Dreaming of the Camino de Santiago and how I got into pilgrims or pilgrimages

Good morning Zirndorf

We’ve been all over for the holidays, but we’re finally headed home to Munich today.

Any of you remember my writings/photos from the Camino de Santiago several years back? It was a pivotal moment or set of moments in my life & I’ve not even walked the whole Camino.

As I said then, finishing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain isn’t the point. Not at all. It’s a lifelong journey.

My mother gave me a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress when I was young, and since then I’ve been obsessed with pilgrims & pilgrimages. Then I studied English literature in college & of course we spent an inordinate amount of time on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As one does.

So, then I married a woman from Franken, or Franconia if you prefer, and it just so happens there’s a lot of Jakobsweg related stuff, which is what the Germans call the Camino, in this region of northern Bavaria.

We went to Weihenzell earlier today. It’s one of the many Wallfahrtskirchen, which is a word I’ve got no idea how to translate. I was up late & didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe I’ll edit this later. Maybe not.

I’m in full holiday mode can barely string two coherent thoughts together. Here’s a photo of the church. Of course it wasn’t open.

Oh well.

third day on the Camino & a return to where I started last year…back to the future, because I’ll definitely be here again


This bridge means a lot to me, and it’ll take some explaining for it to make sense. 

Arrived here in Logroño last year to begin my journey. Meeting all the pilgrims with their injuries that day, I felt like such an imposter calling myself a pilgrim already. Little did I know – everyone walks his own Camino. Where you start is immaterial. Just start. 

Then I looked back over this bridge from the other side and could only imagine what the path from Pamplona to here was like. Now that I’ve gone back and done that exact stretch, I found myself looking on this bridge with a sense of accomplishment. 


The day before, I’d walked through Villamayor de Monjardín, which is nearly as pretty a village as this flower. Needed to keep moving, but I could’ve enjoyed a siesta there. Next time. 


As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve either followed my travels here, or know anything about the Camino de Santiago, these markers are found all along The Way. Even in my hikes back in the Bavarian Alps, you sometimes see these signs for Der Jakobsweg, which always make me long to get back on the Camino


The morning ‘magic hour‘ is beautiful enough to make you want to leap out of your bunk in the albergue. There’s no such thing as sleeping in when you’re a pilgrim, but it’s moments like this that make early mornings so worthwhile. 


Think this was from my first day, when I was coming out of Pamplona, but I can’t remember. What I do remember is the sweet, delicious smell of these guys. I’m sure those of you who know flowers can tell me what these are. Anyone?

Definitely from day one, coming down off the Alto del Perdón – no idea the significance of this wooden statue in Obanos, but I loved the juxtaposition of east and west. 


In case you needed any encouragement: Don’t  stop walking!


And not too much looking back, either. This is from the bridge in Puenta la Reina glancing from whence I came. Not much time for reflection about the road behind me while focused on the path ahead, but I liked this shot. It’s been well received elsewhere. Hope you like!

Don’t stop walking with or without knowing exactly where you’re going to sleep…or what you’re going to sleep on

There’s this exhilarating moment when you arrive at the albergue after the day’s walk, and you drop your things. This is where you know you’re going to spend the rest of your day and your evening, yet there’s a good chance you’re so tired that you’ll sleep through most of one or the other. 

Suddenly you’re faced with a most pressing dilemma: do you take a shower or first lie down for a short while? That short while can become a long one if you aren’t careful. Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ll feel so much better if you clean up right away, then you remember, ‘Oh, wait! I need to clean my clothes, as well.

In a weird state of singular focus where simple tasks take most, if not all, of what’s left of your depleted energy. Sometimes the decision is made for you in the event that there’s not a shower available when you arrive. If you’ve arrived at the same time as a lot of other pilgrims, getting into the shower first can be an issue. 

Remember, in that state of ‘I just want to refresh myself and lie down‘, every moment seems to count. However, now that I say that, there’s an eerie sense of acceptance that tends to overcome you when you’re that tired. 

‘There’s no shower? Ok, then I’ll just go hand wash my clothes…wait, you say now there’s no one in the showers anymore? Wonderful. Then I’ll go there now.

It was just these sorts of simple decisions I was making when I dropped my pack on my bunk in a room full of twenty or so other pilgrims. As I started pulling my things out, I realised, ‘Wait, where’s my sleeping bag?

No wonder I’d inexplicably had more space in my pack that morning. In a split second I replayed my early morning, remembered stuffing my bedding deep inside its cover, but I must’ve left it sitting next to my bed back in last night’s albergue. Damn! 

What was I going to do?

Luckily, the place I’d just arrived had sheets on their beds, which can be quite a luxury under the best of circumstances when you’ve been in your sleeping bag night after night for weeks on end. In this case, having sheets was fortuitous beyond description. 

This reminds me of something you hear again from pilgrims: 

The Camino provides…’ in that moment of hopelessness, where you simply don’t know what to do next…in exactly that seemingly hopeless situation, something or somebody magically shows up with an answer. 

Or you do without that thing that even a few moments ago seemed essential. In this case, I didn’t even need to go without. I was going to be sleeping in regal comfort on these sheets — real sheets with a pillow and everything. 

Called the woman at the previous night’s albergue and she assured me she’d not only seen my sleeping bag, but she’d decided she would go ahead and wash it. This she a) didn’t have to do – that was undeniably kind, but b) a very clean sleeping bag 30+ km behind me wasn’t going to do me much good. 

Thankfully, there’s a cottage industry of services along the Camino to carry one’s bags when a pilgrim has been injured. Or even to carry pilgrims to hospitals or the nearest town if the injury is serious enough that it needs medical attention. 

She asked me where I’d be the next night and assured me she could send it along via one of these services, but all I needed to do was call the number she gave me and arrange it with them. 

Ok, got it. 

Called the number and what he said was such a tremendous relief. Yes, he could take my bedding from last night’s to tomorrow’s place, but it’d set me back a cool €10. That’s roughly how much you pay per night to stay in one of the albergues, so one might think that’s pretty steep, but trust me…as a pilgrim, you need a sleeping bag. 

It was sheer good fortune that I had sheets at this place. There was no telling how things would be at the next place, but I didn’t want to risk it. 

How would I get the money to him, though? I’m not actually *at* the next place, where he’ll be dropping it off. Here’s where the story gets good, from my perspective: 

This courier would be coming through this place where I was staying tonight, but he wouldn’t be here till sometime mid morning. That’s exactly when I’d be out walking, so? What to do? How would we make this work? 

Simple, he assured me. I should give the woman where I was staying that night the money. She put it in an envelope for him, which he’d pick up as he swung by in the course of his day. 

And I’d keep walking, which was the whole point to begin with. Don’t. Stop. Walking. No matter what. 

a lapsed Quaker walking…I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point


Ok, I told you about the dog I met the first day and how I was missing my dogs, so there’s that. The whole dog thing. I’ve even started Dog Spotting pretty obsessively, which is something I always did, yet now I’m taking photos and adding whimsical captions and/or stories. We’ll see what comes of that. 

I deliberated for some time about whether I wanted to go into more detail about walking the Camino de Santiago, and once I’ve gotten over the whole ‘imposter syndrome‘ thing, I think I’ve got some ideas about how I can present it. 

Here’s what I’ve decided: assuming you’ve come here to hear my take on things and you know I’ve been walking on and off across northern Spain the last few years, you just have to expect that at some point I’m going to rattle on about the pilgrimage. 

Now first of all, I can imagine some of you saying, ‘I don’t give a damn about some ridiculous pilgrimage. It’s the 21st century and anyone worth his or her salt, at this point, is either atheist or at the bare minimum agnostic, so why stumble along some ancient path with a bunch of other dogooders?’

For one thing, I’ll get to my affiliation and perspective on all of that in a moment, but I’ll quickly point out that what’s now called The French Way (Camino Francés) is actually a pre Christian pilgrimage, or whatever those heathens called such a thing before they had the word ‘pilgrimage‘. 

It’s something I read at the airport last year, while waiting for my flight home. Starting somewhere in modern day Italy, or perhaps in what we used to call Yugoslavia, there was a path cut across northern Italy, the south of France, the Pyrenees (including St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles in the foothills), Pamplona and ultimately Santiago

Who cares? Why are you even still reading at this point?

My reasoning is that because you’ve never been on the Camino and likely wouldn’t make such a journey, this is the ultimate travel writing opportunity. I’ll try giving you a feel for walking this thing, while fully aware that you might never entertain the idea of doing so yourself. You’ll go about your daily life and every once in a while, if I’ve done my job right, you sigh and think to yourself, ‘All that’s well and good for that kind of person…’ or perhaps even, ‘Maybe someday…’

If I can give you an impression of taking the pilgrimage without even leaving your armchair, then I’ve done something worthwhile. Let me be your Bilbo Baggins, and taking that analogy to its logical conclusion, go ahead and ask yourself, ‘Who’s his Smog?

Or better yet: 

What Ring is he holding onto and might he eventually hurl into the smoldering abyss?’

Good questions and I’ll get to them in due time. As for my above mentioned affiliation, I’m not walking the Camino for religious reasons. Not per se, anyway. That’s not to say I’m an unbeliever. Far from it. 

Not a Roman Catholic, though. Although I’m in awe of the Church and the beauty that it’s either inspired or sponsored, there’s no part of me that wants to walk to Rome or Canterbury or any such preposterous locale. If that’s your thing, more power to you. Just not for me. 

We humans need labels, so I’ll just put this out there, and you can categorise me as you see fit. I’m a kind of a lapsed Quaker…walking The Way trying to get a better understanding of why we keep doing all of this. 

One of my favourite bumper stickers I saw in Austin years back was:

Don’t believe everything you think.’

I like to think I’ve taken that one to heart. Oh, and if you’re a pilgrim or once we’re and are reading this thinking, ‘What an imposter!‘, just keep walking. I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point. 

Back to the Future…Camino style


Remember these shoes from last year? I walked a whole week on the Camino, and bombarded my feed with photos and waxed philosophic about what it all meant and laughed at myself at the preposterousness of my thinking I even had a clue. 

Most people take a month to six weeks to walk the whole Way of St. James. Others take longer, or do it in smaller chunks. But they eventually do it. Somehow. 

The way I’m doing it seems to be rather convoluted and I’ll briefly tell you why: the whole time I was walking into little Spanish villages and their monasteries and/or churches last year, I kept saying to myself, ‘I wish my mom could see this. Wish she could experience what this whole thing is like.’

My friend Nathan even mentioned having biked the route with his mother, and I thought, ‘That cheating bastard…you can’t be a pilgrim on a brand new shiny bicycle.’ 

I’m here to tell you I was wrong. I’ve slowly come round to the philosophy that however you transverse the damned thing is really your business. 

I’m going to show a bit of it to my mom. She can’t walk it, but she’ll come along with me, and we’ll see some of those things I wanted to share with her last year. If there’s time, I might even take her to Santiago

That’s not cool, though. Right? You can’t just go to the end of a pilgrimage without having made the pilgrimage? Sure you can, and we just might. 

Here’s what I intend to do: write about it. Before during and after. I met people last year who’d fantasized about going on the Camino de Santiago for decades. They finally made their way and fulfilled a longtime dream. 

My friend Casey made noises about joining me someday, so I’m going to extend this invitation to her and anyone else who’s so inclined. 

First of all, join one of the groups of pilgrims – there’s a private Facebook group just for women that I’ve heard is quite extraordinary. 

Secondly, read about their experiences, watch that Martin Sheen movie or one of the many documentaries about the Camino, or talk to me. Leave a comment below if you want to hear my take on this. Anything, really. 
Finally, like last year, it’s pretty much all I’ll be talking about the next few weeks. If nothing else, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the photos. 

try to encapsulate the Camino in a few short moments of chit chat

a pilgrim daydreaming of the comfort of his armchair
 Not sure where I heard it, but it’s been said that you have a short window of opportunity in which people want to hear about your holidays. 

After ‘How was your break? You were in Spain weren’t you?‘, there’s a few moments where you can share generally, before the conversation moves on to what’s been going on in your absence. Or the news of the day or whatever you might normally talk about. 

Of course close friends might be different, and if you had some earth-shattering news to tell, people might perk up and give you a bit more leeway. However, when I think about what I was doing last week, and I try to encapsulate that in a few short moments of chit chat, I find myself sputtering out banalities. 

It was great,’ I reply. ‘Yes, Spain. Northern Spain – flew into Bilbao and then walked along the Camino de Santiago for a week. 

‘No, I didn’t do the whole thing. That’d take six weeks or so, and I just didn’t have that kind of time.’

Then back to daily life. That’s just how it is. To be expected, even. Life moves on. 

The thing is: I do have this blog and this is as good a place as any to leave my impressions from my limited time on the Camino. It wasn’t easy blogging while actually there, so I took photos and wrote down impressions as I was going. Fully intending to keep talking about it long after I returned. 

The photo above is a pilgrim imagining the comfort of home, which made me smile as I saw it while lugging my pack. That night as I was icing my swollen foot and uploading that photo, I was already quite aware that I was going to miss the simplicity of the Camino upon returning to the day to day. 

I walked around my adopted hometown today, as Munich came to life with the bustle of locals and tourists alike. Someone in Spain told me about his having walked the Jakobsweg, which is what the Germans call this pilgrimage – it’s German for the Way of St. James  – from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. That’s purportedly the ancient way, from what he said. 

There’s a route that goes through the Bavarian Alps, as well. I’m already imagining taking a week sometime and following the way markers toward the French border. Maybe I’ll even take my dogs and see how manageable it is to find a place to stay along the way where they’d also be welcome. 

In the meantime, I’m looking at photos that remind me of some of my better moments following The Way and I’m doing my best to bring the best of that Spirit to my daily life here back at home. 

Here’s one of the only photos I have of me while I was out there:

And struggle in the darkness troubling my eyes

This left foot has been giving me trouble for days

Well, my week on the Camino de Santiago has sadly come to an end. I know I’ve gone on and on about my feet, but that’s what people on a pilgrimage talk about. It’s rather important, to be fair. 

poppies along The Way

This was one of the nicer photos from my last day of walking, and just looking at it makes me want to rearrange my flight from Bilbao and keep walking toward Santiago

waking with the roosters

If you get up with most of the other pilgrims, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeting the sun. Yet because you’re generally walking westwards, the sunlight is shining on your back. 

a selfie with me caring for my feet

Most days begin and end with obsessive foot maintenance. It’s on the mind of nearly everyone on the Camino. And a helpful tip for how to care for your doggies is on the tip of almost every pilgrim’s tongue. 

still one of my favourite shots of my time on the Camino

I can’t believe so much has happened in such a short week. The thought of continuing on all the way to Santiago makes me so envious of my fellow pilgrims who I’ve been walking with the last days. 

I’m reminded of one of Joni Mitchell‘s songs in which she ponders some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while pilgrimming.  

Hoping and hoping

As if by my weak faith

The spirit of this world

Would heal and rise

Vast are the shadows

That straddle and strafe

And struggle in the darkness

Troubling my eyes

From the song Slouching Towards Bethlehem