You are never really alone on the Camino de Santiago
“Solitude shows us what we should be – society shows us what we are” – Lord Cecil
I was often asked if I traveled “The Way” alone or with a group. I found this question to be intriguing as you are never really alone while walking the Camino de Santiago. While I started to walk the Camino alone, I found myself walking with others throughout the day and was rarely alone. We walked, we talked – there were stories and peels of laughter. At times there were even tears! There were times where language barriers meant that stories were not really understood, but we got by. I was never really alone. While I loved the strong community of pilgrims in the evening, I also craved some solitude – some time to think as I walked the way of so many before me! I had a purpose – to think and re-evaluate my life and the direction it was taking. This was, after all, a transition zone for me.
Leaving Leon rather late in the morning, I relished the chance to walk alone, quietly lost in my thoughts, stopping at the Plaza San Marcos to explore the Monastery and to sneak a peek inside the historic Parador Hotel (a Spanish hotel chain with historical links to the Camino de Santiago).
With the urban sprawl outside of Leon, I knew there would be plenty of coffee shops along the way to catch up with others, sharing some stories and a laugh, before heading out along the trail to Villar de Mazariffe, or so I thought! While there were plenty of cafes and bars, there were also plenty of conflicting arrows and directions along the route and I found myself heading along the dry Senda to Villadangos del Paramo. The stretch of road was uninspiring and my delightful solitude soon turned to boredom as I found myself craving company yet again. I was so relieved to catch up to a fellow pilgrim up the road and slowed my pace so we could walk and talk together.
We finally arrived at the Municipal Albergue – my feet were tired and I was relieved to find a bed for the night and a hot shower to wash off the dust from the road. It turned out that the Albergue was a bit of a disaster (no toilet paper and my first introduction to the dreaded bed bugs), but it did provide an opportunity to cook dinner for the evening. (While there were many cooking opportunities along the way, I mostly chose to eat the pilgrim dinners in the various towns along the route.) My new walking partner and I walked into town to pick up a variety of colourful vegetables to cook up that evening.
The kitchen and communal dining table were the heart and soul of the albergue – with wine and laughter flowing. Smells of foods from around the world filled the air and we dined like kings and queens for a night. This was just another example of the many things I loved on the Camino de Santiago – the opportunity for times of solitude and companionship during the day, and such a strong sense of community at night. You are never really alone along the Camino de Santiago!