We finished our Camino de Santiago trek in late May, but a busted keyboard meant I couldn’t tell all the stories I wanted to. I’m going to intersperse those stories with posts about our current travels.
The Camino is rich in scenery, history, and new experiences. But the memories that really stand out are mostly about people. Some you encounter for a few hours and then never see them again. Others you encounter time and time again over the weeks. Here’s a glimpse at just a few of the people that made our Camino interesting.
The Donkey Troupe. It was a warm afternoon just a day from Leon. We stopped for a beverage and el baño break at a bar in the village of Reliegos. We ran into several other pilgrims we knew including Corey, an Englishman who had left his accounting job of 23 years, to seek his own way. We shared a table with him and were catching up when what looked like a circus act passed by.
It was a donkey pulling a small, enclosed trailer, with a dog riding on his back. I pulled out my camera in time to take a few photos. But in a few moments the donkey, led by one man and followed by another, walked out of the village.
We found out later it was no circus act—it was fellow peregrinos. The wife of the donkey owner wanted to do the Camino but because of physical limitations could only walk a few kilometers each day. The rest of the time she rode in the trailer. A friend traveled with the couple. Each night they either stayed at an Albergue where they tied up the donkey or slept under the stars. Because the trio were Spaniards it was easier for them to make arrangements for their unusual troupe.
Evidently the arrangement worked well, as long as you were willing to travel at the speed of donkey. When the donkey decided enough was enough, he’d stop. You were at his mercy until he was ready to set off again.
The next week we encountered them again when we stayed at the same Albergue in El Acebo on the far side of Cruz de Ferro (see The Longest Day). But that was the last time we saw them. I hope that the husband, and the donkey, were able to follow through on the woman’s dream to complete the Camino.
The French Military Sergeant. We were enjoying a pilgrim dinner at our Albergue in Hornillos, a village with a population of about 70, just a day out of Burgos. We were seated with a Dutch couple biking the Camino, a Belgian mother and son walking it, and a French military sergeant—who seemed to be sprinting it. For most walkers a 25 km day is normal. In some cases we pushed and did slightly over 30. But our military sergeant friend was doing about 40.
He got up early each morning and walked until he’d had enough, averaging 40 km per day. He joked about how he met a new set of people each day because of the distances he walked.
The Belgian son jested, “We will never see you again.” That was much to the disappointment of the women at the table, because I’m pretty sure that in some book his picture is used to illustrate the phrase, “Dashing Young French Military Sergeant.”
Imagine our surprise just two days later when we ran into our French friend in the village square of Fromista. He was seated with a young woman from Perth, whom he introduced to us. When I asked him what happened to 40 kms a day he replied, “I just did 15 today. I decided to enjoy it.”
Walk a full day or hang out with a young woman from Perth. Wise decision.
The Galician. The final Spanish region we walked through was Galicia, which encompasses Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre. The history of Galicia predates that of Spain. It has a unique language, cuisine, and culture.
On our second to last day of hiking we were walking the trail and came up next to a man who looked to be in his early sixties. After greeting him with “Buen Camino” we asked the standard question of fellow pilgrims: “Where are you from?”
He replied, “From here, Galicia.”
When we travel we love to get local guides. When people visit us we like to play the local guide. Meeting Manuel was a treat. He had grown up in Galicia but was now a semi-retired British postal worker living outside of London. We talked about local customs that had puzzled us. He explained the tradition of the horrero, or Galician corn crib. A large, elaborate one is a symbol of wealth. And some Galicians who live elsewhere will erect one in their yard as a symbol of regional pride. Much like we hang flags out front for our favorite teams.
He talked about the Spanish political situation and we explained (and apologized for) American politics. He’s become a history buff so we also talked about English history, appropriate since we’ll be living there starting in September. We separated that evening because he was going to spend the night at his mother’s home, but ran into him the next day in Santiago. We made plans to meet up again when we’re in London.
Sometimes our memories of places run together. But memories of people, they stand out.