I’m back home from my 2021 Camino adventure! In some ways it all felt like a whirlwind- how can I be home already??- but in other ways my time on the Camino felt just right. Like just what I needed.
I thought I might be able to blog while I was on the walk, but it was about all I could do to post smaller updates to social media, try to go through the dozens and dozens of photos to select a few to share, and attempt to stay on top of the video I was taking. I fell behind on it all, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing; enjoying the walk was the most important thing, and I think I did a good job of that.
Some of you may follow me on Instagram or on YouTube, so maybe have already seen these updates, but I wanted to transfer what I shared there over here to this blog. I thought I would attempt to do a day-to-day post of my walk this year, and share the photos and ‘travel log’ that I wrote each day, plus the corresponding video. And hopefully add in some extra details too! So, here we go!
July 21st: Travel to Oviedo, for the Camino Primitivo
It all felt a little jarring, to be on public transportation again, the first time since early 2020. I was sitting in the 30th Street station in Philadelphia, waiting for my train to Newark, thinking that already I’d traveled so far when I hadn’t even really left my city! But it felt adventurous in a different sort of way than ever before. A little more nerve-wracking too. I didn’t know how COVID would affect the travel OR the walk on the Camino, I didn’t even trust that I would be able to stay in Spain for as long as I planned. I told myself that I needed to head into this trip with flexibility and take things day by day. Have a plan, but be willing to change the plan if necessary.
But oh, even with the pre-trip nerves and the extra layer of uncertainty that a pandemic added to this trip, I was so excited. Excited to be on a train, excited to arrive super early to the airport and wait around for hours, excited to board the plane and to take off and be flying across the ocean again.
The travel went well; all I really needed to enter Spain- other than my passport- was a QR code that Spain required. I’d downloaded the app on my phone the day before I left for Spain, filled out the necessary info, and got my code. The app worked fine and they just scanned it when I got off the plane, and that was it! I was in Spain again!
But arrival is always overwhelming for me. I don’t sleep well on planes, and to suddenly be in another country, hearing an unfamiliar language, trying to navigate where to go… it truly DID feel like I’d forgotten how to do it all! I was flustered. I found a café and got a coffee and a sandwich for the bus ride, but I somehow ended up ordering a super expensive sandwich and I couldn’t remember the words for anything and I was tired but also just really happy to be there, with my first café con leche and the fancy ham and the jet lag. Then, after a lot of confusion, I figured out where I needed to go to get the airport shuttle to the bus station at the airport. From there I took a 6-hour bus ride to Oviedo (didn’t eat the sandwich on the bus because no one was eating anything and we were all masked and I wondered if maybe it was a new COVID rule). It was a lot of travel, hours and hours and hours, and it would have been easier to have spent a night in Madrid, but I just wanted to get to the Camino and start walking, just get there as fast as I could.
The evening in Oviedo was a whirlwind too, but a whirlwind in a good way. I got to the city and found an Orange store where I could buy a SIM card for my phone, and the woman who helped me was so kind and I walked away with a deal that got me a 28-day plan with a good amount of data that cost only a tad more than my airport sandwich (which I was STILL carrying around because I hadn’t gotten the chance to eat it yet). Then to my albergue- a new and private one just around the corner from the cathedral (La Hospederia Oviedo)- and I checked in and the women working there showed me around and told me that there was a vespers service with a pilgrim blessing starting in 30 minutes. I desperately needed a shower so I rushed through it, briefly met another pilgrim in the albergue and then raced outside, my hair still dripping, to try to find the chapel. I settled into a pew and listened to the nuns singing and despite being exhausted, despite being hungry, despite being overwhelmed with it all- the trains and planes and buses and shuttles and being back in Spain- I felt settled, I felt comforted. I felt like I belonged.
It will never cease to amaze me, that in one moment I can be home, and the next… just like that (in this case it took over 24 hours but time when you’re traveling always feels strange), just like that you can be in a totally different place. One day ago, or two, I was running around home and buying a new rain jacket and my mom was packing me a sandwich and my dad gave me coffee money, and then, a train here and a plane there, I’m in Spain. I forget how to do this. Do I remember how to do this? How to navigate a place, a language? How to recognize a street, how to spot the first scallop shell marker on the ground and nearly cry for joy. Then, truly, shed a tear or two in a church, a little chapel that I made it to just in time for a vespers service, my hair dripping from my shower, the instructions the hospitaleras gave me still ringing in my ears. I’d been traveling non stop and I needed to eat, and arrange my pack, and just get my bearings but this- being in a church and hearings the nuns singing, followed by a pilgrim’s blessing- this I could remember how to do. And this, sitting in a wooden pew, voices echoing off the thick stone walls, the smell of candles and incense, in a large city in northern Spain: this feels like belonging. And I haven’t even started the walking yet.
(PS: It might have been the last thing I did that day, but I finally ate my airport sandwich. And it was really good.)
July 23rd: Day One, Oviedo to Cornellana, 38km
I might have felt overwhelmed the evening before, but in the morning, those familiar Camino routines came back to me quickly: creep out of bed as silently as possible to not wake the other pilgrims in the room, change into my hiking clothes, brush my teeth, splash water on my face. There was a small kitchen in the albergue with instant coffee and toast, so I made myself a quick breakfast before I left for the day. While I was eating, one of the pilgrims in my room had gotten up and sat down at the table to have some coffee. He’d been walking on the Norte but had taken a train to Oviedo to switch to the Primitivo, because finding beds in albergues had been difficult. He asked me about my plan for the day, and had some opinions when I told him that I was planning to walk to Cornellana, 38ish kilometers away. “It seems like you’re doing this for some athletic reason,” he said. “You should be flexible with your plan,” he said. “38km is too long for a first day,” he said.
I’d been excited about my plan; I knew it would, indeed, be a lot for a first day, but then again, this wasn’t my first Camino. And I’d come into this Camino pretty fit, having recently traveled around the American Southwest where I’d done a lot of hiking. AND, there was a monastery I really wanted to stay in.
And, well, I just really wanted to walk. To walk and walk and walk.
I finished my toast, the last sip of coffee, and stood up from the table. I stuffed my things into my pack and laced up my shoes and said goodbye to the pilgrim and pushed his words from my head. Maybe 38km was too far to walk for a first day, but the only who gets to decide that is me.
It was raining, a little, when I left Oviedo, and normally I don’t like walking in the rain but this time I barely noticed because I was just so happy to be walking again. It all felt so familiar, but also as though it had been a long, long time since I’d been on a Camino. Much longer than just two years. As I moved away from the city I could feel myself starting to settle in, to remember what it was like to be on a Camino: to always be on the lookout for the yellow arrows, to get used to the weight of my pack against my back, to greet the cows in the fields, to hope to find an open bar for a late morning café con leche. To put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over, and know that I was moving myself a little closer- with each step- to Santiago.