Prices are already increasing on flights to Europe this summer, and from what I can gather, they’re not going to get any lower. It’s only the beginning of February, and while it seems like I should have plenty of time to make a decision about what I want to do this summer, if the answer is “walk another Camino” then I think I’d better decide soon.
The biggest question that I’m asking myself is this: Do I want to spend a month doing something very similar to what I just did last year?
As an American, I’m very lucky to have two months of vacation time every summer. Right now, I don’t have to make big sacrifices in order to travel to Spain and walk for a month: I have the time, I don’t have to quit my job or leave a husband and kids, and with most of my gear already purchased, this is a fairly affordable trip (if you consider what it would typically cost to spend a month in Europe).
But by the same token, I look at this chunk of time and think: I have two months (well, actually just a month, since there’s a July wedding back in the states that I don’t want to miss), and I might not always have this same freedom and flexibility. Is there anywhere else I’d like to go? Is there anything else I’d like to do?
The answer, of course, is yes. There are so many new things I’d like to try and new places I’d like to travel to, but maybe the real question is this: Is there anything else I’d rather do right now than walk another Camino?
And I’m struggling to come up with anything else. There are lots of factors, of course. There are places I could travel to and experiences I could have, but they’d require me to go alone, and to be alone for most of the trip. I don’t mind solo-traveling- and in fact, there are lots of things about it that I love- but I worry that long-term solo-traveling would be hard for me. The writer’s retreat in France was perfect, and so was the Camino: I had lots of time alone, AND the chance to interact with the same people for weeks at a time.
But honestly, I just want to walk another Camino. I felt this as I arrived in Santiago- I want to keep walking. I’ve felt it in the months since I’ve been home, and when I think about this summer, nothing that I can come up with is as enticing as another long walk.
There are fears and worries. Is it too soon to walk another Camino? In many ways, I’m still processing my trip from last summer, and I worry that rushing off to do another walk is going to blur the lines between the first experience and a new one.
I had such an amazing time on the Camino Frances and I know that the next walk is going to be different. I worry that I will compare the two, that I will always be chasing that first experience and that I am going to be disappointed. While the Camino del Norte is gaining in popularity, the numbers of pilgrims who walk this route is significantly fewer than the Frances. Of the pilgrims who received a compostela in Santiago in 2014, 68% walked the Frances and about 6% walked the Norte. I’ll still be able to meet other people, but it is going to be a very, very different atmosphere than what I knew last year.
I have these visions of myself on the Norte: waking up early and stopping whenever I want for a café con leche, arriving at my albergue in the early afternoon and then lounging on a beach for a few hours. Meeting up with friends at night for tapas and wine. Honestly, is there a better way to spend a month than this??
But the reality is going to be different. The Camino Frances wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, and the Camino del Norte is definitely not going to be a walk in the park. This is going to be a much more physically challenging route, and I should probably kiss goodbye my multiple café con leche stops, as the route is more isolated and doesn’t pass through as many towns and villages (although past pilgrims, please correct me if I’m wrong!). My walking days will probably be longer because of the challenge of the walk, and there may be many days when I will be forced to keep walking in order to find a town with an albergue.
Having not studied the route very closely, I have no idea how often I’ll actually be close to a beach. And even though I should have learned by now that I can make friends and that a Camino is one of the easier places to do it, I still worry that without as many pilgrims, I’ll spend a lot more time alone.
All of this being said, I still feel the call of doing another Camino. It’s not out of my system, and if anything, it’s only just gotten into my system. I love the idea of attempting something even more physically challenging, and I love the idea of entire days of walking where I don’t encounter very many people. Those were my favorite days on the Camino Frances, after all. I love the idea of trying to learn a little Spanish before I go, I love the thought of getting to see even more of Spain, I love the idea of being by the mountains and the ocean, and maybe I won’t get to drink as many café con leches, but I love the idea that they can once again be part of my daily routine.
And finally, here’s the thing: I’ve already done a pilgrimage. Maybe the Norte will be another one (and certainly in some ways it will be), but I don’t necessarily need to have the same kind of experience that I did last year. On that first Camino, I knew that I wanted to be on a pilgrimage. I wanted to walk the entire thing, I wanted to always stay in albergues, I wanted to stop in churches, I wanted Santiago to be my destination.
This time? I just want to walk again. I want to be open to whatever kind of experience the Camino will give me, and maybe it will just be a long, quiet walk. Maybe I will make some really strong connections again. Maybe I’ll find that it’s even more of a pilgrimage for me than the Frances was. Maybe I’ll finish and immediately want to do another Camino. Maybe I’ll finish and know that I’m done walking.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for bearing with me as I get all of these thoughts onto the page. And feel free to chime in with your opinion: Should I walk another Camino? If you were in my shoes (speaking of shoes, I’ll need to buy a new pair), would you do another long walk? Or would you decide that it’s time for a different kind of experience?