Today is National Coffee Day, and as I sit here in my apartment, listening to the rain, I think about all that great coffee I drank in Spain. And that gets me thinking about the Camino, and the walking and the people and the food and the conversation and all of the things that I miss. So here are a few things that come to mind:
1. Giving myself permission to drink as much coffee and wine as I liked.
Was there anything better than multiple café con leches or the 1-euro glass of (really, really good) wine? Sometimes an entire bottle of wine was only 2 euros. I could sit and drink coffee and write in my journal, I could sit and sip wine and talk with new friends, and I could do this every single day.
2. Spending my days outside.
It just felt so healthy: the cool, fresh air of the morning. The sunshine on the back of my legs. Walking through forests and vineyards and mountains. The sound of the wind blowing through a field of wheat.
3. The moment just after I finished doing my laundry.
One day I was hand washing my socks and underwear and t-shirt, and I turned to the person next to me and said, “This is my favorite part of the day!” This person stared at me and responded with, “Doing laundry? Are you crazy?”
“No,” I explained. “Just after this. When everything is finished. After those first kilometers when you haven’t had coffee, and the last kilometers when your legs feel like lead. After finding an albergue and showering and charging your phone and washing your clothes. Just after it’s all done, that feeling of complete relaxation and open time. You’ve done all of your work for the day, and it’s 2:00pm and you can eat and drink and meet up with friends or just do nothing. That’s my favorite time.”
4. An open church.
It was so easy for me to get caught up in all of the other stuff on the Camino: the physical aches and pains of the walking, the socialization and new friends, the changing Spanish countryside, the language and the culture, the nagging thoughts in my head. But when I passed a church, it was nearly always a reminder that I was on an ancient pilgrimage route. The churches connected me to a sense of the history of the Camino, and to my own personal pilgrimage.
When passing a church I usually tried to open the door to see if it was unlocked, and often it wasn’t. But that made the time when I could find an open church pretty special. I loved the little chapels, especially. So small and simple, with tiny details and still spaces. I loved when I could stand alone in an empty church- stand at the back and look up towards the altar, close my eyes and say a little prayer- and then quietly continue on my way. It always brought me a strong sense of peace.
5. A top bunk by an open window.
By the middle of my Camino, I started to get used to sleeping on the top bunk. I think my ratio of top to bottom bunks was 8:1, and at first this seemed like bad luck. But eventually I found my upside: sleeping by an open window. Sometimes this was purely chance. But whenever I got to an albergue on the early side and could choose a bed, I’d opt for a top bunk if there was a window close by. These were some of my best nights of sleep, when I could bundle into my sleeping bag, sometimes with a wool blanket stretched across the bed, and feel the cool night air blow in through the window. In one albergue I had a view of stars and a nearly full moon. In another, I could hear distant howling (and the next day someone mentioned that there were wolves in the hills, could this be true?)
6. Those hilariously delirious moments when you’ve simply been walking too long.
I think everyone had them. I kind of hope that everyone had them, and it wasn’t just me. Because usually by the last few hours of a really long, hot day, I could get a bit loopy. Once, I was walking with my friend Mirra and I looked ahead and exclaimed, “Look! A horse!” There was no horse. It was just another pilgrim, walking along.
There may or may not have been a time when I was walking alone down the very long, very straight, old Roman road under a very hot sun, looked around to make sure no one was within earshot, and shouted out, “Caesar!!” Just because he also walked down this road, a long time ago, and it seemed like I should somehow acknowledge it.
And there was definitely a time when I sang American Pie over and over and over because it was my 7th hour of walking on a hot day when I had lost my earbuds and all I wanted to do was listen to music. “Drove my chevy to the levee but the levee was dryyyyy…”
7. Waking up every day and feeling like anything was possible.
I know that some people got a bit bogged down in the routine of the Camino, but for me, I felt like every day was full of possibility and surprises. This feeling increased after I lost my guidebook; I didn’t always know what the terrain would be like, if I would have to climb big hills, if I would pass through large towns. Where would I get my coffee? Who would I run into? Where would I stay at night? Would I make a new friend, would I have an inspiring conversation? Would I see a castle or a cathedral or a field of sunflowers or a long line of cows? When else in life do you get to ask yourself these kinds of questions?