This trip for me was a chance to take some time to reflect on the next stage of my life as well as take a rest and recharge before my next job. It has certainly done that, although I could carry on! On the camino I mulled over my priorities for life and aspirations. There were no big revelations but lots of smaller moments of awareness around things which are important to me. I was able to be me, without anyone else to refine or define me. Today I feel more certain of who I am, so now my challenge remains to be true to this once I am back in real life. My motto has become “I am who I am” Exodus 3:14.
Small moments from this trip will always stay with me. The sunrises; amazing people I met along the way; the feeling of sitting in a cafe all alone for a coffee or a beer, and feeling absolutely comfortable in my own skin; the peacefulness of mass and the beauty of the countryside in Spain. I have loved the way people of different nationalities, religions and age come together and genuinely enjoy each other’s company without the need for social props.
I think it will be very hard to really describe the essence of the Camino to people at home, but hopefully I have managed to convey some of it through this blog.
Below are some of my best moments from the Camino as well as my top 10 learnings from the Camino, and some images to try to reflect the essence.
Best walk – Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca – this was the highest peak of the Camino with La Cruz de Ferris, which was not the highlight, however, passing this and moving onto the next peak which is actually slightly higher, the scenery was breathtaking, incomparable, especially since I had no views over the Pyrenees, I had a picnic up on the mountains just taking in the views before finding Andy and Clive in a coffee bar for lunch.
Best hotel experience – Hostel el Molina de Florin – this hostel was totally quirky, it had a lovely sitting area downstairs, like a lounge, Eric, Andy and I enjoyed a bottle of wine before Senor Florian announces he was off for a drink with friends we could manage the hotel and gave us another bottle!
Best hotel – Monaterio San Zoilo, I had the most amazing suite, and the history and experience of staying in the Monastery was just incredible, we also had a great group dinner.
Best Town experience – Santo Domingo – I loved touring the town and visiting the cathedral (with the cockerel and hen), followed by mass and then a personal tour of the cathedral with my own personal translator Eric!
Best unexpected experience – the Monastery in Najera, I did not even know that it was there. I came across it exploring, but the tour and the experience was fantastic and the amount open and available to see was much more than all others, I loved it.
Best Cathedral – a tie – Burgos and León – both are amazing. Leon is known as the Jewel due to the stained glass which is incredible as Burgos is known as the Jewel Box ( thanks George) due to the size and detail, both are just stunning in different ways.
Best restaurant meal – A Rua – eating with Morag and Hugh at their hotel in A Rua in the middle of nowhere, the food and presentation was amazing. I had a stunning soup followed by huge langoustines and a salad.
Best spiritual day – Burgos to Hornillos – This was the start of the Meseta stage and after leaving Burgos before the Meseta started there was a small chapel where a Nun blessed each pilgrim and gave us a gift of a metal “mother” to look over us on our journey. There was also some graffiti art with scripture messages one of which included “I am who I am” which has really resonated with me.
Best finish – Muxia – for me without a doubt, my favourite of 3 finishes was Muxia. It felt natural, unspoilt, beautiful and raw. Finesterre was lovely too but a little touristy, and Santiago did not feel like the end although I love the atmosphere in town.
Best Pintxos/Tapas – Logrono – Calle del Laurel was a street of Pintxos bars one after the other each with their own specialty. Eric, Andy and I tested a good few over two nights. I think the consensus favourite was a bar which really just did pork kebabs, two styles, both cooked fresh on the bbq, both were amazing.
Best Funny moment – just too many (George!) – the one that sums up Spain and the Camino, was with Dawn in Sahagún, when Dawn pointed out that there was meat in her vegetarian vegetable stew, and she got the Spanish shrug with the comment, it is only a little pork for flavour, the Spanish really do not get vegetarians!!!
Best Sunrise – leaving Villar de Mazarife – George and I had ended up on the alternative route for the night, the sunrise was incredible, with reds, oranges and pinks, I was able to watch the whole process since the landscape was flat and I was out on my own. The whole sky ended up almost luminescent in pink.
10 things I learned on the Camino:
1. Pork, potatoes, bread and red wine are Spanish staples
2. Every Spanish town and village has a church
3. 9pm is the pilgrims midnight.
4. This is the most sociable walk you will ever do
5. I am not sure that waterproofs exist to keep anyone dry after 6 hours of torrential Spanish rain.
6. I have discovered that I love walking long distances
7. I can have a lovely 10 min conversation with a Spanish man who knows as much English as I know Spanish.
8. Food and drink are very cheap in rural Spain
9. A heartfelt wish of Buen Camino from a local as yet another stranger tramps through their village will always lift your spirits.
10. Well cushioned comfortable shoes are essential, happy feet, happy pilgrim!
I am ready, I think, to return home. I can’t wait for my own bed, for more than one night, a chance to cook and eat some vegetables, and to see and hug my family. I will however miss this beautiful country which I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience in such a unique way.