It is my belief that the Camino always has something to teach us, whether subtle or profound.
Those effects may be conscious throughout your journey, or more of a seed that grows slowly into our awareness long after our return. This is not my first time on the Camino, my 3rd tour to be exact, but each time I have come back ‘changed’…
Table of Contents
Walking for My 50th Birthday
I walked my first Camino in 2015, to celebrate my 50th Birthday, I wanted to do something extraordinary … and extraordinary it was. I had wracked my brains for weeks, where to go that would be special, memorable, and which friends would I like to join me … or not. Then one morning I awoke with a start … of course, why didn’t I think of this before, I will walk the Camino …. I had read about the Camino many years ago, it appealed to my sense of adventure and wanderlust, and it was on my bucket list as a priority TO DO.
Friends and relatives were beside themselves with anxiety and incredulity … “that doesn’t sound like fun, wouldn’t you rather relax by a pool, aren’t you scared, what if you are attacked by bandits” ….. Well, I wasn’t scared, but then I hadn’t considered Bandits!! Do they have those in France/Spain? … And no I really don’t want to sit by a pool. A friend even sent me a link about a woman that had gone missing on the Camino and others who had since come forward to voice their bad experiences, men trying to drag them into a van, getting groped by rampaging cyclists …
This scaremongering was all well-meaning of course; people just wanted me to be safe. But these were their fears. Did this scare me? Of course, particularly as the place where this woman vanished turned out to be my start point on my first Camino. But … the desire to go greatly overshadowed my fears … why was it so important for me to go? … I cannot explain …
As a Camino newbie, I only knew of the Camino Francaise, now I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. As I could only take 2 weeks of annual leave, I calculated that I could walk from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela at that time. Auspiciously, no one wanted to come, well how can anyone understand something that is far beyond the fear of their own imagination? … And as I had so often resolved to do when traveling over the years, I went alone.
Hence, I jumped on a train and a plane and then a coach to a land I had never been to before … I took a leap of faith … and this is where the magic begins …
The Magic Begins
I arrived safely in Santiago de Compostela and ‘by chance’ caught my bus, I say by chance because I had been sat patiently waiting at the designated bus terminal, but there was no sign of my bus. By chance, I just happened to turn around, to find my bus was boarding in the terminal behind me. These are the things that happen on the Camino, circumstances just randomly coming together.
I arrived in Astorga late that evening, a place I had never before seen, and walked past magnificent and wondrous buildings, straight to my hotel. My feet seemed to know the direction like I had walked the route a thousand times before… strange are the mysteries on the Camino.
My first evening was spent packing and unpacking my backpack, I was already acutely aware I had over-packed as most newbies do. I had struggled with the weight just getting on and off public transport let alone carrying it mile after mile. No matter, I ventured into the square to eat my first pilgrim meal; the size of it … the first course alone filled me to bursting.
I chatted to a fellow pilgrim on the next table, she had started the Camino with a friend who had subsequently dropped out and now she was walking alone. I felt her sadness and imagined this must be tough if your plans included another and you hadn’t anticipated walking alone …. I didn’t see her again after that … I hope everything worked out for her.
I woke feeling anxious the next morning, thinking what have you done, you are in a strange place, you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you are going, what if I get lost….. what if I get murdered … the thought of that missing lady on this stage of the Camino in the back of my mind.
Starting to Walk
I started the day with trepidation and headed downstairs for breakfast, I’m bound to meet other people I can walk with … but as I was soon to learn, most pilgrims are up, literally at the crack of dawn, and are out the door. I grabbed a few mouthfuls, too anxious to eat and set off 7am. My main tactic was to stalk the first pilgrim I saw, keeping a respectful distance behind him and keeping others in earshot behind me.
After a couple of hours walking my fears proved unfounded and I soon relaxed and settled into ‘the way’ of the Camino… following the yellow arrows and markers and chatting to all that I met. Many people walk the Camino alone but you are never truly alone …
Of course, I was crushed by my pack on the first day, but … no need to worry, the Camino has a fix for that, Luggage Transfer Service … I remember the first time I used it … just put your money in the envelope, attach it to your pack and it arrives at your next destination. Ohhh the terror, there was my pack on the doorstep of the Albergue in Rabanal in full view of anyone that was passing. No staff till later that morning to supervise it … I will never see it again … but then again I was in so much pain from the day before, I didn’t much care whether I saw it again.
But later that day when I arrived at Albergue – Mesón El Acebo, there it was … minus my new trousers which I suddenly recalled were still on the washing line in Rabanal. No problem … I explained to my host, in very poor Spanish, my predicament … he makes a call … and later that evening when I return from dinner, there he is holding my trousers. He responded to my astonished face by stating “its magic” …
I continued with luggage transfers until I reached Ponferrada and was able to shed 3kg from my pack. You can send it from a post office by way of Correo to Santiago. Here they will keep it for you for 14 days and you can pick it up when you arrive in the city. My pack was now much more manageable and consequently my constant companion for the rest of the way. I say companion as you and your pack become one and you build a special relationship with it, your pack is your friend, it has everything you need, you talk to it … I kid you not … you will do the same J
You have no doubt heard again and again the phrase ‘The Camino Provides’ it really does … I was walking along the road one day and a Spanish man just randomly offered me some biscuits … I have had long and cheery chats with ancient and wrinkled farmers, they didn’t care that I didn’t speak a word of Spanish … they just wanted to communicate anyway.
Got an injury, someone has something for that, got an illness someone has something for that, got a blister on the route, just sit down, take off your hiking shoe, someone has a compede for that … there’s lots of compede… I broke my glasses, they got fixed. There was truly no end to the random acts of kindness that I received personally or witnessed.
Before long I settle into a routine, wake 6 am, walk, stop for café con leche con tostadas, walk, find accommodation, shower, wash clothes, find lunch and explore the current location, catch up with pilgrim’s that you have met on the way, check tomorrows route, siesta, eat dinner, catch up with pilgrim friends again, share stories, laughter, and knowledge, sleep … such a simple way of life … unburdened and free.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the rush of scenery –
AIR, MOUNTAINS, TREES, PEOPLE.
THIS IS WHAT IT IS TO BE HAPPY”.
The Camino Provides
And so it is with the Camino, chance meetings with extraordinary and remarkable people, in extraordinary places from all walks of life, young, old, able, disabled, different religions and philosophies, different reasons and circumstances for undertaking this journey, all sharing a common goal. I encountered nothing but the milk of human kindness …
Everyone has a place on the Camino … you may think that I have a rather rose tinted view, but this was and still is my experience …
I met so many wonderful people and experienced so many wonderful things that I would need to write a book to convey it all to you … but that is another story … in the making 😉
But I shall end my story with this final reflection … my experience on the Camino affected me profoundly or it might be more accurate to say that I found myself again… the person that I used to be before the trials of life, responsibility, adulthood, and ‘stuff’ shrouded the carefree spirit that resided within. That carefree child that ran wild through meadows and woodlands, where summers lasted forever and time had no meaning.
I found her again on the Camino, unchanged, still vibrant and full of life, but maybe she wasn’t lost at all, maybe I had just forgotten how to be her, I had returned home. And that is how I feel every time I walk the Camino … I feel like I am coming home.
It is, I feel inexplicable, I am not a religious person in the slightest, but I had an ‘experience’, an awakening, I am not ashamed to say that when I witnessed the Pilgrim mass the day I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I was so overwhelmed that I wept …
I think I left a piece of my heart on the Camino, I have walked a great many places but the Camino has a special magic. I have a constant ‘calling’ to return, which has led to two further tours on the Camino … but that is ‘yet’ another story….
*My travel ‘NOTES’ and photographs can be found on my Facebook page called Travelling Light@twomers – please feel free to drop by or like my page.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.