The Camino: A Day On The Road

Days on the road are hard, hot and mostly repetitive, I am often tired, hungry and fed up but for some reason, I keep on coming back for more. This blog entry is my attempt to describe a day on the road. So this is a tale about a single day on my walk on the Camino De Santiago in Spain. Everything in this essay is true, but I have reordered the events and incidents to build up my “day”. In September 2019, I walked 500 miles (800km) on the Camino De Santiago, a pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela, the city with Saint James’s tomb.

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The sun was rising over the town as I started my walk, the town’s residents were beginning to rise for work. Students pass me, all with cigarettes in their mouths, rushing to get to university on time. As one student passed me in a rush, she breathed out a cloud of smog in my direction. The smell reminded me of times not too long ago. Boozy nights filled with cigarettes and regret, times of identity struggles, things that haven’t changed much.

Mornings are not my friend. Most mornings on the trail I usually spend adjusting to the early risings by ranting under my breath about being awake at such a stupid time. As I set off, overly happy pilgrims yelled ‘buen camino’ as I passed them, which never uplifted me at that time in the morning as it was meant to. How can anyone be happy this time in the morning as I did my best to be as antisocial as possible so I didn’t get caught in a conversation then people wouldn’t realise how much of a moody bastard I am. As the sky got brighter, my eyes got wider, beautiful mountain views, adorable cosy villages and stunning country backdrops, it woke me up and made me feel alive once again.

As I walked down the road, Podarcis lizards crawled through the cracks in the path staring up, almost stunned that people were walking above them. As I walked, the route was gradually getting higher through dark forests lit up by the streaks of light glittering down through the boughs that left a shadowy illumination. Now and again, I found an opening through the trees that showed stunning views from what seemed like the top of the world. Looking out over the  vast range of mountains covered with trees, you could see the different shades of green for miles, views that made the day worth waking up for.

With time on your own, you get a lot of time to think about everything, time to contemplate some stuff, both dark and cynical, some light and positive. I start to think about all the bad decisions, career paths, past lovers, the girls you should have asked out, all the good times, mental health, your attitude to life, the good laughs, the value of what I have, that person you upset through poorly chosen words, a look at self-improvement, questioning every choice I have ever made (including the walk) and how to make the future better for myself and the people around me. But after the first few days on your own, you have answers to the world’s philosophical questions. Then what? I have another 29 days to go what now? 

As I pushed further on, I came across a remarkable lake. The next 2 miles consisted of me walking around it. I was mesmerized by the staggering reflections of the mountains that towered above the lake. The lake was the finest of mirrors converting the stunning backdrop to an image so beautiful yet a little smudged and broken by ripples in the lake.

Walking the Camino provides simplicity, just like real life each day you have a set of things to do, which for most people is getting ready for work, in The Camino’s case, it’s walking a set mileage each day until you reach your goal. Once you arrive at your destination, it is time to chill. Sightseeing, eating and drinking, socialising with the many other pilgrims, writing, reading or sleeping the possibilities are endless. It is just an alternative way of living for a short period of time.  

I came across 3 pilgrims taking photos of each other in front of the stunning scenery in front of them. I offered to take a picture of all of them which they appreciated, and they became my travel buddies for the rest of the day. We had a father and son from Madrid, the son had moved to Cordoba, and when they wanted to spend some time together, they would go on long hikes. This was the third Camino for both of them. The father was 86 years old and faster than all of us (When/if I get to 86 I hope I am still doing mad adventures). There was also a girl not related who they had met along the way. It was her first Camino, she was born in Mexico and now lived in America, and she knew six languages. As we walked, we drank monk wine from a bota. A bota is a traditional Spanish kind of bottle made out of leather and there is a unique way to drink out of it, you place the bota away from you and spray it into your mouth. I am not the biggest fan of wine, especially at 11am however I didn’t have much of a choice as it was almost forced down my throat. They were all in great spirits singing Spanish songs. The 86-year-old was in top form making jokes, climbing trees to get fruit, jogging. He had so much energy it was amazing. 

Why do I get such a kick out of endurance challenges? I love travelling, I want to go everywhere, and I want to do everything. The best way to achieve this is to go on an endurance-based adventure. Walking helps you see everything you would usually miss when you pass it in a car. You can truly see and feel every bump in the road and keeps you curious. The feeling of following your progress on a map and stacking up the miles on foot is a feeling that can’t be replicated. The challenge of it all is exciting, the uncertainty of success helps keep you buzzed like an alcoholic trying to avoid the inevitable hangover. It is all straightforward, you walk every day until you get to your destination. You have all the time in the world and the only aim of the day is to get to an albergue so you can sleep by the time the sun goes down. There is no rush, no deadlines, no pressure. It may be a challenge, but you can take your own time and take the atmosphere in. It’s remarkable.

An hour and a half from my destination, we spotted a donation box for an exchange of homemade cider, but unfortunately they had run out. The man in the local farm insisted we should stay as he had more cider in the house. We waited and out came a little girl who looked about eight years old, carrying the ciders for us, she spoke perfect English and it turned out that she also was fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and Basque and a little French. It was embarrassing that an 8-year-old was smarter than me. We then sat, shared stories, taught each other different words in different languages (mainly they taught me), shared food and drank cider, unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for too long as we had to push on.

I slowly approached the “Big Mountain” that everyone talked about throughout the day, which was only 300 meters high. However, I had already walked a fair distance, I was already tired, and it was 1.30pm, prime time for the sun to be out. My body can’t be used to walking uphill in this kind of climate as I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life. By the time I got to the top my t-shirt was completely soaked, my eyes were crying from the rubbed in sun cream that had been protecting my pale skin and that had now blended in with the sweat pouring down my face into my eyes and despite having a sun hat on I had sweated through my sun hat. 

Once I got to the bottom of the “Big Mountain” I finally arrived in Comillas. I headed to the albergue, my accommodation for the night. Albergues are hostels for pilgrims and are very cheap. A standard albergue has several dormitories with dozens of bunk beds and sometimes have a shared kitchen and common area. The albergues are all unique. I had stayed in abandoned train stations, churches, people’s homes, and monasteries during my journey. albergues can sometimes be challenging, sleeping in the same room as 20 people is uncomfortable, snoring, moving in the night rocking the bunk bed, sleep talking, coughing and illness and some night terrors. I am a good sleeper, but I get frustrated when I can’t sleep because twenty people are snoring. Sometimes I started wondering if I’d get away with throwing something at the person snoring or maybe even smothering them while they sleep… I think this is where mass murderers start their murder streaks, annoying bloody snoring pilgrims. Today’s Albergue was a little less intense and looked more like a hotel with rooms of only three bunk beds, luxury! 

Every day after my walk I went for a shower, washing away the day’s sweat and dirt. Every day as I showered, I discovered a new ache or pain in a muscle that I never knew existed. This should have caused worry, but it all seemed to go away by the next morning just in time for you to start walking again.

Once I was all showered and settled, I headed out to explore Comillas. The town was brilliant, stunning architectural masterpieces towering over the cobbled stone streets. There are beaches to sunbathe and chill on, squares to relax and drink in, historical buildings to admire and learn in. Comillas is undoubtedly a great place to stop overnight. Hidden in the city is the Capricho De Gaudi, a stunning structure by Antoni Gaudi (I didn’t know Gaudi designed masterpieces like this outside Barcelona). Gaudi’s buildings are known to be so architecturally radically different from anyone else’s work, and Capricho De Gaudi is no exception. This was such an unexpected treat to the day. It was built in 1885 for the summer use of a wealthy client Máximo Díaz de Quijano. Unfortunately, the client died a year before the house was completed. 

Later I sat back and relaxed with great conversation with other pilgrims talking about their day and their journeys so far with a three-course meal and red wine for only €8. I was living the dream. I settled down for the night, ready for another day on the Camino. 

12 Comments Add yours

  1. PedroL says:

    Such a lovely post: a defiant walk, a series of thoughts, a Gaudí surprise and a meal with wine eheh 🙂 happy 2021 and greetings from Lisbon! PedroL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Callum James says:

      Thank you 🙂 Happy new year!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Cedric Noronha says:

    Very good post. Highly informative for travellers who want to visit this place. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

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