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Are You Lonely Going "Backwards"?

Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, De Soulac, Norte, Madrid-Salv-Primitivo
#1
Would be interested in the thoughts of those who have walked a camino in reverse.

I am thinking of walking backwards from Santiago along the Camino Francés next year in February/March.

The problem is not the logistics of finding the route backwards, but whether I should find a friend or two to walk with me.

I am one of those people who likes (prefers) walking alone, but enjoys some company in the evenings.

The solitary and lesser known routes are great for this, because when there are only two or three or six people in the albergue, it’s natural to chat, make friends, and go out to a bar/restaurant together.

And if there is nobody else at all in the albergue, that doesn’t bother me either. I still go to the bar and order a vino tinto. I write up my journal, look at the route for tomorrow, do wifi stuff (if it’s available), go through my photos of the day, and soak up the atmosphere of local families socialising.

But I have just had a rude awakening on the Camino Portugués.

I walked backwards from Santiago to Porto and found it to be the loneliest camino I have ever done. (And usually I am rarely “lonely”.)

The route was busy. I counted the pilgrims every day as they passed me, but tended to lose count after 50 or 60, mostly couples.

The albergues were full every night. Carmen put mattresses on the floor at Armenteira rather than turn people away.

However, I found it very difficult, actually impossible, to find anyone to go out with in the evenings. I knew no-one each evening, obviously, because I had arrived from the “wrong” direction. They were all busy busy busy, in twos or threes or fours, all in their little groups, and took no notice of me whatsoever.

I avoid couples anyway. They are usually joined at the hip, and I don’t like to intrude on their space, unless, of course, I have already got to know them, as part of a “camino family”. But that only happens if one is going in the “right direction”.

Anyway, back to walking from Santiago in Feb/Mar.

Should I start off alone? (My preferred option.) But risk being lonely, and hating the whole venture.

Or should I start with a friend, and risk ruining a good friendship? (I’ve tried walking with a good friend before, and it was a disaster.)

My thinking is that the albergues in February and March will be fairly quiet, so it will be easier to meet others. But I haven’t walked the CF in winter before, so am not sure about that. If there are fewer albergues open, then everyone will be staying in those ones, and maybe they will be quite busy.

Thoughts, please!
Jill
 

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Camino(s) past & future
French, North, Original and from Andorra through the Pyrenees.
All With mi Burro
#3
Walking backwards is always a laugh, I sometimes use the Camino's to connect with different GR tracks and the most common comment from pilgrims is that I've quit and turned back. I laugh and tell them my rucksack was too heavy. I've not met many backwards pilgrims only those from Europe walking home. If your looking for loniless but great company in the evenings might I suggest you look at the picos de europa. Much more beautiful than anywhere on the Camino's and groups are always forming to walk the trails together.
 

Anamiri

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
#5
I found that most of the arrows are placed for people walking to Santiago. Sometimes had difficulty finding my way back in some towns. I saw some people traveling the other way, probably to home. I often wondered how easy it was to find the right markers from the other direction. I occasionally got confused going in the 'right way'.
 

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Kiwi-family

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Past: (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Future (God-willing): Madrid, Salvador, Primitivo (2018)
#7
The couple of little bits I’ve done in reverse were similar to your experience (though I must say when we encountered people walking to Fatima from Santiago we were friendly to them!! We being hubby and I celebrating 25 years of marraiage)
What I did find was lots of locals popping out of the woodwork to turn me around and point me in the right direction! Offer to take them for a drink and you won’t be lonely.
On the way back from Finisterre our Going was slow because we’d become “famous” and people kept stopping us to ask if we were the family with kids who could cook. Maybe you could borrow some of them;-)
 
Camino(s) past & future
cycled from Pamplona Sep 2015;Frances, walked from St Jean 2017.
#9
Not something I've contemplated (walking a camino in reverse direction). Although our "french policeman/gendarme" in The Way states that he intends to walk it (St Jean to Santiago; there and back) to mark his 70th birthday. Me, I think I will be content to walk the Porto and maybe the alternative finish to the Frances from Ponferrada. Cheers
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, De Soulac, Norte, Madrid-Salv-Primitivo
#10
Just a question, how easy is it to find your way backwards.

Hi, it depends which camino you are on. On the Camino Francés between Easter and October just wait at a junction for a while and before long a pilgrim will be coming towards you, so then you know which way to go. On the Central Portugués it is easy because the route is marked with blue arrows to Fatima. I went wrong several times on the Coastal Portugués, trying to stay on the coast when there wasn’t actually a path, and I had to backtrack or use MapsMe to find the camino again. Luis Freixo’s maps are also a great aid on the Portugués routes. It’s very difficult on the little used caminos. You can ask locals, but they want to point you in the direction of Santiago, and are reluctant to show you the opposite way, as they don’t understand why you want to walk away from Santiago.
Jill
 
Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, De Soulac, Norte, Madrid-Salv-Primitivo
#11
Umm, I hate to be the one to ask the question but...if you didn't enjoy walking in reverse on the relatively short trail to Porto why would you be contemplating doing a reverse Francais?
Good question!
It's because I want to walk from Santiago to Rome next year.
Jill
 
#13
In some ways, this is the same problem that any peregrino who walks either longer or shorter stages than the typical has. I walked the Mozárabe from Almería, and by the time it merged in Mérida, the groups you described had formed. Staying in albergues definitely helps. I also found that having good Spanish is a big help, because even if people aren't initially interested in making your acquaintance, the big number of non-Spanish speakers on the Vdlp gives you special value. ;)

I met one Austrian woman in Fuenterroble who was walking from Santiago to Sevilla. That's usually a conversation starter, so you make a connection that way. She told me that she always felt welcome in the albergues, but maybe that's because there are so many people walking solo on the Vdlp, or maybe it's because she was young and pretty and multi-lingual.

That's quite a journey you have planned, Jill. Buen camino, Laurie
 

Luka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Via de la Plata (2013/2014)
Via Podiensis, Camino Francés (2015)
Camino del Norte (2017)
#14
I can imagine how it must feel. I myself have done very lonely Caminos as well, in northern France for example. But in crowds I can feel really lonely. Hopefully it helps that you will be doing this before the high season starts. With less pilgrims there is more chance of a chat.

I remember meeting a pilgrim in SJPP who was frantically looking for his Camino family. 'Where are you going? Only to Burgos? OK, then I am not gonna hang out with you.'...

I had a different experience on the Norte this weekend. Walked for just 2 days, but it seemed very easy to find pilgrims to talk to and it didn't bother them that I actually wasn' a pilgrim, but just doing a 2-day hike. I think it will get a lot easier with very small crowds. Then you will be the new face with new stories for an evening.
 

Kiwi-family

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Past: (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Future (God-willing): Madrid, Salvador, Primitivo (2018)
#17
It's because I want to walk from Santiago to Rome next year.
Jill
In that case, maybe you should *expect* fewer pilgrim interactions. If you are genuinely perturbed at the prospect of no other pilgrims being friendly and don’t want to let it be what it is, maybe it would be a good idea to take a friend.
I wish I could offer to join you.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances 2011 Camino Frances 2016
#18
Once met a pilgrim on the Camino Frances between Leon and Villar de Mazarife and asked him why he was walking back as I did not realize at that time that people walked it the opposite way. His reply was: "There is no back on the Camino". Must say it made me think ... Happy walking to you albeit the other way round.
 

MikeyC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF - September 2016
CF - April May 2017
Shikoku - October 2017
Kumano Kodo - October 2017
#19
Whenever we encountered “returners” we would greet them and enquire if everything was ok. Usually it was a case of pilgrims retracing their steps to find lost items which ranged from shoes to a passport. One early afternoon we met a young German couple. They explained that they had just two weeks vacation and walking against the flow ensured they met many more pilgrims with a different group every night in the hostels. They much preferred this to seeing the same faces every day. Before we made our farewells they asked to take our picture - apparently they made it their custom to do this for those pilgrims who stopped them to ask if they needed help. What a lovely couple.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, De Soulac, Norte, Madrid-Salv-Primitivo
#20
The different reactions from people I passed from Santiago to Porto were quite interesting.

I greeted them all.

The majority smiled and greeted me back.

Some (actually quite a lot) looked at me suspiciously and warily replied.

A few ignored me, but usually they were either talking to each other and didn’t see me, or they were miles away in their heads, meditating, and didn’t see me either.

A few told me I was going the wrong way. I replied that it depended on where you were going.

Some stopped me, looking worried, and asked if they were going the wrong way.

Only two (single men in lonely areas), asked if everything was OK. I really appreciated their thoughtfulness.

Only once did anybody actually stop me and ask why I was going backwards.

Many locals called out to me that Santiago was the other direction. I thanked them, and replied that I was going to Fatima (it was the simplest understood reply). One lady even stopped her car on a main road, ran over, and tried to turn me around. I thanked her profusely, but assured her that all was well.

I met two others who were also walking from Santiago to Porto. First an Italian, and later a German, both camino veterans. They were walking much faster than me, so I never saw either of them again, but I enjoyed the short time when they both slowed down and walked with me for a while and chatted.

Jill
 

caminka

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
#21
I walked the whole of camino fisterra and camino francés backwards in october of 2012.

it was a special feeling, walking (towards) east and home. quite different then walking west and away from home.
I was surprised to feel three distinctive 'parts' of the camino. in my first quarter (mostly galicia) the feel in the air was exciting and anticipating, being so close to the destination. the middle feel (from galicia to navarra) was settled, a bit routine and a bit contemplative. the last quarter (navarra) was still confused and searching for the right feeling.

I never felt lonely. the opposite, actually. I greeted (almost) everyone (excluding those with headphones on) and mostly they greeted back. (I considered recording a buen camino on my phone a few times.) I had to stop a lot to answer questions (where am I going, where I started etc.). I even had one photo session (with a korean).
perhaps I should mention that I love to walk long caminos by myself. I just love to hog all the landscape :p.

evening in albergues were lively as usual. I phoned ahead every night when I was in galicia, just to be sure of a bed. I never had problems starting a conversation. I got 'interrogated' about the route ahead on a daily basis :). I always asked for recommendations for the days ahead.

I got lost a couple of times on the leg muxía - dumbría and once in a tiny village in galicia (on the francés), but otherwise there were still lots of pilgrims on the road and I just looked for the folks with backpacks going in the opposite direction.

I would happily do it again, possibly in the fall. somehow it feels the right season.
 

Aysen Mustafa

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
I plan on walking the Camino April 2018.
#22
I saw two men walking rapidly towards me just outside of Zubiri. The second one I cheekily said you are going the wrong way. To my surprise he stopped and said he had started walking from SJPDP to Finisterre and was walking back. He told me when he had started. I haven't bothered saying anything to anyone walking back since. And I had to in Ages as I left my hiking poles leaning outside the fountain.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#23
I've never walked a full reverse Camino ; AKA in "True Pilgrim" -speak that means from Compostela to here, where I live, my bedroom, here at my computer speaking to you or others (materially, strangely enough, the true destination of any Pilgrimage that I might accomplish), via my own Parish church, but my answer to the OP's question from my so far partial experiences of it is that yes, you do most certainly get lonely -- actually, working through the loneliness in the Return is one of the further "stages" of the Camino beyond the typical three "stages" that many foot pilgrims experience on the Way if all that they do is the Francès.

It's not the same as the loneliness of the "stage of solitude" on your Way to Compostela from out beyond the ordinary trodden path, quite tough in itself, because you know when you're in it that in that direction, if you keep on going, you'll stop being alone ; but on the Way back, you are deliberately heading out from excellent company through complete strangers and then into solitude, and that's MUCH harder to get your head around.

---

Having said all that, the Camino remains a long walk home via Compostela, regardless of the route chosen, regardless all idiosyncratic purpose outside typical norms.

There's nothing wrong with choosing some arbitrary points A and B to walk between for a hike ; but it's not the Camino if you do not walk to Compostela at the end or in the middle of it.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#24
Just a question, how easy is it to find your way backwards.
About as difficult as to find your way where no waymarkings exist -- learn how to find your way, and anyway you'll get there in the end !! :)
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#25
Although our "french policement/gendarme" in The Way states that he intends to walk it (St Jean to Santiago; there and back) to mark his 70th birthday.
That's actually the very first idea I've heard for a sequel to that film that makes any real sense to me.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#26
I saw two men walking rapidly towards me just outside of Zubiri. The second one I cheekily said you are going the wrong way. To my surprise he stopped and said he had started walking from SJPDP to Finisterre and was walking back. He told me when he had started. I haven't bothered saying anything to anyone walking back since. And I had to in Ages as I left my hiking poles leaning outside the fountain.
The first "stage" of the walk out is learning how to be helpful to people surprised by what you're up to, but very interested in what it is. It's the most difficult I've done so far.

My first walk out from Santiago was weird because it was utterly unplanned, and came about because the amazingly beautiful & lively Nada came to walk into my hitch-hiking spot then I walked with her a bit because she seemed nice (in fact as it turned out, delightfully excellent), then a bit because I was in no hurry, then forthgoing to Ponferrada where she was walking back to 'cos we started liking each other to bits in simple pilgrim manner, for the Way and to help each other, and no other silliness.

I may have been her material guide in how to walk the Camino otherwise than as presumed, but dear Nada was my real guide into the manner of the Reverse.

eh, extremely beautiful too

My most beloved women pilgrims are Paddy's lovely wife Rebekkah Scott, the infinitely and usual infuriatingly complex Esthel who first put me on this path in '93, Nancy Frey, and the lovely open-minded and yet hard-minded, gentle tough, soft strong Nada.
 

lindacube

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino del Norte, Camino Costa, Camino Central (all 2017); Camino Primitivo + Norte (July 2018)
#27
I walked backwards from Santiago to Porto last September. On the way up North to Santiago I loved Portugal and met three great guys that we did the last 120km in 3 days so on the way South I tried taking my time, but felt too sad that after a week with the guys I am walking alone through all these places where I remember fun moments with them. So I didn't enjoy that part. I decided to head back the Central Way as North we walked the Costa. So then after 3 days, scenery changed and I was again in new parts for me and I loved it.

As you've said. A lot of people ask if you're going the right way, if they are going the right way, or if I'm lost or if I lost anything. I usually replied that "we are all walking in the right way, and the right way for me is South, whereas for them it's north". That once actually got me a friend who walked backwards with me and we chatted about what "the right way for each of us" means.

But generally it gets really lonely. Like some pilgrims already mentioned, the groups on the Portuguese seemed to be quite closed off, but I always found one or more people who wanted to talk, usually because they wanted to ask me why I was walking backwards. Then we started chatting..

But once I remember I cooked way too much pasta. So i went around the albergue offering some extra pasta if anyone wanted it, for a nice smile and a chat over it. No one took it for hours so i ended up reading alone. Only quite late two guys returned with a full 5l bottle of wine and saw me reading with the big pot of uneaten pasta next to me, and asked if they can exchange some pasta for wine and I really happily agreed. It turned out they were Czech (I'm Czech too).

I met two people going the same way. A Spanish cycling George Clooney who we had great fun with teaching each other english and spanish, when hours later I hobbled into the albergue he was staying at, and then a day before Porto a great Austraian girl called Alex. We walked together that day and it was epic.

To sum it up:
I felt really lonely in stretches, but then during those it really got me feeling about loneliness and crowds and people and my friends bak at home. It was more intense in a way then when I was walking "the righter way for everyone". But also the connections I made were for a few hours and there was something really strong in that. It was like that fly that comes alive for only 8 hours and then dies. A brief flare and then you really never see them again. So I'd say go for it. I want to finish my walk to Fatima one day (only managed to Porto) and am looking forward to this weird non-traditional-Caminoish symbiosis with the other pilgrims.
 
Camino(s) past & future
May 2018
#28
I have not felt lonely on my Camino, helped a girl from Texas who had no poles and a limited time to reach Santiago, gave her my 2 poles, some safety pins and off she went. Going to Zibiri and down the steep slopes on a rocky path, I was glad I did. I don't need the poles, had no idea why I bought them and maybe it was for that purpose to give them to her. Met great people, miss those who have moved on, bought a dinner for a cash conscious pilgrim and felt good about it.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, De Soulac, Norte, Madrid-Salv-Primitivo
#29
Thank you to all who replied - I appreciate your thoughts!

I have not felt lonely on my Camino
I am never lonely walking to Santiago. My original post is about walking backwards.
But thanks for your input.
Jill
 



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