Buen Camino. The greeting made my heart skip, said to me for the first time outside Pamplona by an old man on his early jog passed me. I smiled from the bottom of my heart.
The spirit. The essence. The Camino de Santiago is soulful. Some embark to release pain, others to find something, for me, at this point in my life I thought I was just enjoying the walk. How naive of me.
You can’t hide. It’s like coming back to counselling therapy again and again, and expecting not to bring yourself there.
It’s romantic. Bonds are created. Emotions flood your consciousness. The days are long. The best feeling is how simple life is, and can be. Wake, pack, walk, talk, eat, walk some more, eat, sleep, chat, eat and sleep. Repeat daily. Luckily I escaped too much physical pain, partly because I had a level of fitness but also because i walked for 7 not 30 days.
I started in Pamplona. Cheating, I know. The official Camino Frances begins in St. Jean, but I knew I had limited time and would be back to fill in the gaps. On my first night I felt like a fraud. Not knowing where I was going, how ‘Pilgrims’ behaved. I stayed in a non-Pilgrim hostel in the town and started out at 5.30am competing with any other human I saw, walking as quick as I could, dancing at times, singing loudly. At some point that day it dawned on me that this wasn’t a race.
Over the next 6 days I met two gentlemen, where we shared many intimate moments. Life stories. Pit of stomach emotions. We probed each other. We laughed. We cried. Being on the long dusty roads for hours and hours meant comfortable silences, a deeper understanding of each other’s psyche, and at times a rawness of words, thoughts and feelings.
Was that my test? I think so. To sit in some uncomfortableness and not run. And today, months later I find myself in similar predicaments. My mind wants to flee. My body more so. Yet I have to choose to stay. To be present in it. To work through it.
So when you set out without intention or indeed with one, it’s not always the way that path will take you.
The pilgrimage journey to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela takes you through stunning Spanish settlements. Les Arcs was particularly beautiful. It rekindled positive emotions around the church. A closer understanding of its history, and seeing young people honouring their commitment in Pilgrim masses, I felt at peace within its contrasting and refreshing cold walls.
Walking in the heat of the Spanish summer meant earlier starts and avoidance of the midday sun. More time to meet other pilgrims. All nationalities. All ages. Surprisingly, many cultures.
Simplicity. No phone, if you choose not to communicate. Nothing ‘to do’. Nature in all its beauty. Vineyards. Farmers fields. Stonewalled towns. Only yourself to face.
On my return I met a local who when asked why he hadn’t or probably wouldn’t walk said ‘I don’t think I would like that time to think’. He was spot on.