taking the long way

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in this part of the camino, i have found quite a few instances where the guidebook gives you the option to take short cuts by walking along sections of road/highway. these are often given to avoid doing much longer paths that traverse mountains or, for example, go around bridges connecting two sides of the mouth of a river. there is one point, near santa cruz de la bezana, where the walker must decide whether to walk an extra 10 kilometres or do a two minute train ride across a bridge. the other option in this case is to walk across the bridge, risking the possibility that a train will come over the bridge at the same time (it is true, though, that locals do this all the time). in short, this happens as a result of the need to strike a balance between acceptable walking distances and the availability of albergues. the camino frances is a different story altogether. it is so well-rigged for pilgrims that you could literally find an albergue every five kilometres if you needed to. walking the northern way requires more planning in this regard, although indicators point to more and more albergues springing up along the path, opening up possibilities for pilgrims to walk in a more spontaneous fashion.

there is no one way of walking the camino. it depends on where you come from, who wrote your guidebook, whether you want to follow the stages as they are set out in the book or you want to do it free style, ad libbing the distances and destinations day to day. i have noticed a certain “purist” attitude within myself that drives me to tackle the extra kilometres if it means i am following the original route, and better still, if that route brings me into contact with nature as opposed to asphalt.

leaving liendo with jose and david we must decide whether to take the shorter route or the longer one that goes up and over a mountain. we all three seem to agree that the longer route might be more interesting, and to be truthful, it does not disappoint. after an ascent where we all break a sweat, we are rewarded with gorgeous views of the coast. at one point, we lose track of the yellow arrows and feel like we are losing our way amongst the various tracks that criss-cross in front of us. as there is safety in numbers, the anxiety around this doesn’t really rise above a low buzz.

the choice to take the long way or to take the shorter, more direct route, resonates in my mind as an obvious metaphor for the ways that i have lived my life so far. my life has unfolded the way that it has through a series of decisions where i have taken the long way around. in my education i have undertaken tertiary study in the fields of science and business, which is strange, considering what i am doing now. but these decisions, which seem crazy in hindsight, were pivotal to me arriving at where i am now. were it not for my business degree, i would not have been able to go and live and work in japan. my experience in japan led me to languages and applied linguistics, to my doctorate, and through my doctorate to this new passion, the intersection between walking, the senses, and research. the same can be said for all other aspects of my life, love relationships, my relationship to my family that has blossomed over time and through experience, friendships……..work…..even my decision to take a seven month break after making doctor as opposed to buckling down to publish from my thesis……the journeys themselves have added a richness to the textures of my life and as i write this i feel profoundly grateful to be 44 years old and where i am now. direct lines are efficient and can be very useful, but i feel my life has been like the path a butterfly takes when it is inflight, this way and that, but always moving more or less in one direction. and i love butterflies. i love that they exist the way that they do…..

eventually we recover the trail and head down into laredo where we need to catch a boat across to santona. here, we wander down a very long path that runs parallel to the beach, and following incredibly sporadic signage, find our way to the ferry. the clouds burn off at around 2 pm and we are left with crisp blue skies and a resplendent sun to accompany us on a delightful hike over a mountain and across another very long, white beach into noja……taking my shoes off and walking on the sand is orgasmic, as is the cold beer i drink as soon as i get to the albergue. a beautiful day all around…..

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