Once we will travel again – get ready for a great adventure: El Camino
It is obvious that during the time of the virus it is almost impossible to travel from one country to another, however, I would like to present to you an interview about an amazing possibility for making a pilgrimage and also to take steps to get to know yourself better – this is the El Camino.
I have chosen this topic because, in my opinion, you need to keep your spirit up in these hard times and it is good to know that once this pandemic will come to an end – it is worth to have plans after that to keep up the hope. One of these motivating plans can be this wonderful Spanish journey.
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient Celtic way that had been the symbol of the Milky Way – in these ages, the pilgrims went through on it in the opposite direction (according to today’s travellers). The present way led us to the capital of Galicia province – to Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage can be achievable from different starting points. Two youngsters of Szeged have chosen the Northern Way (Camino del Norte), which is more than 800 kilometres long and they have finished it in around one month.
We have talked about the experience of doing this journey with Kata Siklósi and Zsolt Szeghalmi who have done this pilgrimage in 2015. However, I have also asked Zsolt about his individual adventures – because he has made this escapade again in 2018 as you can read in the following interview.
IDSA (Anna Viola Hornyik): How did you get the motivation to start this amazing journey – the El Camino?
Zsolt Szeghalmi: I showed the possibility to Kata and she was the one who had the idea to walk at the seaside. So we decided together that in the summer when she was studying in Spain and I was freer from the everyday rush we would do this interesting trip.
Kata Siklósi: I have finished the 3rd year at the university at that time which is a watershed at the Faculty of Medicine. I wanted to relax – it was time for recreation. Zsolti also got his degree – so it was pathfinding for both of us.
IDSA: Kata, could you tell us about your experiences of El Camino – as a woman?
K.S.: It is really adventurous. I would like to highlight the question of security because many people think is it safe if you do the journey alone or not? I can bravely say: yes. The public order is good in Spain. Of course, you shouldn’t do those things that you don’t do in your home country either. For example, having a trip in the forest at night is not practical. If you go at daylight you can meet many people so you don’t have to be lonely – and the pilgrim accommodations are safe also. The other question about taking part in this journey as a woman is hygiene. In my opinion, it is worth adapting to the circumstances – and if someone were living in a dormitory – there would be no surprises during the trip for him or her.
IDSA: Can you mention any special happenings or persons you have met during your trip?
Zs.Sz.: We have met plenty of interesting people – for example, there was an Estonian man who started to walk because of his disease. He cured himself in that way as this is also a sports activity. Another person was a boy from Chile who came on foot from Germany because he has lost his parents. Everyone has his or her own exciting story. There were also unexpected situations but mostly positive ones. Of course, we had some deadlocks as well. Once we slept in a dark suburb where animals were walking freely and the weather wasn’t pleasant either – or Kata has sprained her ankle and she could not walk easily for a while. Apart from these situations, the journey was very delightful. A lot of people helped us – with a nice chat or by giving us the right direction, food or accomodation. For example, a Portuguese man turned back twice to take us from the border of a city for a few kilometres. This is just one of the many selfless assistance we have got during our trip.
K.S.: My most pleasant partner at Camino was a German lady named Elke – we met with her at the Altamira cave. We crossed each other’s path several times. Sometimes she walked even 40 kilometres a day however she was around 50-55 years old. One day we haven’t met but we stayed at the same pilgrim accomodation which was so huge we couldn’t find each other. When I woke up in the morning there was a message „Hello from Elke” on my walking stick. This start of the way was a good motivation for the rest of the day.
Zs.Sz.: We also met Hungarians on the way – there was a boy, who came from Hungary through Italy and Catalonia and he travelled to Portugal on foot and by hitch-hiking.
IDSA: Can you please say some words about the famous pilgrim village?
Zs.Sz.: This is located in Guemes on the top of a hill – it is famous for it has built around an old pilgrim’s house and now it is led by a chaplain. They don’t send off anyone because it is full – even 100 people can sleep there, they can eat dinner together and there is also a common thinking at every evening where the chaplain talks about the history of the village. There are several types of accommodations here – houses, tents etc – and one of the nicest gestures of the place is that they don’t have fixed prices – everyone can pay as much as he or she feels satisfied with the service.
IDSA: This is a very long journey and I am pretty sure that you could not find a hostel, hotel or a helpful hand all the time when it was necessary. How could you handle these situations?
K.S.: When we started the Camino we wanted to stay at the pilgrim accommodations – this worked for one week. On the 5th day, we realized that they became full very soon so we bought a tent which was a great investment because we could stop then and there when and where we wanted to. There are also opportunities to stay at monasteries or below the sky (there were travellers who went to sleep in a garden just in a sleeping bag).
IDSA: What kind of equipment did you need for the Camino?
Zs.Sz.: The most important one is the backpack – we bought a cheaper one but it meant a good service for us. We also have to mention the shoes, the socks, and clothes designed for trips (made from not synthetic fabric – because they dry more easily).
K.S.: I walked through this way in simple sneakers – I didn’t buy any special hiking shoes. What you must buy is a towel that is worth taking from a sports shop.
IDSA: What is your advice for those who would like to try the El Camino?
Zs. Sz.: There isn’t good advice – we were reading some of these and a few forums as well – however, everything will reveal in practise while you are on the ground. It is also true for the equipment. Some people say that something is useful which is actually not for you and the opposite – this all depends on the person. What is necessary – to be prepared physically: to walk with the bag on your back and get familiar with the weight. But you shouldn’t overplan it – many of the people just buy the airplane ticket and get everything that he or she needs later, when they have already arrived.
K.S.: My advice is to not be nervous during the journey because there is always another solution and you still can catch a train if you have to arrive at the pilgrim accommodation on time. Instead of being nervous, you should enjoy your company and possibilities and what you can meet when you are on Camino.
Zs.Sz.: What we have realized is that you can be happy with a very few things and by living together with nature you can feel free. When we finished our trip, we did not feel exhausted – but a bit unhappy because that was an end.
As I mentioned before, Zsolti made the whole journey again alone in 2018. We were asking about this experience as well.
IDSA: Did you walk through the Northern Way again or you have chosen another path?
Zs. Sz.: In 2018 I have chosen the classical path – the French one, which is also in the northern part of the country, but it is located closer to the middle. There are many differences between the two ways: the Northern Way is at the seaside so the weather is windier, the area is greener and of course – there is the sea where you can have a bath. This other one is a bit more like a desert, drier and during the one month that I have spent there, 3 people died on this way. I would like to add that they probably had ailments and that was the main reason they passed away. The other difference is that the French way is the main path – the northern one is more solitary. There is no chance that you will be alone for a whole day here.
IDSA: In what way was the journey in 2018 different than in 2015?
Zs. Sz.: The person who goes for a trip is not the same who comes back – and this is true not just for the Camino but for every journey. And of course, this experience exponentially grows at a 40 days long one. Even if your travelmate is perfect for you (as she was at the previous Camino) and there is no argument and you are similar and have the same opinion and taste – if you travel alone, you are freer. You can stop as much as you want wherever and whenever you wish and you can talk with that person whom you would like to. I was alone – however, it was a great experience for me. In today’s world – with plenty of devices in it -everyone does something – in a better situation you read, but also you can watch a film, or meet with friends – you never just think. So the most positive part of this journey is that you have 10-12 hours per day just to think about whatever you want – because you just walk. That is why I suggest going alone – as the most interesting things happen in your mind in this way. However, in this case it is easier to get to know new people. Especially because I have spent the first 30 nights at pilgrim accomodations – therefore I had company every day. Later I bought a tent from an American girl – at the last week – and these were the only few days when I was tenting at the coast of the ocean or in a forest. The consequences of this were that I didn’t meet people during the day and also I started to talk to myself a bit. Not as a crazy guy – just I did some narration for what I did because I missed human communication.
IDSA: As I know, you speak Spanish. Is language knowledge indispensable for this journey?
Zs. Sz.: The language knowledge is a huge positive extra on the road – because I could talk with the local people, who do not have the chance to chat with foreigners – however, this is not essential. The hosts at the accommodation usually do not speak other languages – although the youngsters are exceptions – neither the population of the villages, but everyone knows that you want to eat, have a bath and go to sleep. Actually you can learn these keywords easily.
IDSA: Would you like to add something as a conclusion?
Zs. Sz.: All in all I suggest going for the Camino alone more than with a company, because you don’t have to take care of other people’s problems, but even more because this is absolute freedom.
The author of this article is Anna Viola Hornyik.