My Camino with Maria Walsh Day 2: Starting out in Santiago de Compostela 2 weeks ago

My Camino with Maria Walsh Day 2: Starting out in Santiago de Compostela

"I met more atheists than Christians on the Camino."

Maria Walsh is a newly-elected MEP. From Shrule, Co Mayo, she was crowned Rose of Tralee in 2014. This week, she is walking a stretch of the Camino De Santiago and chronicling the experience for Her. On day two of her journey, she has travelled from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain, where she will begin her walk...

There is a calming sense to Santiago de Compostela. When you arrive, be it by foot from the Camino or by taxi from the airport, you are greeted with a sense of familiarity. It’s a small town, walkable and in good weather you could get lost – shopping, eating and drinking from early until late.

My friend Mary and I arrived close to 5pm. After a quick change, we were ready to re-explore. Our hotel, Pousadas de Compostela, is a perfect place to kick off your walk, and an absolute ideal place to finish. We are a seven minute stroll from the magnificent Cathedral Santiago de Compostela.

Outside, we sat and watched the arrival of the Pilgrims, and the family and friends who greeted them. Unfortunately there is work happening within the Cathedral so access is limited. When I was here previously, the Cathedral’s external walls that were getting the facelift. Be prepared if you are anticipating a visit inside the Cathedral; tours are available throughout the week but would definitely require a little forward planning!

We strolled to the Tourist Office to pick up some maps, read about our chosen route and witness the many Pilgrims who have just finished their pilgrimage get their hard earned 'Compostela' – the certificate you receive at the end of your Camino. What a feeling that is!

Maria at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

We read that the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James) developed in the Middle Ages, a spontaneous and popular result of Latin Christianity. The city was built over time to become a place which celebrates solidarity, brotherhood, friendship, hospitality, knowledge and mutual understanding. These are just some of the values shared amongst those who live here and those that find themselves journeying here. Santiago de Compostela reported over 327,000 Pilgrims last year, an increase of nearly 25,000 from the previous year.

I shared with Mary how in 2016, when I last walked the Camino, I was disappointed that my journey had ended when I arrived here. Sure, I was proud of the miles and the days I had worked through, but I found myself sitting and looking at the Cathedral, Compostela in hand, feeling sad that ‘my time’ had come to a halt, despite knowing that it inevitably had to come to an end!

There are many reasons why people find themselves here, either starting their Camino like Mary and myself, or finishing their Camino like we have both done previously.

Maria and Mary enjoy some leisure time before their walk

The routes have developed since the early ages as a form of spiritual path or retreat for someone’s growth in spirituality. But don’t let that hinder your own involvement in the Camino. In 2016, I met more atheists here than I did Christians.

I met people who had never walked or hiked. I also met gym enthusiasts, and people who had walked the same route every year since they retired. I even fell into step with a Bishop from Barbados! It’s a bubble of special people.

I remember feeling on my final day in 2016 that the Way of St. James was less about what box you tick on a census form and more about you as a person, your values, your drive and your understanding of how you want to grow.

And now Mary and I will begin our route to Finisterre and Muxia, a new challenge for us both.

Maria is travelling with Camino Ways