After walking the Camino, solo in 2018 and with my partner in 2019, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my Camino Wanders. So much so that I’m writing a novel.
My novel is not a memoir, but a fiction novel, loosely based on my own Camino Wanders.
I decided to write my novel this way for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are already so many great memoirs out there. Secondly because my two wanders were so different from each other. A memoir would need to include both wanders and that would mean my memoir would be the size of a George R.R. Martin chunker. When it all came down to it, I wanted to write about my own experiences, but with a different twist.
I also remembered so many pilgrims talking about the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, a screenplay written by his son, Emilio Estevez. Then, I thought about Graeme Simsion’s book, “Two Steps Forward“, cowritten with his wife Anne Buist. Both of these stories were fiction.
To me, writing a fiction is more freeing and it’s a better way to bring out the story and the characters. Certainly better than a daily journal of “I walked here. I ate this. I felt pain here…”. Those stories have been written and besides, I posted that stuff on my Facebook page while I was walking!
BUT, to get to the novel stage, before I could even start writing, I had to think about what I loved about the Camino, what I didn’t like so much, the things I will never forget and what I would do differently.
Those are thoughts I will be leveraging in my novel, but they should also be written about here. So, here goes…
4 Things I Loved About the Camino
- The friends I met who then became my Camino Family.
They made me laugh. They made the kilometres go by without notice. They made me enjoy what I was seeing, hearing, and smelling. Somedays they even helped me keep going, even when I wasn’t walking with them.
- Being back to basics.
Food, shelter, water, sleep. You did not have to really worry about anything else but the basics.
- The scenery.
Spring in Spain is magnificent. I chose this time of year both times, because I wanted to enjoy the wildflowers and they did not disappoint. It was breathtaking every day.
- How far I walked.
It often surprised me just how far I’d walked in one day and much the scenery changed over and over.
- The support I received.
Learning of the support I had online and at home. It was life changing for me. And believe me when I say, getting those supportive messages helped me walk 800km across Spain!
4 Things I Didn’t Like So Much
- Past Sarria, the vibe changed.
The pilgrim community I had felt prior was not there. It was grunts, headphones and bed runs. It saddened me that people seemed to be missing the point of the Camino. The Camino had become more of a tourist attraction. For me, it was more than a bucket list item to be checked off, or something to put on the CV. (Yes, people actually do include it. Apparently it’s a ‘corp’ for millennials in Europe to say on their resumé that they’ve walked the Camino.)
- Having to send my pack onwards because of my back injury.
I had wanted to carry my pack the entire way. Having to send it on, I lost some flexibility with where to stay, sometimes pushing myself further than what was comfortable because my backpack had been forwarded. I also learned I had too much stuff but learned in the end what I really needed.
- The Cliques.
By two thirds along the Camino, people had their Camino families sorted, but mine had moved on because of my slow pace. I often felt I was intruding on cliques by walking with them, or that they weren’t open to include more into their tribe. I pushed my way in when I needed company though, I have to admit. On my second wander, I found it weird, even walking as a couple, that people still weren’t open to walking with us much of the time, and believe me when I say, we were very open to including people. I think that was because of my first Camino experience.
- Lack of variety with Pilgrim meals.
Pork or Chicken. I often looked for other options. Cities were great for getting a tapas fix, for example. I also figured out that going vegetarian was a good idea because you sometimes got salads as an option or grilled vegetables instead of dried out pork.
4 Things I Learned About Myself
- My Perseverance.
When there is a goal to be accomplished, I kick ass. Slow and Steady wins every time. No matter the obstacles, keep the goals small and manageable to reach the end goal. I mean, shit – I walked 800k, across Spain! Twice in two years! Boom!
- Laughter is the key.
It’s the key to making the time go faster and to enjoy the journey. Even with bad Dad Jokes. Two of my Camino Angels, Jerry and Sharon told me their goal each day is to make each other laugh. I love that.
- I discovered that I am interesting and funny.
I just need to relax and open up. Not everyone may appreciate my sense of humour but that’s not important. Their loss. I appreciate my sense of humour and the joy it brings to my life.
- I need private time, and I need down time, which are two very different things.
Both are essential to accomplish what I need to do. This goes for all parts of my life, but for the Camino, I could not have finished the entire journey if I stayed only in dorms. By staying in private rooms with private bathrooms every three or four days, I could select, rest and sleep. I mean there are snorers in the Albergue that are seriously going for the Olympic Gold.
What Would I Do Differently
- Send my pack forward on day 1 and 2.
Send the packs on from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles. It’s hard enough adjusting to the wander physically that it helps ease you into it.
- Stay in private rooms every three days.
Give myself the opportunity to rest properly, to sleep deeply and to reflect.
- Plan out my days.
Stay in the places that stood out in my mind from both wanders:
- Santo Domingo de la Calzada – stay in a parador.
- Trabadelo – Casa Susi’s. It’s a must stay. Susi and Fermin will treat you like family.
- OCoto – Casa de Los Somoza. Nice hotel to regroup.
- Burgos – rest day for 2-3 days.
- Pamplona for the tapas!
- Zariquiegui – small but great to stay before the Alto de Perdon
- Zabaldika – Ring the bell. Hear the blessing in your heart.
- Larrasoana. Stay off ‘stage’. This was a lovely spot to do that.
- Roncesvalles – first timers should stay in the Monastery. The next wander, stay in the hotel. Eat in the hotel, NOT the restaurants the Monastery assigns you to. Oh, and if you don’t like fish staring at you before you cut into it, don’t order the fish.
- Samos – it’s worth the detour.
- Pack less and use a lighter backpack.
- Get a Data plan for the entire journey.
- Learn Spanish.
More than what I already know.
- Order vegetarian meals more often as Pilgrim meals.
If you want to follow my novel journey, check out my website: “The Crackpot Writer“.