On July 8th of this year, I set out from St Jean Pied du Port to walk the infamous Camino Frances. I had a return ticket booked for five weeks later and I dreamed of finishing my walk at the Atlantic Ocean in Finisterre. As I packed my bag before my departure I was excited for the unknown. I was excited for the physical and mental challenges that lay ahead of me.
To be honest, I really did not know what to expect. Friends, colleagues and different internet blogs gave me an insight into what they experienced but for me I set off on a very wet and cloudy day across the Pyrenees not knowing what The Way would bring.
It turned out to be the most epic trip I have ever done. I am home now as long as I was gone away and I am finding life familiar but different. It is hard to pin point why exactly. As I walked my Camino I encountered life in its most primal way. Food, security and shelter, the three basic needs for humankind to build their lives from were the first things I had to organise everyday. Once we have these needs accounted for we feel safe.
After a few days, I learnt not to stress about these, everything always fell into place. That first week I was beyond tired, my body was aching in ways I had never encountered. I went from being in a great mood to being in a quiet mood where I wanted solitary time. I got tendonitis early on and I found myself annoyed with myself for tying my boots too tight.
As the days rolled on and the monotony of my daily routine became second nature I found my mind becoming very strong. I became more in touch with emotions of myself and others and creativity in my thinking began to reignite. I overcame injuries and tiredness and I gave myself over to an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Some days my pace quickened, other days it slowed down. I headed off most mornings in darkness as I began to love walking with the Milky Way guiding me. The stars that hung so close above my head were so clear that I often stopped just to stare up in awe. I loved the feeling of dew on my skin and the stillness of the darkness. Within an hour, daylight began to break through the stars and I was there as the day time world took over. I saw fields and fields of sunflowers, lined up like soldiers, awakening and smiling brightly towards the sun that rose behind me every day as I continued heading west.
The ever changing scenery, the smells, the wine I drank with new friends, the sound of us marching to the beat of our own drum brought me to a sense of sheer happiness. Walking every day both alone and with new friends from such diverse backgrounds to myself taught me a lot about myself. Now that I am home and I am looking back on my Camino I appreciate that it was not only a journey across Northern Spain, but a deep introspective journey into who I am.
Past life events came back to me and things that bothered me but were put into a compartment deep away also popped up. I looked at these and sometimes I’d randomly strike up conversations with someone beside me about it. I have learnt that when a thought comes up, I acknowledge it for what it is, just a thought, and I then just leave it there and move on in the present and not letting the past project into my future.
I began to make notes of thoughts that came to me. Since I came home, I am now spending my evenings and spare time reading and researching interests. In a life dominated by social media and external factors bombarding our senses I have become an observer and not as much a participator in trivial, energy sapping experiences. I am very happy with where I am in my life at the moment and I am putting energy into quality relationships and life experiences more than before.
When I arrived in Finisterre on August 10th I sat on a rock at the lighthouse and sat in silence while the crowds around me giddily took photos and chatted. After a month of walking with the sun rising behind me I was watching the sun set before me and I realised that while my walking was over and the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, my way was just beginning and it is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Catherine O’Brien, October 2015, www.carryoncamino.com
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.