Mark and I started our” Camino” experience at Pamplona bus station by a star shaped fort they have there. A grandfather became our first guide directing us towards a tree with a yellow arrow. The way may also be marked by a shell icon.
If you are uncertain or have ventured off the official route someone magically pops up to show you the way. On one of our frequent diversions, three generations of women were waiting for us outside their home to point us in the direction of the next “aldea”. They chatted with us as they walked us over the hill and around the corner to make sure we didn’t get lost, wished us “Buen Camimo”, planted kisses on our cheeks and were gone.
The John Brierley guide book to the way of St James has become a bible for English speakers and many follow the suggested stages, making particular hostels more busy than others. Also known as “The Camino Francés” this popular pilgrim route starts at St Jean Pied a Port in the northern Pyrenees, but you can start your pilgrimage anywhere, from a train or bus station in Spain or France or from your own doorstep. We met a man who has been on “The Camino” for 12 years and it has become his home. He has walked it 27 times. The pilgrim trail measures just 780k from St Jean to Santiago so it could easily take 4 -5 weeks.
We spent only ten days and nights on the Camino because this holiday was a simple ” go see” trip for us. We plan to do the full Camino (Frances) next year and will be allowing forty days and forty nights, leaving plenty of time for excursions and rest days. You will remember that Claire and I chose this biblical sounding time frame for our DREAMING PLACE project and it kind of suits this pilgrimage, don’t you think?
Most pilgrims we met came on their own and have many different sorts of motivation and stories. I’ll be telling you about some of them in subsequent blogs. Pilgrims of the Camino generally travel on foot, carrying their own packs and sleep and eat in hostels. Some do the journey on bikes and we met a man from Germany cycling contra -flow, whose pilgrimage had begun in Portugal, he’d already reached Santiago de Compostela and was going on to Lourdes.
There are a total of around 200.000 pilgrims per year which seems a lot, some use different routes but in any case you only meet a small proportion of these people, so don’t let numbers put you off. Our main challenge was the very powerful sun that shone nearly the whole time, so we split our day in two parts, resting up in the shade for a giant siesta each day and walking on into the evening. We really enjoyed the company of strangers and spent part of each day walking and talking with others, we were particularly grateful to them because we chose to stay by the wayside in bivvy bags we missed out on the famed communal meals, which are also great for sharing and exchange.
Many pilgrims show their status by hanging an outsize cockle shell from their back pack. We carried snail shell talismans to inspire us in the art of SLOW TRAVEL.
Though I was not officially “on project” and this trip wasn’t conceived as an art work. Our experience of the Camino was deep and rewarding and had elements of DREAMING PLACE. We even carried the Red and Silver DREAMING PLACE mat that Claire brought with her from New Mexico for our Dreaming in Ireland. As the Camino passes through homelands inhabited by foxes, genet, wild cats, European Bison, brown bears and wolves, we further protected our camp spot with drops of lavender hoping to deter any beasties small enough to enter our sleeping bags. We never woke up with a bison in our bags so it really does work.
As in our off-grid experience in Ireland we came to remember once again the importance of food, water, shelter and to feel again the kindness of strangers.
We walked and talked with “perigrinos” from France, Catalonia, Korea, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Spain, Germany, Italy, America and Brazil in both the English and Spanish language. Our path took us through oak forests, barley fields, olive groves and industrial zones. We saw deer, quails, partridges, hops, barley and many wild flowers. We are in love with the Camino its flora, fauna, diversity and hospitality. So watch this space for anecdotes, stories, adventures and mabye even a song.