Depending on where you spent the night, mornings will start a bit differently. In this post I will talk about the “normal” Camino experience, the one in which you sleep in albergues, which are common living facilities.
At around 6AM, or even earlier, you will start hearing the movements of the other pilgrims in the dorm. Some of them will go to the bathroom, some of them will start packing. All of them will try to do this in silence, whispering, but the compound effect of so many voices will make it quite consistent. You can’t sleep anymore, but even if you wanted to, the pain in your feet, which can vary from a funny tickling sensation up to piercing, hot pain from your blisters and overworked muscles, wouldn’t let you.
So you wake up, go to the bathroom and do your morning ritual. It’s still dark outside, so you do this mostly by feeling your way from and to your bed. Then, if you had left clothes to dry from yesterday, you go pick them up and start packing. If you packed your backpack lightly, it will be an easy task. In a matter of minutes, you will be ready.
You take the backpack, the walking sticks and get out of the albergue. Then you start looking for signs. Road signs, that is, signs that will tell you which way to go. Sometimes they are just a yellow arrow on the wall of a house, and sometimes they are full road signs with the familiar shell / sun shape of the Camino de Santiago. Sometimes they are engraved on the ground, or they are full fledged concrete landmarks, showing even the number of kilometers until Santiago. During the last few days, since you started the Camino, you learned how to keep looking for signs and follow them.
You start walking. And you keep walking, with your thoughts, watching your steps and trying not to lose the path. The first two hours are the easiest. If you had some sore muscles, they will warm up in the first half an hour and you won’t feel any more discomfort. You keep walking and long forgotten situations, persons, ideas are coming back to your mind. They are almost fighting for your attention, and for some sort of resolution. Sometimes you get to terms with these thoughts, finding “the solution” to a problem you’ve been struggling with for a long time, but most of the time you will just witness these thoughts unfolding in your mind, like clouds on the sky.
In about two hours, you will stop for breakfast. It’s 9AM, and you already covered 8-10km. If you’re unlucky and there’s no bar in the pueblo you just arrived, or if the stage you’re walking stretches more than 15km, you will have to keep walking, delaying breakfast, sometimes up to 20km. But, most of the time, you find a bar, pick a table and then enjoy a coffee, a tostada, or whatever you want to indulge in.
You will want to stay more than the planned half an hour, but you know you can’t. The heat will hit hard in about 2 hours and you want to make sure you cover as much as you can before that. So you pay for your breakfast, put on your backpack and start walking, looking again for the signs.
You keep going and you start witnessing again the thoughts dance in your mind. Only now there aren’t just thoughts. There are also emotions, sensations and reactions. You let them unfold too. You try witnessing as much as you can, without joining in. Sometimes you can, sometimes you’re carried away and, half an hour later, it’s like you wake up, realizing again you’re on the Camino, and you just immersed yourself in a fantasy that you’ve been carried with you for so long. And then keep walking.
By now, you should be close to the end of your stage. If it’s a short one, you covered 25km. If it’s a long one, you did about 35-40km. It’s time to check in in an albergue.
Sometimes the albergue you wanted to check in into is full. Sometimes you have to keep walking until find another accommodation. But if the albergue is free, and you have a reservation, you just go in. You ask the host to put a stamp on your “carta de peregrino”, something that will be useful later on, when you will want to get your “compostela” in Santiago (the proof that you did the Camino). You get your keys and go pick a bed.
The first thing you do after that is washing. Yourself and the clothes you wore the entire day. Find a spot to dry them (most albergues will have places for that, some of them even washing machines) and hang them on. Then you get back to your bed, lie down, and, most of the time, fall asleep for 30 minutes or an hour.
When you wake up, it’s already evening. Some of your fellow pilgrims are going out and you join them for a beer and some tapas. It won’t take long, though, because the albergue will close at 10PM, and there’s no way for you to go back in after that.
So, after you return, you may sometimes stay longer for some conversations, but most of the times you go to your bed and lie down again.
And it’s in this space, the one between the days, that some of the magic happens. I can only see this in hindsight, because I didn’t realize it during Camino, but now I can see. It’s in this space that the entire day is rearranged, organized in your mind and a new geography is created. Some of the thoughts are pushed away, some of them are integrated and the same goes for emotions. Parts of your psyche, of your persona, are moved around, their size is increased or decreased, like in a magic puzzle solving itself.
The long, relentless string of steps that carried you to this bed was like a needle sewing a new story of, and about yourself. By putting one step in front of the other, for thousands of times, you recreated parts of who you are.
And you will continue to do this tomorrow, following the same routine.
At some point in time, this routine will be suddenly interrupted: you will reach Santiago de Compostela, the end of the journey. And the person who’ll set foot in Plaza de Obradorio, looking at the huge cathedral, will be at the same time identical with, and very, very different from the one who started the Camino.