Conquering the Camino
Alexandra Stewart’s most important hiking lesson is a simple one — just keep going.
That message was brought home this summer when she walked the 217-mile Camino Primitivo, one of Spain’s toughest trails.
Much of the route involved scaling steep hills through rain and mud, or blazing sun.
“I definitely had fleeting moments of exhaustion,” said the 30-year-old.
“When I climbed a hill, only to see more hills, I’d think, let me just rest.”
But turning back was never an option for the Bermudian.
“I wanted to see it through,” she said. “I turned 30 in April and wanted to do something dramatic to celebrate the end of my twenties.
“And most of the time, I really enjoyed myself. I was surrounded by incredible scenery.”
The Camino or “the Way” is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes stretching across Spain.
Ms Stewart first learnt about the Primitivo route last year, when she moved to Bilbao, northern Spain, to teach English.
“It passes through Bilbao,” she said. “It was cool living on that route and seeing people pass through.”
She discovered hiking in 2012 when she taught English in Hong Kong.
“I lived there for 15 months,” she said. “I worked with a couple of people who liked hiking, and they got me into it.
“The image of Hong Kong is always of skyscrapers, but it does have a lot of green space and natural beauty.”
Until setting off on the Camino on June 30, her longest hike was 34 miles along the Hong Kong Island Trail in 2015.
“I’d left Hong Kong by that time, but was back on vacation,” she said.
“The Camino Primitivo was quite a bit longer. I’d never walked so far before.”
Ms Stewart didn’t do any special training beforehand.
“I’m pretty fit normally,” she said. “I do a lot of hiking in my spare time.”
Ms Stewart is proud she managed to do the walk blister free.
Before setting out, she invested in some good hiking boots.
“If you are going to be doing intense walking, the most important thing is to find something comfortable for your feet,” she said.
In the past, she’s struggled with boots.
“Sometimes they’ve been loose and rubbed my feet raw, and other times they seemed lightweight, but felt like concrete blocks after a few steps,” she said. “I tried on as many pairs of boots as the store clerk would allow.”
Eventually she settled on a pricier pair of Salomons.
“Along the way, we walkers tended to compare ‘war wounds’,” she said. “You got to know people during the walk. Every day people would say to me, do you have a blister yet? I think they were a bit jealous I didn’t have any.”
She began walking in Oviedo, Asturias in northern Spain, and ended in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the northwest, on July 10.
The weather on the walk varied from rainy and cool to sunny and hot.
“The first day, June 29, was quite a nice day,” she said. “It rained sporadically. I was walking down country lanes. There were quite a few bars and restaurants along the way.
“The second day was one of the hardest. That involved walking through forests and mud.”
Along the way she stayed in albergues, municipal hostels set up especially for people walking the Camino.
“They were only a few euro a night,” she said. “Some of them were very basic, but you could wash your clothes and lay your head down.
“Some were privately owned and offered a bit more, like food.”
Those walking the entire way, received a ‘pilgrims’ passport’.
Restaurants, bars and hostel on the route would rubber-stamp the passports.
Only people with these passports could stay in the albergues.
Ms Stewart felt very emotional when she finally reached Santiago de Compostela.
“You just look at what you have accomplished,” she said. “It really filled me with self-confidence.
“I learnt that I can do things if I set my mind to them.”
Since finishing the Camino, Ms Stewart has moved from Bilbao to the United Kingdom.
“I’m in Scotland for the summer, but I’m thinking of going to England to find a job in publishing,” she said.
She loves photography and has posted many of her photos from the walk on Instagram under Bermudian Abroad.
“I just took photos with my phone,” she said.
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