El Camino de Santiago
I mentioned before (here and here) that I spent time hiking El Camino de Santiago. It was a truly incredible journey, and I think almost anyone stands to gain immensely from making this trek. Young, old, religious, nonreligious, seasoned hiker, or not even in possession of a sleeping bag. Long thru hikes themselves are transformative, and this one is very accessible since there are hostels and restaurants along the path each day. Plus you get to experience so much of Spain beyond the big cities.
While hiking El Camino de Santiago, I arrived in the small town of Hontanas. You pass through multiple small towns a day on the Camino, with the shell-shaped trail markers or yellow arrows marking your way.
First things first: I got to the nearest hostel, or alburgue as they are known as on the trail, flung down my pack, paid for the cheapest bed, and ordered a large beer. Sitting outside in the afternoon sun with a small handful of the friends I had been making along the Camino, everything in me felt relaxed and accomplished from the day. After spending adequate time not moving my achy muscles an inch, I began to feel curious about my surroundings. I wrangled a travel buddy, then we left the hostel patio to explore.
Hontanas had a similar feel to most of the other towns I had passed through – quaint, lively though crumbling a bit, and brimming with rich history. There were some people milling about, but I think many people were taking siestas. (These lazy afternoons made me jealous, considering how rushed daily life felt back home in the US).
My friend and I passed by a few Spanish men, laughing and sharing drinks from a large wine bottle. They gestured for us to join, and we tried to hold a conversation combining broken English and broken Spanish.
They were drinking their homemade wine, and they grow the grapes over there, and would we like to see the wine cellar? A door promptly swung open behind them, and we followed them down a dark staircase into a literal cellar. The walls were totally lined with wine barrels, which was quite cool! They poured some into my empty water bottle to try. Then it did dawn on me that we had followed strangers into a dark cellar… that locks from the outside… But we emerged from the cellar buzzed and happy, and were waved on our way.
That’s the thing about the Camino. Most people in the towns you pass through are excited that you take the time to visit and engage with their culture. They are glad for your business, and happy to give you a memorable time. And there is amazing local wine everywhere you turn!
Moral of the Story?
I guess by telling you this story, I’m not recommending following strangers into dark cellars. But I am recommending that you embrace opportunities at every corner.
Whenever you find yourself sticking to only what’s comfortable, question what you could change to make yourself feel more alive and inspired. These are the reminders I am giving myself these days.
The Camino really is a meaningful way to interrupt normal life, if that’s what you’re in need of. It requires you to live very differently in the day-to-day, but it is only short-term, so there is no intimidating commitment.
Whether you’re considering hiking El Camino de Santiago or not, make sure you do go find what this big beautiful world has to offer you.