#Camino Inglés Day Five: The World is a Handkerchief

There is a Spanish expression, “el mundo es un pañuelo” which essentially means “it’s a small world” but it’s rather more poetic: the world is a handkerchief.

I think the idea is that we might all be on different parts of the fabric but if you fold it in enough different ways we’ll all meet.

It’s an appropriate expression for my Camino crew. I met Elke on the very first day of my first Camino. I later invited Elke to my wedding, in Oxford, which is where she met Annette, who was visiting her son who was studying at university there. A few months later Elke met Sten on another stage of her Camino.

Now we are walking to Santiago on the Camino Inglés together. But today is a good example of the fact that everyone walks their own Camino. I decided yesterday that I wanted to walk to Santiago today, I was feeling strong! Elke did too, but Sten and Annette were both feeling a more relaxed day would suit them better.

Even here we differed. Elke set off at 6:30 to get some early kilometres in, but I was in the mood for a later start. I shared coffee, toast and cheese with Sten and Annette, then set out myself at around 8:30.

Today was one of relentless rain. You’ve probably noticed that’s something I’m used to on the Camino, although this was special! My waterproofs have been through pretty much everything the Camino could throw at them, but today the rain started to find its way through the zips. My pockets were soaked!

I spent a lot of time thinking about the pilgrims of the past, without Goretex, with heavy woollen layers, and I wondered how anyone ever did it. Turns out not many did. It seems the handkerchief folded again, because I walked past a sign which showed that only one woman was registered as walking the Camino in the whole of the 15th century.

Even more amazingly, I have Kemps in my family, who knows, we may be (very very) distantly related.

I’ve googled this woman since and she’s fascinating. It’s thought that her biography is the first in the English language. She also had fourteen children! That, and walking the Camino, suggests this peregrina had a high pain threshold!

As well as discovering long distant possible relatives, walking in the rain gave me some time to think, and I realised there are some advantages to poor weather.

  • It’s cooler: On the meseta we had perfect sunshine every day. We had to leave before sunrise to make the most of the cool temperatures. I don’t like early starts! Rain = a lie in.
  • It’s quieter: most pilgrims walk shorter days when the weather is bad, so if you want some thinking time, this is the Camino weather for you.
  • You walk faster: stopping is less appealing in the damp, so you can really motor through your kilometres.
  • Food tastes better: if you’re cold and wet, a large coffee and some tarta de Santiago tastes like manna from heaven!

There are, of course, some disadvantages to walking in the rain, not least that you don’t tend to look around as much.

I’m glad I took some time to lift my head today, because I walked through an area described as an “enchanted forest” (Bosque encantada). In the rain, the moss glowed, mint green and bright green. The grass shone like emeralds, and the odd shoot of gorse was a rich jewel-like yellow.

If the world of fairy tales was a pañuelo, I probably would have met Hansel and Gretel here.

All that said, the best thing about walking in the rain is when it stops! And five kilometres from Santiago, the sun started to come out. My mood became effusive. A smile was fixed on may face. I met a succession of old ladies out for a walk, and each said “Hola, Buenas” as I passed. Of course I returned the greetings!

As I entered the edges of Santiago I spotted the spires of the cathedral, and felt all of the emotions from my first Camino flooding back! I also felt confused by the waymarkers, which clearly pointed away from the cathedral…

…So, for the second time on my way into Santiago, I lost the Camino. This time, however, I think I may have found the cathedral more quickly!

I arrived, and there was time for the obligatory cry/taking photos of other pilgrims/admiring the cathedral/taking a selfie/calling my grandma…

This Camino is shorter, but arriving in Santiago remains an intensely emotional experience.

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