Certificate after walking a minimum of 100 kms is called a Testimonium. This can be obtained in a Center in the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The same Center SELLS tickets to the Vatican Museum and other stuff. So if you think it’s a dramatic moment to have pilgrims lined up to be certified and recognized, you’re dreaming. 
  9. Do your research on where to sleep, eat, have your credenziale stamped, and where to obtain your Testimonium. Even in the Vatican itself, hardly anyone in uniform know what Via Francigena is all about. 
  10. Lastly, I didn’t bring a camera for this Camino. I made do with my iPhone6 plus which takes decent shots. My friend’s Samsung takes even better shots. So we were able to document and chronicle our walk without the unnecessary weight.


So there. We survived the VF, and we’re lucky to be walking together. I dare say the Via Francigena is NOT ideal for solo or lone walkers. 


Watch this page for more photos and details on our day-to-day Camino experience from Viterbo to Roma. 


Buon Camino!