A few weeks ago, I spent my first few days in an albergue on the camino de santiago. They seem to be much the same as hostels except the prices are cheaper, and are busier at this time of year. The people party less, and go to bed and get up earlier.
I met some really nice people and had the opportunity to ask why they were walking the camino. There are a number of reasons people walk the camino. Some people tell you without hesitation why they are there, and some require a bit of talking before they open up. There are people who lost their jobs, people who quit their jobs, people who lost loved ones, people who have beaten cancer/disease, and people giving thanks to their God for getting them, or loved ones, through hard times. There are even people like me that are just wandering. But, there are very few that happened to stumble onto the camino. Most of them come for the camino.
Most everyone has a very specific goal of reaching Santiago. Many suffer from injury at some point along the 800 km long Camino de Santiago Frances route, but all seem determined to make it to Santiago. Fortunately for them the camino is nothing like any of the long trails in the U.S. This is not hiking in wilderness where self-sufficiency is important. This is Europe. Everything is a little more comfortable. The route is a mix of road and path. If you get injured but want to continue walking, you can have your pack shuttled to the next albergue you plan to stay in. Or, you can hop on a bus and ride to Santiago. To top it off, every night you will find a shower and bed to sleep in. There are many options to make the trip a little easier.
None of this is meant to take away from the journey that each person is on. Even starting an 800 km walk through mountains, hills, plains, wind, heat, cold and rain is impressive; but I don’t think the camino is for me.
I spent a rainy day with a 60+ year old Irishman. He has led a very interesting life and has a personality fitting the stereotypical loud, happy irishman. He’s here on a “thanksgiving” trip. He told me the story of his daughters troubles and his trials to help her get back on track. At the lowest point, he turned to God and asked for help. He attributes his daughter’s turn around to those prayers, and is cycling the camino as a “thank you”. There’s much more to the story, but it’s his story to tell. It’s quite a moving story, and I hope everything continues on the better path for his family.
When discussing my plans for the next few weeks he said it would be a mistake to leave the camino. He feels that meeting the people on the camino and learning their stories is better than any of the alternatives. (Venturing into the Asturias, climbing mountains, traveling the camino del norte in reverse along the coast, etc.) I understand why he feels that way, but I’m not on “the camino”. I don’t fit the general crowd on the camino. I haven’t lost anything. I gave up everything I had.
While the people I met are wonderful and giving people, and everyone “seems” happy, there’s an underlying sense of sadness and loss on the camino. Almost everyone I talked to eventually had a sad story which led them to walking the camino. The camino can offer many stories, but they don’t feel like they’re part of my story.
I will probably stay at more albergues over the next few weeks as my path crosses the camino. They are cheap, and the first one I stayed at had a full (really nice) bike shop in the basement. I took advantage of that and tore my bike apart for the first full service in 1200 miles. However, I have no intention of staying on “the camino”. It’s impossible to avoid it since there are so many different camino paths, but I’m going to continue doing my own thing.
As such, I ventured into the Asturias last week where I have been relaxing and riding the major climbs of the valley (Lena) I called home for the week. It was wonderful. Small villages, relaxing days of either resting, walking, seeing the bigger cities (Gijon, Oviedo, Mieres), and of course riding up some really hard climbs (l’Angliru, Gamoniteiru, Cordal, Cubilla, etc.). By staying for a week, I could climb a pass or two in the morning and then relax and enjoy the afternoon. I definitely don’t regret my choice to leave the camino Frances. Of course by doing so I was actually taking one of the other caminos…
Anyway, I’m on the move again. I rode to Cangas de Onis today. I originally planned to ride up yet another famous Spanish climb to the lagos de Covadonga, but I think I’ll skip it and continue on towards Bilbao tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll leave the mountains for a day and ride along the coastal hills. The rest of the trip to Bilbao will take 3 more days of riding (100, 80, & 65 km), so I should be there by the weekend if the weather holds out and I don’t decide to stop somewhere.
I did every pass/climb on this sheet while in the area as well as l’Angliru and Cordal from the back side.
My time in continental Europe is getting short as that June 10th flight to Scotland approaches. There are still a few things I definitely want to do. I want to visit Logrono (best tapas spots in Spain supposedly, and home of Rioja wine), Pamplona, and I want to at least make it over the Pyrenees. My original plan had me well into France by now. I’m not disappointed that I didn’t stick to “the plan”, but I would at least like to say that I completed what I wanted to on the Iberian Peninsula. France will have to wait for another time. Again…
Oviedo is a great city. Beautiful, young, active… a great vibe.
One more because I love mountains!
7 thoughts on “People and stories”
Interesting and thought provoking. I know a lade who did the camino 2 or 3 times in her 50s and 60s. Hard work but she found it spiritually strengthening. Love you.
That’s good, if that’s what you’re looking for. I hope everyone that is walking it gets what they are looking for, spiritually or otherwise. But, and this may be cliche to say, I feel like many of them were too focused on the destination. I did meet a lady from New Zealand who isn’t religious in the least, typical, and had a wonderful outlook on the camino and life. Interestingly, after her children were grown, she asked the same question I did. “What am I doing this for?” She quit, sold everything, and is traveling for a year or more.
Finally got a chance to read your latest blog entry while vacationing here in Provence. Tomorrow I’ll tackle the Ventoux–without a trailer to pull me down. so gad to see that you went up the Angliru. Age and all those health issues over the past year or two are making me slower than in the days of yesteryore, like when Judy and I rode from Santiago de Compostela south, on the tandem. Good life, eh? Would have been nice to meet up for a night or two here in Lagnes, but remember that Sabine will be in the Munich area when you come through–unless I lead her astray on some other fun trip.
Andrew, This is Roger Harrington. I really enjoy the posts. Have fun!!
Thanks for reading them, Roger. I appreciate you saying you enjoy them.
Enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading more of your observations.
Thanks. I start a lot of posts thinking I’ll finish them in the next stop. Then a week or so later I’m reading and trying to finish something that I’m not really into anymore.