Travel: Walking the Camino, twice over!
The Camino del Norte, one of the 30-day walking routes to the Santiago Cathedral in Spain, can lead you to places within yourself. What made this young Indian boy walk the walk a second time?
Back in 2016, I had just left my job of 10 years and had been craving an unplanned, spontaneous and basic experience. I decided to walk the Camino Frances. The 30-day walking pilgrimage from France to the shrine of St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, had left me in a near-idyllic state of mind.
This time I wanted to walk a route that was more solitary and physically more challenging than the one I had previously experienced. The Camino Norte, which runs along the northern coast of Spain, is less frequented than the other pilgrimage routes. The mountains, the ocean and 700 km of walking were on offer. I felt ready.
A large part of the Camino experience is about connecting with complete strangers in a way that makes you chaddi buddies in a matter of hours. However, as my first day drew to an end 25km later in the small beach town of Pobena, I arrived there thirsty, exhausted and with zero chaddi buddies by my side. As I approached my hostel for the night, I saw some 30 other walkers waiting to secure a bed. Though I didn’t know anyone there by face or name or even a common language, I immediately felt a strange sense of relief to have found them, as though I was at a reunion.
The clothes I had washed the previous night hadn’t dried, and my hostel owner wanted me to be out by 9am. So I laid out my wet belongings to dry on a bench right in the middle of town, just as the locals walked to work. A few stares and a dog sniff later, I decided to embrace my situation, basking in the sun and greeting people as they went by. Two hours later, at noon, I departed from Santander. I only walked a measly 13km to a town called Boo de Pielagos. There I was joined by two girls from Utah and an Italian opera singer. We had dinner under the stars, and the Italian tenor regaled us with an unsolicited, but very welcome performance.
Over the next few days, I saw many new faces as all the different routes to Santiago – Camino Frances, Camino Norte, and Camino Primitivo – began to merge. I had spent days walking with just my thoughts, but equally I had found my equilibrium in connecting with the humanity of my fellow travellers. My purpose lay in being part of this community.