I reflected in a previous story, that the Camino is a place where magic happens, something I have not experienced anywhere else, there is strange ‘need’ to return that I cannot explain, a longing for something … the places, the experiences, and the people. You have no doubt read about pilgrims who return again and again, to walk their previous route or other routes on the Camino – why do we return, what is it that we seek?
Following my first Camino, in 2015, I returned again in May 2016 to walk the Portuguese Camino from Porto to Santiago, also Finisterre and Muxia. It is the final destination for many pilgrims on the Way of St. James, and I had run out of time to make it to the end of the world on my first Camino.
I am not going to talk about the journey or give advice on how to complete your Camino, I want to reflect on those special encounters with extraordinary people, and the connections you make with strangers, the bonds formed along the way …
Many of my friends were captivated by stories of my adventures; many expressed a wish to come with me next time. But, alas no one would make a commitment to do so. This has long perplexed and frustrated me; after all I met many friends, couples, and families walking the Camino. How hard can it be to find a walking companion?
So, once again I traveled solo, as with my first Camino I was never really alone, I met many wonderful people some in brief encounters others for days at a time. We would part, then meet again a few days later and greet each other like long lost friends or I would meet new people, this is how life is on the Camino.
On the Portuguese Camino, it took a couple of days to make connections. The Portuguese is less traveled than the Francaise, which in many ways suited me better, I prefer to be far from the madding crowd, but that is another story …
But, let me tell you about my Camino sisters and brothers … I first Met Nadia (Canadian) at a crossroads, somewhere? I was a little perplexed on which route to take and she was walking along in the heat of the day under the weight of a huge pack …seriously, I think she had everything in there, watching her unpack it that night was a marvel in itself … anyway, we soon got chatting and a Camino friendship was born.
My second sister, Sabine (Germany) I first met in Ponte De Lima, she commented on my severe case of ‘Camino Shuffle’, as I was crossing the square. A name I coined to describe the awkward gait that you have at the end of a hard days walk. We laughed and I limped off in the direction of a bar. I was next to see her at a café the following day, two became three and a Camino sisterhood was born. We walked many happy days together, sometimes as two, sometimes as three, dictated by differences in walking schedules and paces. We shared songs, laughter, life stories, blisters, and painful feet together until our inevitable parting on reaching Santiago …
My journey continued to Finisterre and Muxia without them, although I was continuing alone, I was not alone. Let me tell you about two wonderful characters … Chikamasa (Japan) and Paco (Spanish). A magical Camino tale in itself… Chikamasa and Paco met on the Camino many years ago and every year they leave their lovely wives at home to walk the Camino together again … the cutest bromance ever.
My sisters and I had encountered them from time to time on our journey and shared some fun moments. And they were to be my continued company to the end of the world. We did not walk together as such, but we bumped into one another at café/bar stops and Albergue and they always welcomed me to share their table. An unlikely trio, neither Chikamasa nor Paco spoke English and my Spanish at best was atrocious … but as always on the Camino, you find ways to communicate and you learn other languages in the process.
As with all good adventures, they come to an end and saying goodbye to the Camino and the friendships you have made is tough. Inevitably everyone goes their separate ways, you return home, you adjust to ‘normal’ life again … but something has changed … you have changed, normal life is not enough, there is something missing … Welcome to the ‘Post Camino Blues’.
This is a well-known phenomenon, there is much written about the subject, and is perhaps the topic for another story… My way of coping was to plan another trip. I returned a 3rd time, September 2017, and walked Camino Primitivo. I chose this route because it could be completed in two weeks and also because it is meant to be the ‘original’ and the hardest way. I wanted to achieve this route before my aging body parts started failing.
In contrast to my previous adventures, the usual excitement was replaced by a kind of apathy and general foreboding, what was going on? Apart from reading that is was physically demanding, I had also read that it was seldom walked with few albergues on the route. I imagined long tough days in solitude and the possibility of not finding a bed for the night. Normally this would not deter me, a loner at heart, I have walked alone many times and I have often wild camped. But there had been a shift, something not yet manifest, pre Camino magic waiting to be born…
Once more, I traveled solo to Oviedo, the start of the Primitivo on 1st September. Ironically, for one of the quieter Caminos, I saw a lot of pilgrims at the airport and boarding the coach in Asturias. Normally I didn’t meet any pilgrims until I was on the trail. And, unbeknown to me then … I would meet and walk with my first Camino family …
I spotted Birte and Yan-Erik, a German couple, on the bus to Oviedo. Well, I spotted Birte’s distinctive Camino shell tattoo. I saw them both again the next morning by the cathedral in Oviedo and again at my Albergue in Venta de Escamplero that same night. We all got chatting over dinner at a local bar and our friendship began there. Birte a social worker and seasoned camionist and Yan-Erik an I.T. guru who was tackling his first and the hardest way on the Camino. This mighty Viking, as he came to be known, earned my utmost respect and admiration.
Our paths crossed again on the 2nd night, at the beautiful Monasterio de San Salvador in Cornellana. Here, I also first became acquainted with the crazy Italiano Alessandro (Ale), also a Camino newbie. I noticed him trotting back and forth across the courtyard, doing his laundry. I remember thinking; wow he has a lot of energy for someone who has been walking all day. I was to learn later, that he had in fact walked two stages that day … all the way from Oviedo … (nearly 30 miles) crazy Italiano.
Ale was from fair Verona no less, a personal trainer and kinesiologist, he not only bore his own injuries with valour, but he also tended to those of his family too, keeping everyone up and moving, and ‘relatively’ pain free.
As became my habit on the Camino, I was quietly sneaking out before dawn the next morning, to make good time to Bodenaya, and there they were in the courtyard, Birte, Yan-Erik, and Alessandro also all ready to set off, and a Camino family was born.
‘The Camino doesn’t give you what you want; it gives you what you need.’
In Campiello, I first spotted our tattooed Bavarian brother Stefan, sporting a rather neatly combed Mohawk cut, he rather stood out, I thought. A mechanic by trade, and considering his appearance, Stefan was a lover of kittens, dogs, and protector of all creatures, a big softie. We came across him again the next day, as we all headed for Berducedo via Hospitales; easily the most incredible day on the Primitivo, but that again is yet another story.
Wait I almost forgot to introduce myself, Sarah from Cornwall in the UK, a nutrition therapist and behavioral therapist, lone wolf, until now, and lover of long distance walking, nature, and wildlife.
And so a family of four became five; we stayed together for the rest of the way. I guess as a therapist it would be no surprise that I find this notion of ‘family’ so intriguing. In fact, Camino attachment theory would make for interesting research. But it caused me to ask ‘what kept us together’, my little family were so much younger than I. Their average age mid 20’s – mid 30s, myself 50+ … Birte and Jan- Erik had each other, the lads had each other, I was a loner we didn’t ‘need’ one another in that sense.
In addition, despite descriptions and my original predictions, there was no shortage of company on the Primitivo, the lesser known paths now becoming more well-known and travelled. So there were many others to meet and share the journey with. And yet, we not only stayed together; we shared decisions and adapted our stages to stay together.
Due to the limited accommodation on the Primitivo, I had booked albergue ahead where I could. This meant that sometimes on the night we would be separated. But I would get a message with their location or a picture of the boys eating vast tortilla or Pulpo and we would all meet up for dinner or sightseeing.
This became a regular habit and we could always find one another if separated … the marvels of modern technology. There were days when we started as a group, individuals with faster paces or having a need for personal space would walk ahead, walking together but not together, walking alone but not alone … but we would always catch up at the next bar/café and continue on together again.
The day after crossing Hospitales, I was very ill, awful waves of nausea, I was slow and was dragging far behind, but my family would not leave me, it was such a humbling experience …
We were quoted as being the cutest family on the Camino
It is a strange and curious thing indeed how five strangers from different worlds, with different languages, and the same crazy, come together as ‘family’, at the same point in time and share an amazing adventure….. I don’t know how it works, serendipity? But it is a Camino phenomenon.
“You have only found the true power of traveling,
When you find yourself feeling closer to someone you have just met,
Rather than someone you have known your whole life”
I have had Camino buddies, and Camino brothers and sisters, but a Camino ‘family’ is something else. I have been home a month now and my family is still never far from my thoughts. I have the worst case of Camino Blues imaginable and a strange feeling that I rarely experience … I think most people call it ‘loneliness’ … perhaps this loner no longer wants to be alone…
Since our return, a few posts have appeared on our messenger group, the odd picture/memory, and shared feelings “normal life sucks……Camino blues mode on…..?, miss the Camino…. miss my family…. miss freeeeedom”
Most interesting of all, one month on and no one has ‘left the group’ it’s as if messenger represents an invisible cord connecting us all to our Camino life, like a door left slightly ajar, a light left on to guide our little family, should they wish to, return home …
I find it inexplicable that I would grieve the loss of these previously unknown individuals, but it is a loss that I feel …
But … I am planning my next Journey, as I live right next to St Michaels Way, our Cornish Camino. It has long been an ambition of mine to connect the Celtic Camino’s with the Camino de Santiago. So the plan is to follow in the footsteps of the Irish Pilgrims and walk one of the Irish Caminos, St Michaels Way and then Camino Ingles to Santiago… but this will be my 4th story …
I don’t know if anyone has achieved this, or if it can be done, the logistics in Ireland are challenging due to non-existent public transport to and from start points. I will need help to accomplish this … so I’m hoping the Camino magic extends to the Celtic Camino also.
If you want to read more about this or indeed share my journey you can do so here:
*My travel ‘NOTES’ and photographs can be found on my Facebook page called Travelling Light@twomers – please feel free to drop by or like my page.