1. It is less crowded, only 10-15% the number walking annually.
2. There is less competition for sleeping places each night despite there being fewer accommodation possibilities
3. It is prettier especially through the Aubrac plateau and overall the first section to Cahors
4. It is physically more challenging
5. The path leads through private vine yards and farms, it is often more intimate and personal
5. More of the little churches and chapels are open
6. Sorry Spain, the food generally is much nicer
7. Superior wine, especially in Gascony and not discounting the fine reds of Rioja (my apologies to them all)
8. Some days in summer you will not see a single other walker
9. Because of the smaller numbers, the whole 734 km feels less ‘commercial’
and less driven by the ‘Camino business’
10. Many of the villages are charming – again, apologies to the fascinating villages in the Montes de Leon
Both are great, my personal preference is the Via Podiensis and, of course, the crossing of the Pyrenees.
Remember Anika and Tom? You do? It has been only one month since I wrote here of their adventures, it seems longer than that as I have been busy on other tasks.
Both have been walking the Camino, they have met and (like in the Hollywood classics) have agreed to meet in a year. No contact during the year, no plans, they will find each other for true love always finds a way.
Back in Australia, Tom is gathering information on pilgrims dying on the Camino in Spain and on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France; in fact, some 10 or so people are known to die each year walking or cycling to Santiago, there may be more that are not recorded, and there are plaques here and there to commemorate their lives and deaths. This has always been a reality on pilgrimages, more so in the past when illness was rife and banditry a constant danger.
Now Tom is returning to Europe to cross the Pyrenees on commission and then to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port to gather more information re peregrino deaths and, of course, to meet Anika on 22 May.
He has decided to write a novel about love and death on the Camino as a cover for his research on the personal tragedies of the dead pilgrims. Yes, there is some old fashioned post-modern reflexivity at work as I write a novel about a guy writing a novel. Do not to be alarmed, there will be no linguistic tricks or theorising, it is simply a device for Tom possibly to earn some money (he has no source of income) and to put a little distance between him and the realities of pilgrims dying.
1. Not every walker is a pilgrim.
2. Not every pilgrim is a saint.
3. The one pebble on the path will always find the tender part of your sole.
4. The other side of the path always looks smoother for walking.
5. Not every albergue is a heart of camaraderie and communal food and wine.
6. Not very hospitalero is a welcoming and generous host.
7. Not every local inhabitant is enamoured of peregrinos.
8. No path is ever truly flat or straight, regardless of what the books or maps may say.
9. Not everything that happens on the Camino has meaning, let alone is a sign or a miracle.
10. Anything can be interpreted as a sign or a miracle if this is what you desire to see.
You take yourself with you when you journey and it is the journey and not the destination which is important. Unutterably banal, true nonetheless.
A few days ago I ambled down to the village square and saw some people whom I had met earlier on the Camino and they invited me to join them for a drink.
The following conversation too place; I am the respondent.
Which route did you take today?
What do you mean?
The high or the low?
Well, what did you see?
It was remarkable, I saw no other pilgrims all day! Where were they all?
Was it steep?
Yes! It was lovely and so isolated.
Okay, so you took the high route which is much more difficult and we went the low way.
Oh! Well, it was beautiful.
Didn’t you see the directions at the turn?
At the roundabout?
Long story cut short, I had missed the decision point and taken the perfect alternative and had a wonderful day. I would love to say this happened because I was lost in contemplation of the meaning of life or a deep literary problem, but it is untrue.
I feel sure this must be some metaphor for life.
Or pure serendipity, bless it.
Tomorrow I shall be back on the path starting from Pamplona and I promise/hope to blog regularly and I promise/hope not to blog on those staples of what I eat, what the weather is like and whether the albergues are good or bad. We shall see! The objective is to walk with my fictional characters as they walk, meet, fall in love, separate, face death and numerous complications on and off the Camino over a period of two years. Now, they do not meet until after Burgos so there will be much preparatory time as we first follow our hero Tom.
See you on the Camino!
No, not what you may be thinking. Rather, this is my first foray into the world of blogging. Having spent much of my life working with words and ideas, it is time to enter this new [for me] form of sharing and commenting, especially as the ‘hero’ in my work-in-progress novel is an aspiring blogger and novelist so we have art imitating life or, more accurately, life imitating art in my case. Speaking of ‘walking’, this is another great passion and in May I intend to walk the Via Gebennensis from Geneva to Le Puy; last year I walked the Via Podiensis from Le Puy to Pamplona and the year before part of the Camino from Leon to Santiago, setting my novel in the wonderful history and romance of these great traditional pilgrimage paths. Writing and walking as two different quests for meaning and an authentic voice: sounds pretentious I know, so let’s stress the fun of it all. This is why I took early retirement from universities 7 years ago and now have cleared the decks to write and to wander.
No more excuses!
Let us see what happens!