Stories that take you on a journey

The Way of St James – Camino Francés

More than a walk…

The Way challenges, both physically and mentally. It takes a certain mental mindset to get up at 6 am, repair feet, packs your belongings and set off into the unknown day after day.

This ancient pilgrim path has also become an adventure racetrack. On Day One, we saw a group of runners determined to knock off the 990kms in 6 days; in the early days, the bike riders were rolling into town absolutely knackered but still going to ride another 20kms before nightfall. In St Jean Pied-de-Port, I had dinner with a lady from Sydney who had overhead a Danish father and son team talking about “smashing it out in a few days“. Many groups like my mine were in a race against time because of holiday leave restrictions. Finally, the retired people who no longer live sedentary lifestyles are fit and wise enough to know a steady, slow rhythm causing minor injury and more likelihood of reaching Santiago.

One pathway, many ways…

There is another layer attached to walking The Way. For many walkers porting the back is a resounding no, perhaps for the religious aspect of the pilgrimage or simply because it feels good to have one’s belongings.

I undertook to walk the Camino Way to try and simplify my life, a romantic notion of getting up and just walking every day. However, each day The Way bought new challenges for me to deal with both mentally and physically. Only on our walk to Los Arcos did I feel we were out for a nice walk.

When I heeded the Portuguese woman’s advice from the Pilgrims Office in St Jean Pied-de-Port, a chain of events was set in motion that changed the nature of my walk. It threw me into the lives of Michael, Lisa and Dean and gave me a very different experience of The Way; for one, I’m grateful to have had. This was a rare chance to go with the flow and see where it took me. To allow new friendships to form and livelong bonds to grow as I walked and climbed the dusty tracks with team Anzac.

In the evening, our social net widened.  After walking 20 odd kilometres in searing heat, I was craving a cold beer. Whether in the back garden of an Albergue or in a local bar, sitting down with cold beers and salty chips, we gathered people of all nationalities. We had one rule – wine was medicinal.

Entresueños ‘in between dreams’…

On Day Eight, when we awoke in our Albergue Entresueños (translated by our Brazilian friend Daniel as ‘in-between dreams’, the street party from yesterdays Wine Festival was still going strong; inside our room, though the tables had turned. Lisa and I were nearly packed, but a very hangover Michael needed another ½ hour’s sleep and at least another ½ hour to tend to his feet which had blistered in the long hot walk into Logroño. Suddenly we were all in pain.

The noise of the party-goers was replaced by heavy rainfall. A torrential downpour washed through the city streets and cleared the street party. I remembered the words from our guidebook about Day 8’s walk, “the natural pathways now turn to the rich red clay soil of La Rioja – beautiful in the sun and a nightmare in the wet as it clings to footwear like a leech!” I had to wear boots. I’d worn them yesterday as we’d had a storm during the night in Los Arcos and had barely managed the 7-kilometre walk to our breakfast stop. I now needed to prepare my feet for boots. In my haste to repack my day pack, with extra socks and walking sandals, just in case it was not raining out in the foothills of La Rioja, I forgot to wrap a raincoat around my day pack.

Navigating on a dark rainy morning…

It was dark as we walked out of the city centre, the shell signs of The Way hard to see. A few weary party-goers pointed us in the right direction, and soon we were out of the suburbs of Lorgoña and heading towards a park. But first, we had a bridge to navigate. As I walked up the stairs, I felt the skin on my right heel tense and rip. Instead of panic, I had a moment of quiet calm and clarity; I knew my modern-day pilgrimage had come to an end.

We had though only walked 2.0 km out of town. Ahead was a further 3.6 km walking required to Pantano de la Grajera, a serene lake sitting amidst a pine forest. However, my woes fell away as I watched Michael had reached over and take Lisa’s hand. Together they walked hand-in-hand through the rain.

Michael and Lisa were waiting for me near the Café Cabaña del Tio Juarvi. I explained that I couldn’t continue to walk in my boots and would need to get a taxi. So we had breakfast together, and after they left, the Irish crowd arrived and took their places at the table. When I hobbled over to the counter to ask the owner to phone for a taxi, the Irish ladies walking team gave cries of dismay.

The Way of St James…

Staying in sync with The Way is akin to staying aligned with the Universe. By enjoying the Irish pilgrims’ company, I had delayed the taxi phone call by twenty minutes or so. When the taxi was finally due, the café owner arranged for a regular patron to walk me down to the car park. I noticed a young couple huddled in the rain; it was Chiarra and Franco. Chiarra had shin splints and could walk no more. So she joined me in the taxi to Nájera.

When we reached Nájera, Chiarra and I went to a cafe to drink hot coffee and plan. Thankfully, the skin on my right heel was intact; however, physically, I wasn’t in great shape and experiencing a lot of pain. To top it off, without a cover on my day pack, my clothes were damp.

Later I rang my friend in France to see if I could come back early. His reply was, “it’s a walking holiday, Anthea. If you can’t walk, you can’t walk.” So I was moving, but it wasn’t what I would call walking. I also no longer had the mindset required to continue walking day after day. I had yet to tell Team Anzac, but I was about to close the chapter on my Way.

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2 Responses to “The Way of St James – Camino Francés”

  1. Linley

    Anthea, this has been an exercise in courage , perseverance and humility and you have learned your lessons well.You have all these qualities in abundance and have proved this to yourself.This was a walking holiday and walking away is an OK option too. a job well done, good girl xxxx Linley

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