A typical day on the Camino

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve been walking the Camino for about three weeks, and blogging is a bigger challenge than I thought it would be. It’s not because I don’t have enough to say – because I have so much to say that I don’t even know where to begin. The experience is so big that it defies explanation. But part of it is very easily explained – like the movie Groundhog Day, I basically re-live the same day, over and over again. So, I can explain one day. Maybe my explanation of one day can come to explain something more.

At about 5 AM, I wake up a little bit, hearing the first pilgrims getting ready to depart. I usually stay in albergues – pilgrims hostels, where you pay 5-12 euros for a spot in a bunk bed in a room of 4-30 (but sometimes as many as 100) other pilgrims. To beat the heat and the crowds, some people get up and depart before sunrise. Some of the later rising pilgrims complain about these early birds waking them up in the morning, but I am always glad when I hear other people up. I don’t want to be the first up, the one to wake everyone else up, but I also prefer to get an early start on the day. After the first round of people get packed up and ready, I get up, get dressed, and try to carry my belongings quietly out to pack in the hallway. This usually involves me dropping something and making a ton of noise. Oops. I stuff everything in my bag, have a yogurt and an instant coffee, try to blister-proof my feet (think lots of vaseline), and head out.

I love walking in the early morning, just as the sun is rising. The world is so calm and peaceful that time of day. Spain isn’t exactly an early-rising culture, but I sometimes see middle aged women in track suits or old men with canes on their morning walks. Mostly, I listen to the birds singing and witness the light changing as the dawn melts away and the day begins. The first few hours of walking are always a breeze, and I often didn’t remember then very well when I finish at the end of the day. What did I see? What did I think about? It takes a little effort to remember.

At about 9 AM, I stop for a coffee and second breakfast, if I’m hungry or just feeling like a hobbit. I’ve been eating a LOT of Spanish tortilla, but it’s not getting old at all. I don’t linger too long, because I want to get back on the road and keep moving. Sometimes I walk with other people, and they are always very interesting. Most people are from western Europe, but there are also lots of Americans, Australians, Canadians, and a smattering of Koreans and Japanese. Between French, Spanish, and English, I can talk to almost everyone. But sometimes I walk alone, too, just me and my thoughts. I have lots to think about. I think about my family and friends and wonder what they are doing. I think about moving to DC and what my life will look like next year. I think about all of the incredible experiences I have had and how they have made me who I am. I think about things I haven’t thought about in years, like the imaginary house my childhood best friend and I had in her backyard, who I went to each of my high school dances with and how they asked me, and my class schedule junior year of college. I wonder about stupid things like why British people tell their weight in “stone” (why isn’t it plural?) and what, exactly, was the plot of Super Mario Brothers (they were plumbers?). The thinking feels therapeutic, like I am spring cleaning my memory.

I walk through every imaginable landscape – mountains, farms, forests, and urban sprawl. I walk along rivers and along highways. I pass through towns or villages every few miles, and often stop to say a prayer in the village church or to take a picture of the town hall. If I am low on water, I look for the village pump. I pick wildflowers and put them in my hair. I take pictures that would be amazing on instagram, but I forget to post them.

At around noon, I stop for lunch. Often I see people I know, and sit with them. If I can, I get an “ensalada mixta,” because I am not very hungry while walking, but sometimes I get a sandwich. I take my boots off, stretch my feet, and give them a little massage. When I am done eating, I don’t feel like getting up and moving anymore. I wish I could just stay in this town because I’m tired and hot. But I look at the guide on my phone and see that stopping now will mean I have to walk way too far the next day, and I need to do 3-8 more miles before stopping. So I squeeze my feet back in my boots, strap on my backpack, and head out.

And I walk more. I get back into the rhythm after a bit, but I mostly just wish I were finished. I try to find someone to walk and chat with because I am so tired of walking and thinking. If I am alone, I put in my headphones and listen to podcasts and audiobooks. No matter how far I have gone, 12 miles or 20 miles, the last couple hours are hard. The town where I am stopping looks so far in the distance, and once I reach it, the albergue seems to be on the opposite side of town.

But I finally reach the albergue, right when I think I can’t possibly walk another step. I feel terrible. I check in, take off my boots, and lay on my bed with my legs up the wall. I eat chocolate, drink water, and look at my guide to recap all the places I’ve been and to check out all the places I’ll go tomorrow. If there is wi-fi or cell service, I scroll through my facebook feed. After a little rest (and a little sugar), I feel strong enough to take a shower and do laundry. Everyday, I wash the shirt, socks, and underwear I was wearing, and put on the ones I had washed the day before. If I feel energetic or if it was muddy that day, I wash my pants, too. While my laundry is soaking, I stretch. If there is a nice lawn or patio, I might do a little yoga. Then, I write in my journal about all the places I walked, the people I met, and the things I saw. I calculate how long I walked and think to myself that I must have actually walked longer than that.

But by this point, I no longer feel terrible. I feel good enough to go walk around town and see where I am staying. Sometimes it is a tiny town that would be dead if pilgrims were not passing through. Sometimes it is a small city with lots of things to go visit. Sometimes it is a charming picturesque village crawling with tourists. I often run into people I have met along the way. It’s as if you have gone on vacation and learn that everyone you know has also decided to go to the same place. Sometimes with friends, and sometimes alone, I find a restaurant and have the “menu del peregrino” (plgrim’s menu), which consists of a starter (I usually get salad), main course (usually some kind of grilled meat and French fries), desert, and unlimited wine and bread. I drink more wine than I should because, well, unlimited wine. I head back to the albergue, which locks at 10 PM. I lay everything out for the next morning, get ready for bed, and crawl into my sleeping bag. I read a little with my headlamp, then try to sleep. Usually I am exhausted and sleep like a baby, but sometimes people snore and keep me awake. Either way, I get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I’m not totally sure why I’m doing all this, over and over, day after day. I don’t yet know what it means, so it’s hard to explain it. I think something will come of it, there is something to learn, even if it is just to appreciate each day as it comes.

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