If my first Camino was one of self discovery, my second Camino would be one of celebration of everything I had been able to accomplish since then. It was long, and at times a grueling journey, but it was just as memorable as the first. The Norte differs from the Frances in many ways but I wouldn’t consider one better than the other. They are simply different settings that share the same ingredients for an incredible journey.
What did make this one different was that it was my second. I was much more aware of what the experience entailed. There was less novelty to the experience, but choosing the Norte easily supplied all the surprises I needed. For one it is definitely harder. The first week had me feeling like I had a thousand nails driven into my left knee with every step downhill. It was the kind of pain that reminds yourself you’re alive. There were also no shortage of jaw-dropping views. Having the blue ocean constantly on your right contrasting with the green never got old. While the Frances has great views, the Norte has spectacular ones. I can’t count how many times I went around a corner, stopped in my tracks and said, “wow.” As the Frances has become more commercialized and even theme park-like, the Norte maintains its wildness.
Early on Nilanj and I were enjoying each other’s company but missed the camaraderie that we found with others on the Frances. About a week into it, that all changed – and we had a cold, rainy day to thank for it. One morning coming out of Portugalete it was pouring, windy, and cold. No person in their right mind would walk on a day like that, but everyone in the albergue did anyway. We say water always wins eventually, and it definitely did this day. I was completely soaked head to toe. As bad as this day was weather wise, it turned out to be a pivotal day in my Camino. Stopping short in Pobeña we met Keith, Katharina, Wooju, Serrina, Courtney and Victoria who we’d spend the majority of the next month with. Later on we’d meet Anne, Giovanni, and Javi. Mix in a few other characters along the way and I couldn’t have asked for better people. There is no guarantee that you find one, but we were fortunate to find our pack to share the experience with.
One of the things that I find most special about the Camino is that it allows time to be creative. I guess there is symmetry in while the body wanders, so can the mind. In the business of regular life it is hard to find the time and energy for that, on the Camino it is easy. For us this meant rewriting popular songs with Camino inspiration, naming body parts like they are industrial processes, coming up with creative photos, and using the new sights around for humor. The wry banter in this group was second to none. It is a fun experience that routinely brings out the childlike wonder in everyone.
For the first week or so, I was wondering if I was going to have any profound life altering realization. It never happened. Maybe my mind had an expectation based on the first Camino. After a few days I accepted that I was just there to enjoy the experience and nothing more. I wasn’t going to overthink things. I think a lot of people put pressure on themselves to figure things out on the Camino in a grand epiphany, but that usually doesn’t happen. It’s okay to simply enjoy the slow and scenic Camino life in front of you.
Going in I was a bit worried that I would mix memories of my first Camino, but choosing a different route helped with that. It was neat reconnecting with the main route for a couple days as Nilanj and I took on the role of ‘Camino Vets’ and led our people home. And once again I’m glad that I chose to walk to Finisterre and Muxia as it puts a nice closure on the whole thing. Out of our group, only Serrina and Courtney walked with us to the coast, and it was nice to have some familiar faces there with us.
After completing my first Camino I wasn’t sure if I was going to do another, let alone so soon. There is really nothing in ordinary life that replicates the experience of it. I can see now why people choose to go many times over a lifetime. I have a feeling that I’ll find myself out there again soon.