On June 13 we arrived in Ponferrada and the next morning, after breakfast and touring the castle, we started walking. It was a short day – maybe 7 miles or so. We continued walking day after day until we arrived at our destination in Santiago on June 24. We walked 135 miles in 11 days.
These weren’t just any 135 miles. These were hilly, mountainous, rocky, sandy, gravely, muddy, manure-covered miles. These were hot, sun-drenching miles. These were tear-filled, laughter inducing, awe inspiring miles.
And, we could have traveled those 135 miles by bus in about 3 hours.
Instead we walked them for 11 days.
One’s perspective gets a little wonky when walking like this. Many of our paths were in wooded areas, but just as many were along highways or on winding roads. Even in the woods, we could often hear cars close by. If someone needed it, a taxi would only be a few minutes away and would arrive at our next destination a few minutes after that.
A few minutes. We were walking for hours and a taxi ride would get us there in a few minutes.
We walked around 12 miles every day. It felt like we were walking from one country to another. We were just walking from one town to the next. It would be like me walking from home to work — I’d be in the same city, the same culture, the same basic place but it would take be half a day to get there.
Since we were in an unfamiliar place, it really did feel like we were wandering vagabonds discovering new places each day. At one point we stopped for lunch and I commented on how every place has the same kinds of food. I wondered out loud if boccadillos (sandwiches with more bread than you can imagine) are common all over Spain or just in this area. It was then that it dawned on me/us that food types probably don’t change drastically within the amount of miles that we’re walking. See, it felt like we were in a completely new place, not just down the street from the last place we slept.
It’s a strange thing, this Camino. It’s a different world — one in which it’s normal to put on a 15 pound pack and walk from town to town. It’s normal to eat breakfast then eat breakfast again a few miles later then eat lunch when you come into the new town then eat dinner a few hours after that. It’s normal to go to sleep at 9 pm (or earlier) and it’s normal to wake up before the sun, grab your pre-packed bag and walk out the door while trying to be as quiet as possible. It’s normal to step off the side of the road to let cows pass. It’s normal to examine your feet daily and ask someone for a needle to pop a blister. It’s normal to wear the same two outfits over and over again and it’s normal to shell out a couple euros in order to have someone throw your dust and sweat covered clothes in the laundry machine for you.
We’re in Madrid now. It’s busy. Very few people are wearing large backpacks. People are shopping and watching street performances. There are no yellow arrows telling us which way to go next.
Yesterday we took at train to Madrid — we were traveling for about 6 hours. My legs were so restless. I couldn’t get comfortable. I wanted to move, to walk, to do something.
This morning I woke up and thought about going for a run for the first time since my race 3 weeks ago.
I feel myself returning, stepping away from the Camino life. But not the Camino spirit — I hope to never walk away from that.
Today I want to experience Madrid — we’re going to a flamenco show today. We’ll eat good food and walk and explore. We’ll soak in the last few hours of our time together as a Camino family. We’ll laugh and remember. And tomorrow, we’ll return. It seems like a lifetime ago that we gathered together in the airport, meeting each other for the first time. And now, we’re bonded for life. Another gift of the Camino.