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Norte or Frances?

by Tania

The wing lights of a plane are blinking in the clear, dusky distance. The engine is purring and humming, propelling the aircraft towards its destination. It reminds me, as I sit here on the beach watching it, that I will be up there on route to Paris soon, in one month tomorrow to be exact. However, some decisions still need to be made and my mind is in turmoil. My biggest dilemma is whether to walk the Camino Frances again or embark on a new journey, the Camino del Norte.

This bird has waited patiently for spring to come so she can fly off again. In the meantime, Victoria has been an enjoyable place to perch for a while. I have been blessed with new friends and experiences, also a unique and special romance, however one that we both need to let go of as we set off in different directions. Regardless, it has taught me much about my ability to love someone without the expectation of a future together; in other words love without attachment and a wish for his future success and happiness.

A perfect set-up in the temporary staffing pool at the University of Victoria has given me the freedom to work and save money so that I can embark on this long journey and still have a job to return to. My furnished bedroom in Cadboro Bay will be here for me too. I’ve been lucky enough to sublet for three months while I am away.

This beach has been a comfortable thinking place for me. It’s literally a two minute walk from my outside bedroom door. Tonight, the water is calm unlike it was during the howling winter storms. The wind was even strong enough to blow open my door and a deadlock had to be installed. The rain would beat like a rush of pellets on my window and the surf would crash on the beach hard enough to bring anchored sailboats ashore, but tonight the waves are gently lapping. Some make short rushing sounds and some carry on longer as they roll down the length of the beach.

The fluffy brown blanket wrapped around my legs and my down sweater-jacket keep me cozy in this spot nestled against a driftwood log. To top it off, I have a mug of chocolate-mint tea.

Living room windows cast a warm glow and dot the perimeter of the bay. The trees above them are black silhouettes against the darkening sky. More and more stars, like night lights, blink on with each passing moment. Two beacons in the distance, one red and one white, continually blink on and off signaling the outcropping of land at the end of the bay and also an island to passing ships.

My headlamp would have been useful at the beach tonight. I can barely make out the words I am writing in my note book. I need to test it out anyways as it will be an important item to pack for my upcoming pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino del Norte, I think.

I haven’t been completely sure about it to be honest, but I’m not sure about repeating the Camino Frances either.

I know I can’t have the same journey that I had in the fall of 2013 and nor would I want to.

It was special and inspired big changes in my life. In my mind though, walking the same route twice knowing the path, the villages and the cities around each corner, makes me feel uncertain.

I know that it would be a different journey in many ways. It would be spring instead of fall. The vast meseta would be lush and green instead of dry and golden. Spring flowers would paint the green landscape in vibrant colour compared to the fading sun flowers, with seedless smiles, that grace the golden earth in harvest colour in early fall, or the vineyards packed with bunches of sweet red wine grapes that glisten in morning dew.

The people would be different too. There would be different experiences of friendship, camaraderie and pilgrim wisdom. If I walked that route again I would even stay in different villages and at different albergues.

It would be an entirely different experience, but even though I know this, something still tugs at me to walk a different way. Maybe I’m just not ready yet to have a different experience on the same route or maybe there is something for me somewhere else that I don’t yet know. Maybe it will all make sense to me two months from now.

There is something about walking along the ocean that appeals to me. However there is limited information on the Camino del Norte route, probably because only 6% of pilgrims choose to walk it. In 2015, 15,873 pilgrims walked the Camino del Norte compared to 172,244 who walked the Camino Frances.

Part of the reason fewer pilgrims walk the Norte is because it is difficult.

It is very hilly and strenuous. It is also very wet along the Bay of Biscay on Spain’s north coast. I have heard that the infrastructure is not as good as the Camino Frances and the Camino “feeling” isn’t quite the same either. There are also reports of a lot of road walking. A big one for me though, is the fear of loneliness. The camaraderie on the Camino Frances was so special to me. I would be afraid not to experience it on the Norte.

My mind, as it does when faced with doubt or fear, began to paint the route in a misty and rainy grey rather than in the beautiful colour that I remember the Camino Frances. As a result, part of me hasn’t been as excited as I think I should be about embarking on this next journey.

That was until last night, Sunday, April 3rd. Here’s the update…

Dawn, a Camino del Norte pilgrim, who I met at a recent Camino gathering in Victoria, invited me to her house to watch a slideshow on her experience of the route. The photos were spectacular showing images of forested and rugged coast line, old Roman roads, quaint ocean-side villages and beautiful white beaches. She told stories of fantastic albergues and hospitaleros, proud locals of their Camino route and of the mouth-watering seafood and fresh cider. I was in awe. I left with a new-found feeling of excitement.

So I have made up my mind. I will walk the Camino del Norte beginning on May 6th from Irun on the French/Spanish border and I will blog about it as I go. I will post when the WIFI is strong enough.

I hope you join me along the way!

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Mur April 6, 2016 - 9:56 am

This seems great! I look forward to hearing of your journey!

Tania April 6, 2016 - 10:18 pm

Hey Murray!! I think it will be. I’m happy you’ll be following along like last time 🙂

Runa Gunnarsdottir April 17, 2016 - 2:44 am

Hi Tania. I will also start my Camino del Norte on the 6th of May, but I will start from Guemes. I did the first part from Irún two years ago and had planned to to all the Norte but had to leave home sooner than I thought I would do. So now I will start where I ended in 2014.
The first part from Irún to Guemes is beautiful and I just loved it.
I am 65 years old woman and I live in Iceland.
Best wishes to you and Buen Camono

Tania April 19, 2016 - 7:25 am

Hi Runa! I’m so happy to hear from another pilgrim who will be walking the Camino del Norte at the same time! Wonderful! And Buen Camino to you as well 🙂

It’s nice to hear how much you liked the stretch between Irún to Guemes. I have heard that the scenery, especially during the first 5 days of the Norte from Irún, is very beautiful. Did you walk that stretch in May as well?

Jeremy April 19, 2016 - 7:42 pm

I’ll be hiking the Norte-Primitivo a month after you. I look forward to following your journey!

Tania April 20, 2016 - 7:48 am

Thanks Jeremy! I will likely detour onto the Primitivo from Oviedo too. June walking into July will be nice along the del Norte. Buen Camino to you! 🙂


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