Including written/photo contributions from Sandra E., Sydney NSW & Rob W. Melb, Vic.
It’s now a week since we commenced our Camino in the colourful north coastal city of Bilbao. Here we see many different architectural styles. The best examples include the Renaissance/ Gothic Cathedral; the neoclassical arcades of Plaza Nueva; and the contemporary, river front Guggenheim Museum of modern art.
Heading west we spent a night in the well-preserved medieval village of Santillana del Mar with its distinctive stone houses and the renowned 12th C. Collegiate Church and Romanesque cloisters. Much lively chatter and laughter accompanied our first group dinner where we enjoyed countryside hospitality and high quality cuisine.
Then followed four wonderful days of walking through magnificent rural landscapes between the Sea of Cantabria and the snow capped Picos de Europa. Although there are not many other pilgrims on this trail we have enjoyed daily encounters with people from many other distant lands.
Initially the weather was perfect – more recently we’ve had the chance to test the quality of our water-proof boots, clothes and day pack covers. But the rain also had a silver lining! A welcome opportunity to shelter in a café in the tiny hamlet of Naves where the friendly proprietor went out of his way to acquire some homemade crusty bread to go with local cheese and Iberian ham from his kitchen.
In the words of another member of our group:
Day 5 and some of us have walked around 70kms. Our journey so far has taken us on a path that engulfs the traveller in snow-capped mountains alongside wide empty beaches nestled in small fishing villages. We have walked along narrow pathways in over grown forests; pebble roads with abandoned 16/18 Century washer rooms to the side; and across farmland overlooking the sea. Animals are abundant with horses, sheep, goats and cattle grazing, cow bells singing and dogs barking. We have stumbled upon 15th Century Monasteries that once showed hospitality to earnest pilgrims seeking the will of God.
Today our earnestness rests with the search for a good coffee along the road. We converse in a way that is free of some of the constraints that might be there back in Australia. The Camino – the Way – evokes conversation around the past, the present and the future. It is about storytelling and there are many stories to be told and heard in this very supportive environment, walked upon over the centuries by other curious seekers.
We meet fellow pilgrims along the Way who freely share their intentions; one French women working through a difficult time in her life. Another seeking clarity around her future career, yet another, just enjoying the countryside without a goal in mind. Whatever the intention we notice a respect for the pilgrim from the locals as we walk through their villages with our packs on our backs, Camino shells clanging and walking sticks in hand.
The contrast in terrain is as startling as the change in weather. But what is a genuine surprise to many is the smell of eucalyptus. For some locals, a pest, an introduced species, but for us an amazing sensation that we are not far from Belgrave in the Dandenongs or Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. What messes with our heads is that no sooner do we feel we are walking through Australian bush than we are confronted with, say, a stone wall belonging to a large Spanish villa from centuries before. Tomorrow we walk along the coast to Colunga and whilst the weather might bring rain we are comforted with the knowledge that unlike the pilgrims of past a hot shower and comfortable bed await us.
Rob W, Melbourne, Vic.