For months now (about three, to be exact), I’ve been wanting to go back and fill in some stories from the traveling I did this summer. I wrote all about the Camino, but I never described my long layovers in Iceland. Or the solo-traveling I did around Galicia in the days after I arrived in Santiago, and before leaving for Finisterre. And then there was the trip to France: the Côte d’Azur, Provence and Paris.
I sat down just now to write about the towns I visited in Galicia, and started to look through my photos from those days. One of the photos caught my eye and I clicked to enlarge it. It is by no means a very good photo, but it captures the essence of an experience better than so many of my other shots did.
It’s a picture of my hotel room, the very first room I had all to myself in over a month of traveling. I was in the town of A Coruna, a coastal city in the northwest corner of Spain. I’d arrived that afternoon after taking a train from Santiago. I was alone, and, also for the first time in over a month, I felt unsettled. So many pilgrims along the way said things like, “I’ve gained so much confidence from walking on the Camino. I know that if I can do this, I can do anything. Traveling anywhere- using public transportation- will seem so easy after this!”
I felt exactly the opposite. I had mastered walking, of putting on my shoes in the morning and setting out on a well-marked path, always running into people I knew, or at least recognized. But hopping on a train and arriving in a bustling city and seeing not a single pilgrim? I didn’t know what to do with myself. It felt completely foreign, in a way that my previous month of travel never had. I was a fish out of water, walking through town with my heavy pack and my hiking shoes.
But I figured it out, of course. I asked a man for directions, and he couldn’t have been more helpful. I found the tourist office (after asking a woman for help), and they directed me to a few inexpensive hotels. I checked in, the guy behind the desk seemed amused at my backpack and my tales of walking across Spain. I felt like I had to tell someone, like I had to explain everything I’d just done, to somehow mark the change that was taking place. I was in a new city and for the first time since I’d arrived in Spain, I hadn’t walked there. For the first time, I wasn’t sleeping in an albergue or meeting up with other pilgrims. The Camino was so fresh, so recent, and now I was in a strange town, alone. The clerk handed me my key, and waved me upstairs.
I walked into the room and it was a bit grim but it was also wonderful. Because, for a night, it was all mine. After arriving in Santiago I had four days to kill before my friend from home would come to join me on the walk to Finisterre. I’d tossed around a few ideas: stay in Santiago for those four days. Walk to Muxia and take a bus back to Santiago. Travel with a Camino friend to Portugal.
It was when I was sitting in the cathedral, the morning I’d arrived in Santiago, listening to the Spanish mass when I decided what to do: I was going to travel around the region alone. I needed something to mark the end of my Camino, and to separate the journey I’d just completed, alone, with the small Camino journey I was about to take with my friend. I also knew that I had so much to process from my walk, and I just wanted a few days away.
The hotel room felt a bit lonely, initially, so I just emptied a few things from my pack and then set off into town. I walked along a pathway next to the water, I explored the city center and I drank a glass of wine in the square. And then I went to the grocery store.
The last thing I wanted to do was bide my time until 10pm when it was acceptable to sit down at a restaurant to have dinner. And besides, I didn’t feel like sitting in a restaurant alone. So I found a grocery store, and I splurged.
I bought everything that looked good to me and then headed back to the hotel, where I settled in for my feast. After a month on the Camino with 3-course meals, endless glasses of wine and tapas, mid-afternoon cafe con leches… this felt decadent. Spreading my goods out on my bed (a real, stand alone, non-bunk bed bed!), pouring myself a glass of cheap and mediocre wine from a small cardboard box, popping open a bag of Cheetos and digging into a huge chunk of cheese with my Spork… this was decadence. I kicked off my shoes, laid on the bed, turned the television to a Spanish pop music channel, and scrolled through my phone to catch up on a month’s worth of facebook posts.
The photos of the gorgeous Spanish coast can wait; for now, for that night, this was my paradise.