Today, our 20th day walking along El Camino de Santiago, marks the halfway point between our starting point of St Jean Pied-de-Port in southern France and our goal destination of Santiago de Compostella in northwestern Spain. And, true to the word of of the prophetic Paul who we met in St Jean Pied-de-Port, we’ve moved on from the “Holy Spanish Tortillas, what is wrong with my body?” phase of the camino to the more contemplative “Hmmm, these tortilla sandwiches sure do taste good every day, but why is the magic starting to wear off?” second phase of the camino. No, our minds haven’t broken, but we have found that the slow, daily march has begun to wear our mental and emotional capacity down a bit. The idyllically romantic walk through beautiful countryside that we had begun to expect every day has started turning into a bit of a routine that goes something like this:
- Wake up to our alarm sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 AM.
- Don’t be surprised if you’re freezing. Don’t be surprised if you’re boiling either.
- Try to do the right thing by getting ready for the day much more quietly than your louder, more boisterously Mediterranean amigos on the camino tend to be in the mornings.
- Eat some breakfast, which you hopefully purchased last night from the market so you don’t end up paying a substantial amount of money for what amounts to toast and coffee.
- Get walking sometime between 6:45 and 7:30.
- Walk until 10 or so. Eat second breakfast, usually consisting of the afore-mentioned tortilla bocadillo, basically a sandwich on fresh bread with an omelette inside of it.
- Get moving again, after your spouse puts his/her shoes back on.
- Find a nice spot around 12:30 or 1:00 to sit down and make yourself some lunch. Guess what lunch consists of? Yep, you guessed it: a bocadillo! Usually with cheese, avocado, and chorizo slices.
- Get into the albergue between 12:00 and 3:45 PM after walking between 15 and 30 km for the day.
- Kick your shoes off (or sandals, in Garrison’s case) and take a siesta!
- Buy groceries for dinner if your albergue has a kitchen. Otherwise, get the pilgrim menu at a local restaurant, which consists of a 3 course meal with wine and bread for usually less than 10 Euros per person.
- Sleep. Ignore any snoring symphonies you may be surrounded by.
- Do it all over again.
Yesterday I noticed I was feeling a bit glum in the morning. Here we were, walking through a perfectly beautiful morning sunrise in attractive farm country, and I was feeling a bit down, possibly because I was tired but also maybe because it just wasn’t as beautiful as some of our other mornings have been. Or maybe I was feeling like there were too many other pilgrims on the camino who didn’t seem to have what I deemed the right attitude or level of reverence or whatever. And then when I thought of that, I got just that much more bummed out, because why should I care why others are doing the camino, and who gives me the justification to deem some reasons worthy while others not? Later that day, we checked into an old convent that houses pilgrims along the way. We found out the “kitchen” we had expected was a microwave and a sink. Oh boy, microwaved lasagna here we come.
Then we were joined by some new friends who turned out to be from the city in New Zealand where I studied abroad for a semester. And we had a blast chatting with them. And then we were surprised to find that our Australian friends Laura and Terry had caught up with us and were staying in the same place! The day had been completely redeemed over the last 45 minutes before we had to turn in for the night, simply because we were lucky enough to meet these friends in this tiny little kitchen that had previously been a source of frustration for me. New friends and old friends alike came together in this space, and suddenly I’m going to bed feeling like I’d had one of my best and most memorable days along the camino.
We’re halfway there! Who knows what the second half holds?