5 days, 5 friends, 1 pair of boots, 100 Km and lots of rain…this is my journey on the Camino.
Camino de Santiago…walking the Way, Santiago de Compostela, St. James Way – so many names, so many routes, so many steps – all leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Many people ask me, how did I know about this experience? And isn’t it amazing that I have no idea – I just knew, and for years have longed to walk this path. As a seeker, adventurer, explorer and wanderer, I yearned to experience nature in this way, following a well-worn path that hundreds of thousands people complete each year, traversed since the Middle Ages.
So what is the Camino de Santiago? Historically, it is known as a Christian pilgrimage filled with religious tradition and symbolism, although for me and many other modern travelers, interest varies from sport and challenge to a more broad sweeping spiritual exploration and curiosity. I did not have a clear purpose for embarking on the journey – I just followed my intuition…and here’s some questions I contemplated along the way:
Am I an authentic peregrino?
Peregrino is the Spanish word for pilgrim and is the standard used to describe those of us who embark on this journey. 5 of us decided to travel together – 2 friends I’ve known through other travels and 2 more people who would quickly be added to my list of incredible adventure companions! Almost immediately, we learned there are countless ways to experience Camino de Santiago – on foot, bicycle, (horseback if you’re mimicking some of the historical tales) and starting points that could begin virtually anywhere – your front door, the French Pyrenees, an airport or more than 100 Km from Santiago de Compostela – this is the minimum distance required to receive the compostela or certificate given to pilgrims who complete the Way.
So how was I questioning my authenticity? Well, we “glammed” it up – traveling in luxurious style from A-Z. It started stretched out on a beautiful and comfortable flight to Spain followed by 5-star accommodations in Madrid before traveling first class on the train to our starting point in Sarria. And from there, we continued to indulge – porters to take our luggage from village to village each day so we could walk with just a day-pack. Break points along the way with fresh pastries, aromatic cappuccino and freshly prepared meals each evening with countless bottles of wine to celebrate our progress each day.
For some, this would not seem to be aligned with the sacrifice and struggle often attributed to the pilgrims of the past. And our group even questioned it – we had numerous emails exchanged about where to stay, how many days to walk, how much (if any) mobile technology we’d use.
What I learned – it’s all personal. THIS IS MY CAMINO! Create it, personalize it, own it, enjoy it and share it. There is one thing I am confident of – each day, I got up, tied the shoelaces on my boots and walked! Those were all MY steps and it was an incredibly, fulfilling accomplishment!
On Day 5, when we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, my vision that a kind-eyed, soft-spoken nun would be sitting in the church asking me profound questions about my experience was crushed. After visiting the Cathedral, we found out the location to receive the certificate was down the road. We arrived and stood in a line that looked like I was renewing my driver’s license at the DMV, complete with hi-tech monitors directing you to the next window. So much for a personal and profound encounter to complete my journey – I laughed at the irony of questioning my authenticity and rejoiced “Buen Camino”!
What do I want to accomplish?
So here I am – getting ready to walk. Hundreds of dollars later after buying a headlamp, Compeet, North Face gear, wool socks and a new pair of hiking boots I was prepared! Prepared for what? Like many endeavors in my life, I had “the look”, the equipment and all the external physical aspects all figured out. What about looking inward? What was the real driver of this next adventure? Too busy preparing all the externals, it was easy to continue to pushing this consideration off.
So the walk began…5 days traveling 12 – 20 miles each day, sometimes on a dirt road or alongside the highway, through small villages and across open, expansive farm land. On Day 1, glimpses of this question would sweep through my mind – everything was so new that it was easy to distract myself, looking at the map to determine how far ahead the next break stop would be and learning to navigate the new poncho that I purchased a few hours earlier, despite all the weeks of clothing preparation before that!
Day 2 wasn’t much different – we were finally getting into a routine and I began to enjoy each moment with a little more calm, not as focused on keeping up with the group and yet my mind was still very much in that intellectual place – logistics, planning, calculating what outfits were still dry and how to get the most use of my new-found favorite pair of socks.
Day 3 was the power day – this was the ultimate physical test – our longest day of walking, lots of gradual upward trails and my moment to hit a low point when I felt a hot spot developing on the back of my right foot, along with my small toe on the right foot feeling uncomfortable in my boots – this is not ideal for a walker. Taking care of a hot spot when you feel it immediately is the best prevention – yet I wasn’t sure if I physically stopped walking, how much mental momentum I’d have to get going again. We pushed on and took a much-needed medical and food refueling break a little while later – all of our shoes, first aid kits and day-packs strewn about in this cafe. Still I was focused and centered on the end goal of completing the Camino – yes, that was the physical goal…yet I knew there was more.
After a long hard day, arriving at a beautiful 500-year old rural home on the trail called Casa Brandariz, I finally felt the shift. Despite the exhaustion, I arrived at dinner with a vivacious energy, ready to be present as a friend, listener, participant and reconnect with people in a way that I had stifled in the last few years. I still didn’t have clarity around this change and rather than struggle to define and analyze it, I simply embraced the experience as it was unfolding…getting sleep was my priority anyway!
When I woke up on Day 4, we still had 36 miles to walk that would be split over the next 2 days, although I believe I could’ve walked them all and then some, given the powerful vibrancy that was pulsing through me. It was epic – the lightness I felt, a carefree attitude… I began this day, walking mostly on my own and for the first time, put my headphones on to listen to some favorite tunes: “I am Light”, “Long Time Sun” and “The Universe Within”. I was one with nature – completely in the zone – and even began to dance and skip down one of the paths. Magical, connected, playful. That was it – my word of the trip: PLAYFUL. I had forgotten my child-like enjoyment, excitement and passion and it was coming back.
There is a Rumi quote I reference often “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Wow, the barriers were coming down. What do I want to accomplish? Removing barriers, if that’s even a thing. I am already everything, we all are. I don’t need to accomplish anything. I am – just being. That is plenty. That is it. I know this message and yet I forget it often. And along the way we build protection and this seems like this could be a healthy, shield – what an illusion.
So by Day 5, I was embracing nature, content with myself, supporting those around me, and gaining inspiration from others I was traveling with and others I met along the way, like Shamus, the 80-year-young peregrino – putting one foot in front of the other everyday. What an inspiration! He likely had no idea he was inspiring me – he just walked on his path.
Make your own path – live brightly, live fully, be playful. Let go of the barriers you’ve built and if you forget, I invite you to take a walk on the Way or your way. It might just help you remember…