Quick thoughts on the Camino

Starting June 30 and going until mid July, I embarked from Oviedo, Asturias with the end goal of arriving at Santiago de Compostela, some 350 km down the road. The Camino de Santiago is well known, but what most people don’t know is that when they think “camino” they actually think of the French Way. In reality pilgrims have arrived to Santiago through almost a dozen routes. The camino primitivo, (primitive way), is supposedly the oldest one, and I chose it because it has a reputation for being the most difficult but simultaneously most beautiful because of it’s many mountains. I don’t feel like making an edited, grammatically correct composition of my raw experiences, so here they are as I typed them.

First day: so exhausted. Miserable by the end but the albergue made it all worth it. Nicest hospitalero, two peoples birthday- a Korean and a Latvian. Everyone so nice. Also Italian, spaniard, one other American, polish guys studying to be priests, Danish girl… So amazing. The albergue we stayed at had the most amazing views and I got my first taste of the wonderful sense of community felt by pilgrims even though we come from a million different places.

Second day: so horrible. Feet hurt. I realized my shoes are too small and every step put me in agony. I somehow made it to the 20km to Salas and tomorrow im going to buy new shoes. But still love hanging out with everyone at night! Hopefully I can find new shoes tomorrow so I can keep enjoying the walking part because today was pretty miserable. I feel stupid for buying two pairs and not cheap either. Got close with som Italians that were super nice and helped me dress my wounds. The thing to do, the trick of blisters, is to stick a needle with thread in your blister and leave the thread there so the blister will drain instead of just popping it because that way it’ll build up again.

And now we are a little family of people we have seen every day. A Danish girl , two Italians, one spaniard , two Germans and me. Yesterday we had a relatively easy hike of a little over 20 km with a few up hills and I felt a little better to have new shoes. I got a late start because I had to wait for the store to open but since it was short day I still got there around 4. We decided once in Tineo that we would take a variant route on the camino. I didn’t want to do it before because they don’t recommend it in bad weather or if you are alone but the forecast looks good and I am no longer alone. Had a nice dinner with everyone in tineo. the next day was short because we had to stay at the albergue right before the alternative route because it’s long and there are no stores or anything the whole day until you get there. Completely wild, no services, tough hiking- an awesome sounding challenge. a little worried for my feet but we will see. Everyone is very interesting. Today I met a woman from costa rica but who had been living in Sweden for 20 years. And a Galician man who plays the bass trombone and is moving to Boston for a while because he found his life stagnating and he wanted a change. Everyone has their own reasons for doing the camino, some that are shared with the group ad some that stay inside. The hiking isn’t getting any easier (still disgusting blisters) but the nights make it worth it. I’m catching up on my reading, talking, relaxing… After the obligatory shower and washing the clothes in the sink. I usually hike alone but I’m not bored because I look around, listen to music, audiobooks, sing sometimes. It’s great. And I know that every night my family will be there.

Next day Ruta de hospitales, called that way because there are ruins of old pilgrims hospitals, nobody around but me cows and horses. Walked through a cloud for about an hour and it was spooky, super creepy. I could literally only hear my breath and my footsteps and could only see a few feet in front of me. After a little I couldn’t take the silence and had to turn on my iPod. I don’t think people understand how eerie complete silence is because we almost never experience it. It reminds me of that article about the completely silent room and how nobody could last in it for longer than 15 min. I had this feeling of being on the edge of the world. It was crazy. By night we had carbonara made by Italians. SO GOOD. We really are becoming like a little family. I can’t describe how fun each night is talking laughing and relaxin with everyone.

Next day had a beautiful walk but difficult, going up and down a mountain and then back up another. So far the weather is holding up with only one morning of rain, but I heard that there might be rain tomorrow. The first time I ever felt isolated for being a vegetarian because I didn’t want to pay for a salad I would have to take things out of, ended up eating pasta alone. But it’s okay. Also in grandas, the city we are in now, went to a really interesting ethnological museum.

Saw a sign the third day or so, and it’s really true what the sign said about how the longer the camino is, the shorter it feels. I simultaneously feel like I’ve been hiking forever and yet not at all. Peregrinos can breeze through small talk and get to talking about real interesting subjects. Someone pointed out that as someone who studies international relations the camino must be perfect for me. And it is. I’ve met so many people from so many nationalities. I’ve learned words in German, Danish, Italian. Not to mention had pasta (twice) made by Italians. It’s really wonderful. Other peregrinos also know when silence is golden. At night I love being with people. And i love hiking with people but I prefer to be in my own world of music most of the time for the actual walking. But how I live for the nights of great food and conversation, comfortably tired and sore and enjoying each other’s company. I’ve made so many bonds in 6 days that now I can’t imagine it ending. Especially with the younger ones, two students from Madrid my age and a valencian in his early 30s. I feel like 6 days of camino friendship equals at least a few years in real life.

Next day was a hard one. In the end we walked 35 kilometers! And more when you consider trips to the supermarket. I’m happy to also be getting closer with people my age. Two university students from Madrid also 21, had met and gotten along with really well but today we made our hike more bearable with an interesting talk about universal healthcare, gun control, political parties. We really are like one big family. My camino family. I love it. When we got to the albergue I discovered two ticks on me. One on my stomach how did that even happen?! The night was a normal camino night: walking around the town a little bit, everyone eating together, talking, laughing, planning the next day.

Next two days, normal. Losing track of time but walking is getting easier now a 22km day is considered a lite day. Lost our group a little – the older ones didn’t do the 35km day and now walking with the two people my age from Madrid, ngoc and dani, and usually meeting up in the albergue with Juan an because he hikes way faster. I feel like I know these people inside and out. I don’t want this to end.

The camino primitivo joins up with the French the last few days. There are waaayyyy too many people. I miss the relative quietness of the primitivo. Goin from albergues that sleep 20-30 to ones with 150 beds and that’s only the public government sponsored one, there are also tons more private. Madness.

Also an incredible surprise. I knew my friend Shannon was doing the camino Frances and the last 3 days of my camino joined with the Frances. But I thought she was a few days further back. Well today I’m walking with two of my friends and guess who I see stopped by the side of the path?! So incredible. There are a thousand ways we could have not seen each other and only one way we could have. We were talking that night and there are literally so many variables that could have played into is NOT seeing each other. Dad says: serendipity.

Becoming lazier with writing but only because I’m having so much fun! Getting to Santiago but not wanting it to be over. Delicious lunch, our family reuniting. Going out in Santiago, botelloning with new friends. But only being able to last until around 3 because we had woken up that morning at 6:30, walked 20km, and basically hadn’t stopped moving or to nap right up until we decided to discover the night life of Santiago, in hiking clothes I add.

Pilgrims mass with a hangover, am I going to hell? the botefumeiro was super cool but the rest sounded like typical catholic bullshit. Tourism in the city and getting our compostelas. Juan an leaving , the first of the family to go. Bawling my eyes out. so sad. Everyone leaving. Really sad. Don’t know what else to say.

I didn’t really have any deep revalations while I was hiking. They all came after. The value of friendship. The bond humans can create in such a short amount of time. How I really can survive on only what I carry with me. My love for travel but also my love for Spain and how I am almost certain I want to return. Things in my life I want to leave behind me- I know it won’t be easy but it’s 100% necessary. I know 13 days doesn’t sound like a lot but what I’ve learned in these 2 weeks and what I have figured out could have taken me a whole lot longer without the camino. Two weeks later I’m still almost crying thinking about it and all I want to do is go back. Someday…
It was without a doubt one of, if not the best experience of my year and I’d go so far as to say, my life.

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