Your hiking trips : Santiago de Compostela trail

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This time, it's Luc who describes his experience, both physical and emotional, on the Santiago de Compostela trail.

Here's his story:

The Road to Compostela

When, a little more than 20 years ago, leafing through a report about the Road to Compostela, I promised myself that I, too, would one day go to Santiago, I little knew that, as I set off on 15 March 2015, I was about to experience something that would change my life.

After months of preparation, both physical and material, despite never having hiked before, I shut the door of my house behind me, embarking on a relative unknown, uncertain whether I'd reach the end of my dream.

Don't stop walking

The first days were a mixture of euphoria and anxiety, both happy to finally thank Heaven for being able to walk (note: I was born with a deformity of the feet), but at the same time terribly worried about not knowing if the route would be kind to me.

First I had to get out of Belgium, in this still frozen late winter, bivouacking sometimes below zero, steeling my body so unaccustomed to keep on going relentlessly forward. But already in this early stage of my long-distance journey, I felt carried along by the landscapes, the people I met and the glances exchanged with others.

At dusk on the 9th day, as I put my bag down for the first time in France, I suddenly realised that, from here on, nothing could stop me. I was finally OK to continue against all odds, and the best was yet to come!

Through woods, fields and moors, crossing France was a delight. From villages to large towns, passing through small hamlets and mythical cities, not a day passed without something amazing me. From the singing of birds to the buttresses of the most beautiful cathedrals, from chapels to churches, from one department to another, all my senses were wide awake. Sure, there were more tiring stages. Rain, wind and mountains were sometimes like so many trials to overcome. But I soon learned to detach myself to carry on forward. And finally, it was with impatience and trust in providence that each morning I tied my shoes, sure to face a fate that was mine.

 paysage france

Via Rheims, Epernay and then Troyes, I'd chosen to join the route from Vezelay. So imagine my joy when, in bright sunshine, I walked the last metres of the Eternal Hill. Tomorrow, I would join the splendid Via Lemovicensis which I had travelled a thousand times in my dreams through my readings. From Bourges to Limoges and then Perigueux, and finally Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, each name resonated within me like so many familiar places. I felt at home on this route, and nothing would have made me give up!

At the foot of the Pyrenees, only Spain remained for me to cross. From the vast desert-like plains of the Meseta to Galicia's green valleys, I discovered this country in the most beautiful way. What's special about walking is that it takes time. The landscape unfolds so slowly that it gets under your skin bit by bit. You savour every step, every metre, every tree, every hidden corner. Around every bend, the horizon unfurls. It's a gentle way to discover the world and other people.

It took me 98 days of enchantment to travel the 2412 kilometres required to accomplish my pilgrimage to Santiago, and then Fisterra, land's end, where the setting sun dips into the ocean. So many encounters, landscapes and hopes with each passing day.

St Jacques arrivée St Jacques reliques

or those who dream of adventures, travelling one of the many Santiago routes may not be the most exotic thing imaginable. But rest assured that, on your return, you'll never be quite the same! I lived for more than 3 months in a climate of peace and sharing, without theft, without aggression, with not a single ill-tempered word spoken. Three months of conviviality, friendship and brotherhood. I learned to take time, I learned to listen and wait. I also learned to put things into perspective and to be content with what life has to offer. Setting off for Santiago, much more than just a hike, is a special kind of meeting. These centuries-old paths are charged with such energy that you will come back rejuvenated. Then you will have just one desire - to go back again!

Luc Balthasart