The Challenge of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

The Spanish say of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances “Sin dolor no hay ganancia,” “no pain no gain.”

But is it true?

Here’s my most recent correspondence from my Camino de Santiago Camino Frances pilgrimage. You judge for yourself.

_______________________________

“I came for a challenge,” frowns Kat, the petite twenty-something blonde from suburban London. “But now that I have it, I don’t want it,” she half-laughs. “I thought the challenge of the Camino would be that it tired me.

“I didn’t realize that the challenge would be actual pain,” confesses Kat.

The clear blue-eyed lass has been nursing a throbbing ankle for the past five days. She’s already walked 348 km on the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances. From St Jean Pied du Port in France up and over the Pyrenes Mountains into Spain, under scorching 90°F sun. Over Romanesque bridges, the wind whipping her long straw-colored hair.

During the past two and a half weeks, she’s slept in sizeable pilgrim accommodations like Maria y Jesus Albergue in Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls. Or crashed on floor mats of small, intimate medieval churches like the one in Grañón, where pilgrims help prepare the meal and later break bread together after Mass.

Must Camino de Santiago Camino Frances challenges include pain?

two long tables covered with white paper hold 30 pilgrims - photo from above
Camino de Santiago Camino Frances pilgrims enjoy a communal meal at Grañón | Unstoppable Stacey photo

Then, before retiring to sleeping bags on the floor mats, they walk a winding stairway to the choir loft and sit in the tall wooden choir-stalls carved of dark wood in the 15th Century.

In the candlelit room above the golden retablo, when a candle passes, they say a prayer or thought in their own language about what the Camino has meant to them up to this point.

Or if they are shy or too moved, they can pass the candle without choking on their words.

Pain on the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

three pilgrims walk on white gravel road through field of yellow with blue sky overhead
Pilgrims come from all over the world to walk The Challenge of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

I’m now sitting with Kat at a small, family-run coffee bar in Hontanas, Spain. She seems quite grown up since we first crossed paths on a Saturday night in Logrono. She was running with Miles, another Brit and three young French guys from Bayonne.

It was fin de semana, and the town was hopping. Thousands of people filled the streets of the medieval Old Town, crowding in and out of tapas and pintxos joints, eating and drinking. The merry pilgrim band of which Kat was a part, was quite lit and taking advantage of the local vibe.

Logrono, a city on the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

One of the beautiful things about walking the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances is stumbling upon the same people over and over again. We’re all moving in the same direction—towards Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where the bones of St. James the Greater are laid to rest. In the Middle Ages, people walked from their homes all over Europe to Santiago to fulfill a vow, amend a crime, seek miraculous healing or simply deepen their faith.

Today, there is a resurgence in pilgrimage along these ancient ways. I am walking one of them, the Camino Frances, along with thousands of other modern pilgrims.

Since we each walk at individual paces and stop along the way at our choice of the many places established for pilgrim meals or lodging—called albergues or refugios—we are leapfrogging each other along the 500-mile way. I might not see a pilgrim for three or four days, and then suddenly, they are again in the bunk next to you at the albergue or, as in this case, at the adjacent bar stool sipping coffee or tea.

Author Stacey Wittig stands between the future bride and groom who are dressed as an octopus and shark during a weekend street party
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey enjoying the weekend scene in Logrono, Spain with Spanish locals

These serendipitous reunions can be like Old Home Week with high-fives and big smiles or more subdued like this one with Kat. Our bond is growing, and we share authentic concerns about each other’s welfare and plans.

“I’m taking a few days off from walking,” she confesses. “I’ve been watching YouTubes about stress fractures, tendonitis and other ankle problems. Today, I even had a bit of bruising on the top of my ankle.

“But it’s difficult to quit walking. I want to keep going,” Kat discloses.

“I know the feeling. Once you get into that rhythm, you feel like you can’t stop. It’s taken so long to get into that head space.” I agree. I, too, am forcing myself to slow down due to ligament and muscle problems on the outer front of my lower legs. This is my seventeenth Camino, and I’ve never had such a problem before.

Visiting Spain? Check out these useful services:

  • Booking.com

1.) Find the dream spot

Enhance your visit to Spain with Booking.com. Find the perfect accommodations that fit your lifestyle and budget.

 

  • Viator

2.) Plan your fun

Explore the best of Spain with Viator. Discover exciting tours and activities to make your trip memorable.

 

  • Discover Cars

3.) Rent a car

Discover the beauty of Spain at your own pace with Discover Cars. Rent a car and enjoy the freedom to explore the city and its surrounding areas.

Why am I having pain on Camino de Santiago Camino Frances?

long shot of mountain pass with blue skies and green mountain slopes above the tree line
Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

“What are you doing different?” my husband Dan asked during a phone conversation three days before.

That helped me diagnose the problem: what was I doing differently?

“The major thing I’ve changed up is shipping my backpack ahead during some of the longer stages,” I concluded. In the past, I’d only used the baggage transportation services at two points: when crossing the Pyrenes and later in the 30-day pilgrimage at O’Ceibreiro, another high pass in the western mountains.

But on this pilgrimage, I decided that at 69 years old, I was slower and could keep my younger pace if I shipped ahead.

However, that seems to be the cause of my lower leg problems.

Without my heavy pack, I was bounding down the steep declines in the manner taught to me by sherpas in Peru. They’d shown me their walking/jogging downhill technique to avoid knee joint injury.

Yes, using the Peruvian shuffle, I avoided the impact on my knees. But my lower legs were taking the pounding.

After four days of this, I was walking like an old, bent peasant woman.

“I stayed an extra day in Burgos to see a physiotherapist,” I share with Kat, taking another sip of my café con leche.

“Her treatment made me feel quite better. She put some gel on my lower legs and attached electrodes for about 25 minutes of electrotherapy.

“Then, deep tissue sports massage. I think you would get some relief for your ankle if you found a good physio in Leon.”

TRAVEL DISCOUNT JUST FOR YOU!

We’ve secured exclusive UNSTOPPABLE travel discounts on select vacations and cruises. Our partners at Dunhill Travel Deals update the list almost daily! So be sure to check out today’s top travel deals.

Convento San Anton ruins on the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

Pilgrims mingle outdoors in the ruins of a Gothic church
Convento San Anton ruins on the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

“It’s interesting that of the thousands of pilgrims who are on the way every day, most of them have to be in pain,” ascertains Jerry from Ireland the next day at Albergue San Anton.

“They struggle with leg, foot and ankle problems and sore backs from carrying too much.”

We’re sharing a meager breakfast at Convento San Anton, the rustic albergue inside the ruins of a 14th-century pilgrim hospitale.

The huge Gothic church was destroyed in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. Today, its Gothic arches straddle the Camino and the country road that it follows.

You can stay in the ruins as a pilgrim, a phenomenal experience, but there is no Wi-Fi, electricity or hot water. It’s for pilgrims seeking a challenge, but not for the faint of heart.

bunk beds inside room with limestone walls and timbered ceiling
Sleeping quarters in the ruins of Convent San Anton near Castrojerez

“The pilgrims feel the pain, but many return to do it all over again,” says Jerry, shaking his head.

I get it. I love travel and pilgrimage because of the edginess. There’s a bit of fear and a bit of pain, but that makes the experience real and authentic. That’s what Kat is learning. She came for the challenge. And she is learning to embrace the pain that is often part of an authentic undertaking.

Table of Contents

Pinterest graphic with image of people walking thru yellow field with text reading: The Challenge of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances
PIN this in your Camino folder!
woman stands on rooftop with Med sea in background

Hi, I’m Stacey

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…

JOIN MY FREE NEWSLETTER

Enjoy this story? Then never miss the latest travel news, tips and inspiring finds by signing up for free:

As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review,  the author believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading,” UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

Enjoy this article? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Please share this article with the red- and blue-colored social media buttons.

TRAVEL DISCOUNT JUST FOR YOU!

We’ve secured exclusive UNSTOPPABLE travel discounts on select vacations and cruises. Our partners at Dunhill Travel Deals update the list almost daily! So be sure to check out today’s top travel deals.

More Stories That You'll Love

Pilgrims mingle outdoors in the ruins of a Gothic church

The Challenge of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances

The Spanish say of the Camino de Santiago Camino Frances “Sin dolor no hay ganancia,” “no pain no gain.” But is it true? Here’s my most recent correspondence from my Camino de Santiago Camino Frances pilgrimage. You judge for yourself. _______________________________ “I came for a challenge,” frowns Kat, the petite twenty-something blonde from suburban London.

Read More »
entry of the best known Buena Park attractions California with sign above reading: America's First Theme Park"

3 Sensational Days Exploring Buena Park Attractions California

Embarking on a thrilling three-day adventure to discover Buena Park attractions California unveils a world brimming with amusement parks, cultural landmarks and culinary delights, making it an ideal getaway for families and adventure seekers. My curated itinerary is designed to help you maximize your time exploring the best attractions of Buena Park. From the Boysenberry

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Want to know How to Buy Cheap Flights?

Master UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s secrets for finding cheap flights, and you’ll be going to more of your dream destinations than you thought possible.

Get instant access to the
How to Buy Cheap Flights report

Like what you see?

Then Join the UNSTOPPABLE Travel Community

Get UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s tips and inspiration delivered conveniently to your email inbox.
No spam, promise!