The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or The Way of Saint James, is a 500 mile trek through four of Spain’s regions: Navarra, Rioja, Castilla y Leon and Galicia. While walking eighteen miles a day for several weeks, there was no separating myself from the natural environment around me. For hours a day, I treaded through dirt paths, paved roads, abandoned farm houses, uninspiring highways, cows with long eyelashes, and old men wobbling on cobblestone.
A few months after I finished my walk, I traveled to Vietnam, where I met a pair of Germans. I mentioned I had walked the Camino. “Oh, did you… find yourself?” one said with a wink and a heavy dose of sarcasm. I laughed. No, I told him, I didn’t ‘find myself.’ I, too, typically rolled my eyes at those suggestions. But, it would be a lie to say I hadn’t changed.
For most of us who walked the Camino, it was the first time we were alone for so long with our own thoughts. We could put on earbuds and listen to music or podcasts, or chat with the occasional passerby, but those moments faded. Batteries wore out, people walked too slowly or too fast, conversations slowed, and sooner or later, we were left alone, tormented by whatever floated through our heads. The stillness of nature and the rhythm of our steps soothed, but there was another, unexpected element of the trek: other humans.
The Camino is as much a relationship between the pilgrim and nature as it is one between the pilgrim and her fellow pilgrims. Many walk the Camino to escape their lives—some to come to terms with their best friend’s death, maybe to celebrate a triumph over cancer, or to forget an ex-wife—the growing popularity of the trail is a disappointment.
For me, however, the human touch—visible on the trail, in restaurants, at albergues—of the Camino was an integral part of why it meant so much to me. My relationship to my friend, who appears in many of the photos, strengthened. I found the graffiti, the painted stones, the quotes, and nightly gatherings of pilgrims, aid in the inward reflection that the Camino evokes.
The following photographs showcase various scenes of the Camino, made more beautiful by humans. We don’t have to distract from others achieving their goals or contribute to nature’s destruction, but instead form part of it and become one with nature and with each other.
Photo's by Author
Allison is a devout Latin America enthusiast, who loves a lot of things, but mostly a good cup a tea and loud personalities. You can find her on Twitter: @AllisonBYates and Instagram: @allisonyateswrites