Home > Travel, Treks > A Spanish Sojourn, Part I – Walking the Camino

A Spanish Sojourn, Part I – Walking the Camino

“What do you think about, during all that time when you walk?”, someone at work asked incredulously, when I told them my plans for a 300 Km walk in Spain in the summer. When we – friends who have trekked together earlier – began planning our trek for this year, D (who lives in London) came up with the idea of doing something different from the Himalayan treks that we have always chosen in the past  – and proposed that we desis cross the ocean this time and go to her side of the world, i.e. Europe. After looking at a few options, we settled on the Camino De Santiago walk, or more specifically, the Camino Frances route in northern Spain. Santiago is believed to be the place where the remains of the apostle St James is buried, and so this was a well-travelled pilgrim route in mediveal Europe. The journey then faded off the map over time due to various reasons – plagues, robberies, the Protestant movement, politics of the times, etc. It was only in the 1980s that the Camino started becoming popular again, this time not so much as a religious ritual, but more as a general journey of discovery – isn’t that what all treks are about?

The Camino Frances route starts  in France and goes across the Pyrenees mountains into northern Spain, winding it’s way through Galicia to end in Santiago. Sorry, correction… you can also walk a further 3 days from Santiago to a place called Finisterre, which was thought to be the end of the world, many centuries ago. The whole route is about 800 Km long, and takes well over a month of walking, at the minimum. We had only 10 days for our trek, so we decided to start our walk at Astorga, which is about 270 Km from Santiago.

A couple of folks dropped out while we were making our plans, so it was finally N & me from Bangalore who met D on a chilly April afternoon at Madrid airport. The operative word here is chilly – any illusions I had about sunny Spain were quashed very soon. It was cold with frequent spells of rain almost all the way till the end, though we heard from the locals that it was pretty unusual weather for that time of the year.We even walked through snow for a day, something that I never expected. All our carbon footprint to blame, I guess.

Unforgettable experience overall. Gorgeous landscapes, charming little villages and towns that you pass by, friendly people everywhere. Oh, andall the amazing food and drink. The incredible thing about this walk is that you are not solely thinking about gettting to the next camp site by early afternoon before it gets dark, as is the case during treks in the Himalayas. A typical day would go something like this – you start out from your albergue (hostel-type dorm accomodation offering clean and very cheap stay options) around 8ish in the morning, have breakfast at a nice cafe along the way, stop for a beer later in the morning at a quaint little bar in the next village, walk some more, break for lunch somewhere else, walk again, chat with a fellow peregrino (pilgrim walker) you met a couple of days ago over coffee & croissants , walk some more.. reach the place you plan to stop for the day, check in to the albergue there, then head out for a leisurely evening with (lots of) wine, great food, and fun conversation at a local waterhole.. get the general picture?

But the real charm of the Camino is the diversity of the people you meet along the way. There is a real sense of camarderie among everyone who’s there walking. A simple ‘Hola” is all it takes to to start a conversation with a fellow walker – one which could get really deep and stretch into a hour before you realise that you don’t even know each other’s names as you’ve been walking together. The girl who was there as her way of dealing with cancer, the old lady who was walking as a gift to herself on her 80th birthday, the friendly Aussie couple and the Irish brother-sister duo who we kept running into over many days, the sweet French kid who had been walking for over two months and his punkish girlfriend, the woman from Madrid who was on her second Camino and became my pace-setter for a day .. the Camino becomes whatever you want it to be.

It also helped that I made the trip with 2 people who I know for some time and who are very, very good trekkers. No need to make random conversation, or not walking at your own pace because you are supposed to walk together, things like that. Also, me being me, I had gone without any preparation for the possible effects of walking an average of 25-30 km per day while carrying a 8-9kg backpack. I started getting  blisters, then the friction caused by my shoe against the back of my ankle made that spot very tender and painful with every step, my toe nail showed signs of coming off…..  any of these would have been a potential show stopper for me. D stepped in and gave me most of the stuff that she had meticulously got – anti-blister taping, pressure pads for the ankle, band-aids.. these were a real life-saver. N anticipated the issues that my toe-nail could cause and did a great job of taping it up, without which I definitely wouldn’t have made the last day 40km walk from Arzua to Santiago. Both of them are extremely efficient on everything in general, and much fun to be with.. its great to do these trips with them. Of course, the vice-versa is not true at all.. if I had to deal with a lazy, drifter type like me, it would be quite a bit of strain on the nerves.

So what did I think about, during all that time when i was just walking on my own? The thing is, I have never felt that time hangs heavy on any of the treks I have done, and this one was no different. Sometimes you are thinking about really serious stuff, intospecting and all that.. sometimes you lose yourself in the beauty that is unfolding all around you.. whistle, you laugh, you talk to yourself, reminisce..I can’t really explain it in words.

There is this quote that I really like:

“In the mountains there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery.”  Rob Parker, mountaineer.

Buen Camino!

Categories: Travel, Treks
  1. May 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    nice blog sats … like the idea of walking and drifting at the same time .. with just the journey to enjoy and the long term plan of reaching the destination someday/sometime … plus a beer a day totally does it for me

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