Walking El Camino de Santiago

Former nzherald.co.nz news editor Simon Winter takes on the 775-kilometre Spanish Pilgrim Trail

Spain: Characters on the road

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Walking through fields of canola en route to Puenta la Reina. Photo / Simon Winter
Walking through fields of canola en route to Puenta la Reina. Photo / Simon Winter

There's an Irish woman doing the Camino with a six-month-old baby, a two-year-old boy, a dog ('Ruby') and a double baby buggy.

This Irish lass has been handing the baby around the the communal dinner table while she has her tea. Night after night. And when you've got a crying child, a 26-bed albergue is the last place you should be.

Do I sound too judgmental?

In Roncesvalles (night one) the owner relented and gave her a private room. But in Villa Mayor the proprietor refused. Instead the young mum erected a tent, in the rain, outside the local church and shoved the troupe in there. In the end a sympathetic local offered pity and took her in.

Mary, an Irish nurse we met days later, called her "a nutter". I think that sums it up nicely.

On the trail, the 'bush telegraph' is always full of wild and wacky accounts - nearly always true. We've seen some first-hand.

A lovely 62-year-old yoga teacher from San Diego decided not to bring a sleeping bag despite the fact she's staying in dorms. Why?

And there's a Portuguese fella who doesn't shower and talks to God all night but is over 2000kms into his walk, having trekked the Portuguese coast before taking on the Camino in reverse - and he's got the stamps to prove it. The albergues let him sleep for free.

Everyone has a story.

Among them, two German medical students trying to decide if it's still worth the effort and an American actress wondering if the 'dog-eat-dog' world of LA is still worth the punt.

There's Mark the Scottish taxi driver and Jacob the struggling Sydney artist. And Val the Austrian, whose three kids have just left home.

"What to do now" she says, "what to do?"

Her husband is meeting her in three weeks' time in Bilbao. Like many, she's not going the full way to Santiago.

On our Camino few of the pilgrims are religious. There are far more retiree pilgrims than young people, but not too many English speakers.

Mostly its Europeans, a few Irish, a few Aussies and Brits, and we've met just one Kiwi.

Greg, from Christchurch, lost his Redcliff home in last February's quake.

He's waiting for it to be red-stickered, "hopefully mid-year".

Though we're still only a few days into our Camino, everyone has at least two things in common - plenty of time to walk, and think.

We've reached day five.

Pamplona for night three was extraordinary. It's not big but it's a beautiful walled city, and though we missed July's bull-run, we walked the route. A moat also surrounds peacocks, chickens and deer in its central park. Its exotic narrow streets are captivating.

In fact, every village we come across is like a walk back in time.

But there's one thing most of our fellow peregrinos (wanderers) have hardly seen on this Camino: the sun. It's still wet and cold.

Maybe tomorrow!

Route marker: 87km down, 688 to go.

* Simon Winter is a former nzherald.co.nz news editor. He and partner Lisa are following the sun through Europe. They're finding the weather somewhat colder than expected.

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