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Juanra Juanra and other pilgrims in Obradoiro Squareotros peregrinos en la Plaza del Obradoiro

The Way of Juanra: from Valencia to Saint Jean Pied de Port and Santiago

Dear pilgrims, I am Juanra, and I have been dreaming for 20 years of walking the entire Way of Saint James, from France to Santiago de Compostela. For academic or work reasons, I saw the years go by without finding the opportunity.

Many people encouraged me to divide it and walk it in several years, but I wanted to live the whole experience, like in the Middle Ages. And this 2021, I decided to embark on the Way. On 1 July 2021, my adventure began.

My starting point was Saint Jean Pied de Port, rightly considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. At first, I had planned to do the Way alone. However, few days before starting, a friend proposed to accompany me during the first week. Being a very sporty guy, I knew that far from slowing me down, he would encourage me in the difficult moments: I wasn’t wrong.

Juanra and his friend Lucas on the Way.

Juanra and his friend Lucas on the Way.

My journey

The first days were very hard. None of the stages of the Way is particularly hard: the challenge lies in enduring the continuous effort and keeping walking despite the pain that is encysted in muscles and joints.

My friend Lucas had terrible blisters on his feet on the second day. The weight of the backpack, excessive, had us crushed. If it hadn’t been for Karlos, a 60-year-old from Pamplona with the vitality of a 25-year-old, whom we met at one of our stops on the Way, we wouldn’t have been able to keep going.

After having dinner with him and sleeping in the municipal hostel in Pamplona, he came to pick us up at the door of our accommodation to invite us to breakfast and take Lucas and the backpacks to the end of the stage planned for that day: Puente la Reina. One of many magical moments on the Way.

Lucas and Juanra in Puente la Reina.

Lucas and Juanra in Puente la Reina.

I continued. That day was scorching: The Alto del Perdón was infinitely harder on the way down than on the way up. The marvellous Santa María de Eunate was well worth the detour, although the arrival at Puente la Reina was a foot drag.

I wanted to do the authentic Route, suffering, and accepting the weight of the backpack you carry. However, that night a pilgrim made me reflect. He told me: “Juanra, in medieval times, nobody carried 12 or 14 kilos. They carried a bag with some water, bread and maybe wine, and the rest was provided by the people along the length and breadth of the Way”.

He was right, and the next day, Lucas and I decided to hire a company to carry our backpacks on that stage. It is something that I would repeat four times: the rest of the time, I carry everything myself.

Stages and reflections

Pamplona was one of my favourite cities. The people are so kind, and there is a great atmosphere in the city. The fifth stage was a bit of an uphill climb because of the temperature, the maximum was almost 40º, and we had to leave super early not to die in the attempt.

In the Citadel of Pamplona

In the Citadel of Pamplona

In the sixth stage, the pain in my body and feet was already unbearable, and I considered returning to Valencia with Lucas, but I decided to keep going. Unless I suffered an incapacitating injury, I wasn’t going to give up. My only red line was that I would not get into any vehicle unless to return home. Rather than move on or jump stages on four wheels, I would rather retire.

On stage 7, after saying goodbye to my friend Lucas, I met Adrien and Marta, a Parisian, and a girl from Turin, in whose intermittent company I found the joy, good humour and strength to keep going.

On 15 July, right in the middle of the journey, I met two human beings, people who lived along the Way, whose spirits moved me. That day, lost in the middle of the terrible Castilian plateau, suffocated by the heat and the weight of the backpack, I cried with happiness for the first time in my life. In the middle of endless wheat fields, I knew that I was where I was supposed to be and that everything was all right. It was at that moment when I knew that I would arrive in Santiago. Fear was behind me.

Overcoming fatigue

It’s funny how, from a certain point, you find vitality and strength that, until that moment, remained hidden inside you. Suddenly, you come to terms with your pain and begin to enjoy the strength of your body. With each passing day, it becomes less and less difficult to move forward. Not only that: you learn to enjoy the pain, and you give off the energy you have never seen before.

On the 19th stage, I embarked on a crazy feat in which I always reserved the right to give up. I would go as far as I could. And I did it: I walked the 57 km from Sahagún to León. I started walking at 4:30 in the morning under a celestial vault where the stars and the Milky Way reigned supreme and finally reached León at seven in the evening.

Juanra during the Way

Juanra during the Way

During some stages, I decided to give myself moments of silence. I turned off my mobile data because I was sharing my adventure with my people on Instagram, and I put my headphones away. The only thing I allowed, in those cases, was to exchange cheerful “Buen Camino” with the pilgrims I met on my way. At that moment, I overflowed with gratitude and a connection with my surroundings. It is difficult to express it using the verb.

Until arriving in Galicia, I slept in hostels. I didn’t book anything in advance, I called the same day at noon, and I didn’t have big problems finding a bed. However, already in O Cebreiro, it was impossible. Everything was completed in the first Galician village and the next one. Thanks to the kindness of a priest, Adrien and I were able to sleep in the doorway of the church.

Over the next few weeks, sleeping outdoors became normal: I would end up spending four or five nights outdoors. The night before I arrived in Santiago, I spent my first night alone, in the garden of a hotel in Lavacolla. I woke up with my face completely deformed: the mosquitoes had feasted on me.

Arrival in Santiago

1st August. I pack my things and head straight for Santiago. Two hours at a frenetic pace, constantly overtaking other pilgrims who were advancing without backpacks. I felt a force that attracted me to my destination.

Juanra in Obradoiro Square.

Juanra in Obradoiro Square.

When I saw the sign announcing “Santiago”, I could barely suppress a sob of emotion. A cry that overflowed when I arrived alone in Obradoiro Square, early in the greyish morning, a morning with hardly any people. I was crying out of pure and genuine happiness. After covering 850 kilometres in 30 stages, I was able to enjoy Santiago, attend the pilgrim’s mass and collect the Compostela.

Finishing the Way of Saint James and fulfilling my dream was an explosion of joy. A dream fulfilled, full of anecdotes and unforgettable experiences, of magical encounters, and for which there are no words. If you are considering doing the Way, don’t hesitate. It is the most direct journey to your inner self.

Ultreia and Buen Camino.


P.S.: The adventure did not end in Santiago. I continued to Finisterre and Muxía even though neither was in my initial plans. But that’s another story, and it will have to be told another time.

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