I decided to go ahead and walk the Camino de Santiago for many reasons, not for a particular one. Like in life you do things not for one single reason, all the facts are interconnected, you can’t divide them and put them under the microscope for better understanding. They are all part of one and unique and inexplicable system of energies that we sometimes think we have under control, but in reality, they control us.
I have lived in Ireland for nearly 8 years, but I’m originally from Madrid, Spain. I work for a very well-known American multinational in Dublin. After 5 years of service in the company we get 4 weeks of sabbatical, in which I added another 2 weeks on top of that to make 6 weeks to do whatever I wanted….wow… and the Camino was my decision.
I have traveled a little bit and I didn’t want to waste my time and my money in an exploited paradise doing nothing. So, what better than to do the Camino in my own country, to have the experience to rediscover my own culture and a part of my country that I didn’t know much about.
I wanted to cross the Pyrenees with someone as I heard that it was tough and I haven’t hiked before so my brother was the perfect candidate for this, because he hikes often. I don’t have many opportunities to have quality time with him, so what a great way to start my Camino. After 2 months of walking everywhere in Dublin, walking home from the office twice a week, about 11 km, and spending a reasonable sum of money on equipment for the Camino, I was ready to rock and roll.
I stayed 3 nights at my parents and then my brother and I headed to Pamplona by train from Madrid. We visited the city and then after a few beers and some quality “pinchos” (how I have missed Spain and all its variety) we took the bus to Saint Jean Pied de Port. That was one of the worst moments of the Camino, as the bus went up to the Pyrenees on a snaky road that made me feel sick.
However, we went for dinner and we had some salty crepes that made up for it. We walked around the village and saw the views over the few bridges that cross the river, avoiding the Spanish pilgrims as they were a bit too noisy. We wanted to have a quiet evening as we had to save our energy for the big hike that was ahead of us the following day.
I was the only girl in a room of 6 beds and the snoring rate was unbelievable. It prepared us what to expect on the following days and weeks, a mix of snoring, farting noises, yep that too lol, also the corporal smell, and the boots. I didn’t realize that this was going to be a training on detaching from the comfort we are used to living in and the commodities that we have at home.
During the first two days, I didn’t enjoy the hike as I was physically exhausted. I was hungry and still stressed from ‘the real world’ and all the preparation I had to do before I went on the Camino. I was just literally looking down at my feet to see where I was stepping and the weather conditions didn’t really help much as we had a few showers that made the walking pretty miserable. But, the views, oh wow! The views were priceless and the peace that you can breathe, along with the beauty of the scenery….it was so worth it. I didn’t even realize that I was so tired and sore.
Then we started having better weather. My brother and I were a very good team, I was taking care of the personable aspects and he was taking care of the physical aspects. We were full of complements towards each other and we started to meet people. We didn’t fully understand at that point that these people would impact how we would experience the Camino.
My brother doesn’t speak much English, so our interactions were a bit limited to Spanish speakers or Italians who understood a bit. It was great as we cooked a big paella in Pamplona for 15 people. My brother and I were looking for a different rhythm in the Camino, so we started getting up early and walking when the Camino wasn’t too crowded. The type of people changed a bit with that routine as the people were a bit more mature with different interests.
Here, I have to make a note that is important. The Camino is not a race and no one can do it for you. If you do it with someone, you eventually will find that you are doing it for yourself and no one can force you to do it. My Camino had 3 different mental periods and also 3 different ways of experiencing it.
The first part was from Saint Jean Pied de Port till Logrono and then Burgos. My brother walked the Camino with me from SJPDP until Logrono. This was a beautiful experience that made us closer. We are two very different people.
The journey together helped me discover him with a different light and I guess he experienced the same with me. We made a little group of ladies plus my brother: 1 Canadian, 1 French Canadian, 1 Israeli, 1 Californian and the two of us. We kind of created a small little family the last part until we arrived in Logrono. When my brother left, he promised to come and visit me along the Camino. It was sad seeing him go but I knew I would see him before I was back in Ireland. He helped me a lot in many unexpected ways.
When I arrived in Burgos, I had a big hole in my heart as I connected so well with Naomi (the Israeli girl) in many ways. I felt I was losing a sister when she left. She had to visit some friends in Valencia before she went back to Israel. On the other hand, I felt some relief seeing some other people leave. They weren’t bad people, but somehow I was feeling dragged down and I wasn’t choosing the Camino I wanted to do. The interferences were a bit too intense but this is life and it’s very difficult to please everyone.
So my second part of the Camino started in Burgos. It felt like a fresh start. I continued my Camino with my little Californian “sister” Sorren. She was very good company and she taught me a lot of things that I took for granted. It made me think about many aspects of life that I haven’t considered yet. The difference in culture was playing a big factor here. We continued our way across the “Meseta” and here is where we met a lot of people that would stay with us until the very end…like a lot of branches of the same family.
Meeting and sharing with different types of people from different parts of the world in a nonjudgmental manner is something that the Camino helped me to do. You open your heart and soul to people that you may never see again. In real life, you meet with a friend over a coffee or a drink and you mainly talk about surface subjects. Very few times will you go deep down into your soul and expose yourself. Why? Because it’s risky and it can be painful. The Camino has this magical thing that no matter who you are, what you do or what age you are, we are all the same. The Camino equalizes everyone no matter the status you have in the real world. It opens up the spirit and shows you things that you haven’t seen with your own eyes….only your soul is able to perceive them.
I remember the ‘Meseta‘ as a time of calm and interior assimilations. I had plenty of time to think about my life, my work, my experience living in a different country, learning so much about my own country and how others nationalities see us, the way we all interact with each other, and the things we still have to learn as a nation. We Spaniards are not perfect but we have many things I haven’t seen in other countries that we should be proud of. One of them is the Camino. This is why there are so many people coming from all over the world to do it and repeating it because the Camino is addictive. I didn’t know this.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll forget the names of many people I met along the Camino, but there is this little group of crazy people of what I called the ‘Common Well’. This group played a big part on the last stretch of my Camino from Leon until Santiago. It was an open invitation of fun times, confessions and self-analysis. Sometimes, I had reservations and other times I opened up as a transparent and a crystal clear soul. I learned a lot from this.
I have to say that writing this report 2 months after the Camino gives me some perspective I didn’t have when I was still in Santiago. We all make choices in life and we all are part of other people’s life. What the Camino showed me is that human beings can still be human. I recovered my hope in humanity! We are all good at heart, life is tough and sometimes we don’t have options, but eventually the positive comes up to the surface and there is a big rainbow ahead to cheer us up.
Don’t you think I forgot the last days of the Camino? It was the magical part of the terrain (Galicia is so wild and primitive). The kilometers go down very quickly and you feel relieved that it is almost finished. But….there is always a but….the adventure is also done and you wonder…”Wow! What I’m going to do with the rest of my life without the yellow arrows that mark the path along the Way.” You know that you’ll survive life without them but it’s so easy to live on the Camino as there are not so many rules to follow and you basically feel the freedom to do with your life whatever you want!
It was very exciting to share the moment of arriving into the Plaza do Obradoiro with my Kiwi sister Jeanne. We shared so many beers and ‘tortilla de patatas’ on the last few days that I felt I know her forever.
I had a chat with a Spanish lady before I got to Santiago. She told me it would be so emotional to get into the Plaza that she would be crying. I told her there was no reason to cry, she should be proud of her achievement. Then I was crossing the arch towards the Plaza with the Spanish bagpipes playing for us and as soon as I was stepping down the stairs I burst into tears like a small little inconsolable girl.
There was no reason to cry and at the same time all the reasons in the world to do it. It was so intense I couldn’t stop for an hour and also the following three days! I had to hide from the others at some point. I was so emotional, thinking I wouldn’t have such an experience with the same people ever again. All together at the same time in such an environment. It was getting worse and worse as the days went by and most members of the family arrived in Santiago. It was the final gathering and the last day I was feeling extremely sad. I left Santiago on a raining day, as I was walking towards the train station I felt Santiago was crying with me and for me. I had emptiness deep down inside myself that left me in limbo for almost a month.
Now, as I mentioned earlier I can see the Camino with a bit of distance. I have identified a lot of things that I can use in life and some others that I can’t. Life is a journey of learning that never stops.
One of the things I would apply more often on my daily basis is to not judge before getting to know someone. Also, to be grateful that this person has crossed your way at that moment because everything happen for a reason. Only with a bit of perspective can you start to understand things. Then you feel like … ah! Now I know! And you feel this peace that invades you with a calmness so sweet that draws a beautiful smile in your face.
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.