Alfred Vargas on his Camino de Santiago pilgrimage
The author on the Camino in 2015, as seen in his Instagram account.
@alfredvargasofficial on Instagram

My Camino de Santiago journey (Part 3 of 3)

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE? - Alfred Vargas (Philstar.com) - November 30, 2020 - 10:00am

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this travel chronicle.

When I was in my last 70 kilometers, four days to Santiago, my body and mind were so exhausted from the whole trip already. I was cranky at times. I was hungry all the time, even if I ate a lot. And since I was on the homestretch of the journey already, I started thinking of all the pending work waiting for me back home. I missed home but I wasn’t ready to face the situation there. This stressed me out. I felt sad that my journey was about to end. Every step became more toilsome.

Then the most special thing happened.

While heading to the small town of A Portela, I was so exhausted and weary I had to take a break at the next stop. My camelback water supply already ran out. I had no snacks left in my bag. But after half an hour of walk, there was still no store or café in sight. I was thirsty and I was getting hungry. And I was so beaten. For some reason, I was thinking of my mother the whole time. She was the reason why I was there. I longed for her presence, her embrace, her love. All the memories, laughter and regrets flashed back. All of them so clear and so fresh as if it only happened yesterday. From the time I was a kid until her death, it all came back to me. Especially my mom’s last three words on her deathbed: integrity, compassion, competence.

I was lost in thought when suddenly, this little house with a makeshift garage store appeared. An answered prayer. Finally, I was able to quench my thirst, eat, and replenish my stocks, and rest.

It wasn’t much of a store, really. Nobody was present, but there was this small table with small baskets of fruits, nuts, bread, and crackers. On it was a sign that said, “Donativo,” which means that the items were not sold but instead given for free to the pilgrims who pass by. It was up to the pilgrim if he or she wanted to make a donation. Upon seeing a vending machine in the corner, I rushed to it desperately, salivating like a wanderer who found an oasis. There was bottled water for 50 cents and there was Coke for 1 euro. I wanted to get both. So badly. When I reached into my pocket, I found no coins. When I emptied all my pockets and even the pockets of my bag, I found no coins either. There was no way I was getting the drinks, I thought to myself helplessly.

Then something prompted me to look downward, where the slot for changes was. I noticed there was something glistening inside, although it was mostly covered by the small swinging door. I carefully inserted my fingers inside the slot, and there was my miracle. Two coins up for grabs! One was 50 cents and the other 1 one euro—It was the exact amount I needed to get the two drinks I was longing for. So, I got both the water, which I gulped quickly until it was half empty, and the Coke, which I drank deliriously. I finished it up to the last drop. Every gulp had meaning. It was the best Coke I’d ever tasted my entire life.

Then I pondered, the last pilgrim who used the vending machine must have left his change there. For me, it was divine intervention. It was a miracle. I ended up getting free water, free Coke and free snacks. I rested on the chair and raised my feet on top of another chair to improve blood circulation while eating my snacks. I felt relaxed and comforted, full and satisfied. I was suddenly in a good place. A peaceful one.

As I prepared my stuff and said goodbye to this refuge, I noticed something written on top of the main door of the house. "Casa Susana," the sign said. House of Susana, translated into English. I had goosebumps all over. My mom’s name is Susana. Indeed, it had my mom’s stamp of love all over it. What a miracle.

She was there with me all along. She was taking care of me. Like the mama’s boy that I was, she found a way to give me water, Coke and snacks at the time that I needed it most. For free! What a beautiful way to experience my mom’s presence in the most unlikely of places.

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I hope this inspires you more than ever to fulfill your El Camino bucket list and relish this one-of-a kind encounter with God and yourself. Let me share the logistics side of going through the Camino experience with these frequently asked questions.

What is the best month to walk the Camino de Santiago?

For me, it’s the months of May and June because of the cool weather and it’s not yet that crowded. Many prefer to travel in July and August but it can be unpleasantly hot and crowded during these months.

What was the temperature when you went there?

When I was there, I described it as “cool Baguio weather.” It was perfect for me.

Was there a point when you were so exhausted you wanted to give up?

On my third day, I remember asking myself “What did I get myself into? Why did I do this in the first place?” But I just kept on going and I did not regret it.

When your feet ached, what did you do? Did you have blisters? Did you have a first aid kit?

In the expected five to seven hours of walk every day, my feet always started to hurt after the second hour. Everything became heavier and heavier with every step. The backpack, if not worn correctly, is such a burden to carry. Sometimes I felt like there were anchors on my shoulders. My knees ached. My breathing heavy. Everything in me was tired. But my mind was at peace. I was really in a good place.

Yes, I had plenty of blisters. They hurt so much! But it’s normal to have them. A first aid kit is a must in the Camino.

How much money do I need to walk the Camino?

Basing it from my own experience, you will need around €25-60 per day depending on your travel preferences. The simpler, the cheaper. A 30-day walk would cost around $900 or €750-€1800. That’s around P37,500-P54,000. This is really good value considering that this is Spain. Other things to consider are plane fare, shoes, and hiking gear.

Were you computing your money every day? Every meal? Did you overspend?

Yes. I computed my money every day and every meal. Surprisingly, I did not overspend. For lodging and food, I’m sharing with you a possible expense breakdown range:

For those who cannot afford the Camino, what can you advice?

You can always do it. You can always be resourceful. For plane tickets, you can find your way around to get the most affordable plane fares as long as you dedicate time for it. During the course of a year, travel agencies would offer hugely discounted travel deals. Sometimes they even offer 50-70% off! It’s just a matter of diligence in online searching and going to travel expos. You can also use your credit card points to purchase this! In effect, you can have it for free!

What was your daily schedule like?

What are the views you will see?

Can’t describe it enough. Best to watch my two vlogs about my Camino trips in You Tube: Vargas Na Pag-ibig channel.

Is it advisable to go alone or with loved ones?

Do what suits you. Whether alone or with a group, the Camino will reveal itself to you the best personal way possible.

What do you eat on the Camino de Santiago?

There is usually what we call the “pilgrim’s menu” in most places along the Camino. It’s cheap, hearty and delicious. One example of this is a line-up of: paella, salad, appetizer, pasta, meat with potatoes, fresh fruit, dessert, plus wine. All of these for just around 6-10 Euros. This is for dinner. I just have coffee and biscuits for breakfast then have snacks along the way whenever I see a store. Lunch also depends on the restaurants or cafes that I encounter. There were times when I just ate fresh fruits, pizza, peanuts, or chips while on the road.

What was your feeling during the last leg of your journey? After the journey? Why was it worth it?

If there is one journey in your life that you should undergo, I strongly recommend for it to be this one. I convinced my cousin, Paul, to do it. After he went through it, he told me it was one of his best experiences in life and he was totally grateful having been able to do it.

It’s a life-changing journey. The Camino will put you in situations where you will be able to get to know yourself better, see the world under a different lens, and be more understanding of everything.

Before the Camino, I thought death was just a necessary end. A sad ceremony to say goodbye to someone you love. But after traversing the path to Santiago, I realized that we all share this same fate. Only one “being” defeated death. And that is Jesus Christ.

What’s important is the journey and not the destination. Understanding that along that journey, we laugh, cry, suffer, and triumph. What’s important is that we live our lives beyond ourselves and for others. What’s important is that we love.

That is what’s it all about.

Buen Camino!

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Read Part 1 and Part 2 of my journey. You may reach me via email deskofalfredvargas@gmail.com for comments, suggestions and questions, or on my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube pages.

ALFRED VARGAS CAMINO DE SANTIAGO CATEDRAL DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA PILGRIMAGE ROMAN CATHOLIC SPAIN
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