In 2004 I first walked the Camino Frances the main Camino de Santiago route; I first wrote this article in 2009 and thought it could do with some updating.
I was a student at the time and I wanted to do something different during the summer, something interesting – I am not one for lying on a beach and prefer to be active. One of my college mates had walked from Holland to Santiago de Compostela a few years before and he kept going on about this “Camino de Santiago” – to me it sounded horrible, walking all day across Spain in the height of the summer heat, carrying my own clothes, sleeping in a hostel every night with people I did not know. No thanks.
Dara, my friend, ended up making it sound good and I decided to “give it a try” – I had no religious or spiritual beliefs regarding the Camino, even though I was a student at Ireland’s main Catholic University. My thoughts setting out on the journey were – if I don’t like this experience I will just go somewhere else in Europe for the Summer, (kind of arrogant first world issues).
The Camino Frances
I walked the Camino Frances, I had no idea that there were several Camino routes. The Internet was still young, there were not many guide books, and blogging was still only for nerds. I just knew I had to get to this tiny town in the South of France and then walk for a month. I travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then changed for St Jean Pied de Port. And I just started walking.
My Camino journey turned into “something” for me – and I still have problems putting that something into words many years later. My attitude and thinking about some things changed while there – I spent time talking to people who gave their time freely to man albergues, I talked to many others walking the Camino from all over the world – something happened to me, and it was good, very good.
More Capable than I Believed
I endured pain, heat, and the lack of privacy that I never thought I would; I became ill and was helped – I came back from my first Camino a stronger and perhaps a more caring person – and in a strange way I developed some pride in an achievement that I had not set out to achieve. I suffered greatly from sore hot feet and blisters. The blisters had developed under hard skin around my heals and the skin had to be cut off. I would wrap my heals each morning in tape to walk. It was a painful, but after a few minutes I was fine – it only hurt after I had stopped and had to start walking again. At home I would have been at the doctors getting treatment, but my endurance was more than I thought.
After reaching Santiago de Compostela I went by bus to Finisterra and walked back towards Santiago for two days – I did not have time to do more as I had arranged to meet my friend Dara and walk the Camino Aragon with him.
I went back and walked the Camino Frances again the next year. It was different, this time, I went with a different mind and a softer heart.
So Why Walk the Camino?
I am not generally given to hyperbole or psycho mumbo jumbo, however the Camino changed my life and its direction. I now believe that journeys like this, pilgrimages, are very important for people and it is a great idea to do it at least once. The second time I walked I met my love and we had our first child in December 2014 .
I would rather that pilgrims did not set out with a mind like mine the first time – but if that is where they are at that time, then so be it. I talked, listened, and read a lot about the Camino while there – and almost nothing before I went.
The one thing that I read that sticks in my mind today goes things like this, forgive my paraphrasing. While on the Camino you follow the yellow arrows, they show you the way, give direction. What do you follow after the Camino de Santiago?
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.