Endless coffee, top bunks, and delirium; 7 things I miss about the Camino

Today is National Coffee Day, and as I sit here in my apartment, listening to the rain, I think about all that great coffee I drank in Spain. And that gets me thinking about the Camino, and the walking and the people and the food and the conversation and all of the things that I miss. So here are a few things that come to mind:

1. Giving myself permission to drink as much coffee and wine as I liked.

Was there anything better than multiple café con leches or the 1-euro glass of (really, really good) wine? Sometimes an entire bottle of wine was only 2 euros. I could sit and drink coffee and write in my journal, I could sit and sip wine and talk with new friends, and I could do this every single day.

espresso cups, Burgos


2. Spending my days outside.

It just felt so healthy: the cool, fresh air of the morning. The sunshine on the back of my legs. Walking through forests and vineyards and mountains. The sound of the wind blowing through a field of wheat.

wheat field, the meseta


3. The moment just after I finished doing my laundry.

One day I was hand washing my socks and underwear and t-shirt, and I turned to the person next to me and said, “This is my favorite part of the day!” This person stared at me and responded with, “Doing laundry? Are you crazy?”

“No,” I explained. “Just after this. When everything is finished. After those first kilometers when you haven’t had coffee, and the last kilometers when your legs feel like lead. After finding an albergue and showering and charging your phone and washing your clothes. Just after it’s all done, that feeling of complete relaxation and open time. You’ve done all of your work for the day, and it’s 2:00pm and you can eat and drink and meet up with friends or just do nothing. That’s my favorite time.”

socks on laundry line, camino


4. An open church.

It was so easy for me to get caught up in all of the other stuff on the Camino: the physical aches and pains of the walking, the socialization and new friends, the changing Spanish countryside, the language and the culture, the nagging thoughts in my head. But when I passed a church, it was nearly always a reminder that I was on an ancient pilgrimage route. The churches connected me to a sense of the history of the Camino, and to my own personal pilgrimage.

When passing a church I usually tried to open the door to see if it was unlocked, and often it wasn’t. But that made the time when I could find an open church pretty special. I loved the little chapels, especially. So small and simple, with tiny details and still spaces. I loved when I could stand alone in an empty church- stand at the back and look up towards the altar, close my eyes and say a little prayer- and then quietly continue on my way. It always brought me a strong sense of peace.

church along the camino


5. A top bunk by an open window.

By the middle of my Camino, I started to get used to sleeping on the top bunk. I think my ratio of top to bottom bunks was 8:1, and at first this seemed like bad luck. But eventually I found my upside: sleeping by an open window. Sometimes this was purely chance. But whenever I got to an albergue on the early side and could choose a bed, I’d opt for a top bunk if there was a window close by. These were some of my best nights of sleep, when I could bundle into my sleeping bag, sometimes with a wool blanket stretched across the bed, and feel the cool night air blow in through the window. In one albergue I had a view of stars and a nearly full moon. In another, I could hear distant howling (and the next day someone mentioned that there were wolves in the hills, could this be true?)

bunk beds in an albergue


6. Those hilariously delirious moments when you’ve simply been walking too long.

I think everyone had them. I kind of hope that everyone had them, and it wasn’t just me. Because usually by the last few hours of a really long, hot day, I could get a bit loopy. Once, I was walking with my friend Mirra and I looked ahead and exclaimed, “Look! A horse!” There was no horse. It was just another pilgrim, walking along.

There may or may not have been a time when I was walking alone down the very long, very straight, old Roman road under a very hot sun, looked around to make sure no one was within earshot, and shouted out, “Caesar!!” Just because he also walked down this road, a long time ago, and it seemed like I should somehow acknowledge it.

And there was definitely a time when I sang American Pie over and over and over because it was my 7th hour of walking on a hot day when I had lost my earbuds and all I wanted to do was listen to music. “Drove my chevy to the levee but the levee was dryyyyy…”

old roman road, camino de santiago



7. Waking up every day and feeling like anything was possible.

I know that some people got a bit bogged down in the routine of the Camino, but for me, I felt like every day was full of possibility and surprises. This feeling increased after I lost my guidebook; I didn’t always know what the terrain would be like, if I would have to climb big hills, if I would pass through large towns. Where would I get my coffee? Who would I run into? Where would I stay at night? Would I make a new friend, would I have an inspiring conversation? Would I see a castle or a cathedral or a field of sunflowers or a long line of cows? When else in life do you get to ask yourself these kinds of questions?

31 thoughts on “Endless coffee, top bunks, and delirium; 7 things I miss about the Camino

    • Thank you and yes, knowing that every day there would be a time when I could completely relax helped me get through those last kilometers! In fact, it’s one reason I liked getting early starts, so I could maximize those relaxation times!! 🙂

  1. Love love love! Your reflections take me back to Spain a year ago when I saw and felt and discovered similar things. In fat, you’re inspiring me to write a response post on my own blog!

    Thank you as ever!

  2. Such a refreshing retrospective which brings back so many of the feelings I remember. I think too that after the second week of walking I loved the feeling of enjoying a heightened sense of smell especially. Eucalyptus forests heating up after a misty morning. The animal pastures full of animals with tinkling bells and the earthy aroma from their steaming bodies. The aroma of a mushroom crushed underfoot or a freshly picked fig. and so on and so on. And I guess not much compares with the small of the first coffee of the day especially if accompanied by an almond cake!

    • Ah, the smells! I agree with you on that (especially the smell of the first coffee!)… to me, the smells and scents always stood out to me most in the early mornings.

  3. Drinking coffee reminds you of the camino, along with like 13424234437 other things…it gets stuck in your head, doesn’t it?

    1) I thought Spanish cafe con leche was OK, but I’ve been spoiled by Italian espresso. Also, since I’m half Panamanian I drink coffee black. You get a lot of funny looks when you order Cafe Negro, sin leche, in Spain 🙂

    2) I have never been as tan as I was on the Camino, probably the same for anyone who’s walked.

    3) You were done with walking AND laundry by 2 PM??? Does that mean you were one of those people shuffling around at 6 AM getting your pack ready? If so, I kind of hate you 😛 I was always one of the last ones out, but I was also, like you, usually the fastest walker, which meant I made up time on the road. I suppose we should account for the fact that you were walking in midsummer and needed to beat the heat.

    4) Is that the church at Cizur Menor, right after Pamplona? I remember they had that funny tufted grass there (is that wheat, I’m not at all a country boy -_-)

    5) Sleeping next to open windows, good call in the summer time. There were reports of wolves in galicia, one of the papers ran a story just 3 days before I reached Santiago about sheep getting attacked at night.

    6) Delirium for me was the Meseta, especially when I fell ill and had to skip from Sahagun to Leon. Good call on hailing Caesar, I wouldn’t have thought of that. As for American Pie, I’m afraid we have different tastes in music.

    7) When else in life do you get to ask these kinds of questions? Not so often, I would say. Traveling, in general, helps 🙂

    • Well, a 2pm finish was considered a good day, but to be honest, I definitely wasn’t finished with everything by 2 every day. Past 4 though and I could get a bit annoyed that I was missing out on my wine/potato chip/journal/chat with friends time. 🙂

      And Nathan, I think that you- as a traveler- get to ask yourself these kinds of questions everyday! I miss the unpredictability of each day… gotta somehow incorporate it into my life here… or travel again…

  4. Nadine, I am so glad I clicked on the link from my blog to your blog today. I am in the middle of writing a post for my blog about how much I loved the “second breakfast” stops for coffee with new friends and old, particularly in the small towns, and miss them terribly. And to spend my days outside…

  5. Pingback: Sunshine and Daily Selfies; 5 Things I Miss About the Camino | Begin with a Single Step

  6. HA! Someone else who marked that the Romans actually walked the Roman road! I deliberately put the movie Gladiator soundtrack on my ipod nano (brought specifically for this moment) so that I could listen to it whenever I was on the Roman road. I fully acknowledge that I’m a dork 😉

  7. Pingback: Best and worst meals of the Camino (and other thoughts on pilgrimage food) | Begin with a Single Step

  8. Absolutely wonderful post – I totally agree to most parts of it and can’t wait to be back on the camino, screaming “Caesar”, singing and dancing and just feeling totally free!

    Buen camino!

    • Thanks so much for reading! (I loved writing this post, and I’m always thinking of other things that I love/miss about the Camino… there are so many!)

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