The countdown is on and I’m heading back to Spain and I sit here in my apartment, with a glass of wine and a to-do list that is mostly checked off, and I wonder: was there ever a time that I could head off on a Camino and feel totally at ease?
Maybe. But maybe not. I always get nervous before these trips but this year it feels bigger. Because it is bigger, because I’m traveling internationally during a pandemic. But, also, there are all the regular pre-Camino worries and I suspect those will never go away, no matter how many times I do this, no matter if it’s been 2 years since I’ve been on a plane to cross the ocean, or 10 years, or 5 months.
In this case it’s been 2 years but it might as well have been 10 because I seem to forget how to do it all. The pile of things for my Camino pack- right now sitting on my desk, as a few freshly washed clothing items still need to dry- seems large. Really large. I keep adding more and more, and you’d think I’d know better, but it all feels essential! Or, it feels like I can handle it, like I can handle the extra weight: the neck pillow for the plane, the electric coil for morning coffee when there are no other options (this one I’m excited about. I feel like I’ve entered a new level of pilgrimage.) The face masks- essential. The rain pants- I never know whether to take these or not but they’ve been so wonderful in the past and the forecast for where I want to walk is calling for rain so into the pack they go!
Speaking of rain gear, I ran around today to buy a new rain jacket, because I discovered that my trusty white coat that I bought before my first Camino in 2014 is officially no longer waterproof. It took a downhill turn sometime in the last year (or two?) but I bought fancy detergent and rewaterproofing stuff from REI in an attempt to save the jacket, but of course I never actually used the jacket in this last month to see if it worked. A few YouTube searches later and I did an “immersion” test, followed by a “spray test” yesterday and the jacket failed spectacularly, both times. Water gets in and gets me wet, and this will not do for a projected 90% chance of rain for my first day’s walk in Spain. My old jacket was white, the new one is a rather bright blue. But I bought it in a hurry because what else is there to do? Lets see if it keeps me dry.
Have I trained enough? Will I remember how to order a tortilla? Will my feet swell, will I get blisters, will I find my way? Did I forget some essential item, like my towel, or my water bottle? Will I find a suitable walking stick once I start my walk? Will my knees hurt, even though they haven’t bothered me for several years? Am I going to be all alone?
That, maybe, is a big question, and a big unknown. I don’t know what the Camino is going to be like during COVID, even as I’ve been scouring the forum and the fb groups, even as I watch YouTube videos of pilgrims who are out there right now (here, and here, and here). I’m trying to go in with an open mind and a flexible attitude, with a Plan A and B and C, but even this is different. Usually, I go with an idea of which route I’m going to walk, and then I just… go. I probably have some notes of albergues I want to sleep in, or towns I want to stop in, but otherwise the plan is loose. I know my timeframe, I know approximately how long it will take to walk my chosen route, but then I just figure it out when I’m there.
This year, anything could happen. I’m reserving ahead. Part of me wanted to make every single reservation before I left for Spain (which would have been fine, but a lot!) but instead I’ve settled on the first 4 or 5 nights, along with a document outlining my likely stages and lodging options. I’m going to try private albergues for the first few nights, and see how it feels, with hopes that the reduced capacity of the lodgings (50% or 30% depending on the place) will make it feel less precarious and not crowded. After all of these months of COVID, I shudder a bit at those big, crowded albergues, the bunks close together (sometimes side by side, eek!) and the shut windows and the close air. While never ideal, I also never really minded it all that much, but this year is different.
And if I’m feeling uncomfortable with albergue life, I’m resolving to book private rooms, and most certainly will for part of the time anyway. But all of this thinking and researching and planning has taken time, and while it’s been sort of fun and has added to the anticipation, I’m now overthinking everything. Do you want to know how many times I’ve checked the weather app on my phone to see what the forecast is going to be like for Oviedo? No, I don’t think you want to know. It’s a little ridiculous.
I’ve been alone a lot during COVID, I recently took a long road trip to the southwest and it was wonderful and amazing but I was alone for that, too. I don’t mind being alone (readers of the blog know that I all but insist on walking alone!), but some of my happiest memories from the Camino are the days and the moments when I’m with someone, when I make a strong connection. I worry about how to do that, this time around. Have I completely lost practice, will I be too nervous, and if I stay in private rooms will I ever have anyone to eat dinner with?
All of this, and yet, a very solo pilgrimage appeals too. Honestly, just being out there and walking is the thing I want to do the most, it’s the thing I’ve dreamt about since March 2020, when I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get back to Europe. The fact that I can go at all this year feels like nothing short of a miracle, and I’m so very grateful.
What else do I need to do? Call my bank, make sure all the windows to my apartment are shut, find those leftover Euros from two years ago, maybe make a walking playlist, if I have time. But, really, I just need to take a deep breath, and remember the biggest lesson that the Camino has taught me: begin with a single step.
And so, very soon, I’ll take that first step, and I’ll be on my way. The Camino is calling, and I’m going back!