Hiking Inn to Inn
After a few days on the Camino, the pilgrim´s life settles into an easy rhythym. Albergues may be small with only a dozen beds or big with bunk beds for 100 in a large room. It is wise to sleep with earplugs or you will enjoy all the sounds of nocturnal humanity.
People begin to stir around 5:30am. alarms beep, pilgrim pack away sleeping bags and prepare to hit the trail. I usually am out of bed by 6:30 and hiking by seven. This is my favorite time of day. It is still dark and quiet. The village where we slept has not yet woken. The air is crisp. Orion and Cassiopeia shine overhead. A dim glow forms on the eastern horizon, and it grows until the sun gloriously rises around 8:15.
In the distance, you might see the steeple of a church, marking a village. Perhaps the ruins of a castle on a hill still stands guard against invasion. You will usually find a cafe for coffee and a pastry, the typical Spanish breakfast. They might also prepare a bocadillo (sandwich) wrapped for the road or you can stop at a bakery and butcher on your way out of the village. You might want to also stop at a small store for fruit and maybe chocolate.
Then on the trail again. It is always well marked with yellow arrows and signs with stylized scallop shells, the symbol of the Camino. The line of pilgrims spreads out, and as the day progresses, I might not see another pilgrim for a few hours. It is autumn and numbers have dwindled from the busy summer season. I may hike for an hour with a friend that I have made along the Camino, but I treasure hiking alone with the countryside, my thoughts and my daydreams.
Around noon I stop in a village cafe for a hot chocolate or in the village park for lunch, resting and rejuvenating. Then I head out again, usually stopping mid-afternoon at an albergue, showering, washing clothes, reading, and writing. My hiking has averaged 13-18 miles a day.
Bars have a perigrino menu - a first course of pasta, soup, or a large salad; a second course featuring fish in the Basque region, lamb in Rioja, blood sausage as you reach Burgos; then desert of ice cream, yogurt, flan, or fruit. And always lots of wine. This usually costs $9-12.
We linger over wine. Everyone has a story and a reason to be walking the Camino, usually a life change - recovering from a recent divorce, mourning the loss of loved one, frustration with a job and the need for a change, trying to figure out what to do with one´s life, retirement and a break from the old life. Almost as many reasons as there are pilgrims.
Then we drift off to our bunks, our muscles grateful to be prone, and start the adventure again before the sun rises.