Reflections on the Camino (or, a love letter to walking)

by Kim on October 29, 2013 · 35 comments

After resting a day in Santiago I set out again to walk the remaining 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) to Finisterra, a tiny town on the Atlantic Ocean known as the “end of the earth.” I walked long days through biblical rains that flooded Northern Spain. I’ve never been so wet and cold for so long in my life.

I’m glad I walked those additional days to the coast. I met some great people and can now officially say that I’ve walked across an entire country. But, emotionally, my Camino ended in Santiago. I know I will always get goosebumps recalling how it felt to walk into the city in the pouring rain, the beautiful wail of the bagpipes drawing me towards the Cathedral.

I already miss my time as a peregrino. I’m so sad it’s over. My legs sit impatiently in front of me, itching to move. My heart and mind long for the time to think and wander. I miss the process of sitting on my cramped bunk bed every afternoon crafting a glimpse of my day to share on the blog.

Walking is so simple and so purposeful. Walking is so tangible.

I heard this quote by Walker Evans recently:

“Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

Walking makes me feel like I am on the road to knowing something about myself or human nature or Mother Nature or God. Walking makes me feel like I am learning something essential simply because I am paying attention. Walking forces you to pay attention.

It took me three days to walk to Finisterra. When I finally reached the ocean I didn’t go to the lighthouse where pilgrims traditionally congregate to burn a sacrificial article of clothing and watch the sun go down. Instead, I went to a bar and I got a glass of wine. I sat alone looking out over the Atlanic and I toasted myself and my flimsy, beautiful, colorful existence. And I massaged my feet and I ate chocolate and checked my email.

The following morning I left my wet shoes and my walking pole and my waterlogged guidebook propped against the windowsill in the albergue. I left behind the relics of my Camino life because they cannot fit in the backpack that I carry in my nomadic life. And then I caught the bus back to Santiago and I stared out the window and watched the world pass at 55 miles per hour. Life is not as rich at that speed.

Back in Santiago someone asked if I would do it again. Yes, I would and I think I will. I might keep the Camino as mine, something I walk alone every five or ten years to check in with myself. But who knows what the future holds?

Later, as I waited at the airport to catch my flight to meet Brian I received a message from my friend Rory, the wild-haired Englishman.  He said he’d decided to continue walking to Porto, Portugal. I understood his decision. It’s really hard to stop walking.

If this were a book I suppose it would end with some grand take-away message. But I don’t have one. The Camino was hard and it was beautiful and the people I met were amazing.

All I know for sure about the Camino is that I don’t know the impact of it yet. I know it was profound in its way but I can’t yet say what that way was. I know the Camino mattered. I know it was special. But I think it will be a long time before I can look back and explain exactly how.

I am now in tiny Trevelez, Spain in the Sierra Nevada National Park where Brian has been volunteering for the last few weeks. Tomorrow we will set out on a road trip of southern Spain. It is gorgeous here and warm and sunny and not raining.  

It is wonderful to be back with Brian and I am looking forward to all of the adventures we still have in front of us. But the Camino will always hold a very special place in my heart. And to think it all started with a surprise one-way ticket and a push to do something that scared the shit out of me.

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Now, on another note: I need your help! I am going to put together a small guide with some tips I’ve learned while hiking the Camino, FAQ’s, and an updated packing list. It will be available for about $2 here on the blog. Please help me by sending any questions you might have about walking the Camino and I will include your question in the FAQ portion of the guide. I will of course also respond directly to you and answer your question (s).

You can send your questions in 2 ways. 1) Email me at kim@so-many-places.com or 2) Leave your questions in the comments section below. Make sure when you are filling out the comment form that you include a valid email address so I can get back to you with answers.

Camino to Finisterra IMG_0500 IMG_0508 IMG_0506 IMG_0532 IMG_0560
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