Hiking the Camino de Santiago trail in fall 2014 (photo by Madelyn Given).

El Camino: An Adventure

A journey that takes a month or longer of hiking every day will have a few unexpected adventures—today was one of them, I thought, while on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in fall 2014. The night before, I had stayed in a new albergue, in a tiny village out in the meseta. Before I went to bed, the manager of the albergue explained the directions for getting on the trail. He was very clear in telling me not to go back the way I came; instead, go out of town to a fork in the road and take a left. This is a short cut and easy to follow.

At 6 am, I was out of town on the trail, alone. I took a left at the fork and walked 3-4 kilometers, until the trail dead ended out in a field. It was dark, and I didn’t want to retrace my steps. There were no trees or stakes with trail markers, or cairns like on top of mountains; the only markers were on small rocks and they were easy to miss, day or night. I looked around, tried to use my common sense, kept my wits about me, and thought: the worst case scenario is staying here.  The only sign of life was an interstate far off in the distance. I had crossed under it, by a tunnel on my way to the albergue yesterday, and my sense of direction told me the trail was on the other side of this highway.

I decided to walk in that direction. I walked through the pucker brush, being very careful not to step in a hole or on a snake, and hoping all the time to see the trail. I worked my way to the interstate and came to a high fence that kept out animals. I followed the fence quite a ways, until I found a place that was bent down a bit. With the help of my trekking poles, I managed to get up and jump over this high fence. I crossed a gully and got up on the side of the Interstate.

I was very concerned that a patrol car would stop and I would be in trouble. I had never done this before, even in my own country. There was little traffic: just a few trailer trucks. I knew I would get off at the first exit and find help. I walked as fast as I could, far over in the breakdown lane.

I made it to the exit and local road. The first car I saw stopped and told me the village was not far, and the trail would be near there. This was exactly where my earlier instincts had told me to go. As I entered the village, the only other car I had seen stopped, and a young woman driver rolled her window down and told me to go in the direction she was pointing. She kept saying, “Buen el Camino, Buen el Camino.”  I understood.

Five minutes later… I felt relieved, but at that moment, I wanted to quit! Nevertheless, I was walking the el Camino in my son Michael’s memory, and I felt he was with me all the way. However, the mistake had taken a lot out of me, and I walked slowly for the rest of the day.

After my adventure, I got to the next town, which was quite a distance, and by then it was late morning. As I was walking through the little town, I saw a few hikers, several walking alone, but they all seemed so tired just from the heat and walking that I didn’t stop to tell them my story.

But in this little town a car pulled up in front of me and parked. A man got out and ran towards me. It was the manager of the albergue where I had stayed last night. He had been worried about me, as I had left early and not stayed and had coffee with him this morning. He gave me a hug and was relieved that I was O.K. I didn’t dare tell him I lost the trail this morning! As part of the el Camino family, he genuinely cared.

Despite all the ups and downs, you always feel supported along the trail. The locals are friendly and helpful, and the trekkers go out of their way to make the pilgrimage a rewarding and successful experience. Even so, today was an adventure I didn’t plan to repeat.

(posted March 24, 2015)