[Editor’s Note: We recently asked Oklahoma City resident/businesswoman Jo Meacham if she would share her recollections of her recent sojourn to France and Spain, which she accomplished on foot. She kindly agreed. The Camino Frances, or French Way, is the most famous of all the Camino de Santiago routes, and has featured in many documentaries, books and movies.]
Q. Where specifically and when did this epic journey take place?
A. I walked the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied du Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I left to go to fly to Madrid on Aug. 27 and returned Oct. 8. I walked the Camino from Aug. 29 to Oct. 2.
The Camion de Santiago starts in St. Jean Pied du Port, France, and is 799 kilometers (approximately 500 miles) and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The walk begins in France and goes over the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. Major cities along the way include Pamplona, Burgos and Leon.
Q. In addition to walking, what modes of transportation did you use?
A. I flew from OKC/Dallas/Madrid and back the same, Madrid/Dallas/OKC—approximately a 16-hour journey. From Spain, I went on the train to Pamplona and taxied from there to St. Jean Pied de Port. It was about an hour and one-half trip; costs were $140 for the taxi and around $60 for the four-hour train ride. From Santiago, I took the train to Madrid and flew home.
Q. How did you come about selecting the Camino Frances?
A. I saw a movie titled The Way about the Camino and I started looking into it before COVID. In 2021, I decided to try and get ready by walking. I knew I would have to walk about 15-plus miles a day over 490 miles.
Q. What challenges did you meet on your long walk/hike?
A. I started walking in St. Jean du Port and walked approximately 15 to 23 miles each day. I generally left around 7 in the morning and arrived at my next stop between 1 and 4 p.m.
The variety of terrain and elevations varied greatly from day to day and included dirt paths, gravel roads, rocky roads and paths, asphalt, concrete and cobblestones. Some days we were in the country, sometimes in villages or small towns, and some of the walking was through mountainous areas, where both up and down were very steep.
Every type of landscape was included. In the middle of the walk, there is an area called the Meseta. This plateau, which is mostly flat, looks similar to Western Oklahoma. You walk dirt roads through fields of wheat surrounded by rolling hills. While some avoid this part of the Camino, I was happy it was flat! Still beautiful!
Q. Did you go by yourself? Where did you stay nights? Eat?
A. Although I went by myself, the Camino is a trip where you can easily meet people. The first night on the Camino, I met many of the people that I would see off and on the rest of the journey.
I first walked for about a week with two women from the Seattle area. Both older than me, they were excellent hikers, and it was difficult to keep up. They left the Camino at Pamploma and I eventually rejoined two female solo travelers whom I had met the first night, one from Dallas and the other from the Boston area.
We collaborated and made reservations as a threesome that often allowed us to have a private bathroom. After staying in hostels and small hotels, this was quite a luxury. Both of these women were Catholic and when asked why they came to the Camino, they generally replied it was a faith-based journey.
I stayed hostels and small hotels. The hostels were generally well-kept with large rooms of bunk beds occupied by both sexes. The bathrooms were also unisex with individual toilets and showers behind doors. The average size of the hostels I stayed in accommodated 20 to 45 people. Many times, there was a bar with coffee and alcohol on the premises.
A “pilgrim meal” was often available in the evenings. This is a three-course meal, usually with wine included. Sometimes it was fixed, but often there were choices for each course. Breakfast was sometimes included but almost always available—generally, bread and coffee, maybe eggs or cereal.
Since breakfast was generally at 7 a.m., we left after eating. And then, along the Camino at the small towns you passed through there were cafes with coffee, pastries, Spanish omelets and sandwiches. This is where a “second” breakfast was eaten. Thankfully, walking 15 miles uses a lot of calories and it is possible to eat as much bread and drink as much wine as you want!
Most of the time, lunch was eaten in similar cafes or sandwiches purchased in the morning and eaten along the path.
Q. Work or pleasure, family get-together, or other/combination?
A. The Camino can be many things. To me it was a physical challenge and an opportunity to do something big on my own. It was a challenge to prepare to walk 15 miles a day, and I spent over eight months walking every week. I left feeling comfortable I could walk 12.5 miles a day.
Q. Where else have you traveled?
A. Over the past nine years, I have been riding a bike, first a road bike and later I purchased an e-bike. My partner, Russell Pace, and I have taken the bikes all over the mid, southern, northern and eastern United States riding trails. We also ride locally.
Q. Why solo this time?
A. I knew travelling by myself would bring more opportunities to meet people, as well as let me take control of where I went and what I wanted to do. The Camino is perfect for this because it is well-known as a place to meet and make great friends.
Q. What else about this adventure would you like to share with readers?
A. Walking the Camino is unlike most vacations. You carry your daily needs on your back. You are always where you are going because you are always on the Camino.
Most people are there to contemplate their past and plan for their future. There were many retirees that were fulfilling a lifelong dream to walk the Camino. I met several young people who had quit their jobs with the idea of reflecting while walking and going back with new ideas for their future. And since the Camino was originally a pilgrimage, there are quite a few persons walking for that purpose.
Q. Anything surprising come out of this experience?
A. After the Camino I asked myself if I would do it again or go for another similar walk and was hesitant. But since then, I have given into the addiction of walking and have already made plans to walk the Ring of Kerry in Ireland next July. I have to say that I came back in such good physical condition it made me want to have a new challenge so I would stay in shape!
About Jo Meacham:
A native of Clinton and lifelong Oklahoman, Jo Meacham earned her master of architecture degree from the University of Oklahoma and spent the first half of her career years as a historic preservation consultant and the past 23 as the owner and principal designer of Urban Kitchens (https://urbankitchensok.com/), a kitchen design/build firm in Oklahoma City that specializes in historic homes. She currently serves on the Oklahoma City Historic Preservation Commission.