The forum was an amazing resource for me when researching the Camino de Santiago. I did the full Camino de Santiago Frances as well as the Del Norte in 2013 with my guitar. In May of 2014, I did 4 days of the Camino de Madrid to Segovia and I’ll be doing the Primitivo route this July.
People’s Inspiration and Reasons for doing the Camino
This is an interesting conversation topic; both the reasons for and maybe the reasons why not to ask someone so quickly on the Camino de Santiago. Perhaps just me, but it felt very personal to be asked this question by a stranger less than 5 min after meeting. Quite often it would be the first question people would ask each other, oblivious to the often times personal journey a person may have come along. As ironically, often on the Camino, this story comes out naturally whilst conversing with a stranger/ fellow pilgrim when walking together over a couple of days. The forum may be the ideal place for people to share these stories in their own time and to encourage patience amongst the ‘newbies’ in advance of their first experience. It’s not always about the destination as opposed to the journey; the people, places, and experiences of that time and the exact day you are living/ walking.
My journey followed an incredibly negative and unprofessional work environment in England coupled with a desire for traveling. Reading the Zahir by Paulo Coelho, seeing the film The Way, having a conversation with a friend that featured the Camino de Santiago and receiving a letter from another friend who referenced walking it 30 years before, all happened in the space of 4 months around this time of high stress. I took it as the ultimate sign to go. Or you can call it gut instinct. Either way, I try to practice following signs and gut instinct more since walking the Camino. People continually tell me that I am brave for making the decisions that I have over the last year. Doing the Camino alone (which is impossible; you’re never alone on the Camino), moving to another country when I don’t have all the language etc. Perhaps I am brave, but I feel everyone is capable of the same and more if they choose to. There’s always a choice. Perhaps the consequences are not always great, but there’s always a choice.
Friendships and Relationships
I’m lucky to have made amazing and meaningful friendships on both Caminos. I walked with a Brazilian guy living in Australia and a German girl, who both fell in love with each other and are going to get married. I stayed in an Albergue after Burgos where the French woman and Spanish guy met 26 years ago because of the Camino and now dedicate a big portion of their lives to it. The people we meet on the Camino present an amazing opportunity in our lives. I was sad to leave so many friends and my life behind in England. But I often said to everyone in England, that I felt strongly that I hadn’t met all the people I am supposed to meet in my life yet. And I hadn’t. I still haven’t. I’m grateful for meeting yet more amazing people who will be forever a part of my life.
For me, a concise list of Albergues and hostels along the routes is most important on a practical level, alongside the distances between each. Whilst the elevations can be interesting now and again, they don’t matter to me. Often the elevation maps in the books and on PDFs created by others are inaccurate (or perhaps exaggerated averages, which are misleading and depressing if you get excited about going downhill only to discover you are currently walking 200m uphill!). A lot of people like to know what the day ahead holds, but I like a bit of mystery, and I see no need in knowing in advance if I have to walk uphill all of the next day. Time enough discovering when I start walking it. I have to walk it either way so why waste time worrying and dreading a hill/ mountain. (Without giving names, one particular country is very efficient with the details in their books. So efficient, I feel there is no mystery or surprise left. I got lost in a forest one day on purpose for 2 hours to claim back some mystery and sense of discovery having inadvertently benefited too much from these overly informative guide books!)
I appreciate hearing about the really magical Albergues, like in Guermes with Padre Ernesto. These moments and shared experiences make the Camino a richer walk. Also, it is good to highlight Albergues worth avoiding such as the main one in Santander, which is unclean, crammed and arguably unsafe. They obviously make a tidy profit in this particular Albergue, and it is highly questionable how much of that profit is dedicated towards basic upkeep/hygiene of the space.
Bed bugs are also a very real issue (I caught them twice on del Norte). Not pleasant and expensive to deal with! I met couples camping every night as a result. Camping is not an option for me as I like to travel solo and I would feel a bit vulnerable as a solo female camper. I met a solo female camper but she had a dog that had a pretty scary bark! Besides, I prefer to choose my guitar as my extra weight. Not to mention, that evening times are great for shared meals and socialising in the Albergue common area with fellow pilgrims.
If you’re a musician, bring your instrument! The extra weight and discomfort are more than worth it for the experiences. It is the easiest way to start a conversation even if you do not share the same language. Also great if you like to have random musical jams with an international group of people over coffee at your first break at 9 am in the morning (see video below). I brought my guitar as much for others to use as for me. And as I suspected there’s a lot of musical talent on the Camino. I even bumped into the same French guy on my other Camino who was cycling with his ukulele. What are the odds?! As the Spanish say, ‘el mundo es un pañuelo’ (the world is very small)
Generosity and the Universe Providing what you Need
I experienced an overwhelming amount of generosity that I hope to pay forward in the future. There is too much to mention in detail here. This needs to be acknowledged. I found it profound and life changing. And notably very timely, often when I really needed things, not a case of want. This has continued to happen to me after the Camino. Or perhaps I now notice and appreciate it more as a consequence. I still suffer ridiculous bouts of insecurities about all sorts of things, (like most people), including my music in strong contrast to my pro-active outlook on life. I was fortunate to be the receiver of many kind words and meaningful compliments from people along my journey. These words often help and reassure me now during times of insecurity.
An eBook sounds great! I had a PDF for the del Norte, which was great, as I could easily access it from my iTouch at all, times. Needless to say, this saves a lot of weight in the backpack without the need to carry an actual book.
I plan on writing up my Camino experiences in a blog this summer and will send you the link when I do. I’m guilty of living life too much whilst traveling the last year and have not sat down long enough to edit thoughts, stories, and photos for the blog in question. Hopefully, blog posts a year after the fact will not offend people!
I apologize for the long email. This was initially an email a few sentences long, but I’ve got carried away! The Camino has been a big part of my life for the last year and a half. And I think it will continue to be. I’m guilty of being a little addicted now and passionate about it. The Camino provides an enormous amount of time for reflection on life and the important things, in the company of like-minded people. I will admit that there have been a few ‘non-Camino’ experiences along the way and ‘non-Camino’ like people, but I choose not to dwell on these or acknowledge them further by discussing details. Let the good outweigh the negative, and cause no distraction.
All the best,
Irish Singer-Songwriter, Textile Artist, Traveller, Networker based in Madrid (and English teacher now too…Following 11 years living in England I now live in Madrid as a consequence of my Camino experiences last year.)
The above is an email I received from Clare after sending out one of the Camino newsletters a couple of weeks back. After I read it I thought it would make a great article for the site and so asked Clare if I could publish it as is. Thank you Clare.