Hello Camino friends I was recently reading the Camino Forums and felt inspired to write a little about my pilgrimage down the Camino Francis and why I chose to hike it again the next year, before I had even finished my first one.
I first heard about El Camino de Santiago from a friend whom I went on a yearly trek with. We had climbed the peaks Mt. Chirropo in Costa Rica, went to the depths of the earth together to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and hiked the ancient Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. So, it was only fitting that we walked the Camino together. We set our date to leave in June 2013. But, as many of you know and some will find out, that your pilgrimage does not start the day you leave. Your pilgrimage starts the day the idea enters your mind. And, then even more so when you make the commitment to go. As time passed my friend decided to drop out, but I was committed and went without him. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart it was one of the best choices I had ever made.
I am a sort of a nomad myself. A digital nomad if you will. I have lived all over the US, spent a year on the beach in Costa Rica. I have also lived in Cusco, Peru while contracting myself out online to produce income from my laptop as I go. So going abroad all alone isn’t my greatest fear, although it is a present fear. But, what I have found, and so many travelers agree, is when you take that leap of faith, The Universe brings you some of the most amazing, enriched and kind people to help you along your way.
This is what I happened for my pilgrimage. I took another great leap of faith into the vast unknown and left the US for St. Jean Pied-de-Port on June 19th, 2013, the day after my 33rd birthday. I used the wisdom from my guidebook and booked my first night at the hostel named L’Esprit du Chemin. It was the perfect start to the perfect Camino. We had a communal dinner together hosted by volunteers of the hostel and received a really nice blessing from the emcee. What I didn’t know at that moment, within that group of people that I was eating with, four of them would become lifelong friends. They would become a part of my Camino Family. They would become so close to me that I miss them on a daily basis and think of them all the time.
I left St. Jean the next morning and walked for the next 33 days. Our Camino family grew to around 12 people with some hikers tagging along and dropping off every now and then. For me, the other Pilgrims….the other hikers….the Camino Family was the absolute best part of the hike. Within a matter of days we grew together and bonded as none of us had before. In a sense, we truly needed each other because, in a way, our survival depended on it. We all have a family, and are blessed in one way or another to have that family. But, to bond with others in a way that you would trust your life in their hands, while not knowing who that person was a week prior. This forms a relationship that is not only priceless, but a relationship where there are no words that exist in any language to truly describe. The closest one could come to that bond is using the word ‘LOVE’. And that word still shoots short of how I feel for my Camino Family.
The next 33 days were challenging…but graceful. At times it was peaceful, other times frustrating, sometimes the euphoria was indescribable and sometimes it was just plain boring. But this exists with all things. I could go into detail about intimate conversations I had with priests, or a lost inspiration I re-found in religion. I could tell you about the singing nuns in Carrion or getting lost in the mountains near Dragonte and being taken in by a local family. The stories of adventure and mis-adventure could go on and on, as resides true for most pilgrims.
But, I will keep it as short as possible to tell you this story. Within 3 weeks of being on Camino I had decided to walk another pilgrimage somewhere. By the 4th week I had decided to come back and hike Camino Frances again. After making this commitment many people have asked or told me “Why don’t you hike another trail?”, “Are you trying to re-create your first Camino?”, “Don’t you think you should hike another pilgrimage in another country?”, “It will never be as good as the first time.”. Well, I have an answer for all of those. I realized I wanted to go back because…for me…..for my life, it is not about doing as many trips or pilgrimages that I can. It is about doing the ones that I favor, excellently.
Some may not fancy hiking the Camino Francis a second time. But for me the Camino Francis is like a woman that I love. Why waste my time finding more excitement and connection with others, when I can gracefully grow and reside happily in her presence. It’s not about being with all of them, it is about being with one of them…with excellence.
Not only did I choose to hike the Camino Francis again, because I love it. But, I also decided to add little caveat to the hike this year. A group of us are hiking this year to raise money to build an orphanage in Ghana, Africa. This home will provide a safe haven and support ex-slave children. Children that were sold into this horrible life will be removed from slavery and brought to a place where they can be children again. They will receive an education, clean water, good food, and parental figures that they can trust and love. In August, we will be traveling to Ghana to build this home and work side by side with the villagers.
I have found, that in life, when you commit to one thing, when you are wholeheartedly committed to what you truly want, limitless inspiration and opportunities will grow from that. When I fell in love with Camino Francis and my Camino Family, I also fell in love with commitment. And this fact will change everything for the rest of my life.
Buen Camino, Chris Reynolds