El Camino

7/8/11

Today was a big day for me. I came to work early to use the internet and finally commit myself to doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I bought a plane ticket. To Spain.

The Camino de Santiage de Compostela is an ancient Catholic pilgrimage that starts in a small French town and continues 800km across northern Spain to the cathedral in the town of Santiago de Compostela. I first heard of it last summer upon my arrival at Canyonlands. One of my co-workers there did it with her boyfriend and had amazing things to say about it. Since then I’ve met at least a dozen more people who have done it – in the most random of places – each with their own incredible story. Every time the Camino began to slip from my mind it manifested itself again in a new place and face. I was feeling very strongly that the universe was pointing me in that direction, and knowing I would have the fall free, thought it might be the perfect time for Austin and I to go. But as it turns out, Austin has to work this fall. And though I reached out to many friends and family – it seemed that either schedules didn’t line up, money wasn’t there, or interest was slim to none. With one polite ‘no thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry but I can’t’ after another, I started to lose grip on my fall Camino dreams.

But then I had a thought: why not go on my own? I had been doing quite a bit of research online where there are several forums dedicated to the trail and the people who’ve followed it, and it seemed to me that most of the pilgrims traveled solo. This combined with the knowledge that the timing and money are lined up for me now, and I don’t know if they will be again, lead me to the place where I have been for a few weeks – if I don’t go now, I may never have another chance.

Sure next fall may work just as well. But I have no way to know. And if it does and I’ve already gone, I will only have the time open for another adventure. It makes sense to go now. All I needed was the guts to purchase the tickets.

Now, single reader, if you know me at all, you know that spontaneous is not quite my thing. I’m a planner, and I don’t often follow a whim unless carefully researched and thought out. So I continued to do my research. I was still a little concerned about traveling on my own as a young single female, so I finally reached out to the commenters online whose own Camino adventures I had been following. Here is just some of what they had to say:

The statistics show that just over 40% of those collecting their Compostella at Santiago are women most of whom started their Camino “en solo”. That is probably slightly less than those who actually start out from all points of the compass and end up in Santiago.

The Camino is probably the safest long distance walk anyone can do, especially for females. The fact that is is one of the ancient pilgrimage routes tends to mean that those who choose to walk the Ways are like minded souls who make a point of caring for each other, and ensuring that nobody falls by the wayside. If anything, the male Pilgrims tend to be slightly over protective to lone females who set off across strange foreign lands to follow their dream. Pilgrims tend to fall into loose “families” based usually on language and walking pace.

I can understand why your family might have concerns for a young woman setting off across Europe with a pack on your back and a loose plan to be in Santiago “sometime”. The only risk you run is being spoiled by kindness!

PS. I am a man!

I want to second what Covey has said above. I finished my third camino last week and, as usual, ended up with a delightful pilgrim family. All of us began alone, but soon met like-minded and agreeable people that became close friends. Our group of “singles” included 4 men of ages 53 (me), 35, 30, and 21 along with 4 women of ages 25, 21, 23 and 32. I saw single young women on the Camino this year as young as 19 and as old as, well, probably about 75.

There are advantages to doing a solo camino, the primary one being that you have the choice of people with whom you’d like to walk. This is a big deal since spending many days together is not fun if your partner is too fast, too slow, too talkative, too quiet, etc. You’ll find many choices of young single women (and men) from whom to choose and you won’t regret starting out as a solo walker.”

“Both times when I walked the Camino I started walking myself, and both times I have ended up walking to Santiago with people that I have never met, before starting. Of course you have to be as sensible as you would be anywhere else. I think it’s one of the safest places to be alone, and you don’t stay alone for long, if that is what you want.”

“Don’t worry at all. You will make friends the first day. By the second day you will have many friends and become a part of a loose “family” that will continue to grow as the days go by.. Personally, I feel it is better to go alone. You can then easily choose…or un-choose your walking companion(s) or even choose to walk alone if you so desire.

If you start toward the Pyrenees in September-October, you will walk through the massive, famous vineyards of La Rioja at the beginning of the harvest, depending on weather, and each day can breakfast on those ultra sweet grapes, hanging from the vines. Take only those toward the bottom of the vine, though, as these are aften just dropped to the ground at harvest because the sugar content is less than those on the top.

Buen Camino”

“Hi Mariana!!

As far as a woman feeling safe doing the Camino I would say a definite yes. As far as hooking up with, people to walk with, you’d have to be a misanthrope not to. lol I’ve journeyed alone many times when a friend was not available and met traveling companions easy enough, and doing the Camino is even a better venue for that.

Now, to work so I can trek sooner than later. :]

You will have the best time of your life, Mariana!!! Go for it.”

After many more reactions similar to these, I decided my mind was made up. There are a million reasons not to do anything, and the risk in this case is well worth the pay-off. I’ve given myself 6 weeks to do a trail I’m told is finished on average in 30-35 days. My plan is to take my time and some rest days along the way, making it to Santiago de Compestela in five weeks max, with perhaps an additional trek to the coast at Finisterre – known in medieval times as the end of the world – if I have the time. Then I’ll meet mom for a week in Madrid before returning home.

So starting September 22nd and through November 4th, you can officially call me –

Pilgrim.

The route from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

PS – All of this being said: If you are free this fall and in the mood for a walk, my mom might be saved a heart attack or two if you gave me a call 😉

One thought on “El Camino

  1. I’m as excited as you my luve!!! I could not understend you clearly the day you call on the phone, I’m so sorry! But then your mom told me and I realized it! I wish I could go with you! That is something that really appeals to me! So my luve, just go ahead! I have been traiting to get in touch with the Garijo…no luck so far! But God will be with you! Do you want a better companion?

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