To repeat or not to repeat?

I am going back again this September. All booked and planned – well, as planned as I like my two week top-up caminos to be: flights and buses so I know when I get there, then the first and last nights’ accommodation to make sure I will get on the flights and buses. I have also made an itinerary, and yes you may laugh, because it never quite turns out like that anyway.

The first time I repeated the Astorga-Santiago leg I was supposed to walk with my now husband, who has never been on a long walk before, but he couldn’t get the time off work. After a lot of toing and froing I decided to go on my own anyway, because once the seed was planted I couldn’t imagine not going there, being there, being part of it again.

As it happened, I walked on my own until Santa Catalina, met a Norwegian couple, walked with him until the Cowboy bar, then with her up to Rabanal, where I got a top bunk in a double. And the person I was to sleep next to – effectively sharing a bed with – was L. She was alone, had too much stuff and struggled, she was on the verge of leaving the Camino. We took her out to dinner, shared a bottle of wine with her and fixed her feet, and the next day L and I started out from Rabanal together. We stayed together, walked together, shared rooms, stayed in albergues, ate and drank and talked and laughed together all the way into Praza do Obradoiro. So my solo Camino became a together-Camino anyway.

Before I went, I had pondered whether to repeat or consciously not repeat any of my previous experiences – to stay in the same albergues or not, the same villages or not, eat in the same places or not. Since it turns out I didn’t walk alone, I didn’t have to make those decisions on my own, and every time we planned to get to somewhere I liked or do something specific, it didn’t happen. We thought about booking accommodation after Sarria, but never got around to it and never ended up where we had planned to book.

I did get to stop and have lunch in Aireixe, where in 2012 a group of us stayed and celebrated R’s 25th birthday, while M was still alive. It was important to me to stop there and think back and have a drink to a great peregrina who was no longer with us, and L let me cry and tell the story and kept topping up my glass. Good girl, that L.

So no, I didn’t really repeat much at all. I stayed in Sarria, Portomarin, Salceda, but in different accommodation. L is vegetarian, so I even ate differently. We made our own little rules: First stop of the day – coffee. Second stop – bubbly water. 10 km – Clara. Vino only with food. My solo Camino became our Camino, mine and hers, and it was totally different.

In March my now husband and I walked the same stretch, and again it was totally different. For one we went before Easter, so we had the path and the mountains practically to ourselves, which was wonderful. We really only got to know two other pilgrims, our Spanish gentleman walker J of 70 and G, an Australian woman who wanted to walk alone but was happy to meet for a meal in the evening. We stayed in private accommodation – it was our honeymoon after all – and it really felt like we were on a solitary walk and not the most popular and populated Camino. He wanted to walk the mountain (Pradela) route out of Villafranca, which I have never done before, and that will forever be a memory of something we did for the first time together.

Now I am going back to do it again – third time on my own, fourth time in all. The itinerary practically writes itself at this point, because I know how far I am willing and able to go in a day, I know which days are harder and which can be stretched. I am still looking for other ways of laying the pieces of the puzzle though, to see if there is another pattern in there. I have a few ideas. Who knows if they will happen. The path is what it is, the real opportunity for change lies with me and what I choose to do with it. Maybe I will stay only in albergues. Maybe I will choose only top bunks. Maybe I will avoid all the Brierley end stages. Maybe I will eat only the Menu del Dia, maybe I will seek out the albergues with communal meals.

All I know for now is that I am going. The rest is yet to be discovered.

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