Four days after crossing the French/Spanish border I have decided to call it a day and head home. Why? Well the whole tenor of the camino changed as soon as I arrived in St Jean Pied de Port. The masses had arrived. People were queuing at to get their credencials stamped. Walking in France I would see between 10 and 15 people each day, mostly in the evenings at whatever gite I was staying in. Walking during the day I pretty much had the path to myself, occasionally coming across people, catching up with one or two friends for a chat, all pretty much aware that walking in a crowd was what none of us wanted.
In contrast, Spain has turned into a treadmill mass trek! Roncesvalles, the abbey had 250 places and it was full; just one of three places to stay so maybe 350+ people in all. I left super early, before the sun was up to get ahead of the crowds, walking in a pitch black pine forest, only indication that I was on the path being that I was not walking into trees… a bit spooky and spine tingling! My strategy did not work though, I soon was caught up with the next mass of people in the village another 7km down the path. At no time could I walk and not see 10+ people in front and a similar number behind. Many did not seem to even be enjoying it, more a religious penance earning brownie points from him upstairs than a trek through beautiful countryside and pleasure of a hard days walking.
This picture does not do my description justice… but trust me this is a walking motorway of people.
Instead of the discreet little red and white bars, there are now motorway sized signs of the camino. Even spotted a few drink dispensing machines along the way. The first few days in Spain, good sections of the path have been ‘improved’ from dirt tracks to concrete slab paving.
I think the Spanish side of the camino would probably have been fine had I started in Spain and had nothing to compare it to. I might return later in the year to finish when the crowds have disappeared from the chilly months.
For now it’s homeward bound.