A day in the life of a (modern!) Pilgrim:
Waking before dawn in a hard bed with prison blankets that you couldn’t appreciate more. Sliding your feet across the covers and flexing your toes, cracking the line of your spine and smiling because you are absolutely fine. Slipping into stiff, unwashed socks and crunchy boots and wiping the sleep from your eyes ready for another eventful day. Waterbottles filled, packs straps tightened and with just a few words you are on your way.
Planes shooting webs of gold silk in the cool morning air welcome you to the great outdoors. Watching the birds and the bees and the stalks and the trees in a country on the other side of the world. Wild vines and swirling wisteria shrouding two thousand year old rock walls pull you into another world altogether. Stone cracks sprouting yellow daisies and pink fur, dogs guarding their territory and yapping on rocky ledges, fading castles with stories to tell, ancient abandoned cottages becoming part of the green scenery. Fresh water trickles from the stone carved mouths of lions and tombstones echo history for miles.
Forgetting time and nothing in mind until you reach a small village boasting a friendly cafe. Three cafe con leches and patisserie delights; soft almond tart, sugar glazed apple empanadas, flaky crossoints and always piping hot bread and butter for dad. Continuing on our way in sun or shine following the yellow arrows that have been painted by nuns and enthusiastic pilgrims.
One foot in front of the other, the last few hours are tough. The sun beats down, tapping on your neck. The rain splashes against your hood and trickles down your back. When you have made it thirty odd ks you stop for the day, searching for an albergue where us pilgrims can stay. A stamp on your pilgrim passport and the unlocking of an old part of a church, you can rest your weary limbs for a donation or a few euro. Chatting with other adventurers from far reach places, you are reminded that human kind is an incredible race. Relishing the feeling of unlacing your boots and peeling off your socks then raising hot feet above your heart to feel the blood rush out. Showering away the hardship of the day (with extremely limited toiletries) and emerging fresh and ready to explore your new hometown for the night. Bar hopping (or hobbling) to find the sweetest place for wine and tapas. Smoky green olives, crusty bread with salty pink Galician octopus, smooth oil and balsamic, fresh mussels soaked in lemon, seafood paella and portugese tarts oozing with custard and love. Drunk on physical exertion, local wine and the red sunset burning the sky with the silhouettes of church steeples and a horizon of eucalypts, you find your new bed for the night and pass right out.
Almost three years ago I walked the camino Frances for three weeks just after my grandfather passed away. It was enlightening and exhausting and brilliantly inspiring. This time around, Mum and dad and I have walked the portugese camino de Santiago on roads less travelled, albergues often to ourselves. I am writing this on the last day- twenty kilometres from the almighty Santiago. There are eight official ways to Santiago and countless other alternatives where you can see pilgrims trudging on foot, some with dogs or carts or children, some cycling. Everyone is on a mission to Saint James in the field of stars (Santiago de Compostela) where the apostle James was painstaking carried to be buried. Not many of the people I have met along the way are religious, but seeking a kind of spiritual adventure. You can make it as slow or fast and cheap or expensive as you want. Last time i spent 250 euros in three weeks, living off bread and cheese and exclusively staying in cheap pilgrim specific accommodation. I walked some 550km across Inland spain, and met others who had walked from Warsaw or Turin or barefoot from France. One friend is about to start his camino from Vienna. This time I have been kindly funded by mum and dad, which means I have eaten and slept ridiculously well. After nine days of walking we don’t have a single blister or problem between us. A lot of wine has been consumed and stories told. I don’t want it to end. Don’t hesitate to try out the pilgrim life someday!