The aesthetics of movement – Camino Frances pt.I

          We abandon them daily in the wasteland of the past. Because even though I have told you that I am walking to remember, this isn’t completely true – we must embark also on journeys of forgetting.

– Paul Salopek, Out of Eden Walk 

The Camino de Santiago, or more precisely, the Camino Frances, is one of the World’s great long-distance routes, or one of it’s most overrated and overcrowded slogs, depending on who you ask. There’s truth to both opinions. The ancient pilgrimage path doesn’t need a great deal of introduction, Google and bad Hollywood has taken care of that.

The Camino is an entire network of pilgrimage routes, beginning in cities all over Europe and scrawling their way across the continent to the small Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, in the wild north-west of Spain. What most people are talking about when they mention the ‘Camino’ is the Camino Frances, the ‘Way from France’, an 800km stretch of the network that begins in the tiny village of St Jean Pied de Port, in French Basque Country, before crossing the Pyrenees and making it’s way through the northern provinces of Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León and Galicia.

It has become immensely popular in recently years, but oddly enough I’d never heard of the Camino Frances until a couple of weeks before setting out. During the Australian winter of 2012 I was in Europe for a few months and was keen to do one of the longer routes. I’d been eyeing off Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP), a much more challenging route that traverses the Pyrenees longways. However, I was also hoping to have an adventure with some friends I’d met on exchange the previous year, and in the end we decided the Pyrenees was probably beyond us (I eventually completed the HRP in 2013). One of the group was a Santiago native, so when she suggested the Camino we didn’t take much convincing.

I’ve read a lot of blogs and a lot of books and a lot of very excitable forums in an attempt to try and understand what the Camino is about, not to mention walking a bloody long way, and I’m still entirely stumped when people ask. For many it holds true to it’s traditions as a Catholic pilgrimage, for just as many it can be a summer adventure, a spiritual journey, a mental and/or physical challenge, a coming of age, another stop on the tourism train, or simply a pleasant stroll with good people through a remarkable country. There are the marathon runners and triathletes and then the folk who’ve spent their whole lives without feeling the beautiful ache of an exhausted body at rest. There are the solo walkers, the couples, lovers, friends, families, school groups and guided groups. There are the friends made and friends lost.

It is remarkable to think of the scope of influence that can come about from simply putting one foot in front of the other.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I read the first instalment of Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk in National Geographic. I was on a plane heading towards KL, and as I sat in a metal tube suspended 10km up in the air I read about the first steps of Salopek’s almost inconceivable 34,000km walk. In the very beginning he describes walking thus:

          ‘Walking is falling forward. Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle—an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go. For the next seven years I will plummet across the world.’

Through walking we become base, ingrained in the texture of place and landscape and the stories that, amongst all cultures, define us.

Perhaps, for me, the Camino was simply a story.

 

This is the first of what will probably be four or five collections from the Camino. At the end I’ll probably write a post about Galicia itself, a place I’ve been lucky enough to spend a while, on this trip and others.

St Jean Pied de Port, journey’s start

The foothills of the Pyrenees

Classic summer weather in Basque Country

Beech forest in the Pyrenees

Into Spain

Breakfast, Pamplona

Christina, Pamplona

Stained light, Iglesia de San Saturnino, Pamplona

Pilgrim, Pamplona

‘Just because you’re walking 800km doesn’t mean you need to look like a overpriced condom.’ Pilgrims style tips, Pamplona

Morning colour, Pamplona

The other side. Outskirts, Pamplona

Somewhere, Navarra

Steel pilgrims, Alto del Perdón

The rain in Spain does not fall on the plain.

St James Day, Puente la Reina

Bell tower, Puente le Reina

Early morning on the Rio Arga

Pilgrim’s cairns, Cirauqui

Local, Cirauqui

The ubiquitous vines, Cirauqui

The yellow way mark, Cirauqui

Trash, Cirauqui

Old olive grove, Navarra

St James, Estella

Down by the river, Estella

 

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8 thoughts on “The aesthetics of movement – Camino Frances pt.I

  1. Pingback: The aesthetics of movement – Camino Frances pt.II | people + other strange creatures

  2. Nice, I’m loving the beach forest, and the one before and after.
    “Early morning on the Rio Arga” was taken from stone bridge at Puente la Reina?
    (I spent way too long working that out, but mainly because I suspected the bridge in the distance was by Calatrava…)

  3. Fantastic words to go with some gorgeous images. Not so interested in the Camino in particular, but would love to do a walking tour through Spain one day.

    • Thanks Andrew!

      If you’re interested in a long walk in Spain but want to avoid the crowds of the Camino Frances, there’s a few other Camino routes that are much quieter. Starting in Seville and taking the Camino Via de la Plata sounds like a good option.

      Otherwise, Los Picos de Europa in Asturias sounds amazing, and the Pyrenees (especially the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici) are incredible 🙂

      • Thanks Nicholas, I had always thought there was only one ‘Camino’ route, but obviously not! I’ll keep it in mind.

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