Love was the last thing I expected to find on the Camino de Santiago. But I did and twelve years later our son is nearly three years old. Therefore I thought this would be a good time for this post.
I set out expecting a journey with few people, and I expected those few to be a bit odd, or older religious types – well it was a pilgrimage, not your usual holiday. Expectations are interesting phenomena, I don’t know about you, but my expectations of future events are usually completely wrong.
I have been thinking of writing this post for some time, however, I wanted to wait until I had entered the next chapter. While thinking, I was composing in my head; the title would be more descriptive if it was “Finding Love, Pain, Change, Tolerance, Patience, Flexibility, and Frustration on the Camino de Santiago” – not quite as catchy; however, these are the changes required by me in all good relationships.
The Freedom of Walking Alone
Walking the Camino on my own is where it began, I didn’t expect to meet people and walk with them. However one of the wonderful things about walking on my own was caring less what others thought of me – at home, I would not leave the house in the morning without showering, on the Camino I showered the evening before, so most of the time I was smelly from walking all day.
I would walk with someone or a few people and then move on or they did. I like people, the most fun and enjoyment in life comes in the company of others, however, I am not great at spending a full day with one person. The Camino gave me the opportunity to meet lots of people, walk with them, or meet in the evening to eat together.
Losing Freedom and Gaining Friendship
Then I met Anna. We had passed a hello and Buen Camino before we started chatting. Then one night in an albergue we were sat opposite each other at a communal meal and got talking. I found her hugely attractive and as usual, that made the conversation more difficult for me.
During the next few days, we met more often and talk more. From Ponferrada, we walked together all day chatting. One of the first things I noticed was becoming conscious of my appearance. The second was arranging and discussing where we would stop each night. We had quickly become inseparable, sometimes much to the disgust of Nora, Anna’s friend.
Then one night we kissed. That was it; we walked the last ten days or so to Santiago hand in hand. It was all very easy, as it is at the start of any romantic relationships.
I had driven to the Camino and left my car in Roncesvalles, so four of us hired a car and drove there, one left at that point for a flight and we three drove to Prague.
Different Cultures and Language
At that time I was living in Vienna and Anna in Prague. So it was fairly easy to commute at the weekends. However, I had to go back to Dublin the following May. Around February, six months after meeting, I proposed and asked if she would come to Dublin with me. I think it was in that order, and that month – interesting how I remember the date we met on the Camino and not the date I proposed… years later we are still engaged, at some point, we will get around to the formalities.
After the Camino is when the pain, tolerance, flexibility, and the need to change started. Relationships need work, different first languages, cultures, and expectations appear to need a bit more work. Just a couple of examples: Czechs take their shoes off when entering their own house or even when visiting others; this took a bit of getting used to. But now when back in Scotland or Ireland and people walk around the house in outdoor shoes I find it uncomfortable – interesting how I changed with this one. I am Scottish, from Glasgow, and we are fairly direct in speech. This can take a lot of getting used to in any relationship; over the years I have learned some moderation in my directness, which has made life in general easier.
If you meet someone on the Camino it is unlikely that they will live just down the street or even in the same city or country, therefore these end up being long-distance relationship with all that entails. Holidays are often used visiting family in either country.
Ten Years Later
After nearly eight years together, seven living in Dublin, we moved back to Prague. The way of life in the Czech Republic can be a bit more relaxed, and with the intention of having a child, we wanted to live in a place where both parents didn’t have to work full time to just pay the bills. (and Anna’s family and friends are here)
Just over three years ago Thomas James was born, (Dec 1st). Thomas because it’s a name we like, and James because we met on the Camino, and the Camino has remained a big part of our life.
It’s not the end, though I do like happy endings. It’s just another chapter: just like meeting, getting engaged, living in Ireland, moving to Prague.
That day slogging up the hill from St Jean I was wondering what I had let myself in for – I really had no idea.
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.