In the first installation of my Camino Frances journey, I mentioned that I had chosen the route with some friends as a reunion of sorts. Teresa, Marieke and I had met about 18 months prior in Aberdeen, the sleepy Scottish university and oil town whose stout granite buildings perch themselves on the North Sea shore up above Edinburgh. Marieke’s partner, Nick, who I had also briefly met in Aberdeen, would also be coming along, and hopefully the four of us would make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
But I wasn’t meeting the others until Leon, and to get there I had three weeks or so or solo walking.
Browsing various Camino forums I’ve often read posts something along the lines of ‘Will I be OK walking the Camino solo?’ Well, having now done it, I think it’s fair to say the Liverpudlians have the right of it – ‘You’ll never walk alone…’. The real beauty of the Camino isn’t in the landscape, or the food, or the amazing things that 800km will do to your calves.
It’s in the people.
The first person I met was an English bloke. He wasn’t a walker and wasn’t particularly fit. I ran into him on the shuttle train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port. He was nervous as can be (as was I) and wasn’t really sure why he was there (neither was I) but we got chatting and would continue to run into each other over the next five weeks or so. There was the German family (inc. dog) who had started walking out their front door a few years early and did a couple of hundred kilometres each summer. Their 16yo walked with us for a while and decided that next year he was going to come back and finish off the last 600km by himself. There was the Muslim theology student who fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage. There was the old bloke in Logroño who had walked the Camino 17 times and gave my friend boots when hers fell apart.
And then there were the Bastard Children of England; Christina (Vancouver), Jordun (Oregon), Angie (Innsbruck) and myself, who met up on the second day and decided to form our own little puddle of New World pilgrims (of course, Austria isn’t New World, but we liked her anyway). It is an amazing place to be, on a new adventure with brand new strangers, with nothing but a communal sense of the unknown, a pack on your back and a bottle of cheap wine where you should be keeping a water bottle.
The start of the Camino was, for me, one of the most special bits of walking I’ve done. There’s something glorious about being at the start of a journey so long that the end becomes inconceivable and thus meaningless. You aren’t going anywhere, you’re simply moving from place to place, surrendering yourself to the rhythms and necessities of the body moving through space and embracing the beauty in that; the aesthetics of movement.