Camino Bizarro

A story in three acts

So, there I went again: another camino. The first one was such a great experience that I just had to do one again.Back then, it was full of both novelty and surprises; this time around, the former was pretty much gone... And that very well may be why I had to force a little for the latter to happen.

In-between caminos

Filling the gap

November — December

Let’s rewind a bit since my last camino. I got home around the 20th of November, and man, was I exhausted by these two months spent on the road. I had quit my previous job because I was tired of spending my days sitting on a chair in front of a screen, and my plan was to travel for a few months or so, starting with the camino.

I did not anticipate that I would be so tired not even 3 months after having quit… All I wanted was to be some place that felt mine and rest and spend time with my friends. And yeah, true, I’ll confess that I also went home because Final Fantasy XV’s release was getting close and I just had to play this game.

But yep, I was tired. And with the cold season upon me, I started thinking about settling down. Gasp. Well, not entirely settling down; my thinking was that maybe it would be a good idea to invest some of my savings instead of blowing them all away. I had started thinking about it on the last days of my camino and it got stuck on my mind : I should buy an apartment.

But this implies taking a loan, which in turn means having a job. Again. Going back to work so soon, well… that was not the plan. But my mind was made up and it was a matter of days before I remembered about a company that I had been following for a few years, often thinking I should apply there at some point.

It was the first time I was free to go for it, so I wrote them an email. After a few exchanges, tests and interviews, I got hired. I had left paris and a good job because I wanted to do something else, pretty much anything else as long as it was not work; and barely three months later I was going back: I believe this is called irony.

January — March

Early in January, I started my new job while living between Strasbourg and Paris. That setup was meant to last the duration of my trial period, after I which I would find and buy a place. Easy peasy. But I liked my job and coworkers, and my then-girlfriend was living in Paris; I had no reasons to stay between two cities, so I moved for good at the end of March.

It didn’t took long for irony to strike again. First, I got over my idea of buying a place: Paris is way too costly to my taste and I just coudl not get around investing such an amount of money for a little flat in a city I don’t even like that much. And shortly after that, my relationship with my girlfriend fell through as well.

April — May

So I moved into a city and took a job for reasons that were no longer valid… But there was an unexpected silver lining to these black clouds: I was having a blast at my job. I just couldn’t quit. Still, being without a purpose bothered me. I need to move towards something. That’s when one friend I had met during my camino told me that she was going to do another one in France, starting in June. There was my direction!

She would be starting the walk the first of June, and my plan was to join her ten days later — I couldn’t free myself earlier. Those three weeks of hiking through France looked like what I needed. A little bit of disconnection, sprinkles of physical activity, and loads of time to reflect on what I want to do after and figure things out. Except my friend, I didn’t expect to run into many hikers or pilgrims, so the potential for distractions was very little.

At least, that was the plan.

The Gargilesse Days

Well, actually...

Fresh start

The first part of the way

Waking up at 6am on a sunday during holidays, what a fucking idea. I spent my time yawning in the subway and at the train station. My backpack felt heavy, too heavy; is this what they call being out of shape, or did I simply forgot how having 10kg on your back feels? And I thought this would be as easy as the last weeks of the previous camino… Maybe next time. I made my way to my seat and napped during most of the journey to Châteauroux.

The friend I’m joining is walking the via lemovicensis, better known after the town where it starts, Vezelay. Right away, the way splits in two branches (Nevers and Bourges, the former being the one that my friend took) that merge together in Gargilesse. I had guesstimated that she would be a couple of days away from this town, and so Châteauroux (on the Bourges branch) looked like a good starting point to meet her while spending a few days on my own.

I arrived in town around 10am. After a short walk in the center, mostly to see the cathedral, I found what I was looking for: a coffee ! Can’t start hiking without one. I wasn’t sure I’d find one on a sunday. Once done, it’s officially time to start.

The first part is a classic exit-of-town path, asphalt roads, suburbs houses, and all in all not that interesting. Châteauroux is small, though, and it goes by quickly. At some point, the track goes into a field lounging a tiny forest, but the path was not properly maintained and after barely two minutes, I had to go back to the main road.

After going through what looks like some fancy suburbs, the next part of the road goes through the forest of Châteauroux. I welcomed the change: the weather was cooler and everything was nicer, except for the mosquitos and flies. Since I was barely beginning, I was very conscious of how time felt slow: It only about four hours of walk to get to my destination of the day, but if felt like a whole day had gone by.

The stadium

And since it was around 4pm, I wasn’t entirely wrong. The town was called Velles and I had planned to stay there for the night. I could have gone a little bit further away, but there was no point in reaching the meeting point too early; better to take easy and let my body get used to hiking before doing longer days.

While I was getting near the town, I kept hearing increasingly louder yells. I kept wondering what caused them until I got out of the forest: it was two soccer teams playing against each other! Yep, we’re sunday. I needed a little break, so I went to watch the end of the game and enjoyed some shade.

Once the game came to a close, I took a quick walk around the town. As expected, nothing was opened and nobody was in the streets. I went back to the stadium: I had the impression that some people would still be there and it would be a good occasion to ask if it was ok to set up my tent next to the field. Once there, I learned that the match was the last of the season and the two teams of the town were moving to the higher division the next year. They were getting ready to celebrate!

Though it was just a coincidence, I couldn’t help but think yep, that’s the camino: not only they didn’t mind me sleeping next to the field, they also let me to use the locker’s showers and invited me to spend the evening with them around a barbecue. We drank and ate together, we shared stories and laughs, and at some point there even was a sheep running freely on the stadium (in context, I swear it made some sense)… That evening was just about perfect.

On my own

I woke up fully rested around 7 or 8am. It came as a surprise: I remembered the uneasy nights spent sharing the tent with Loïc the year before; it looks like being alone makes it easier for me to get a good night’s rest. After packing my stuff I headed to the center of the city and grabbed my morning coffee.

When walking a camino in spain, there’s shells and arrows everywhere, making it hard to lose your path by accident. Here though, the markers are scarce, far from one another and very easy to miss: I had to improvise my way more than I would have liked, especially that day. Both this and the lack of maintenance on some paths made this hike a little bit annoying at times, even though I knew this could happen.

But that’s enough whining. Those two points notwithstanding, I was having a blast. A good mix of asphalt, fields and forests, and just enough clouds over the head made the day very enjoyable day overall, and I spent it mostly lost in my thoughts. I made a conscious choise of not listening to music: the sound of nature is not one I get to listen to a lot in Paris. Better take it in fully; the music will still be there once I get back.

I arrived in Argenton-sur-Creuse in the middle of the afternoon, where I briefly run into two irish pilgrims at the tourism office. I spent the rest of the day and the evening thinking and relaxing, either in the city or at the campground. The latter was setup with the river just next to it, enough to make you forget that there is a whole city just a few steps away.

Tick of the clock

Once again, I had a good night. I was starting to think that I could get used to sleeping in a tent. I had received some news from Krista (my friend) who was still a bit further away: I would reach the meeting point at least one day before her, maybe more. So I took my time and had breakfast in the city before leaving for Gargilesse.

While I was in Velles, everytime I mentioned Gargilesse people told me oh, you’ll see, it’s a beautiful small village, and my guide book said it was supposed to be one of the prettiest town in France. I was quite intrigued to see what it looked like… With a clear blue sky above my head, I left Argenton and went on my way, following a beautiful path close to the Creuse.

Again, the day was a mixture of different kinds of path: very green until Le Menoux, a regular road until the dam and a track going uphill in a forest until the arrival in Gargilesse early in the afternoon. I walked around for a little while, and that place was indeed very lovely and also smaller than I’d have pictured. I could see myself spending some time away from everything there…

I then went to the town’s bar to take a break away from the sun. I caught up on my writing, and I was curious about a woman I had noticed earlier, who busy drawing the town’s castle. I nicknamed her in my head the drawing lady, and when I stole a look at her drawing, I was impressed by the quality of her art. Some people really are good at their stuff.

After, I tried to actively do nothing for a little while. How often do we take the time to simply do nothing at all? Not often, in case you were really wondering. That’s when I noticed a black spot on my leg. A bloody tick. Looks like doing nothing leads to do something… I had probably caught it when I took a short nap earlier in the afternoon.

All I had to remove it was a pair of lame plastic tweezers. Obviously, there was no pharmacy or doctor in this town, so I would have to do it the hard way. After half an hour of being careful I finally removed the little bugger without smashing it or cutting its body from the head : I really felt like I deserved at least a couple of beers. I stayed a while longer at that bar, smiling at the other customers and talking with some of them about my hike, until I proceeded to the camping site right outside of town.

The kindness of strangers

A couple of minutes after I started walking away from the bar, I ran into three women that I had seen while walking around town and earlier at the bar (one of them being the drawing lady). After a very quick chat, they invited me to join them for beers; I figured I still had a few hours before I needed to go back to the camping site so I joyfully accepted.

They were sisters on holidays with their mother, all of them here to showcase their work in an art exhibition during the whole week. One was crafting jewelry (you can see her work here), one was working metals, and the last one was mostly into drawing and painting, while the mother was making puppets.

There was a bit of activity in the village that evening: a tv channel was airing “the favorite village of the French” and Gargilesse was one of the thirteen contenders. It was quite the event: the inhabitants had set up a viewing party with wine, cakes and other snacks. We joined them for a little while, but went back at the house to have more wine when it started raining lightly.

It was starting to get late and I was thinking that I should really go to the camping site before it closes. Luckily for me, they had a spare bed and they didn’t mind me staying there for the night even though we had just met. The kindness of strangers always amazes me… A little bit later we were visited by some neighbours: the town had finished at the 12th position, second to last. They were a bit sad, but I could only be satisfied since the town in first place was Kaysersberg, a town maybe 30/40 kilometers away from where I grew up.

Rain & pain

Four days in and first hangover. I had intended to walk in Krista’s direction instead of waiting around to meet her in the evening, but I was not so sure anymore… Sitting and waiting felt like a very good idea. I spent the morning with my hosts but around noon, I decided to give it a try and started walking. The headache would have to go away at some point.

But time went by and I was barely feeling better. Each step I took felt like a blow inside my head, and on top of that, maybe 5 or 6 kilometers in it started raining. I looked at my map and saw that I had read it wrong: the next town didn’t have a pharmacy, it was the one after. I was too tired to keep going on, so I took the easy way out and walked back to Gargilesse. The tick bite would have to wait for its inspection.

As I was reaching the town, both my headache and the rain were stopping. I was comforted in my decision of walking back when Krista told me she had got lost and wouldn’t go as far as planned that day. Even if I had kept going, I would not have seen her that day.

The bar was closed that afternoon. I went behind the castle, at my hosts’ exhibition. Only Annie (the mother) was here at the beginning, but one of her daughters soon joined us. We talked for a while, then went for a long walk outside of town, near the campground and following the riverbanks. I once again spent the evening and part of the night with them, drinking and laughing. Around midnight or so, I found the courage to look for a patch of grass to set up the tent and get some rest.

There and back again

No hangover that morning! Once was enough… After I had a coffee, I was set on doing something of my day and started walking towards the next town, Eguzon. I needed food, pharmacy, and activity! I still had to decide wether I would wait for Krista there, go back, or move on; but that could wait until I reached the town.

Close to three days in the same place was not having a good effect on me. Hiking is not complicated: one foot a time, one road a time, always forward. Simple enough, right? But having to work around somebody else’s pace, either having to rush or wait can feel like a burden or a drag. In this case, I tried to see it as a good opportunity to test and train my sense of patience, but I could feel myself getting restless.

Luckily, the path to Eguzon shoved those feelings aside. Right away the path was quite steep, though only for a short time. Then it was a regular road until a little town, Cuzion. After, a very nice path going down a forest: it required to be focused, but it was beautiful, even as I kept worrying about ticks.

I lost my cool during the next part. We were still alongside the Creuse and the camino was leading to a forest track, one which had its entrance blocked by a large tree. After I looked and wandered around to confirm it was the right path (and a few minutes of intense reflexion), I decided to give it a try. I was still wary of ticks and spiders but short on temper, so I threw my bag on the other side of the tree, then manage to jump over it.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no going back this way. The tree was too hard to climb from this side. Oh well, then I must go forward, I was thinking. And I did, only to get block by a second and then a third tree not even two minutes in. I felt stuck: I had no idea how long this would keep happening and I really did not want to be stuck in a worse place than the current one.

It doesn't show in this picture, but those trees were a-holes.

After considering my options, I had a fuck this moment and decided to walk the steep mountain side from where I was to what I hoped was a car track, and I was lucky since it was only a few minutes away. I was panting by the time I got there, but at least there was no tree in the way and the track was flat. A few minutes later, the first path was merging with the car tracks: now I felt like I wasted the last hour.

The next part was barely better: a regular road going uphill at first, with the cars driving right next to you, then the same thing, except in a straight line and flat. It was the beginning of a heat wave in France, so this early in the afternoon was the worst time possible to be out in the sun…

I was in Eguzon around 2pm. I was so tired of mind and body that I was seriously considering staying there for the day. Were I to walk back to Gargilesse, I would have to endure this road a second time, and then a third the next day… But if you ask my friends, they will all tell you the same thing: I’m too dumb for my own good. So after a few errands and a quick check-up at the pharmacy, I started walking back. This time, I avoided the forest alltogether and stayed on the main road, which quite frankly was boring. But my knee has started hurting when reaching Eguzon, and the road looked flatter than the alternative.

The last night

I was limping when I reached the campground outside of Gargilesse: my legs were telling me enough with you. Krista had texted me that she would be reaching the town that evening and aimed for the campground as well. After a quick shower, I went to the bar right next to the camping site and met two pilgrims, Diego & Bastien.

Both were from Paris but had started around Bruxelles more than a month earlier. They were mostly walking, and from times to times, when they were not enjoying their current location, they hitchhiked. Both had large backpacks, with a tent and guitars. I was not surprised to learn they were doing shorter days than I was, but wondered how much weight they were carrying.

We had a few beers and then lunch together, and while talking I learned they were into alchemy, as in changing stuff into other stuff alchemy. As much as I would like to, I honestly cannot tell you more about it since that conversation was a month ago and we did not go very deep into the details: all I remember was thinking why not, as long as you don’t ask me to believe in it.

A short while after, the family that had hosted me came to the bar as well and joined us. The pilgrims started playing music and singing, and around 9pm Krista finally got there! She was exhausted, hungry and in need of a shower, and she ended booking a room in order to have a better rest, so we barely saw each other that night. After the bar closed, we all stayed out near the river and kept drinking and having fun until 1 or 2am. We then all went to our respective accomodations for the night, but not before I had bid farewell to all of them since it was unlikely I’d meet any of them again.

That was not the plan

I woke up rested but in a weird mindset. I joined Krista and a fellow hiking friend of hers in town for coffee only to find that she had a similar feeling. I felt odd having had to wait for her, and she had felt pressured into having to rush to meet me, while neither of us actually asked the other for anything. Not the best feelings in the world… We were finally in the same place, but it didn’t feel as good as it was supposed to. That feeling lingered as we walked away from Gargilesse. On some level, it felt like going home after some holidays; I did spend three nights there, all in all.

Being back on the same road as the day before and knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy any of it probably acted as a trigger, as I ended up thinking only one thing : I am not supposed to be here. And the more I thought about it, the clearer it was: this was Krista’s journey and I had invited myself in, even though she was completely ok with the idea. As much as I enjoyed the past few days, this was not my camino.

I shared this train of thought with Krista and she was very understanding. Though she was at first looking forward to me joining her, she was a bit worried that she would lose some freedom of movement once we’d meet, and I could absolutely relate. So, I gave myself the whole road to Eguzon to decide what I was going to do next. Krista’s friend must have been wondering what the hell was wrong with us!. He had known her for a few days and knew we were meeting up, and there we were, talking about going in different directions in a matter of hours…

As we reached Eguzon, I had figured out my next move. I would take a train to Paris right that afternoon. I had a few things to do there: a concert (one I had forgotten about) to see, a friend’s birthday to go to, and another friend who is living abroad was in town. As I made my goodbyes to Krista and wished her well, I also had the next part of my holidays figured out… After all, I still had two weeks left to enjoy.

Mountains Calling

The missing steps

Fresher start

Waking up at 6am on a sunday during holidays, what a fucking idea. Oops, my bad: it was monday this time. Again, I spent my time yawning in the subway and at the train station. My backpack felt lighter, though: getting rid of the tent was a good idea. And again, I made my way to my seat and napped during most of the journey to Bayonne.

When I was planning these three weeks, I had discarded doing another camino since I had already done one only a few months earlier, but mostly because I would not have the time to walk it until the end. I had thought about it again shortly before leaving Krista, and it struck me that actually, I had not walked the whole thing: I did not go to Finisterra, and neither did I walk the first few days of the Camino Francés.

With Loïc, we had walked on the Camino Aragonés which joins the Francés in Puente-La-Reina; but there was a few days of walk between the start of the Francés in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and PLR. There was my new plan: go to SJPP and start walking.

I had zero intention of making any further plans. I knew where I was going to start and that was all I needed to know; everything else could be improvised — no maps or guidebook required. And so I went to Bayonne and enjoyed the city in spite of the heatwave for a couple of hours before catching my train to SJPP.

A tiny disclaimer: for reasons unknown — ok, it's laziness mixed with procrastination — I started writing this mid july (up to a draft of the second paragraph) and went back to finish it in october. Obviously, my memory is not as fresh as it should have been, and as a result some events might have gotten mixed up. That'll teach me... Hopefully.

The new gang

I ran into a few pilgrims right away, all waiting for the same train. Americans, French, a few Asians, people from all around the globe. During the trip, I sympathized with the few young ones, including Dan and Sam (USA). Once in the city, we each went to out respective accomodation but met quickly for a round of beers with another pilgrim, Joel (Macau). With the heatwave still going on, those were hitting quite hard… Right after, I went around to visit the city: the citadel at the top of the hill gives a pretty great view over the looming mountains we were going the face the day after.

At 5:30am the next day, people started waking up, and I was leaving the albergue before 6:30. This was way earlier than what I was used to during my first camino, but it made sense: the days were as long as they could get and very hot, so better leave early and walk as much as possible before midday.

The stage between SJPP and Roncesvalles is known for being one of the most challenging since many pilgrims are facing it on their first day. I had done worse during the first camino and I had one week-ish of hiking behind me, so I was confident about it; but I still had a hard time for the first half of the way. The path was very steep and I had to stop and catch my breath often. After that, I managed to drag my old self to the albergue at Roncesvalles around 1:30.

I walked most (if not all) of the way with Lindsey (Michigan) and Tatiana (Italy), then caught up with Sam, Dan and Joel, and started settling into our post-walk rythm: beers then dinner! That’s when my lack of planning caught up with me: I didn’t have enough cash and there was no place to withdraw in that tiny village. Luckily for me, Patricia (Denmark) was nice enough to lend me some money to last until the next day. The day and early evening were spent drinking beers, enjoying tapas, and getting to know each other, until it was time to try to get some rest among the snorers.

Can you please pass the wine ?

This time again, people got up pretty early, around 5am. I did not have a good night and was not happy being waken up so soon, so I decided to put on some music and walk until I found a place to grab coffee, with as minimal interactions as I could get away with.

Later, I found Sam in company of Aline, a fellow french, and Claudia (Australia) who had also done a camino previously, though a few years earlier and in different circumstances. We ended up in Larrasoana around 2pm and met Bob there, whom at first reminded me of Paul from my previous camino, but had very little in common.

I was in a weird spot regarding him: on the one hand, he kept helping me and proving me with creams and medecine for the various bug bites I started to notice over my arms, but at the same time he was making lewd and unpleasant comments at some of the girls. I was not the only one feeling a bit uncomfortable around him, which made it easier to avoid him the next days.

Not surprinsingly, we spent the afternoon drinking, talking and resting. A group of italians volunteered to cook dinner, which was the occasion to drink some more and to stir up some debate revolving around beliefs and the decent etiquette of wine sharing. I wonder what the camino would look like without the beer, wine and coffee… I’d have to found other topics to talk about, for sure.

Pamplona, take two

Still earlier: this time the first ones got up around 4am. I tried to stay in bed as long as I could, but around 5am I was too awake anyway. I walked with what had become my group - Sam, Claudia, Dan, Patricia and Aline - but wasn’t yet in the mood for talking, once again needing a coffee. We finally found one and soon after entered Pamplona. We ate a late breakfast (or early lunch?) consisting of a hybrid between a pizza and a tortilla, which was as awesome as it sounds, then made our way inside the city.

So it took a little more than a couple of days to find myself on known grounds again. Since I had not looked at any maps, I was under the impression that it would last longer but well. We checked into the same german albergue that I was in last time, the Casa Paderborn, and though the hospitaleros were not the same, the place felt the same : cheerful, welcoming and yet strict, as one could expect from a german-ran place.

The albergue was not yet opened, but they has let us drop our bags. We went to visit the city and get some drinks until they opened, which was the occasion to get to know each other a bit better. Dan was planning on becoming a priest after the camino, which was the first time I met an young, active believer on the camino, and even outside of it I cannot say when that last happened. Yet, he was relatable and friendly; not that there is any reason he shouldn’t have been, but being surrounded by non believers, atheists and other heathens can lead you to think that you can’t enjoy the company of a believer. Again, without reason.

Sam had been working in Santiago for a couple of months and wanted to do the camino and travel before starting a new job in september; Claudia wanted to do the camino again, this time on her own; Patricia was enjoying some free time; and Aline wanted (needed?) some time to think over where her life was going. Also joining us at the table were Maria and Carmen, two sisters (Mexico), Sisse (Denmark) and Louise (Australia).

Once properly checked-in and after a siesta, we went tapas hopping again. Talks revolved around politics, drinking games, and the differences in dating in our respective cultures. We went through many places, but made sure to come back before curfew: one of the hospitalero has made it clear he would not be happy with late pilgrims!

Alto del Perdón

Good news: finally waking up at 6am instead of 4am or 5am. Less good news: we were woken up by the hospitalero singing with is deep voice, which is not exactly the best way to get out of sleep, but well. At least it was 6am… We take our time and leave around 7am, and after a few banter I went on my own to do some fast-paced walking.

This path was the last unknown one for me, since everything after Puente la Reina would be déjà vu. Even though I was rushing through it, I enjoyed it a lot: the way took us in a little mountain chain called Sierra del Perdón, up to the Alto del Perdón at 770 meters high.

From there, it was all downhill until the entrance to Obanos, the town in which both caminos (aragonés and francés) merge. As soon as I was at the beginning of the steep entrance to the town, I was overflowed by a wave of memories and nostalgia, or the happy version of it. The last time, I remembered seeing a lot of pilgrims in Obanos; this time however, not so much.

Even in Puente la Reina, less people than I’d have expected. Maybe I simply had gotten used to the large number of pilgrims. Once at the albergue, I recognized the lady in charge of checkins : it was the same than the last time! Obviously, she didn’t recognized me. I can’t even begin to guess how many faces she had seen during those few months…

Double or nothing

The rest of the day went by as they all did, spent between beers, siestas, and dinner. After sharing some more wine in the backyard of the albergue, I realized that I had done the few missing days of my camino francès, my “original” mission for this trip.

Since I had a few more days of vacations, I briefly pondered stopping there and make yet another late minute amendment to my plans, such as doing the few days from Santiago to Fisterra; and just as quickly decided not to. I was having fun there, and I was enjoying the company: why cut it shorter that it needed to ?

It's all about wine

Walking in your footsteps

Taking the time

Rough night, again. Most of them left me not fully rested when waking, and I did not found out why before I left. Probably a mix between the heat, the snoring, and the few bug bites I had. I walked alone at the beginning, then met up with some people until we reached Estella, the destination of the day.

Though I had technically been there before, I did not get to visit the city the first time : my friend and I had rushed through and done two days’ worth of walking in one. This time, I took it slow: I went around town to take its measure and a few pictures. Also, Lindsey’s had misplaced her papers in Puente La Reina; luckily, they had not been stolen and they were at the albergue, and she could make the roundtrip by bus.

Dinner that night was a bit tense due to a discussion/debate that revolved around racism in the USA. I remember hearing I know I’m not racist, but, which is a pretty good tell that someone maybe isn’t full-on racist, but at least has some prejudice. I stayed out of it as much as I could, listening rather than engaging, until it was time to go to bed.

A thousand bugs

Worst night ever. I couldn’t sleep properly, and at some point during the night I finally noticed that my bug bites were not going away and were doing quite the opposite. In the morning, I even had a huge bump on my forehead. Some people said it looked like bedbugs marks, some said it was probably spider bites or something… In the end I still don’t know what it was, but I took no risks and stopped using my sleeping bag for the remainder of the trip.

Luckily, there was some comfort on hand shortly after: the famed wine faucet! The italians even had some cigarios and were happy to share them. I didn’t think I’d ever be drinking wine and smoking at 7:30am, unless maybe at the end of an all-night party, but well, it seems there’s a lot you can get away with just by being a pilgrim.

The rest of the path was pretty great: we could choose between two roads, one going though the mountain’s forrest and the other flatter but longer. We took the first one, as I think I had done the year before.

I started walking with Dan, and walked him through the gist of season 6 of Game of Thrones which he hadn’t seen (and was eager to know, so it was ok to spoil him!), until I took off for some brisk walking. Shortly before Los Arcos, I ran into Lindsey again and we stayed together until the town, where she decided to keep going while I stopped there.

The rest of the day kept bringing ill tidings: Simon, an american I had met during the early days had to stop because his blisters were getting really bad, probably infected; someone else had slipped and hurt their ankle, forcing them to stop; Louise had her phone stolen; and to top it all Aline had to stop as well.

Her ankles had been painful since the first days, but nothing she was not able to manage and at first, it seemed it was improving. In Los Arcos’ albergue, she had allowed herself a massage and the physician was told her she had tendinitis and that she should stop and rest, so being smart, that’s what she did. It would have been a gamble to keep going: if it really was tendinitis, she would only have made it worse and those things took long enough to heal as it is…

All in all, she seemed to take it pretty well; I know I would have been mad with frustration had that happened to me — and probably would not have stopped. Though it was a bit of a downer to have a member of the group leaving, it didn’t prevent us from having fun that night. After all, the coming and going of people is part of the camino experience…

Water falling from the sky

For once, I had a very good night and managed to not get waken up by other pilgrims until 5:30. A little downside, though: it was raining, lightly but surely. I said goodbye to Aline then went for a coffee in town, hoping the rain would stop; no such luck, so I started walking towards Viana with only the memories of the previous camino for company.

Viana had a little bit changed: the road I had taken to go inside the city was now forbidden and some heavy road work was taking place there. Once I found my way towards the center, I met up with my usual buddies for coffee and tortillas, and got introduced into a couple of other pilgrims. Sam, Claudia and I walked together to Logroño, where I chose to go to the same albergue I had stayed the previous time, while they went to another one — the one Loïc had stayed in, probably. With the benefit of hindsight, they made the smart move: there was nobody I knew in mine except good ol’ Bob…

We met again in the afternoon for wine. No beers this time, since we were in the lands of vinyards. The local wine is both good and quite cheap: less than 1€ for a glass of a decent quality! We talked about a lot of things, as usual, and the subject of spirituality came up. One of the pilgrims at the table, James, had no issue with non-catholics doing the pilgrimage, but doubted that there was not at least some part of spirituality in such an endeavour, and it led on to discussions on faith, spirituality and beliefs.

One last change

I went on my own that morning, not knowing if and when the others would leave their albergue. I was thinking on how/when to start making my way home, since my holidays were almost over, when I had an idea, or should I say an inspiration: Aline had said she might be going to San Sebastian or some other town in the north for a few days before going back home; why not do the same? After all, I was on holidays; taking at least one day of rest was a sensible idea. Over the course of an hour, I had made my plans: this day would be my last of hiking, and early on the next morning I was to catch a bus to San Sebastian.

I took a long coffee break in the first stop of the day, and I informed my friends of my plans whenever I caught up to them. The day in its entirety was one of the best I had during this whole trip: the weather could not have been better, and the sights among the viyards were beautiful… I spent most of the walk with Sam and Chloe (Chicago), taking a lot of breaks — and needless to say, a lot of beers. We even got some live music on the way, in a nice spot in the shade next to a vinyard.

We finally reached Najera, the end of my road. After a shower, it was time for one last afternoon of wine and tapas with everybody. I was bit sad of having to stop, especially since I knew — or at least, felt — that for them, the best was still to come. But I would have left two days later at best anyway, so I enjoyed the rest of the day as much as I could.

Early in the evening, we even shared a joint on the riverbanks, close to where we shared one the year before with Loïc and Monica. I could still picture the lot of them being drunk in the middle of the afternoon… A fine conclusion to a fine adventure.


It looked like everybody had a hard time getting up that morning, except Claudia. I stayed and said goodbye to as many friends as I could, then went to catch my bus. The ride was wonderful: lots of mountains scenery, just as I like. I arrived in San Sebastian pretty early, around 10:30am. I walked through the city a bit, went to the bay of La Concha and then up to the hill named Urgull where I took a sight seeing break.

The point of view was pretty amazing: the bay, the island of Santa Clara, the mountains on one side, the open sea on the other… Over the course of half an hour, I could see the weather evolve from blue sky and bright sun to grey weather to heavy rain… under which was me, of course. I waited for it to calm down, then went to visit the Castillo de la Mota before finally going back in the city for a round of pintxos (the basque name for tapas, pretty much).

I then went to my hostel, took a shower and a nap, and in the common room I stumbled upon Aline! I knew she was in the city, but had no idea where she was staying. We spent the rest of the evening and early night (no curfew for once, yay!) bar hopping, enjoying many pintxos and glasses of wine — at least I did, she was more reasonable. She wasn’t sure about staying here some more or going back home; I hesitated as well until I checked what the weather had in store for the next day: rain…

Until next time

Even for my last night, there was a snorer in the way of a good night’s sleep, but at least no one to wake me up at 5am. I hung out with Aline (who was probably going to stay one more day), and then a farewell hug and it was time for me to go catch my train for Irun, with the soundtrack of La-La Land in my ears to make the rainy trip more cheerful. Then I walked some more and crossed the border to Hendaye, where I boarded the train that would take me home.

I would have liked to stay in San Sebastian a bit more, but I knew I would not have enjoyed it to the fullest, not with the current weather.

But well, I can always come back. And what a crazy coincidence: the city is on the camino norte


When I had left my first camino, I had known it was time for me to go. I’d had my share of pretty much everything and wanted to go home, back to some comfort and my then-girlfriend. This time was different, since it was not long before that I had started hiking again. No Burgos, no meseta, no Leon, no Galicia this time…

It had bothered me to leave the camino unfinished, even if I had known it from the start. I spent the next few days home wondering what the hell I was doing there, feeling restless and unhappy with my situation. At some point, I made a list of everything that was preventing me to leave, only to find that there was nothing tying me down except my job. So I made another list, this time of the pros and cons of my job.

And since the only con I could find was “it requires most of my time”, which is the definition of anytime full time occupation, I thought it was not yet the time to quit, even though it was itching me… I settled for leaving Paris, its density, crowd and stress to go back to a simpler and more welcoming life for me, in Strasbourg, while keeping my job. As I said, it was hard to find downsides to it…


Weirdly, I would still like to thank Loïc first. Even though he has little to nothing to do with this trip, I would not have made this one without going through the first camino, so you get a second round of thanks. But be warned, you’ll have to actually do something if you want a third one.

To Krista, for letting me be a part of your plans; to Ludovic and everybody I met of the FC Velles, for inviting me and making me feel part of your “family” for one evening; to Annie, Eloïse, Fanny and Maïté for the company during those few days lost in the middle of nowhere, France.

To Sam, for always being there when it came to drink beers or wine, no matter what time of the day it was; Lindsey, for being my first walking companion of the trip; Patricia, for your neverending cheerfulness; Claudia, for your crazy resilience because how the fuck did you carry such a heavy bag still amazes me; Aline, for being the french touch of this camino; Dan, for enduring the infidels we were with a smile, and to Joel, Jessie, Sisse, Louise, Maria and Carmen, and all the others I hadn’t the time to share more than a few words.

And to my colleagues that saw me at the concert between my two hikes: I swear I did not see you and I really was hiking and not hiding!