The Camino Ingles was my first ever camino, and in fact my first ever long walk of any kind. I have no idea why I suddenly got this urge to walk, and walk far (though not necessarily fast) – it could have been the history nerd in me who merged with a need to be healthier, or just a need to do something doable, something I could manage without setting myself up for failure. I don’t know, but in 2007 I registered in the Camino Forum and I have been hooked ever since.
In 2009 I met my friend T at Liverpool Airport and flew to Santiago with her. We stayed in town that night, and the next day we got the bus out to Ferrol to start walking. Oddly it didn’t bother me that I saw the cathedral before I had walked a single pilgrim kilometer, I am normally the kind of person who likes to know that I have earned something before I can really enjoy it. Maybe the atheist Protestant in me was tempered by the Catholic city …?
I don’t remember much in the way of concrete places and events, maybe because we were both new to this and hadn’t seen each other for a while (we live in different countries) so we had lots to talk about, and lots of silence while we walked in perfect unison and contentment along the forest roads, along cliffs down to beaches and through little villages.
I do remember seeing the first shell on a wall in Ferrol! That was a great moment. I knew then that I was really on the right path in so many ways. There was a huge paella being cooked at the sea front but we still decided to get going, and it was quite the adventure.
I remember the lady who ran out of her house with two pilgrim shells on strings for us to hang on our packs, and she insisted they were a gift and would not have any money for them. That’s when I realised how important it is to be able to say thank you, even if you don’t have the words. I believe I am getting quite good at showing gratitude and appreciation now, even wordlessly.
I remember the family on their way home from shopping, who stopped the car on an uphill slope to offer us each a bottle of dewy-fresh, delicious Cola. The kids seemed excited to give something to a pilgrim, I believe so many on and near the Camino paths do their good deeds, whether religiously driven or not, by helping us, and I thank them for it.
I remember the little old lady in the pinney, picking pears from her garden right on the path, choosing and then polishing the best two to offer us for a mid morning snack. She spoke to us incessantly and we just smiled and nodded. I believe both parties were happy with the exchange.
I remember the bill for our breakfast on Day Three (pain day) which turned out to have been settled by an anonymous benefactor when we came to pay. Muchas gracias, senhor. I do the same at least once on every walk.
I remember the ladies in a bar/restaurant in Neda? who spoke not a word of English (and we spoke only useless or illegible Spanish) who explained every item on the menu by sign language, pointing at anatomical parts and making animal noises until the whole bar was shaking with laughter. In the end we let them choose and had an unforgettable meal. I believe that was the first time I had zorza and pimientos de Padrón! See what you can learn even without the lingo if you just try to communicate!
I remember – though I never met him – the only other pilgrim on the path with us: Helmut with the easily recognisable tread on his large shoes. We saw his signature in visitors’ books and his footprints on the path in front of us and wondered for hours who this mysterious Other Pilgrim could be. Buen Camino, Helmut, international man of mystery, who ever and where ever you are. May you be well and your boots always waterproof.
I remember the fiesta right outside our window in Pontedeume – 14 man brass band, thank you very much – which felt so apt after coming down to a beach from the forest path. We got very little sleep though. It taught me the importance of bringing ear plugs and also the fact that I am unable to sleep with them in, so if you ever need ear plugs, I will have some spare.
I remember coming into and falling in love with Betanzos, flags and banners hanging from every window and every balcony, deciding to forego the mattresses in the bombeiros station and instead splashing out on a room in a house that creaked and dripped with former grandeur and had hot water galore. I also remember walking around the weird and wonderful Parque del Pasatiempo! I was very grateful to my guidebook, I would never have found it on my own.
I remember the place in the middle of nowhere, with a concrete Chinese warrior on one side of the road and a plastic dinosaur on the other! We started to wonder if we had bought a bottle of vodka instead of water … You’ll know it when you see it.
And I remember coming into Santiago for the second time, my first on foot, and getting my stamp in the Pilgrim’s Office, suddenly surrounded by like-dressed, like-dusty and presumably like-minded people who had walked further, seen more, were even more zenned out, and instead of envying them I decided that yes, that will be me one day.
And then, three years later, it was.