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Hiking the Spanish Camino de Santiago was my eleventh trip with Wilderness Travel, but it was the first one that didn’t involve a strenuous trek at high altitude in a remote corner of the world. While accustomed to WT’s expert guides and luxury camping at 16,000′, I didn’t know what to expect on a trip that involved the oxygen saturated air found at sea level. Would I miss bedtime tea and yak butter?

I need not have worried. The accommodations, food, local cheeses and wines we sampled along the Camino were outstanding. As was Marian, our Trip Leader, who as a native, shared the finer points of northern Spain’s cuisine, making it all the more delectable. You get the point: if you’re into austerity this may not be a trip for you, but most people can use a bit of indulgence now and then.

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Our hike followed ancient trails pioneered by pilgrims long ago. The many trails of this pilgrimage all lead to the same destination: the Cathedral in the Galician town Santiago de Compostela, though the true final stop is Finesterre, a fishing town aptly named by the Romans “the end of the world.” It is the most western point in Europe. As legend has it, once you make it to Finesterre, all of your sins are forgiven.

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It was moving to encounter people from all over the world on our journey. Some were on a spiritual quest, others just wanted to enjoy a good long hike with the camaraderie of fellow pilgrims. Some hiked for many months starting from locations all over Europe. Most were on foot, others on bikes. I found that there is no right or wrong way to do the Camino, you do what you are moved to do. Though I must say I enjoyed the way we did it.

We hiked the best of the Spanish segment of the trail, walking for 70 miles through gently undulating countryside, passing through small hamlets and concentrating on the finest parts of the route by taking the van to avoid more populated industrial areas.

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Like the ancients, after arriving in Finesterre we collected a seashell as proof that we had done the pilgrimage to its end. The feeling of taking off my boots to walk the last two miles barefoot on the beach and finishing with the most spectacular lunch at a local seafood restaurant will stay with me forever.

I’d go on an other pilgrimage like that any time. As pilgrims on the trail say: Buen camino! Happy trails!

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Photos and text by 11-time WT adventurer Helmut Kapczynski, Pilgrim’s Way

For more photos from Helmut’s pilgrimage, click here to go to Helmut’s photoblog

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