"Do you have hope?" Chris asked me yesterday. Depends what you mean, I said. I was reconsidering whether to walk the Camino Francés.
Word of mouth here on the Norte since I last wrote you all is that the Francés – the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago Chris and I met on in 2017, and the one in which I planned to return to this week to walk again and run Pilgrim Road – is seriously overcrowded.
A response to repressed COVID travel. Media surrounding Emilio Estevez' re-release of The Way. A deep yearning for meaning and community in an age of disconnection. A TikTok. Likely all, and more.
This massive uptick in pilgrims from previous years brings new dynamics to how folks are approaching the route, to how the infrastructure along the way adapts.
In 6+ years of travel, I've seen again and again how cultural trends and modern media upstream from tourism spikes shape local economies with limited development. There's an "awareness threshold" where, when surpassed, more remote places or experiences undergo a substantial systems change from an increase in visitors. It's a double-edged sword. Tourism brings opportunity, supports local families. But something essential at the heart of a place is no doubt lost.
In the context of pilgrimage and the Francés, the changes I'm seeing have convinced me to push my plans there to a quieter time of year, and to continue along del Norte.
With that, we're still going to run Pilgrim Road but as a photography-focused newsletter. Still starts May 4. Still ends in early-June. We'll walk the northern coast starting in Irun (where I began in mid-April). And perhaps I'll pepper in a few notes along the way.
Times change. Plans change. And so, too, the light changes. The literal light, that is. Splashing on things in Spain day after day: eucalyptus trees, bridges, stone homes, cows, agricultural machinery, clothes lines. To that end, the camera is always over the shoulder and I'm always looking to freeze moments. The joy, the beauty, the strangeness, the people, the aloneness, the spirit of the Camino.
See you on the road.
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