I remember walking into Santiago and thinking: I’ve done it. I’m here. I’ll never walk the Camino again.
Less than a week later, I’d changed my mind.
I remember the moment when I changed my mind. I was in a train heading down to Porto. I looked out the window and I saw a pilgrim on the Portuguese route. The train was up high, so I was looking down on her. She was on a small country lane and she had her guidebook out. She was lost.
I could see, from my higher vantage point, a yellow arrow pointing the way, but from where she was, she couldn’t see it.
I got a sudden pang of… what was it… longing. I wanted to be down on that country lane, wearing my backpack again, looking at a guidebook, trying to find that yellow arrow. It was at that moment I knew that I’d would walk the Camino again, and I’d walk through Portugal.
What is it about the Camino that draws people back?
For me, I have no desire to walk the Coast to Coast walk in Britain, nor the Appalachian Trail nor the Pacific Crest in the US, nor some of the glorious walks we have here in Australia. Long distance walking as such doesn’t interest me.
It’s the Camino that’s become my obsession.
Today I asked that question of Steve – a bloke from Texas I’ve “met” through this blog. We’ve become good friends. He’s just finished his Camino. The camaraderie, he said. The people you meet.
Yes, I’d have to agree. The people who are attracted to the Camino, who are called to the Camino, are mostly wonderful extraordinary people.
But then I thought more on this, and thought that surely anyone walking the Appalachian Trail would be extraordinary too. That’s over 2,000 miles, and you have to carry more on your back than if you walk the Camino – a tent and all your food, for starters. There’s no sleeping in albergues and having cafe con leches whenever you want them.
So it has to be more than the people you meet. There must be something else.
And the conclusion I came to is that it’s a pilgrimage.
Whilst I couldn’t imagine walking the Appalachian Trail, or the Coast to Coast, I could imagine myself one day walking the Italian Camino through to Rome, or perhaps even the route to Jerusalem. (Knee allowing!) I certainly want to walk the Portuguese Camino back to Santiago again.
I should remind you all that I’m not Catholic, and I’m not religious as such. But like so many others, I’m inexplicably drawn to this notion of walking a pilgrimage route.
There are pilgrims I know of who’ve walked the Camino six and eight times. Some have walked more. They never tire of the journey, and they see something new each time. They experience something new each time.
I understand there’s a very real danger of living in a Camino Cocoon – that it’s much easier to live in the “Camino” world than the “real” world. That it’s a place of escape from all those difficulties we all face in everyday life. A nice little bubble where everything is simple, and people are nice and friendly. (Most of the time!)
That’s not the reason I’d like to walk the Camino again.
I can’t get out of my mind that image, from on high, of that lost pilgrim somewhere in northern Portugal.
I want to get lost again.