One year ago, at this time, I was enjoying my adventure on the Camino del Norte. It had been one of my dreams for many years, however I had no idea what was in store for me and what it felt like to walk about 6-8 hours a day along the coast of Northern Spain.
Looking back after having processed the trip in the last 12 months, here are some of my personal highlights and lessons learned.
- Architecture-wise, the coolest place was the guided tour of the El Capricho designed by Gaudi, so many insanely creative ideas built into one house!
- The favorite albergue where I stayed was La Ferrería in Alimandi. I remember the warm welcome from the host Sergio serving us local cider and picking fresh japanese plums in the garden. Great chats with the other peregrinos over a delicious vegetarian dinner, while rainshowers came and went outside.
- The most improbable place I visited was the sand cemetery near Bayonne, where the tombstones are made from sand and decorated with beautiful scallop shells. Since the elements erode the sand, the tombstones need to be made again every year.
- The awesome people from all over the world who I met and travelled with on the Camino made the experience unique. I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with Tom and Cindy, Kim, Sara (and her courageous dog Freccia), Anna, Isolde, Justine and Mike, Maricruz, Carlos and Irene. It’s funny how quickly conversations with near-strangers become deep and personal when you walk kilometer after kilometer together and share a ‘menu del día’ after many hours on the road. Also the joy of meeting pilgrim friends again by chance after our paths seperated was wonderful.
- Take more time off that seems necessary. I regret having shaved a few weeks off from the 2 months I had initially asked to have off work. In the end the difference between 6 weeks and 8 weeks off is minimal when you are at the office, but 2 weeks extra would have been wonderful on the Camino.
- People always want to give advice and tell you how you should walk the Camino, but in the end it’s your Camino. You will see people doing it differently and making other choices. They may walk more or less kilometers per day, stay in cheaper or more expensive accommodation, carry heavier or lighter backpacks, get up earlier or later, spend more or less money, taking leisurely breaks to drink wine at lunch time or rush to arrive first in the albergue… Comparison is the thief of joy, in the end you have to do it your way if you want to really enjoy it. It’s your Camino.
- I loved the power of the Camino to make everybody equal. It is humbling to see that when we walk several hours a day we are all the same. No matter what our age, nationality, sex, strength, equipment or how healthy we are, everyone is doing the same thing, putting one step in front of the other and doing their best. There’s an amazing common feeling of empowerment linked to the simple act of being able to walk great distances.