Walking the Camino de Santiago is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Here is my journey . . .
The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is a pilgrimage that leads to the shrine of the apostle James in Galicia, Spain.
When I set out to walk the Camino, I didn’t understand the rich history of this path. A lot of people walk the Camino to pay homage to their religion, their loved ones, and even themselves. Some seek something on the path, be it introspection, balance, or compassion. There are million reasons one could walk the Camino and I was lucky enough to meet many different individuals with their own unique reasons for undertaking this journey.
Despite not understanding the history of the Camino, I loved what it stood for and I wanted to go for a long walk, take time to process everything I’ve studied this year, and connect with myself on a higher and deeper level.
So when I got out of the Jungle, I made the reservation to go on the Camino. Many people just pack their bags, walk the trail, and stay wherever they may find themselves over the course of their journey. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to know when and where I was sleeping and how long I was walking each day.
I also wanted to walk alone and not on a tour group.
After flying to Spain, I get to the Camino in the town of Oviedo and start looking for directions. Despite all the research I did, I didn’t realize this was where five Camino paths intersected, so there was a huge melting pot of people in town. All these people were walking from all different distances, some from within Spain and others from all over Europe.
I find my accommodations and try to get plenty of sleep that night. The next day, I’m up and ready to go at 5:30, before the sun even rises. I’m all packed and excited for the beginning of this journey. However, once I get outside I see no one on the street and it’s pitch black out. And I can’t find the trail. I’m searching and searching but it’s too dark to see.
During my search, I see a man walking with a backpack and a bed roll. I immediately identify him as someone who is also walking the Camino, so I follow him. I catch up to him and it turns out he’s from the Canary Islands and he’s walking for his mother, who really wanted to do the Camino herself, but had died of cancer.
We figure all this out despite the fact that he spoke very little English and I speak very little Spanish. Then another man, this time from Belgium, joins us.
A few hours later, the sun is rising and by now it’s after 8. As we continue to walk, more and more people join us. We break by a river and wade in the water to cool off. We eat a delicious lunch and drink fantastic wine, then proceed to walk another 10 miles that day.
That night I stayed in an old castle outside of town. I couldn’t get to sleep given all the adrenaline from the day’s events and the time change.
Naturally, I overslept.
I wake up in a panic. All my companions from yesterday are gone. They’ve already left and now I’m going to be walking alone all day. And today is a day where the walk is uphill most of the way.
This day was the turning point of my trip. There was a point before I went on this trip that I had tried to cancel it because I was afraid I was going to be alone and deserted in the middle of nowhere.
I caused this exact fear on my 2nd day. I was alone for at least 7 hours in the back country of Spain.
As I walked alone, I began to second guess myself. I should have come with friends. I should have woken up sooner. I can’t believe all those people left me behind. I’m such a loser.
These thoughts began reaching a breaking point so I stopped in the road and I told myself out loud that enough is enough. I had decided to do this and to do it alone. And that’s what I was going to do.
After that outburst, the voice went away. I was no longer second guessing my decisions or my journey. Telling myself that I was not going to be held back by these thoughts and let them control me was one of the most powerful things I did on this trip.
Then, despite my initial fear, I began to fall in love with being alone and walking alone, listening to every single footstep and the leaves rustling and the sunlight glistening between them.
I stayed in a castle again on the 2nd night and I met Noriko, who asked me to walk with her the next day. After that, I walked with Noriko many of the following days for at least an hour or two. I felt so much better knowing that I had someone that I could walk with.
Day 3 I find myself walking with 5 friends from Australia. It was pouring rain and incredibly windy, pummeling our faces with the rain. By the time we got into a town at the end of the day, our fingers were so blue and frozen we couldn’t even unbutton our ponchos. Despite the conditions, we all still managed to enjoy ourselves and the journey we shared.
Every day was different. Some days had blistering heat, and some had freezing rain. But every day was filled with hope, laughter, friendship, love, and compassion.
I ran into people from all over the world, doing the walk for all different reasons. One Frenchman was there because he had had cancer and didn’t think he was going to live. Now that he had beaten it, he was walking the Camino to give thanks to God that he’s alive.
Even though I was walking alone for most of the Camino, you spend an hour here or a few hours there, walking with all different people. You’re all part of this community of the Camino and connecting with strangers who have different cultural backgrounds and speak different languages. There’s no complaining or negative energy. Everyone is present.
On the days I was with people, I still walked at the pace I wanted to, letting them get ahead when they wanted to. On the days I was alone, I really allowed myself to experience the experience of being with me. I allowed myself to experience my thoughts and my subconscious programming. I recognized my reflections and projections. I was myself and not trying to pretend to be something I’m not to please myself or others.
I learned to trust myself on this trip. I wanted to be alone and be present in nature and carry myself 200 miles and I did that. I trusted myself to do it.
While you may have no desire to walk the Camino yourself, practicing introspection and mindfulness and becoming aware of your saboteurs is critical for self-improvement and growth. Taking some time to yourself to really experience yourself is essential. People often think of meditation as a peaceful and relaxing exercise. It can be. But it can also be full of tension and discomfort as you come to grips with things present in your mind that you’re just now discovering and have refused to acknowledge before.
The Camino is one long walking meditation. Months later, I still think about it and the impact that journey has had on me. If you ever do get the chance to walk it, I highly recommend it.
To your growth,