Today I was to start on my third camino (4th route). It was to be a short one, just 5 days starting from Ferrol, Spain and ending in Santiago. The plan was to meet Joe at the cathedral after he completed his first camino. But alas 2020 had other plans.
The past 2 caminos (2016 and 2019) were used as a way to reflect and take a break from the every day. The first camino in 2016, along the French route, taught me more about who I am more than anything else in my life up until then. It was a mix of duality - one minute you are tired with sore feet and feeling lonely and the next you feel the extreme joy of seeing your camino friends and family. On this camino, I was typically the outsider - the American who didn't speak much Spanish other than "hola" or "si" or "cafe con leche, por favor." I spoke mainly through hand signals and arm motions. A whole conversation can be had through hand signals, by the way. I wonder if this is considered broken sign language.
The second camino in 2019, along the Norte and Primitivo, tested my endurance. The terrain was more challenging, but the scenery was incredible (better than the Camino Frances). I met many people along the way, but I had more time alone, making the human contact I did have, even more special. My Spanish, albeit much improved (added "lo siento" and "no entiendo" to my growing vocabulary list), was still not good enough for conversations. Broken sign language (hand signals) was still necessary.
My third camino will take a departure from Spain. I am fortunate enough to live in the Rocky Mountains with trails and day hikes up and down mountains and over streams. Each hike offers its own set of tranquility and chance for reflection.
However, instead of doing this alone, I have two teenage kids walking with me. My camino this summer may not be through ancient pathways forged by millions of pilgrims over thousands of years but rather it will be on hikes around my home with my two kids, connecting with them on a deeper level. Each kid is vastly different from the other. Where one is is quiet and stoic, the other is talkative and goofy, offering a great mix of personalities.
Recently on a 4 mile hike into a canyon, I watched them walking ahead of me, finding their own footing and way to navigate the path ahead of them. It was then I realized that my camino happens every day, on the streets of my hometown, on the trail through the forest, or on the path in northern Spain. The camino is a spirit that lives in all of us.
While it is disappointing to not walk the Camino Ingles this May, I look forward to exploring the trails and mountains around me and getting to know my kids. The Camino de Santiago will always be there.
I’m writing this post in a hotel in A Coruña, Spain, 2 days after reaching the cathedral in Santiago. I would have written a post the night I reach Santiago but I needed time to rest and be with Joe and Miles, who made the trek from Montana to Spain to greet me at the cathedral.
The last 2 days of walking were incredibly familiar, as I had done the Camino Frances in 2016 and I followed the same route into Santiago. The route became crowded with more pilgrims and I found myself on autopilot as I walked through the city.
Upon reaching the cathedral, I felt a sense “Ah...” My journey was now complete and I could rest. Even though the day was relatively short (a mere 20 km), my feet were telling me to stop. They were tired. It was time for me to sit, relax and look back on my 2nd Camino experience.
It was a different experience than my first Camino — more physically challenging, a variety of people on the Camino, and a prettier landscape (nothing against the Camino Frances but the Coastal part of the Norte and the Primitivo have much better views).
Here are the most memorable things from my Camino and a few pertinent numbers:
According to my Apple Watch, over 21 days, I walked:
800,997 total steps
38,143 average steps per day
360.37 total miles / 579.9 total km
27.6 km average/day
2054 total flights of stairs (I’m not sure what they count as a flight of stairs if I’m walking up a hill)
Most flights of stairs in a day — 247 (from the valley to the top)
Most steps in a day — 48,373 — or 34.6 km or 21.52 miles
I didn’t have a nickname except for one person (Mike from Britain/France) called me “Mountain Woman” because I live in Montana and I was going to walk the Primitivo.
People from all over
Met people from all over, including the US. Nationalities represented: France, Canada, UK, Ireland, Spain, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, South Africa, Portugal, Hungary, Serbia, Australia, German, Netherlands, Latvia (and I’m sure there are more... these are the ones I can remember).
Saying I’m from Montana was usually met with some interesting exchanges:
“Montana. So that’s in the middle of the country, right?” — typical response. It was easier for me to say that I live in the Rocky Mountains or near Yellowstone National Park. The best response to saying YNP was, “Oh that’s where Yogi Bear lives.”
One person I met and walked a short time with was an older gentleman who was a geologist. He had been to Butte and knew the US quite well, actually. Typically, I was the only person people had ever met from Montana. However, I met 2 Montanans on the Primitivo. They were not walking the Primitivo... just doing a quick stint with a tour agency.
I met a few other Americans on the Camino, but there weren’t many of us. I can count 5 other Americans I met on the Norte and Primitivo.
With such a large international/European presence, there many questions and discussions about our President. The biggest take away, Trump is a joke. I’ll leave it at that.
Language is still a barrier for me but my Spanish has improved since 2016. I can understand more than I can speak and I’m slowly gaining confidence in using Spanish. It takes time. I’ll get it at some point.
The question of Camino Families has come up during the Primitivo. It’s been the experience of many pilgrims that Camino families are formed on the Camino Frances but not necessarily on the Norte or Primitivo routes. Why is this?
I noticed this early on in the Norte route, that people were basically keeping to themselves. Most of the people I met were either walking alone or walking with people they already knew. I met some incredible people during my short stint on the Norte and had some great conversations with them, but we were far from being a “family.”
On the Primitivo, I’ve seen a few more “families” formed but for the most part, people are on their own. However, it’s such a small group of pilgrims walking at this time, that you see everyone at some point every day either in a bar or in an albergue. We all know about each other’s aches, pains, issues, etc and we continue to support each other. It’s a different type of family. We’re more of a group of misfits who decided to walk one of the hardest routes.
I know that many of us at one point or another have seriously questioned why they decided to walk this route. The collective groan of seeing a steep hill ahead can be echoed by all. However, despite the difficulty of some days, we’ve been rewarded with much beauty — views of valleys covered in fog, flowers blooming, long walks through forests and along mountain paths, incredible cathedrals and churches, many of which are the oldest in the region, and many rivers and streams flowing next to you.
As we get closer to Santiago, the route changes to following more roads and you become sad that there isn’t a path through the forest to follow. Entering big cities, like Lugo, become jarring in a way — so many people and cars. Even entering Melide and meeting up with Frances route poses new challenges. Instead of a few pilgrims either ahead or behind you, now there are many. I guess it’s preparing us for the trek into Santiago, which seems to take an eternity once you hit the city limits.
While I loved having a couple of Camino sisters while doing the Camino Frances in 2016 (Esther and Gayre are the best!), it’s also been a good experience not to have a “family.” I’ve met a lot of people, heard their stories, and shared many laughs.
Is forming a Camino Family required to enjoy the Camino? For me, the answer is no. The Camino is what you make it and how you connect with others, even if language is a barrier. Just allow yourself to open up a bit.
And this is coming from an introvert.
Notes on Days 18, 19
Day 18 — Lugo to Ferreira — 27 km
Lots of walking on roads, creating much pain in my feet. I’m not suffering from shin-splints like others but it’s still hard on the body. We’ve had the pleasure of walking on mountain trails for several days that walking on the road seems to be taking a toll on people’s bodies. The route is flattening out but my body is sore and tired.
Last night I had my own room in Lugo — spent a little extra for ample rest and privacy. It was actually quite nice.
Tonight’s albergue isn’t full, either and it looks like I’ll have my own room. I’ll take it... some of these private Albergues offer more services — real sheets, real towels (a luxury!), and food. It’s the little things that add up.
Day 19 — Ferreira to Boente — 25 km
The day begins with me forgetting my trekking poles at the albergue. Oh well. They got me through the toughest part of the Camino, I think I can manage from here on out (hopefully).
Mornings still tend to be my slowest walking time and this morning was no different. I walked for 3-4 hours before having coffee. If I could insert an emoji here, it would be the sobbing one. But after my coffee and sandwich break, my body woke up and I felt like sprinting the rest of the day. Ok, sprinting is a strong word to use. I walked faster than normal.
Once entering Melide, our little Primitivo route met up with the Frances route and now it’s full of pilgrims. This part of the route is more familiar to me and I won’t have to rely so much on my phone to make sure I’m on the right path. Just follow the many backpacks.
Tomorrow is the last long day and I’ll begin carrying my pack again. It’s been nice not to have it on my back for the past 11 days.
A question was posed recently on a Facebook page for pilgrims “How can you walk 25 km in a day and get up and do it again? (Completely paraphrased).”
That’s a good, honest question. At the end of every day, each pilgrim has issues — blisters, hurting feet, leg pain, etc. We are putting ourselves through pain in order to reach our ultimate destination, Santiago. To do this, we walk on average 25 km per day. A day where you walk much less — under 20 km feels like a walk in the park (I can do this every day!) and seems like a vacation.
How do we do it?
The answer I posted to the gentleman on Facebook was simple— it’s different than walking at home. You just get up and go the next morning.
I honestly can’t explain it. I walk and hike at home. More often than not, I am listening to music or the news to occupy my mind. Some days it feels forced to go on a hike or walk to work, feeling as though I should be doing it, as opposed to wanting to do it. I know at the end of my hike or walk, I will head to my comfortable home, put my feet up and pet my cats.
But here, in Spain on the Camino, it’s different. A group mentality is at play. Walking the Camino is entirely an individual thing but you are seeing or staying with the same group of people (for the most part) day in and day out. Each morning we all wake up, put on our shoes, strap on a backpack, and head out the door. You walk through pain. You walk through Mother Nature’s various moods. Some days, yes, you feel Iike quitting or at least strongly question your choice to do this. Some days, you wake up tired and irritated that someone turned on the lights at 5:30 am. Some days are simply tougher than others.
But no matter what, you get up and start the process over again. Everyone is in this together, even if you’re close or not. Everyone has their own reason to walk the Camino but once you’re here, you’re part of a larger picture. Most of the time, it’s one you cannot see but you can feel it for sure.
Notes on Days 13-17
Day 13 - Pola de Allande to La Mesa - 19 km
I’m glad was only 19 km because it was one of the tougher days, physically. We started the day with a leisurely walk through the valley and then a steep climb up to the top of the mountain. With the steep descent down loose rocks, I’m glad I made to the albergue before the rain started. By the end of 19 km, I was done and ready for a break. I’ve done short days before and they seem like a cake walk. Not today.
The weather continues to be chilly and rainy. As I write this, it’s incredibly windy and rainy outside, so I’m definitely glad I’m inside. The town of La Mesa is quite small. The number of pilgrims boosts the population size each day, by about 40. It looks like the town is home to 20 people at most.
Day 14 - La Mesa to Grandas de Salime - 15 km
Today was a short and relatively easy day, which is what my knees need. We spent the morning descending 850 meters over 7.5 km. It was pretty easy terrain compared to yesterday, so I was a little happier and moved a little faster.
At the bottom of the valley was a dam, built in the 1950s. Interesting to see.
My backpack was late getting to the albergue. This meant sitting in a bar, drinking a beer and having a bite to eat while I waited for my bag to arrive. Yeah, that was difficult to do.
The days from now on get a little longer in terms of kilometers covered. Still more climbing in the mountains but eventually, it will just be foothills as we near Santiago.
Day 15 - Grandas de Salime - A Fonsagrada- 28 km
The misty, foggy morning didn’t clear up until we reached a certain altitude after climbing several meters. At the top, we could see the clouds over the valley and the sun warming things up.
It was also a day where we entered Galicia, leaving Asturias behind. This means, I have about 150 kilometers left until reaching Santiago. The concrete markers pointing you in the right direction, also show the number of kilometers left to reaching Santiago. This is a good and bad thing. Good that I know but bad because they are closer together and it looks like I’m not making any progress. “Oh I see, I’ve only walked 500 meters. Great.”
Day 16 — A Fonsagrada to O’Cavado — 25 km
My goal at the end of the day was just to get to O’Cavado. The walk was pretty much like it has been all along — lots of trails through forests, some muddy areas, some big uphill climbs, lots of downhills.
The foot I broke back in college has been giving me much pain by mid-morning. It’s at this point where I need to take ibuprofen to dull the pain. It generally works long enough to get me to my destination for the day. I keep telling my foot to give me a few more days and then it can rest.
Day 17 — O’Cavado to Lugo — 30 km
Gone today were the major climbs and descents, so 30 km felt like 20. Ok, it felt like 30 km but it wasn’t as tiring. My feet were the major thing that hurt the most. No blisters... just sore.
Lugo is the 100 km mark, so I’m nearly to Santiago. Yippee! The city is quite big — biggest city we’ve been in since Oviedo. It feels a little jarring to be around so many people. The pilgrims entering the city have been walking through small towns, in the countryside, and through forests. Big cities have been pretty much non-existent.
I like Lugo, though. The city is prepping for a big Roman celebration this weekend, since it is a city with Roman walls surrounding the old town area. I’d come back here again to explore the city. You know, come here when my feet aren’t yelling at me to stop walking around.
Don’t take that squirrel’s nuts
I was organizing my pack the other day and I noticed that I’m a bit of a hoarder, a plastic bag and food hoarder, that is. The plastic bags come in handy and I’ve seemed to have collected 5, which are all stuffed in my pack. I mainly use them for my dirty clothes and for carting my personal items to the shower.
However, the real hoarding is with food. I’m like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. The route may pass through many small towns, but most do not have a cafe/bar or if they do, it’s closed. Occasionally, you come across a random vending machine, which is good for a snack.
So, to prepare myself for walking several kilometers without food or services available, I stock up on food — nuts, trail mix, granola bars, crackers. If I get a free piece of fruit from a place I’m staying, I take it and keep it. There’s an orange in my bag from two mornings ago. Not sure when I’ll eat it. Maybe tomorrow. Or I might save it until winter.
Among my personal items, I’m especially protective of - my money, passport, pilgrim passport, my favorite socks, and my food. Don’t take my food. I’m gonna eat it. Some day.
Notes on Days 11 and 12
Day 11 — Salas to Tineo —20 km
I’m not sure why I look at the elevation profile for this route. It should a climb at the beginning of the day but it was more like a gradual walk uphill with a few steep climbs here and there. The Wise Pilgrim app, while good, doesn’t really give you much information about the walk. It may alter you to a steep climb or descent but for the most part, you’re in the dark.
I am, however, quite happy to have the app because I got a little lost. It was raining and my head was down. Because of this, I missed an arrow pointing me in the direction. Two other pilgrims were ahead of me and they missed it too. I tried finding a short cut to the path, but to no avail. I think I added 2 km to my day because of a missed turn.
But after backtracking to the route, I ended up with a weird burst of energy. I think I could have jogged the last 4 km. I didn’t but part of me wanted to, you know, just see.
I’m at the point on the route where we have a choice to make — either go up the Hospitales route to the top of the mountain or go the Pola route and stay in the valley. Most people want to do the Hospitales but the weather is rainy and windy now. The views from atop the mountain won’t be as grand, unfortunately. I guess the Pola route it is. My next incredibly steep climb will be on Thursday. Yippee.
Day 12 — Tineo to Pola de Allande - 27 km
Rain, sun, and cold — that was today. The rain would come down in spurts and then sun would come out and cold breeze would hit you. It was like Mother Nature couldn’t make up her mind today. At least it wasn’t raining all day, so I’ll take her moodiness.
Today was the day where the group of pilgrims I’ve been seeing every day since Oviedo split off. About 2/3 of the pilgrims are braving the rainy, windy conditions and heading to a route called the Hospitales. It’s a route without any services for 20 km and takes you past a few hospital ruins from way back when. Pretty cool. I would have done it but I am part of the pilgrims who opted for the “Pola” route, walking down into the valley. We have a steep climb tomorrow morning, so I might be regretting my decision. We’ll see. Steep climb vs rainy cold weather on top of the mountain. Tough choice. I’m sure I’ll meet up with the other pilgrims in a couple of days.
The town of Pola de Allande is quite cute despite the on and off rain showers. With a small river running through town, it’s picturesque and quaint.
Be sure to check out photos on Instagram... it’s easier if I post them there rather than the blog. Link on the sidebar.
Since leaving Oviedo, I’m officially on the Primitivo Route, which is the first or original pilgrimage to Santiago. Reported to be the path taken by Alfonso II of Asturias (mid 700s to mid 800s), the king left the capital of Asturias, Oviedo, and walked to Santiago.
Walking this route makes me wonder about King Alfonso and the first pilgrims. Often we are routed through small towns and along wooded paths with a stone wall lining the way. Was their path the same?
The first pilgrims weren’t carrying big backpacks filled to the brim with basic necessities. Instead, they likely had a nap sack of some sort and relied on the hospitality of the many churches or people’s homes along the way. They weren’t wearing fancy shoes or wearing athletic clothing. Most likely, they were wearing clothing made of wool. I hope the weather was cooler for them.
I started having my backpack sent ahead for this route specifically. Some pilgrims feel it’s cheating to send your pack ahead and they look down on those who choose to do it. Quite frankly, it’s a pleasure not to carry a heavy pack up and down the Primitivo route. We do a fair amount of climbing and it’s much easier on my back and knees (and dodgy left ankle) if I just have a day pack on my back.
I wonder what the ancient pilgrims think of us now, seeing people carrying their Osprey or Deuter packs strapped to the backs. Is it all necessary? We spend a great deal of time discussing what is best to bring — the best socks, the best shoes, the best shirts, etc. Were there similar discussions among the early pilgrims? “Which is best, this wool tunic or this other one? How about shoes? Sandals?” Yeah. They didn’t have much clothing (or REI) to choose from.
As for me, I’m happy to send my pack ahead. I tend to enjoy the route more if I’m not lugging 10 kg of stuff on my back. I’m not as cranky. I don’t sigh as much if I see a long climb ahead of me. Ok, I still sigh but I grumble less. Did King Alfonso grumble when he walked through the mountains? Hmmm... I wonder.
Notes on Days 9, 10
Day 9 - Oviedo to Grado — 25 km
Warm day to walk but cooler than the days before. I notice that Spain sleeps in on Sunday mornings. Even the livestock were especially chill in the morning.
I broke a glass at a small cafe during my morning break. All I could say was, “Lo siento.” The woman was incredibly kind to me about it, as if it happens all the time. I doubt it. I’m probably the only person to break a glass in 5 years. It’ll be a story they tell everyone in town. “An American woman...”
Grado was a lively town — small outdoor market, people out and about eating and drinking lots of Sangria. I enjoyed a nice glass of sangria, along with croquets.
Day 10 — Grado to Salas - 20 km
The day started cloudy but the sun came out for a few hours, long enough to make us very hot and sweaty. At this point, we are starting to see more climbing and descents. The trail took us through many wooded areas, some with rocky paths while descending, making it even loads more fun (harder). Good thing I have trekking poles. Otherwise, I’d still be trying to walk down the rocky paths, one meager step at a time.
With the heat of the afternoon, it was great to stop at a stream and put my tired feet in the cold but refreshing water. It just felt amazing.
Salas is a small, quiet town. For a Monday afternoon, not much is happening other than people grocery shopping. Most of the shops are closed, much to my dismay. I’m in search of a poncho due to the rain in the forecast. My raincoat won’t be sufficient, unfortunately. However, I may just have to deal with it.
Tomorrow... Tineo. And then a decision about the Hospitales route.
While on my first Camino in 2016, I saw a man determined to finish the Camino Frances. He was injured, walking with crutches, and hobbling along. You could see the look of determination on his face. One step further. Just one step. I sincerely hope he made it.
It takes a great deal of determination, stubbornness, and perseverance to walk the Camino. I’ve had days so far, where I’ve questioned why I’m doing it. Especially on days where the temps are high or days where the rain won’t stop or the climb just keeps going. Walking gives you plenty of time to contemplate this trek. Why am I here? Why did I choose to do this?
Well... I’m not exactly sure other than it gets under your skin and you just want to do it. It could be the life on the Camino. It’s a rather simple endeavor:
Get up. Pack your bag. Start walking.
Stop and rest.
Walk some more.
Get to your destination.
Shower. Wash clothes (if necessary).
The next day, you get up and do the same thing. If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll walk around the town I’m in, but mostly I just eat and rest. People in in the Albergues along the routes I’m on are pretty quiet and keep to themselves. Makes sense. Bunch of introverts, perhaps.
Most recently, I had a day where I was about to quit. It was hot. I was tired. And I just wanted to rest. But something inside of me, told me to keep going. I’m a stubborn person by nature and I don’t take quitting something lightly. I kept going. And I’ll keep going.
Notes on Days 6, 7, and 8
Day 6 - Ribadesella to Villaviciosa — 38 km, only 20 km by foot
Day 6 started on a bus to cut out several km. I’m glad it did. I don’t like to walk past 30 km in a day, especially when it’s hot. The day was rather uneventful. It was a lot of road walking (small, winding back roads) and watching out for horses who were being led to pasture. The amount of pilgrims on the trail is pretty minute at this point. There’s a few, but it isn’t like a pack of humans vying for beds at the next Albergue, like you see on the Camino Frances.
These shorter days are like semi-rest days. I get to town early. Get to my room. Run errands (laundry, shopping for snacks). Grab lunch and then spend the rest of the time with my feet up.
There’s a bit of laziness to the Camino. Depending on the town, sometimes I check out the sights. Other times, it’s just another old Spanish town. Not much to see other than a really old cathedral. When you walk all day, sometimes you don’t want to spend all your down time trotting around a city. Hence, the lazy factor comes into play.
Villaviciosa to Pola de Siero — 28 km
Hot. That’s how to describe day 7. Temps in the 80s (ºF) without much shade. There were some shaded paths, which was nice but the bulk of the walking was along roads without any shade. Sun beating down.
Before I started out, I made sure to bring extra water, but it turns out it wasn’t enough. I was on my last swig of water and still needed to walk 2.5 km. I was worried, I wouldn’t make it. Then out of the blue, an old woman called out — Agua, aqui! She filled my water bottle and sent me on my way. All I could muster was a simple “muchas gracias,” before heading on my way. The Camino provided.
This was also the day where I split from the Norte route and headed down the Primitivo route. It’s way less traveled, even less than the Norte route, which is quite sparse in pilgrims right now.
Tomorrow is Oviedo and a much shorter day, although the same heat wave. Start early and end early. That will be the key.
Day 8 - 16 km
Pola de Siero to Oviedo
Still a hot day but at least it was a short one. You don’t want to be outside when the sun is beating down on you.
Toured the Cathedral which, due to it’s stone walls, was quite cool and comforting. It’s a beautiful cathedral, showing how much money the Catholic Church has. Oviedo in many respects is like Santiago, just a little smaller. The town is alive with some sort of festival. Locals dressed in Asturian costumes line the streets playing instruments and selling goods. It’s quite a scene.
The official Primitivo starts tomorrow when I leave Oviedo. My pack is being sent ahead, to take some of the stress off my hips and back. It’ll be nice to have less weight to carry.
My hair is an issue. It’s long and when I’m in a dry place like Montana, it’s straight with a bit of wave.
Then I enter a humid region and all of a sudden, it’s thick and full of curls. I wish my mom had noticed this when I was young and getting home perms. Instead of sitting my hair rolled in curlers with stinky solution dripping down my head, all she needed to do was put me in a humid region and I’d have curly hair.
There have been days where I felt like Monica in an episode of Friends where they visited the Caribbean and she looked like she had an Afro. I’m not quite there yet, but if my hair was shorter, I can see it happening.
I know that the Camino isn’t a beauty contest but there are days where I’d like to tell the Albergue host that I don’t normally look this way — sweaty, red faced from the heat, and sporting crazy hair. I’ve wondered if I should show them a picture of how I normally look so they aren’t so scared or concerned when I walk through the door. But then again, when they see me, I usually get the bottom bunk. They must feel sorry for me.
A few days ago, I saw a young Korean woman using a blow dryer to do her hair. I guess she didn’t get the memo on the whole “not a beauty contest” thing. To me, a blow dryer is on the non-essential list. But for her, she couldn’t leave home with out it. I saw her later one day, after a full day of walking and her hair looked perfect. Must have been because of the hair dryer. Point taken.
So, I’m adjusting to my new head of hair, curls and all. I might miss it when I get home.
Notes on Days 4 and 5
Day 4 - Colombres to Llanes
Day 4 for some reason was rather difficult and I don’t understand why. It was a shorter walking day but it ended up being a painful one. My legs and feet were killing me and I developed a blister on one of my toes. Good thing I have Compeed. Despite this, the views along the coast were stunning and it was a lovely day for walking.
The end of the day was spent massaging my legs and feet. I use my trekking poles to help rub the muscles and it works well. Stretching is also key, I’m finding out. I don’t stretch as often as I should at home but here it’s becoming a lifesaver and a daily ritual.
Day 5 - Llanes to Ribadesella
Day 5 started better — less pain in my legs and feet (hallelujah!) but I walked for 3 hours before finding a cafe to stop at. All the towns I walked through were closed — no one in the houses, not a soul around. It was almost like being on the Walking Dead. Is there anyone around? Am I the only human left? I know I haven’t been keeping up the news but I thought I’d hear about an apocalypse. At least there were a couple of other pilgrims around, so I knew I wasn’t crazy.
But today, I had to say goodbye to a couple of new friends, which was sad in a way. At this point, we’re off in different directions. One is going home. One is finishing the Norte and I’m jumping ahead so I can get to Oviedo by Saturday. Such is life on the Camino.
After walking for 3 days, it feels like a lifetime. I have to remind myself that I have another 18 days to go before I reach Santiago. 18 days. I just had to start on the Norte route, didn’t I.
Places to stay along the route vary and I’m finding that the Norte route has less Albergues and more hotels. The Albergues are the cheapest option but sometimes you can find a reasonable pension to stay at. Part of the Albergue charm is that you are with other pilgrims and it’s a social atmosphere. The downside... you sleep in bunk beds in large rooms with many other pilgrims. With that comes all the reality of humans — farting, snoring.
The past 2 nights I have stayed in Albergues. Each night there was a loud snorer. Loud. Even with earplugs in, I heard every nuance of his snores. Some people snore and it may last an hour or two. No, this person snores the entire night. Yes, I believe he has sleep apnea, but I’m not a doctor, so am unable to diagnose him.
Tonight I’m staying in a pension, a cheap hotel of sorts. I have my own room with a private bath. It’s a little luxury and I’m willing to pay for it.
The first three days have been interesting. I started in Santander and took a train to a town called Mogro, which cut about 12 km, so I only walked about 20 km. It was an uneventful day in that it was mainly walking on roads, through small towns. I kept walking ahead or behind the same French couple. The day ended in a picturesque town of Santillana Del Mar. Upon arriving in town, it was full of tourists in the streets visiting little shops and the Altamira cave museum. There was a museum of human torture, that I passed by but chose not to visit. A little too macabre for me, though probably interesting.
Day 2 was a lovely day of walking. Marked with views of the Atlantic Ocean and farms, the trek took me along winding country roads. Sounds of roosters waking everyone up, baaing sheep, mooing cows, and heehawing donkeys, along the smells that come with livestock rounded out the senses. “Fresh country smell,” is what my grandpa used to say, according to my mom. Some days, I can do without the smell of manure. Yesterday was one of those days.
At the start of day 2, it seemed as if everyone in Spain, except for the pilgrims and a few old farmers, were asleep. It was a lazy Sunday morning, a walk in the park, as my cross country coach would say to me before a meet. Yeah. This is a bit more than a walk in park but I keep reminding myself that it isn’t a race and I can take my time. A bed is waiting for me a the end of the day, providing I make it to my destination. Sometimes I need a little push and perhaps a cafe con leche (or Coca Cola) before I can muster up the energy to keep going.
Day 3... today. I’m sure the views were spectacular. However, due to the constant rain, we couldn’t see much. I spent most of the day walking with a French Canadian woman and a British man. It was quite pleasant, to share in some misery and the joy of finding a short cut and a place to have a quick lunch.
I was very happy to get to my room for the night where I could take off my wet clothes and feel like a human again. It turns out my “waterproof” North Face jacket isn’t so waterproof after all. Perhaps, “water resistant” is a better description. Maybe North Face and other companies should have their products tested by those on the Camino. We brave the elements each day, for several days at a time. We know which products hold up and which ones, well, should stay home.
Tomorrow brings another full day of walking. I hope my shoes dry out and that the weather is less rainy.
We all have a catalyst or a reason to walk the camino. Coupled with this, we all have a movie, book, or story that compels us to take the first step.
Mine is the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, written and directed by Ben Stiller, based on a 1920’s short story. It might seem like an unlikely choice since most pilgrims choose The Way (movie by Emilio Estevez) or The Pilgrimage (book by Paulo Coehlo). Both are good in their own right but they didn’t give me the extra push I needed to get off my seat and head to Spain.
In 2016, I walked the camino for the first time, taking the Frances route from Leon to Santiago. My initial reason to walk was because my husband couldn’t due to his multiple sclerosis. However, I would be lying if I said that was the only reason. Taking time away from my family to embark on a pilgrimage is a selfish act. I walked for myself as well.
In 2016, I turned 40 and I felt unsure about my future. Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis. Instead of purchasing a sports car, I went to Spain. Up to this point, our lives centered on the kids, grad school (both Joe and I), and work. Sure, we traveled and moved around quite a bit, meeting many amazing people along the way, but we were in a perpetual state of just trying to keep our heads above water.
Looking back, we experienced much in a short amount of time. I married young at age 24. By age 29, I had two kids. At age 33, I underwent open heart surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. Also during this time, we managed Joe’s diagnosis of MS, the death of my mom and step father, and a child with physical and mental challenges. By the time I reached 40, I needed the camino.
In 2013, we watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In this movie, I saw part of me aching for adventure while also identifying greatly with the character (introvert, daydreaming). For so long, the need for travel and seeing the world was not met. It took another couple of years before I gathered up the courage (and money) to go.
That first step on Leon was quite possibly the hardest. I started the camino alone but by days end, I found amazing women with whom to walk and share the journey. Each day, I experienced déjà vu and had an overwhelming sense that I was supposed to be there.
In a couple of weeks, I’m headed out for my 2nd camino, starting along the Camino Norte and then joining the Camino Primitivo. Again, I will take the first step alone. I fully acknowledge that this is a selfish act and I thank my husband and kids for understanding my need to do it. They each have their own journey (or pilgrimage) ahead of them and I will support them when it’s their time.
For now, I feel a pull to head back to Spain. What awaits me? More walking, café con leche, and wine. And whatever else the camino provides.
I wear many hats. First, I'm a wife to an amazing husband, Joe. Second, I'm a mom to 2 incredible kids, Caitlynn and Miles. Professionally speaking, I am a chef, dietitian, and writer working as an instructor in Hospitality Management at Montana State University in Bozeman.
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