When Life Calls For a Mini-Camino
If only I always lived a mere four hour drive from the Camino de Santiago! For my May “puente,” as the Spanish “holiday weekend” is known, I decided to take full advantage of my proximity to the Camino. Using Bla Bla Car, a ride sharing service for the first time, I headed back to Santander where I had left off in September on the Camino del Norte.
After walking those ten days in late summer, I realized that the Camino del Norte had a different feeling than the Camino Francés. In allowing this route to be a different experience, I took pressure off myself that it had to live up to my first Camino experience.
After a restful sleep at the Albergue de Peregrinos in Santander, I awoke to a drenching, chilly horizontal rain. I was nearly soaked after walking the three minutes . . . to the train station. And so it began. I took a train and then taxi to the picturesque stone village of Santillana del Mar, where I promptly booked a private room.
A Sancho Panza character missing his top front teeth kindly checked me in taking my 20 euros. He grinned wide, not ashamed in the least of his lack of incisors.
Slightly touristy but charming, Santillana del Mar is sometimes described as the “town of three lies”, as it is not a saint (santa), not flat (llana), and not near the sea (mar). After a long siesta and in between pintxos, I canvased the town’s main sites including it’s 12th century Romanesque jewel, la Colegiata de Santa Juliana, from where the town’s name actually derives. The saints relics can be found in this church with roots as a monastery as far back at 870.
The following day’s walk, inching towards the coast to Comillas was simply perfect. One of the highlights was meeting two perros peregrinos, the most well-behaved, chill German Shepherd duo you could ever meet.
Day three (day two of actually walking) was long, but the verdant landscapes coated in cows beneath mountain views lost in low-hanging clouds, was worth a set of sore feet.
A few steps into Asturias, up a pristine stone path, I watched a grandfather and granddaughter pause to watch the cows on an afternoon stroll. Moments like this is why I love walking the Camino— propelled by the power of my own body through authentic cultural moments that no guide book could lead me to.
As luck would have it, my “no rules Camino” choice to taxi ahead a few kilometers, reunited me with the loving pups and introduced me to a nice crew of Spaniards, German’s, Scotts, and a very special 76-year-old Korean man. A committed pilgrim, he walks up to two Camino routes every summer.
The albergue we all stayed at was heated by a wood-burning oven whose smoke wafted through it’s creaking rooms. I escaped to the patio and helped the Spaniards finish off a bottle of sidra, learning the proper technique to dispense it from a fancy device mounted on the wall— and how to drink it fast, like a shot.
My final day was meant to be shorter, as I had to catch a bus back to Santander and then to Madrid, but alas the Camino left me lost a handful of times as I misread the signs for the coastal path I was trying to stay on. That, and I just couldn’t stop pausing to inhale the uplifting sea views.
With my destination, Llanes in view, but still a few kilometers away, I started to panic and settled into an awkward jog up and down a mountain of a hill. I ended up making it with some time to spare for a tortilla and cerveza to refuel, but exploring Llanes would have to wait.
My mini-Camino breathed new life into me. I felt physically and mentally stronger and as a result was able to look back at my European adventures over the past two years with for all facets of the journey and what it has taught me.