Monday, March 03, 2014

Camino 2013: Epilogue

I ended my Camino posts back in 2011 with a review of the numbers.  I'm going to do that again but there are fewer numbers this time.  Not carrying a real GPS limits my data collection fetish ability.  Here we go:
  • Total distance was 991 kilometers (615.78 miles) walked in 42 days.  This does not include any miles walked in the cities and towns.
  • My average daily walking distance was 23.59 kilometers (14.66 miles).  This is slightly more than what I did in 2011.
  • The longest stage was 33 kilometers (20.51 miles) from Negreira to Olveiroa.
  • The shortest stage was 8.7 kilometers (14 miles) from Borce to Canfranc Estación.  This was a short stage since we bypassed a portion of the Arles Way due to landslides.
  • I have no real elevation data for the trip but it was generally the same as the Frances.
  • I stopped in 29 places that I hadn't stopped at last time including San Bol, La Faba, and Samos.
  • The food this time was awesome.  Last time I could count the good meals on one hand.  This time I could count the bad meals on one hand.  A complete reversal.  I credit the smaller towns and albergues for this.
  • We took a one day break along the Camino in León.
  • We took the bus or alternate transportation twice.  Once to skip the landslide area after Borce and once from Jaca to the San Juan de la Peña Monastery.
  • I ate four tubes of Principes and one tube of double stuff Principes - a significant drop from last time.
  • I ate an ice cream nearly everyday starting in Borce.  There were a few days where none was available but I still think I easily ate 42 ice cream servings this Camino.
  • I bought two rosaries and an earring/bracelet/necklace set for the Wife.  I bought a small statuette of a Santiago Pilgrim for myself.  I bought fifteen magnets to commemorate my trip.
My 2013 Camino route.
[Click on map for a larger version.]
The Camino had changed a lot since my first time.  It felt more crowded.  Parts of the Frances felt like a race to get to beds ... though Gv and I always got to our destinations earlier than the crowds.  Staying in smaller towns and smaller albergues often countered this racing feeling as most of the crowd went to the larger, Brierley stops.  Last time you could always see pilgrims in front or behind you as you walked but they were always at a distance.  This time around they were closer.  I guess you could say the pilgrim density or pilgrims per mile was higher.  The number of pilgrims doing the Camino has been increasing but the number has jumped since the movie "The Way" came out in late 2011.  I think the movie brought a lot more English speaking people to the Camino this time - mostly Canadian, Aussie, Kiwi, and American.  In 2011, when I walked my first time, 183,504 pilgrims received Compostela certificates of completion.  In 2013 the number increased to 215,929.  There was a rumor going around on the Camino ... I helped pass it along ... that Oprah Winfrey was thinking about walking the Camino.  If this is real, the Camino, as a pilgrimage of solitary contemplation and introspection, will come to an end.

The increasing numbers are also changing the attitudes of people.  There seemed to be more people unhappy with what they were doing.  Their attitude was one of "I can't wait til this is over."  I never thought this my first time.  I had tough days, no doubt, but I never wanted it to 'just be over'.  In 2011 when I met someone doing the Camino for a second ... or third ... time I always asked them what they could tell me to help with my Camino.  I looked at them with respect and a little reverence.  This time around I was the Pilgrim doing it for a second time.  When people found out they would look at me like I was nuts and ask with an incredulous tone "Why?!?"  As Nr said (she was a second time pilgrim as well) she felt she was often defending her decision to walk a second time.  This was a reflection of the attitudes of many pilgrims - they were not having a good time and couldn't understand why you would do it again.  I think a lot of people, especially the English speakers who had seen "The Way", had underestimated the difficulty of the Camino.  I think they thought it looked fun, easy, and thought it would be a cheap vacation - a walk in the park.  Combine the unexpected difficulty and the uncooperative weather and I think I know the source of the general bad attitudes I encountered this time on the Camino.

With the increasing number you would think there would be a lot of Camino Families forming but that isn't what I experienced.  Most groups walking together were groups of two to four people.  In 2011 my group was over a dozen strong at its peak.  We didn't walk together but we often coordinated where we would end the day.  This time around it seemed that people were walking at such disparate rates and distances that groups would merge and then separate continuously along the Camino making it hard for larger groups to form.  I lost track of all the time I would meet someone and then not see them at all for a week at a time before we came together once again.  Was my 2011 Camino Family an aberration or has the dynamic changed on the Camino?  Hard to say.

My attitude towards the Camino changed as well and it was to be expected.  It felt very "been there done that".  I really enjoyed the new parts along the Aragones and the alternate routes we took along the Frances.  The crowds took away somewhat from the experience adding a little bit of stress.  The attitudes of the pilgrims was draining and a bit demoralizing at times.  The weather - be it rain or dreary overcast - really affected my mood.  Most of all the fear of the unknown that was there last time ... the fear that turned my pilgrimage into an adventure ... was not there.  Despite stopping in different places, staying in different albergues, and meeting new people, the sense of adventure was greatly diminished.

Despite all of this, I still enjoyed my Camino.  Once I overcame the blister issues and my surprising lack of stamina early on, the Camino was quite enjoyable.  Walking with Gv meant I was never lonely - something that wore on me last time after I got separated from my Camino Family.  I saw new things and met new people.  While there were a lot of people who seemed not to 'get it' I met several who did.  These people were the ones I would say hi to when I saw them and who would share stories.  They were the ones who really appreciated what they were doing.  They were the ones who made my Camino worth while.

I was proud to complete the Camino without skipping ahead on a bus like last time.  This changed how I felt at the end of my Camino.  When I returned from the Camino last time I felt like I'd taken a test and had come up incomplete.  This time the feeling was quite different.  When I sat on the rocky cape overlooking the Atlantic ocean and watched the sun set over the waters I felt a wave of completion.  This was what I missed the last time.  It took a second Camino to walk the whole thing and to enjoy the sunset and the end in Fisterra.

My Camino experience lasted a little it past Fisterra.  There was the issue of the shells.  As I've mentioned before, I lost or destroyed three shells along the Camino.  The last one I'd left by accident at Hotel Larry in Cee.  On my last day in Spain I'd sent an email to the hotel asking if they'd found it.  A few days after I got home I got a reply.  I am happy to say that the necklace, with the shell from J-M and the yellow Bhutanese cord with its traveler's blessing, is now hanging from my desk lamp in my den.

One last thing.  When I left for France to start this Camino I knew this would be my last Camino.  When I saw the sun setting in Fisterra, I was absolutely sure that it would be the last time.  Then I sat in the bar listening to Nr talk about the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo.  The absoluteness began to waver a bit.  In hindsight Gv and I should have followed Nr to the Camino del Norte.  It would have changed our whole experience to the better I think.  And now I have a tiny hankering to do the Camino del Norte or the Primitivo.  It won't be any time soon though.  RAGBRAI and the Appalachian Trail will come first.  After that, after 2017, who knows.  I may return to the Camino.

You may leave the Camino but the Camino never leaves you ...

2 comments:

  1. Glad you got to sample a few of my favorite places! San Bol, La Faba and Samos all have very special memories for me. Reading this post is reinforcing my choice of either Del Norte or Primitivo this time. Of course RagBrai is always calling me too...! And absolutely need to know when you do the Appalachian Trail..too close to my home to not meet you for dinner or some such!

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    Replies
    1. KSam: I think either the Del Norte or the Primitivo are better choices than the Frances.

      I will be doing RAGBRAI in 2015. I'm not as much of a bike rider as you but it sounds like a great challenge and a fun time.

      The AT is on my schedule for 2017. I will keep you posted and I will take you up on the offer for dinner.

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