Lessons Learned on the Camino de Santiago

Toward the end of my post on how the Camino changed my life, I got thinking about the lessons I learned while walking the Camino Frances.  The following are some thoughts on lessons I think I started to learn there.

I Can do More Than I Think or Believe

This was a great lesson to learn. One that I share with many others who walk so far, carrying their own belongings, washing their own clothes each day, and sharing so much with people that I had never met before.

It is a while since I was young, since I climbed up rocks for fun, camped, or even shared space with strangers in a hostel. Pushing myself physically has amounted to training for a half marathon – so easy in comparison.

Walking for a month along the Camino is not easy.  Your back, shoulders, knees, hips, legs, and feet get sore at various times.  There are days when you can see a town in the distance, and it seems like the town has little Spanish legs and keeps walking away from you.  At that point, I didn’t give in to tiredness or frustration and hail a taxi – I kept on walking.

I don’t think anyone ever forgets walking the Camino.  There are so many people like me on the Camino, we are not couch potatoes – just weekend hikers who enjoy getting out – and we have gone out and completed something truly tremendous and yet something that so many complete each day.

Tell someone that you took a precious month off work and spent it with a backpack walking 800 km across Spain – just watch their face.

Pain Reminds Me I am Alive

At a couple of points along the way, I suffered a lot of pain.  I discovered I had two hernias, and once the skin on my heels had to be cut off; during the day I taped my heels.  The problem with my heels happened because I started walking with very hard skin on around my heels and blisters formed under them.  The whole thing was down to using hiking boots that were not suitable – quite a lesson, (I ended up buying new hiking shoes in Pamplona).

While trying to deal with this I stumbled on this thought – pain reminds me that I am alive – trying to see it in a non-debilitating way.  This worked for me.

I Like People

It really is too easy to become the grumpy old man, (or middle-aged grumpy) – long before its due – if it is ever due.

In daily life, people are often the source of my problems – not me of course, but them.  They are in my way on the underground, their cars are going too fast or slow. They get in my way at the checkout or take too long at the ATM.  Please, people, get a life and get out of my way…

Having my ego reduced by hiking just like everyone else was and is good for me.

After a few days, my head slowed to the same pace as my hiking.  I listened and talked with many others, guardedly at first.  Then I just started to open up and I enjoyed talking with people and took the time in conversations to listen to the whole story, instead of demanding only the relevant highlights or the takeaways – or waiting till they finished not really listening so I could tell my story…

I Like Being Part of Some Groups

I have never really liked being part of a group and being subject to group decisions does drive me crazy.  (Democracy I suppose)  However, I found myself as part of a couple of groups along the way without bother – it just crept up on me.

Group decisions just happened.  Where are you stopping tomorrow?  Do you want to join us for dinner this evening, or join us in making dinner?

Maybe this next one belongs above as being part of a group only came after realizing people were likable.

Types of People Annoy Me – Language Aside

Sometimes I am not very bright; my thought process does not challenge my current thinking at times.

For all my stated dislike of people above, I thought all pilgrims on the Camino would be nice, likable, kind – just something completely unrealistic.

It was the first time in my life where it was so clear that there are types of people that have the ability to drive me crazy – a tone of voice, a certain type of look, an off-hand attitude – I am sure you know what I mean.  Once the words were taken away the rest fell into place.

My lesson was I had to change.  It would be nice if they changed to accommodate me, but I am the one with the problems.

People Care

Giving on the Camino FrancesPeople care a great deal.  While leaving a city a local stopped me as I was walking the wrong way.  I got lost one day, on the Camino Aragones, and we walked into this tiny hamlet on the top of a hill.  One of the residents gave us ripe tomatoes right off the vine – I have never had a tastier tomato since.

I saw food and sweets left at doors and on windowsills with notices telling pilgrims to help themselves.  Volunteers ran many of the albergues, and many of them are donation only, (though this is changing). I saw so many instances of caring that I don’t notice in my normal environment.  I cared more as the result of this, I think.

Crying is Okay

I would rather think that I am not a typical man – however, I am.  I don’t cry, and certainly not in public.

However, something happened along the way that moved me to tears.  I walked most of that day crying.  Then when I got to Santiago I cried again.  In fact, in my eyes it was worse than just crying – I cried while Anna held me.

Now twice in a month and you would think I had enough crying.  However, there was more to come.  I had left my car in Roncesvalles.  So we picked it up and started driving home.  I thought I would be the nice atheist and take Anna, the Catholic, to Lourdes on our way home.

In Lourdes, I was no longer a pilgrim and had put my worldly cynical hat back on.  Since I am here, I thought I might as well have the full experience.  I decided to get in the queue and enter one of the baths.  I did. Then I sat on a chair after being submerged in the water.

Then I tried to stand and nearly fell.  One of the old guys steadied me and helped me sit again.

At that point, I burst out crying.  I have no idea what happened there – but it appears like I did get the full experience.

It has become easier over the years, though I am still not completely comfortable with crying.

Sharing is Good

My things are mine.  That’s what it feels like in everyday life – ever vigilant to “things” being taken away.

On the Camino, I shared what I had, plasters, disinfectants, threads, even money.  The need to grasp eased.

I Need Less Than I Think

I sit here in my home office with many electronic toys around me; some of them cost quite a bit and have been hardly used.  At the time it appeared important to buy them.  I have learned that as soon as I buy one of these toys there is another lined up right behind it for me to buy – a never-ending cycle.

I walked with, my backpack, two pairs of hiking socks, underwear, two T-shirts, two pairs of hiking shorts, and my sleeping bag – I had little more than this.  I went a full month without having to buy things to add to my ever-growing collection of junk.

This is a philosophy Anna and I have tried, with varying success, to take into our relationship – how much do we really need?  And if I have something that I don’t need can I find a useful home for it.

What about you?  Did you learn anything about yourself or the world while on the Camino?

16 thoughts on “Lessons Learned on the Camino de Santiago”

  1. Thanks for sharing your list. I’d add, for myself, that I learned the importance of body language. My Spanish is sub-par. But, between the gestures, the context, the few words I knew, and the kindness of strangers – it was possible to communicate. Since the Camino – I’ve taken that lesson to heart and am careful not to discount my body language when I’m in the company of people who don’t speak English. I can still try to connect.

  2. I did the Camino in 2013 and it was for gratitude.
    As I set out it was gratitude for all the thing in my life.
    Then I learned that my gratitude is for the people in my life and the thing
    In my life became insignificant.
    Grateful Pilgrim.

  3. Like the movie – “The Way” – I am going to Carry along the way my sons ashes spreading them along my the way, he died at age of 25. I have not been able to even look at them as they sit in an urn in my bedroom. A spiritual cleansing Is my hope – and like the movie I will go past Santiago to the water and release the ashes left of
    him to the universe –

    • So so very sorry for your loss. I hope you got the chance to accompany your son on his last journey. Sending you blessings and hoping your loving memories help you in your grief. I am getting ready to do my first Camino which I was hoping to do in May of 2020 … we all know what happened.

  4. “The Camino does not give you what you are looking for, it gives you what you need.”

    During a visit with Camino friends we had a deep discussion about what the Camino gave each of us. Some gifts were physical, some spiritual, others intellectual but through all the stories we accepted that we are still realizing its effects on us. We accept that there may still be lessons we have not yet realized There are many experiences in life where the most important lessons do not immediately identify themselves.

    My first Camino in 2015 was an adventure that I was drawn to over many years. I was interested in the physical challenge of course. I was also fascinated by how the act of walking along a 500 mile trail with thousands of pilgrims from hundreds of cultures over a millennium changed the world. I imagined the effects on a German, an Irishman, and a Swede and how they were effected by each other’s vastly different cultures, dress, food, and appearance as they walked through Arab controlled Spain. They absorbed those observations and returned home unable to unsee them.

    I was also personally curious about how I would do being alone. As one of a family of 9 who grew up with one bathroom, who entered West Point immediately after high school and had multiple room mates for four years and then married right out of college I was curious how I would handle long walks alone. I knew no one and even though I was meeting people, I was alone most of the time with my thoughts. Since that time, the gift that the Camino gave me has become clear.

    In my very personal case, the loss that of my wife of 47 years that I suffered over three years ago has had me in a long search for myself, after being one of a couple, a piece of something wonderful, I found myself unsure of who I am, what I want and need. Wondering how can I go on without her advice and counsel. Her approval. Her company.

    I have come to the realization that the gift I was given by walking the Camino in 2015 was the knowledge and confidence that I will be okay alone, that I can do this. Of course it will still be hard and I will always miss her but I know I can do it.

    The gift I got from the Camino was me.

  5. While walking the Camino Frances , I reached santiago and immediately felt that I MUST leave and walk to Finisterre. While walking on a dirt path, i saw a shell lying on the ground and picked it up and put it in my pocket. About an hour later, I met a german woman and started walking with her. I noticed she did not have a shell on her pack and asked her why she did not have a shell.
    she replied that her friend who is a mystic advised her to NOT buy a shell because a man who would be important in her life would give her a shell.

    Pulled the shell out of my pocket and gave it to her.

    We walked to The End of the World together and were married in 2018.

  6. I walked the Camino starting on 17th April 2017, I was 72. On the way down to Roncesvalles I could hardly walk as my right knee had swollen like a balloon. I struggled on and after 10 days I had a meeting with myself. Stop thinking about the pain, what you’ll eat or where you’ll sleep. I successfully put those thing aside and walked into Santiago 23 days later. It all started as a challenge to myself and ended as a pilgrimage. I was overwhelmed by emotions, i met so many people walking for a reason, Father and son, mother and son, and so on all mourning a loved one. I was truly humbled and overwhelmed by every aspect of the Camino. I recently had a total knee replacement and planing to walk France in 2023, this time with my daughter.

  7. It makes interesting reading and I agree with everything mentioned. Having ‘been there, done that’ I would like to add the much needed two ‘Ps’: ‘patience’ and ‘positivity’, which stand you in good stead always – not easy to ‘learn’ though.

  8. Nice observations…But why do you accept ads from The Pimps that are out to make money from those walking the Camino. No one needs to pay anyone to walk the Camino!


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