Last week I began reflecting on our 2019 Camino, sharing five of our top ten reflections from our Camino. You can find that blog by clicking here. In June and July of 2019, we biked and hiked about 550 miles or 882 kilometers on the Camino. We walked from León, Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Then we flew down to Lisbon, Portugal where we biked from Lisbon to Porto and walked from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. This was our second Camino as we walked the Camino Frances in its entirety in 2017.
We were blessed with fantastic weather, being the summer season. In June we had cold mornings and cool afternoons, by July we were thrilled to have quite a few weeks in the mid-70s. It only rained twice, which probably wasn’t great for the farmers but we relished in the weather.
Though the weather was kind to us I struggled throughout much of the Camino. I had foot problems which wasn’t anything too unusual for me. But more importantly, I developed anxiety while on the Camino which stunned both of us. Unfortunately, I had to go to the emergency room the night before we walked into Santiago on the Camino Frances because my shortness of breath was at an all-time high. I was convinced it was a heart attack. Thankfully we found a hospital with an interpreter who stayed with us all night and had fantastic staff who ran a lot of tests before concluding it was anxiety. They taught me to remember I was on holiday and needed to start acting like it. I am still coming to terms with the “why” I had such high anxiety but I think the answer lies somewhere in the remaining five reflections.
#5 – Live Like Locals
This reflection comes from the idea that when you walk the Camino you are on vacation, or on holiday as my nurses reminded me. In general, when we travel we try to follow the philosophy of “living like the locals” by minimizing tourist attractions, avoiding chain restaurants, seeking out local activities, and finding ways to engage with local residents.
On the Camino Portuguese, there are a lot of locals and not much else; however, many pilgrims stick with other pilgrims. It may be seeking what we have in common with one another, the language barriers, you’re only with a local for a night or two, or just the ease of talking with those you walk by every day. But if you can spend time getting to know the locals, I promise you will have a richer experience. There are several ways this can happen.
When you are looking for a room for the night stay in a small albergue, stay an extra night if you meet a local that you really connect with, and seek out places to eat where you can engage with the locals. Also, if someone is selling something on the side of the road, talk to him or her. We each bought Camino necklaces made by a local and the stories he shared made our experience much richer (photo above). We learned so much about the communities, the culture, the neighborhoods, just by talking to the locals. They are certainly the most knowledgable about the country you are experiencing.
#4 – Find the Festivals
This is a must-do for us whenever we travel for several reasons. (1) If prices are usually high, a festival is usually the reason why. Then you have to decide if you want to stay in that town for the festival or press onward. (2) You can learn what’s important to a community based on what they are celebrating. (3) We make a reservation in advance to make sure we have a room, and if you book early, you usually can find a better price. (4) It helps us decide if we want to plan an extra rest day in that town/village.
On our Camino, we knew about two festivals that we made sure were included. The Festival of Trays in Tomar, Portugal which included a competition of “best-decorated neighborhood” in the photo above (not the winner, that we know of), parades, and processionals. We only planned one rest day here but wished we would have had two days in Tomar. The second festival was the Apostle Festival in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It happens every year during the Feast of St. James. It is the largest festival of the year and we have been able to attend during both of our Caminos. However, if you don’t book early, it will be tough and expensive to find a room.
#3 – Alone vs. Lonely
This is an interesting reflection for me and one that surprised me deeply. Let me set up. In 2017, on the Camino Frances, we were with people all the time. We were rarely alone and we are still friends today with several people we met on the Camino. Was it because we walked the entire Camino? I don’t think so. Were we different? I don’t think so except that I was in a lot of pain this time so I may have been more introverted. So that may have been one reason.
On this Camino, we decided to walk part of one Camino and all of another. Does that mean we split our focus and didn’t have the time to build relationships? Maybe. Upon reflection, I wish would have only walked the Camino Portuguese. We were too “all over the place” on this Camino.
However, and this is big, the friendships we still have today from our 2017 encouraged us to walk on the Camino Frances. Why? I am still processing but here is what I have concluded thus far about our Camino Portuguese. (1) We were on bikes from Lisbon to Porto which means we were not walking day by day with other people. (2) Pilgrims were shockingly judgemental about those who bike the Camino. This hurt me deeply but we had fellow pilgrims tell us we were cheating. The locals were kinder than pilgrims. (3) By the time we were walking again, many people already had their “clicks” and we were not a part of them. (4) There were a lot of larger groups on the Camino. (5) When we talked to pilgrims, we learned that many people walk the Camino Portuguese in part because there are fewer people and they were more interested in the solitude. In the end, Brian and I had each other and we certainly grew closer together.
#2 – Planning Extends the Fun
We absolutely love planning our travels. The planning time gives us something to do when we can’t travel because we are working, it gives us experiences to look forward to, and it gives us time to research what is happening during the time we will be at a certain place. I don’t see us ever traveling without planning something. Even if we don’t make reservations, just researching where we are traveling gives us a lot to look forward to when we get there!
The day we were riding into the village of Águeda was filled with anticipation because we knew about the Umbrella Sky Project. We didn’t, however, know how many streets are decorated. Above is the main street but there is so much more to this village. It’s this anticipation that got us through the tough days, the hot days, and the days we wanted to quit.
We encourage everyone to at least do some research when you are traveling to a new place. Whether you learn how they interact, what they eat, what they celebrate, and what makes the town special. This research will give you a lot to look forward to and enrich the anticipation of what is to come.
#1 – In the End, Don’t Plan Everything
Here it is, the number one reflection so far. I can’t believe this is my number one, Brian is still on the fence about it. But based on both of our Caminos and all of our years of travel, I have to say don’t plan it all.
Let me set this one up and explain why we plan everything. We plan our routes and make all of our reservations for one specific reason – we can only travel during the busiest times of the year which is school holidays because we are teachers. When we travel it is the busiest and most expensive time of year so planning helps us same money, find deals, helps us do a lot in the time we have, and gives us travel to look forward when the workdays are rough.
I am sure you already know the downside, we did but it didn’t change our way of doing things. When you plan everything out, you are locked into a route and a time frame. We have been ok with that because we always have contingency plans. If we were too hot, too tired, sick or injured, we were ok with taxing/bussing ahead. For us, that normally works. Here’s the problem this time, there are a few of them.
First, when we walked into Sierra, Spain, the starting point for those who only want to complete the last 100k of the Camino required to earn your Compostela, there were busloads of students. Multiple busloads. A lot of people. If we would have stayed an extra night, maybe we would have avoided that crowd. However, maybe there would have been more the next day. I don’t know but we didn’t have the flexibility to learn.
Second, when my foot started giving me trouble, it would have helped if we would have done half days. Yes, we could have walked half the day and taxied/bussed the other half, but I was too stubborn until the pain reached a breaking point. 🙁 Half days would have also helped my anxiety but I didn’t know what the problem was at the time. Slowing down period would have helped because I was feeling the pain in many ways.
Finally, not planning the Camino in its entirety would have given us time to stick around a village longer if we needed or wanted to stay. However, we had festivals to get to, an ambitious route planned, and we were determined. In the end, we walked a lot less than we wanted to and I pushed myself way too hard.
Do you sense my inner conflict? Because it’s there. I know there is a lot to be said about going with the flow. I want to, I really do, we will see where life takes us next. I will say, we are doing a better job of planning with flexibility. For example, our next two trips, Nashville for Thanksgiving and Naples, Florida for Christmas, are planned, but minimally. We have reservations for our campgrounds which are necessary because of the time of year. Our Naples campground was sold out by August. However, we don’t have daily plans. We made a general list of things we would like to do while at each destination. However, what we actually do will simply be what we are in the mood to do.
There you have it, our top 10 reflections from our 2019 Camino. From footwear, to festivals, to going with the flow. At this point, it has only been a month and I am sure there will be more reflections as we work on the presentations we are giving in the future about our Camino experiences. For now, head over to YouTube for a lot more Camino content.
We would love to hear from you! What did you learn from your Camino? What do you wish we would have talked about? What questions do you still have for us?
Thanks for reading, and until next time…