St. George man finds trekking the Camino de Santiago trail ‘life changing’

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man hiked 170 miles from Portugal to Spain through charming villages with cobblestone roads and mountains. Dave Bartosiewicz told St. George News that traveling the Camino de Santiago trail transformed his life.

Dave Bartosiewicz made many friends along the Camino de Santiago trail, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dave Bartosiewicz, St. George News

His solo pilgrimage, which lasted from May 5 to 14, spanned from Porto to Santiago, ending at the reputed burial site of Saint James the Great, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles.

“One of the key things that makes a difference in people’s lives is having different experiences, right? The Camino will change your life,” Bartosiewicz said. “It’s a collective amount of experiences. It’s challenging but also beautiful. Many times while walking the Camino, there would be old Roman cobblestone roads, dirt paths and beautiful vineyards along your journey.”

Bartosiewicz completed the trek in 10 days, while most people do it in 14 days. He said he enjoyed the sounds of the Camino, which made him live in the moment.

“It’s a beautiful time to be with yourself, not to have any distractions, not to have any sort of like things in your ears, like earbuds,” Bartosiewicz said. “It’s being you and the Camino together and listening to the waterfalls, listening to the brooks, listening to the wind and contemplating the things about yourself that maybe you don’t think a lot about, maybe your life,” Bartosiewicz said. “This is a time to reflect on those types of moments.”

He added that it was a spiritual experience, finally reaching the end, the Cathedral de St. James, where the relics of St. James the Apostle are located.

The experience was so powerful that Bartosiewicz recommends everyone go on a pilgrimage. He said age doesn’t matter. He saw a wide range of age groups, the oldest an 85-year-old woman.

“I can attest that there were many retirees, young people and middle-aged people from all over the world participating in this amazing adventure,” Bartosiewicz said.

Dave Bartosiewicz walking in the vineyards along the Camino de Santiago route, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dave Bartosiewicz, St. George News

Bartosiewiczis said it helped that he had been an athlete all his life. He played basketball in leagues until he was 48 years old and was also a college tennis player.

“So I have a lot of muscle memory. And I come from the East Coast, Connecticut. And I have this sort of New England hardiness to me,” Bartosiewicz said.

Preparing for this type of trip is critical. Bartosiewicz said some people prepare more than he did. He spent two months walking an average of six miles a day. He practiced with the 25-pound backpack he would use on the trip to get used to more weight on his shoulders.

Despite training on roads in Southern Utah, Bartosiewicz said walking on the Camino was very different. It has varied terrains, the majority cobblestone and dirt. Also, there are places where one travels into high mountains. He said walking up those mountains with his backpack was “intense.”

“There were times literally that I was sweating extensively throughout my body,” Bartosiewicz said.

Many people use walking poles on their treks to help reduce body stress. Bartosiewicz said he used one pole for a couple of days. He said poles didn’t make a big difference for him as they did for others.

“I challenged my body. I wanted to see how strong I was. It got to the point where it was extremely difficult, and I was crying out to the Lord at times,” Bartosiewicz said. “Because my feet, the blisters, the heat and the soreness of your back with the backpack on and your shoulders hurt extensively.”

Bartosiewicz’s inspiration for the pilgrimage came from the 2011 movie “The Way,” which starred Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.

During his adventure, Bartosiewicz used the Blue Camino app, which provided a list of hotels and hostels. He added that  Portugal is very inexpensive. He also purchased the Camino de Portugues handbook.

The inside of the Cathedral of St. James, also known as the Santiago de Compostela Arch Cathedral Basilica, Galicia, Spain, Galicia, Spain, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dave Bartosiewicz, St. George News

A critical part of his journey was to keep hydrated. Bartosiewicz was walking 17-23 miles a day. He was surprised at how much hydration and electrolytes one needs on the trail. He ended up going into pharmacies along the way to get more electrolytes.

Another discovery he made on the trip was that 85- 90% of those walking the Camino were women. He added that most of the men bike the trail.

Bartosiewicz also noted that some older people didn’t want to carry their backpacks, so they had it dropped off at the next place they would stay.

The friendships he made during the trip are something he will always treasure. The people became like family who watch out for and protect you.

“I developed some great friendships and relationships,” Bartosiewicz said. “I met many different people and experienced such deep conversations. You’re walking and getting to know them very fast because you’re walking with them for six or seven hours,”

He added that travelers must stamp their certificate to show they have been on the unique Camino to Santiago route. Then, they can show the completed stamped certificate to receive their official pilgrimage document from the Cathedral of St. James, also known as the Santiago de Compostela Arch Cathedral Basilica.

Another part of the experience is the tradition of carrying seashells. The scallop shells symbolize proof and the honor of visiting the route. The Cathedral in Galicia, Spain, is known as the burial place of Saint James the Great, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles.

“All in all, it is an amazing trip that will change you to become a better human.’Buon Camino,’” Bartosiewicz said.

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