For All of You Preparing for Camino…

Everyone, hello.

At last, hello!

I don’t know about you, but this feels like one of the longest winters ever. I can’t say that I was snowed in for long periods or that my home was lost in winter storms. Thankfully neither of these things is true – although they would help explain my disastrous absence. Instead, it was a winter of family and personal illnesses. Lots of different ones, sometimes neatly, one after the other. Other times, not-at-all-neatly, in an unforgiving cluster. There has been a lot of “coping” and “day-by-day”-ing around these parts!

I am, of course, excited that the spring has sprung and I feel the potential of a dozen new projects all at once. It’s always the same with me when the light gets a bit higher from the horizon and the birds start nesting in my garden. I am distracted trying to do everything all at once and, it would seem, to make up for “lost” time (including the time I lost here with all of you.)

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this twitch in my personality – this expectation for excellence and fulfillment almost all of the time. It’s a lot of pressure! I want a bright and beautiful life as much as anyone, and at the same time I acknowledge that I sometimes have trouble seeing the brilliance. When I’m spending all my energy on staying afloat, it can be hard to manifest any extra magnificence.

It reminds me a lot of walking the camino. I’ve written at length about how difficult I found it – the crowding, the noise, the sheer scale of walking 500 miles not to mention the lack of arch support for my feet! So many other blogs, books, and verbal accounts swoon about how great and amazing it all is, so to admit to anything other than that feels like a personal defeat. It *was* great and amazing…and I also struggled. I won’t go into it all again but one of my trail friends revealed to me afterwards that she was worried about me along the way and thought I pushed myself too hard. Her words caught me by surprise. This isn’t a woman I’d known for years beforehand so I didn’t expect her to share such a personal perspective but as it turns out, she was absolutely right. She spotted it a mile off but I didn’t see it at all.

I didn’t know how to push myself any less. I was so dogged on my vision that I just kept going. I was worried that if I stopped long enough to take stock of my exhaustion, I’d lose the nerve to keep walking and I very much wanted to keep walking.

Was it a joyous way to experience camino? No, not really, but here’s something that not everyone will admit: not every day is about big, expansive joy. I know that jars with what the self-help books say but talk to anyone who’s survived something significant, and they will tell you it’s true.

Sometimes, it is a monumental success to get to the finish line in one piece. For me, that meant getting in out of the elements, having a hot shower, food of some sort, and a clean and secure bed for the night. I couldn’t hack the extra pressure of feeling immense joy and connection with all the universe as well – my hierarchy of needs was pretty inflexible that way! 🙂 Was I selling myself short? Perhaps, but those tough days were a test of my grit and I needed that to keep going. Others around me swooned about what a great time they were having. I took that to heart and then felt even more rubbish about my experience – clearly, I reasoned, I was “failing” when I didn’t feel immense joy from morning to night.

What a load of crap.

So. For all of you preparing for camino here are two small tidbits to do with what you may:

  1. Someone else’s experience (whether physical, emotional, or whatever) is a changing thing…as is yours. Try not to compare yourself, your ability, or your experience with anyone else’s. It’s a slippery (and speedy) slope to self-righteousness and misery, and it’s a no-win.
  2. There will be tough days – so acknowledge them now. Like me with the 6 months of winter illness, the tough days are exhausting and bleak, and it can feel like the feel-good happy party has left for good. It hasn’t. When the going gets tough, go back to basics – food, water, shelter, rest. The hierarchy of needs is a basic reminder but sometimes the basics are what’s needed. The other stuff comes after. Cut yourself some slack and acknowledge the days survived in one piece 🙂

That’s it!

More to follow soon, especially now that I have my ID and password unlocked again! Thanks for reading and Buen Camino to you all, irrespective of whether you’re walking!

 

 

Hello September!

Hello,

I’m back!

I need to ‘fess up and admit, red-faced, that this camino story has turned into a very long, drawn-out tale. I never intended it to be like this so apologies for all of you who’ve been waiting all this time for the end. It will come, just like the real end of camino did, and I promise I am getting there.

In many ways, I am still catching up on all the ways in which it changed me. Is that an excuse for taking a ridiculously long amount of time to recount my experience? Yes, it is. And it’s also the truth. To tell the story too quickly kind of implies that walking the 500 miles was something I just did one year, casual as could be, with no thought about it afterwards. That wasn’t my experience of walking across Spain. While I am sorry I’ve been so slow with the writing, I know camino wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan experience for me. Somehow, the slow recounting is part of that.

I’ve had a busy summer and got locked out of my wordpress account more times than I could count, so I lost some of my motivation to write. But, I’ve got that back-to-school energy at the moment and I am full of industrious ideas and plans. I’m also reminded of my camino journey, which started around this time of the year. The seasonal change reminds me of it all — packing my bag, getting on the plane to Biarritz, and later, the hours and hours of being outside every day. I look back on it with rose-tinted glasses, I know.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how my camino experience has steeled me for life. In the time since I finished walking,  there’s been plenty of illness and bereavement, sorrow and loss, overwhelm and depletion. There’s also been tremendous joy, new beginnings, new unions and life, and great connection. Every day, I am so busy trying to do my best with the day, I often forget to zoom out a bit and look at the big picture. I often forget to take stock of all that is going on in my life and how much of it is working well.

There were days on camino when everything seemed to slot together and my entire being hummed with contentment, like one very happy tuning-fork. There were also days when I was so overwhelmed with gloom that the best I could do was draw a line under the day and hope the next one would be better. My everyday life is like this too: some days are full of choral harmonies and other days are a groan from beginning to end.

So, how does the camino help?

Because it taught me this: just keep going. No one walks to Santiago in one clean hop. No matter what way you look at it, 500 miles is a long way to go by foot, irrespective of your circumstances in life. Some people walking have loads of money and others have only some of their limbs. This is life.

So don’t shy away from the challenge of it, whatever “it” is in your life right now. Don’t let fear swallow up all of your best ideas and heartfelt aspirations. Don’t let uncertainty turn into inertia. Just keep going. One foot at a time, one day at a time, one café con leche at a time. Amazingly, the effort all adds up. It doesn’t always seem like it but it does amount to something, it does create something in its own right.

Camino…life…writing a blog about camino and life….it’s all one day at a time. One post at a time, one strong mug of coffee at a time. And isn’t it great to be able to do it? Really, every day I am alive, I still have a crack at living well and making things a bit better. I still have choice.

So, camino made me strong, keeps me strong, and gives me good perspective on how to keep going. I said it before but it re-wired me from the inside and changed everything since.

Thanks for reading, for waiting, and for giving a damn. I’m excited to be back and look forward to more in the weeks ahead.

Buen Camino to you.

Camino de Santiago & A Noisy Night in Acebo

Remaining distance to Santiago: More than 200km…still ages to go….!

 

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My night in Acebo was a bit of a strange one. After walking in the cold and rain to Cruz de Ferro, I was glad to get a lower bunk bed in a private hostel. The place seemed clean and rustic, and I gladly changed in to some dry clothes. Still, I felt chilled and couldn’t quite shake the feeling of flu, so I asked the volunteer staff member (hospitalerio) if I could make a cup of tea in the kitchen. It was about 4pm, so not quite lunch time and still hours away from dinner. I had my own green tea and I just needed to boil a mug of water…I was already day dreaming of curling up in one of the woollen blankets to write in my journal and look out at the rain…it was going to be great!

But if ever there was a guy having a bad day, this was the guy!

The poor man snapped at me and fiercely told me, NO! He then gave me a long lecture about it being a private kitchen and if he let everyone in there to make a cup of tea then he’d never be able to prepare the evening meal that we would all eat later on…this wasn’t one of those self-catering hostels, and people couldn’t just walk in and out when they liked…

So, no way was I allowed to make a cup of tea. That was his decision and the answer was no!

His abruptness caught me off guard and I have to say, I felt rather meek after his lecture. I apologised. I understood his situation. And I explained that I was feeling very cold and I just wanted to warm up, but again, I was sorry for interrupting. I didn’t know the kitchen was out-of-bounds.

And I backed out of his way, feeling rather deflated.

How was I going to warm up now?

A minute later, he ran after me to apologise and tell me of course I could  make some tea if I was feeling unwell. He didn’t mean to lose his temper. He was very sorry. And he explained that he was under such pressure to check-in the new pilgrims while simultaneously prepare an evening meal for us all. He was struggling with the multi-tasking. But he was a flood of regret and sincerity as he apologised, and I was on the edge of tears as we hugged and reconciled.

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It’s hard to articulate it now but there were points on camino when I felt as though all of my nerve endings and sensitivities were on the outside of my body, instead of neatly tucked away inside. In my everyday life, a random stranger losing their temper isn’t usually something to cry about. On camino, his harshness and quick temper really took me aback. The cup of tea represented warmth, wellness, and self-care. In that cold and rainy place, miles and miles from home, I just needed a bit of everyday comfort to ground myself. While I walked those 500 miles, I desperately missed having my own kitchen and the freedom to prepare my own food when, and how I like. So, when this guy chided me for wanting a cup of tea it hit a very frayed nerve.

That evening, our generous hospitalerio announced that he needed help with doing the dishes afterwards. It was only fair, given that he’d prepared a feast for us and shouldn’t have to clean up after 20+ people by himself. I observed the show of hands around the table as people offered to help.

Sure.

I can do that.

No problem.

And then I observed a curious dynamic unfold.

Pilgrim 1 called the room to silence so she could make a speech. This didn’t ordinarily happen on camino but was clear that she was used to commanding attention and speaking to groups. Everyone at the table quietened to a hush, and she publicly thanked our host for all his hard work and great food. She smiled, she charmed, and she publicly offered to help with the clean-up afterwards.

And then we all happily clinked our glasses of wine and toasted our hospitalerio.

Later, when the time came, I observed her hone in on a physiotherapist for an intense conversation about her feet, while a dozen pilgrims around her carried plates and moved the chairs. She didn’t even look up when someone cleared away her plate, too. She had publicly offered to help but when the time came, she ignored the hullaballoo and all the people in it.

Did she help with the dishes?

Nope.

Did she do what she had so publicly offered to do?

Nope.

All talk, no action.

Pilgrim 2 sat quietly at the table and like the rest of us, ate a hearty meal and drank more than one glass of wine over the course of the evening. When our hospitalerio asked her directly, and publicly, to help with the 6-7 other people who’d volunteered to do the dishes, she said Yes. But when the time arrived, I watch her quietly slink away to a corner chair with a glass of wine in one hand and a paperback novel in the other. While other pilgrims carried platters and started scrubbing the saucepans, she disappeared into the half-light and ignored us all.

Did she help with the dishes?

Nope.

Did she do what was asked of her?

Nope.

Says one thing, does another.

For days afterwards, I struggled with a response to the evening’s events.

Should I have said something and if so, what?

I didn’t want to label the women as selfish asses but I also couldn’t understand how they had turned their backs. Maybe they didn’t know that our hospitalerio was under stress but still, shouldn’t they have done their bit to help?

That night, I curled up in my lower bunk bed glad of the warmth, the dry clothes, and the feast in my belly. Unlike countless nights before, there was no one snoring, no one getting up to the bathroom every five minutes, and no one packing their backpack at midnight. There was, however, a couple in the bunk above mine, and they didn’t let the lack of privacy interrupt their…ahem…cuddling!Even though I heard lots of things about camino, I had never heard about *that*.

In Acebo I heard it all!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Camino taught me about Friendships

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Before I walked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago route in Spain, I felt a bit stuck when it came to friendships. Stuck and sad.

In the years prior, I’d noticed that certain friendships were dwindling or dying. After university, people had scattered to all corners of the world. They had busy jobs, as did I. They had partnered off, as had I, and maybe had new families of their own. They were trying to squeeze a lot of living into a small amount of time, and keeping in touch fell by the wayside. Logically, I got it, and in many ways I was in the same boat. But on a heart level, I missed my longterm friends badly. I missed the fun of hanging out, the spontaneity, the travel, and the parties. Most of all, I missed the connection.

I asked around and I was told it was all normal. It’s a life phase, apparently. Except, it wasn’t just a life phase. Some of the people in my life loved me for sure but didn’t prioritize friendship. Take for example, my friend Bendy (not their real name!). I’d call Bendy and say:

Hey friend, how you doing?

Bendy and I would have a big old chat for two hours and catch up. We’d laugh. We’d swap war stories and it felt great to connect. But at the end, Bendy would always say:

We must do this more often. We must make more of an effort.

I was heartened. It seemed Bendy and I both wanted to stay friends and stay in touch. And I agreed: Yes, we must do this more often.

Only, 6 months would go by with no word from Bendy, no reply to emails, no reply to text so I’d call again:

Hey friend, how you doing?

The cycle would begin again. After 2-3 years of this, I noticed an increasing upset within myself. It felt like I was the one initiating all the contact. It felt like I was the one making all the effort. Just like Bendy, I too was busy with a career and a relationship, but I still found time to reach out to my friends and check-in. I felt alone in my efforts, though. I felt Bendy was taking but not giving in return. Was that just a feeling or was there some truth to it? In 2010, Bendy and I were wrapping up a phone call when the usual script came up again:

We must do this more often. We must make more of an effort!

I was prepared for this and I wanted to do an experiment. I wanted to see what effort ‘we’ were willing to make to keep the friendship alive. I replied by saying:

Yes, we must! Next time you make the phone call!

Bendy laughed a hearty laugh and said goodbye down the phone line. And I didn’t hear from Bendy again for over two years.

I hadn’t imagined the one-sidedness of our friendship. I hadn’t imagined the imbalance of effort. I was the one initiating the contact and when I stopped doing it, Bendy and I had no contact at all. Turned out, there were lots of Bendy friends in my life. They loved me, for sure, but they weren’t ‘there’ any more. That sadness I felt? It was real.

By the time I walked Camino, my heart was heavy and sore from the loss of friendships in all corners of my life. Sometimes I took it personally, other times I brushed it off as normal but either way, I still felt sad.

Everyone who’d walked camino before me (or who’d known someone to walk it) all swooned in telling me:

You’ll meet so many great people along the way!

They imagined that I was worried about walking alone and this was their way of reassuring me. Only, I wasn’t afraid of walking alone. Honestly, that sounded like total bliss! Being an introvert, I didn’t really want to meet lots and lots of people every day. All that small talk made me sweat just thinking about it. Sure, I could do it but the very idea of it was exhausting. So, their reassurances had the opposite effect. But I did meet lots of great people along the way and over the course of those 500 miles, I learned some deeply-felt lessons for my heart and my life, too.

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For a start, I met far too many people who were self-absorbed and insensitive, and they reminded me of all the people like them in my ‘real life’ back home. They were the kind of people I didn’t want to hang out with in Spain and as it happens, I didn’t want to hang out with them at home either. What a revelation to finally and unapologetically realise that.

Secondly, camino helped me get really clear about the different levels of friendship I had in my real life. Not everyone was a close friend and not everyone should get a prime time slot of my time and energy. I hadn’t told anyone when I would return from Spain so I was ‘off the radar’ for a few weeks after I returned. I did this on purpose. I didn’t want the pressure to meet up with all the acquaintances in my life and tell them stories about the cheap wine and great sunshine in Spain. I was on a retreat even when I returned home. And in that quiet, still time, I sort of ‘graded’ my friendships, and gave my time and energy in accordance with the grading. The people I reached out to and met with first were the ones I really, genuinely, heartily wanted to see. All the rest came after. Again, what a revelation to finally and freely prioritize people in this way.

Perhaps the biggest lesson was this:

Camino taught me that people come and people go. And that’s okay.

Every day, I met lots and lots of great people on the trail. People who were open, friendly, generous, and good. People I loved spending time with. It was easy to make friends with these people and I was delighted with the connection. Only, there were some I never saw again.

I met people on my first 1-2 days of walking, had a fabulous connection, assumed I would bump into them further along the way, but never saw them again. Not once! To this day, I have no idea whether they lived, went home early, or ever made it to Santiago. My heart was sorry to have missed out on getting to know them.

And I also met people on my first 1-2 days of walking who appeared on my camino over and over again at the most unexpected and delightful times. We shared dinner and coffee. We connected, we chatted, we swapped stories. Every time we parted, we bade each other a Buen Camino, never quite sure if we would see each other again. But some of these friends met me in Santiago with warm smiles and hugs, and we are in touch ever since.

What was the difference between some friendships ‘sticking’ and others not?

Timing, for sure.

Intent? Yes.

But I’m gonna say that some of them worked because we were in each others’ orbit. Roughly speaking, we were doing the same thing, at the same time, in a roughly similar way, and we had a lot in common. Seeing each other regularly gave us a continuity that made connection easier. And rightly or wrongly, spending time together is important. Without that, some connections just fade away. And that’s what had been happening in my life at home.

On camino, some friends left early. Other friends stayed to the very end.

My heart was soft for them all but slowly, I really came to understand that friends come and friends go. And that’s okay.

So, all that sadness and hurt and anger I had felt over my dwindling friendships at home?

Let it go.

And all that fear I’d felt about not making new connections?

Let that go, too.

The Beatles said it far more poetically and sweetly when they sang, ‘In My Life’ but the sentiment is the same. We are all on a journey. Literally as well as figuratively. We change. We move. We meet people and lose people. Maybe we meet further down the line or maybe we never meet again, but we carry a softness of heart for them as long as we live.

Camino taught me all this. I forget it, sometimes, but I’m remembering again. And remembering the friends and strangers who were so kind to me along the way.

Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Dick Measuring – On Camino & In Life

I had an unfortunate encounter this week. I crossed paths with someone I didn’t want to see. She isn’t part of my inner circle but she’s someone I have known a long time so I was obliged to say hello.

Exchange pleasantries.

Pretend to be interested.

I did all that and expected our conversation to wrap up quickly but before I knew it, she started asking more detailed questions. About what? About my plans. Career. Childcare. Things I don’t want to talk about right now. Things I am still figuring out. Things that take time to explain and require great listening, understanding, and trust. Just some of the things that are lacking between us.

I wasn’t prepared for the inquisition. She’s one of these people who hasn’t learned how to ask open-ended questions in a neutral tone. I didn’t want to get into details so I fudged a vague reply. She didn’t take the hint. She asked more questions. Pointed ones. The kind of questions that indicate judgement about my choices, my priorities, my heartfelt journey through life.

And I came home feeling sh*t about myself.

Sound familiar?

We all have people in life that rattle and upend us. The holiday season shakes up our social circle in all sorts of ways and we often come face-to-face with people we’d much rather avoid. It’s part of life.

And it’s part of camino, too. Every day that I walked, I met people who needled me for specific information: How many kilometers had I walked that day? How much money did I earn? What hostel would I stay in that night?

Sometimes these questions were just conversation starters. Most of the time they were benign and meaningless. But all along camino, I met people for whom these questions were far more important. They asked them as a means to gather information about me, often without answering them in return. Or they asked them so they could brag about their own achievements (in life, on camino, whatever). They asked them so they could judge me. Was I as rich as them? As fast as them? As fit as them?

I’m told this is called “Dick Measuring”.

And just as it happens in everyday life, so too on camino. You’d think all those pilgrims would know better.

They don’t.

They walk 500 miles asking pointed, nosey questions that undermine the people around them. They needle for binding, yes/no answers that are easy to catalogue. But I didn’t abide by the black/white rules of life: I was living proof of grey.

It took me a while to figure this out on camino. I went to France/Spain with my heart on my sleeve. I was open. I didn’t have a strategy in my conversations or in my everyday walking. I assumed that the people around me were wholesome and open-minded.

Sometimes, I was wrong.

I learned to keep some details to myself – mostly because they were irrelevant but sometimes because my honesty was used against me.

I had only one true plan: I would do my very best to walk all the way to Santiago. After that, I hadn’t a clue where I would sleep each night or how far I would walk each day. Some people thought I was being difficult or cagey when I didn’t answer their questions. They thought I had something to hide but the truth was less dramatic: I just didn’t have the answers. And I didn’t pretend otherwise. And that was an almighty liberation from my everyday life where I felt this ongoing, immense pressure to always have a plan and always be “on track” with that plan.

As soon as I started seeing a guy, people wanted to know when we would marry.

As soon as we married, people wanted to know when we’d have kids.

As soon as I had a kid, people wanted to know when I’d have another, return to work, and get the first child out the door already.

All this push push push to get to the next thing. And for what?

We’re all going to die. Fact. So why the rush to get through all of life and get to that end point already?

Truth is, I don’t really have a plan. I have aspirations and intentions, and sometimes they merge into a sort of plan. But that’s as organised as it gets around here. I don’t really get into Dick Measuring because it’s absolutely unhelpful in my life. Actually, genuinely unhelpful. And unhealthy too.

I’d like to be asked different questions, like: When did I last get a good look at the sky? What was my favourite thing to happen this week? What am I enjoying these days?

I walked my camino with a deep need to walk with trust instead of fear. And I try to carry that through to my everyday life, too.

So.

To all the people who have needled and pressed me for information: I’ll tell you if there’s something worth sharing but in the meantime, let me be. The answers will come when you stop harassing me with questions.

Just as it was on camino, so it is in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Camino: Is it *Really* that Cheap?

When I first heard about the 500-mile walk in Spain, I was still a student at university. My mountaineering friends talked about the open landscape and the physical challenge….oh, and the affordability of everything along the way. Unlike other long-distance hikes that I knew across the US and Europe, walking the Camino de Santiago seemed surprisingly cheap. Could it be real?

When the time came to walk, I didn’t know how to budget for it. I’d heard and read the stories of people who walked it spending only €20 a day (paying for accommodation, food, and sundries) and I wanted to do the same. I’d just quit my job and didn’t have another one on the horizon so getting the budget right was a necessity. But still, €20 a day, every day, in Europe seemed unrealistic. Would it be enough? And if not, how much extra would I need for 6 weeks of walking?

During my journey, I met a couple who’s combined total spend was €10 per day (wow). I met alleged millionaires who spent thousands of Euro on their trip. And I met every sort of person in between.

Me? I spent more than the rumoured €20 a day. I averaged closer to €35 per day. If were on a super strict budget, that kind of increase would have been a major stress for me. It’s nearly twice the amount that other pilgrims and guidebooks claim is average. So what happened? Did I lose the run of myself and squander my savings on fine dining and lavish spa treatments?

Ha! Not a chance.

From what I could tell, the €20 per day spend was possible only if one did the following:

  1. Walk fast so you can arrive at a town/village early and nab one of the €5 beds before other pilgrims *or* camp out
  2. Cook evening meals in the hostels instead of eating out
  3. Split the cost of private rooms with other pilgrims

Can’t do these things? Don’t want to do these things? Then €20 per day is not feasible and you need to put more money in the purse.

So what did I get for €35 per day?

Things I did:

  • Paid for flights within Europe
  • Slept indoors every night (mostly in dorms)
  • Bought footwear & clothing beforehand and en route
  • Bought pharmacy items en route (Compeed plasters, Ibuprofen, sunglasses, etc.)
  • Sent 1.5kg of belongings home in the mail
  • Contributed to the cost of 2 taxis with other pilgrims
  • Paid for 2 return bus tickets
  • Paid to have my laundry washed & dried in machines on a few occasions
  • Gave between €10-20 to ‘Donativo’ hostels (I could have given less but that was my choice)
  • Stayed in private hotel rooms by myself for 5 nights en route
  • Bought postcards, chocolate gifts, and earrings
  • Bought food in corner shops, supermarkets, and the occasional stall
  • Ate out for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner every day
  • Ate picnics
  • Donated to a photography exhibition & church collections
  • Bought beers & coffee for other pilgrims

Things I didn’t do:

  • Camp or sleep outdoors
  • Plan my route around cheap hostels
  • Book a room in advance (not even my first night in St. Jean or my finish in Santiago)
  • Stay in any of the Parador hotels (alas!)
  • Buy fashionable clothing or anything made of Spanish leather
  • Cook my own food (with the exception of 3-4 occasions)
  • Order the cheapest item on the menu
  • Skimp on pharmacy supplies, food, or a place to sleep
  • Go to bed hungry

All in all, my experience wasn’t overtly decadent but it wasn’t all frugal hardship either.  I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and in the quantities I wanted. I didn’t hold back on the coffee or wine! And I bought whatever clothing/medical supplies I needed along the way. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really see much that I wanted to buy en route. Sure, I could have bought fashionable jeans and winter sweaters in Leon….but then I would have had to carry them all the way to Santiago. There wasn’t a hope in hell I was going to do that, so the temptation to buy frivolous items disappeared quickly.

I bought what I needed and some of what I wanted, and I did just fine.

And you know, the differentiation between my ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ has never been more clear. It was an eye opener for me, not just while I walked but for everyday life too. It’s just another way in which camino changes those of us that walk it.

🙂

 

Camino Challenge: Great…but tough…

I knew different people over the years who had walked camino – whether for one week or for eight weeks, and they all said the same thing:

It’s great…but tough.”

I could imagine why it was great – all that open space, the joy of walking cross-country every day, the delicious wine and warm sunshine – it sounded idyllic. It sounded like a leisurely walking holiday with lots of new, interesting friends.

But I didn’t really understand why it was tough. Sure, walking long distances every day can’t be easy but why was it so back-breaking? I just didn’t get it.

When *I* came home from Spain, everyone asked me:

How was it?

And I found myself replying in exactly the same way:

Great…but tough.

It’s a lame reply. It gives very little detail. But most of the time, when people ask the question they don’t really want a detailed answer. They want the stories about cheap wine and balmy sunshine. They want to be told about how easy it is to make new friends. They want to be told that walking camino is great. So, we never really get to the nub of what makes it tough.

Months later, after lots of reflection and mental sorting, I’m able to articulate my own experience with a bit more detail. Here’s what made it tough for me:

  1. Everything was accumulative.

Walking 20-30km on a given day was surprisingly okay. Walking 20-30km *every* day – over six consecutive weeks – was fricking hard.

Day 1: I’m walking – I’ve started – how awesome!

Day 6: I’m walking – yay (I’m still a bit sore from the Pyrenees)

Day 11: Finding my groove – aw yeah!

Day 18: I’m still walking – strong, even if I feel a bit tired

Day 23: I’m still walking. Wow. I’m a machine…and how much is left?

Day 29: Really? I’m still walking? Feels like I’ve been out here for months.

Day 34: Oh my God I am *so tired* of walking.

Day 40-something: Whatever. I’m ready to be in Santiago already. I’m ready to go home.

For me, the pain in my body was accumulative. That meant pain in my feet, pain in my hips, pain in my shoulders and neck. I didn’t give myself the time to heal properly, get massages, or even rest for a few days at a time. My body put up with the abuse but it wasn’t without complaint. The longer I walked, the more the exhaustion, aches, and inflammation all added up. And still, I had hundreds more miles to walk if I wanted to get to Santiago.

*That* was tough.

  1. Being surrounded by people all the time was over-stimulating.

I say this knowing it won’t apply to everyone because I’m more introverted than extroverted. I was delighted to make new friends so easily but I needed lots of alone time to recharge my batteries. Alone time wasn’t always easy to come by.

The bedrooms in the hostels were noisy. The bathrooms were full. The coffee shops and restaurants had crowds, or queues, or both. Ironically, the churches were quiet but unsurprisingly, they were often closed.

The only way I could get alone time was to spend hours walking by myself every day. I did it gladly. I did it because I needed it. Without it, I easily got over-stimulated, overwhelmed, and over emotional.

But even out on the trail, there were groups of pilgrims in front of me and behind me. Most of the time, I looked up from the gravel and could see at least one person ahead with a backpack and walking sticks. It was a comfort in some ways but it meant I was never really alone, even when I wanted it.

And I found *that* tough going. It was over-stimulating and demanding.

As a consequence, I found the daily race for beds was tough, too. At one point, two pilgrims ran ahead of me on the trail to get to the hostel first and secure whatever beds were left. At the time, I was somewhere between horrified and mildly amused. Now, I just think their actions represented a side of camino that really caught me by surprise.

When the competition for beds is with some nameless, faceless pilgrim who hasn’t arrived yet, that race is kind of abstract and easy to rationalize. There’s a certain “me verses them” mentality and with so many hundreds of people on the move, it’s not personal. In this scenario though, I had met these two pilgrims before. We had shared food and laughter, and we exchanged warm conversation on the trail. When they chose to run ahead, they weren’t just running to beat some nameless, faceless pilgrim – they were running to get ahead of me. 

As an isolated incident it wasn’t that tough. But walking all those miles every day, and trying to arrive somewhere by lunchtime before the beds fill up…only to have people run ahead of me on the trail? Well, as a daily, emotional undercurrent was tough. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

Of course, the flip side is probably also difficult. I imagine that extroverts who walk during a quieter time of the year find it tough to walk camino with so few people around. I’ve read accounts of empty hostels, closed-down coffee shops, and hours of walking without even seeing another human. For an extrovert who wants company and chat, I imagine that’s tough. It’s probably quite lonely and isolating. It’s probably every bit as tough as my experience of being over-stimulated…just for the opposite reasons.

  1. It’s not really a holiday.

Walking for a week at a time and staying in pre-booked private accommodation is probably quite leisurely. Your body has opportunity to get proper sleep and the occasional hot bath. And before you know it, you’re back home in your own bed and booked in for a massage to pacify the gentle ache. Going for a week at a time is a walking holiday, I think.

Walking 500 miles of camino all in one go was not a holiday. It was a break from normal life and a gift of time, certainly….but not a holiday. At least, not in the traditional sense.

The hostels allow pilgrims to stay only one night. Plus, they kick you out between 6-8am. That means no leisurely lie-ins. It means getting up in the dark and leaving without breakfast. It becomes a norm and it becomes surprisingly routine but there isn’t much pampering.

Sharing a bathroom with 20 strangers is intimate and noisy. Shower curtains may not fit properly. The floor is covered in water from the previous 18 people who showered before you. There are no fluffy towels.

When people talk about strapping on a backpack every morning, they don’t really mean that they’re out for a gentle ramble for 2-3 hours. They mean that they’re walking anywhere between 3-10 hours, even if they have infected blisters, sprained ligaments, and sore shoulders. They walk in the scorching sun. They walk in relentless rain. It’s not always leisurely: sometimes it’s plain grueling.

When people talk about drinking €1 glasses of red wine and eating tapas, they’re not necessarily talking about appetizing, savory delights. Sometimes, the “tapas” were just slabs of Spanish omelette and greasy bowls of olives. Nothing wrong with that, but too many slices of omelette have swarms of flies buzzing around them while they sit on a counter, going stale in the midday sun.

Eewww!

Walking camino was great but it wasn’t a leisurely stroll. Some days, it didn’t match up to the accounts I’d heard, or read on someone else’s blog. The marketing and the reality didn’t always align.

I found *that* tough, too.

 

There’s a lot of swooning about camino and in all the hype, it’s easy to think that it’s great fun and profoundly rewarding. I’ve noticed it’s easy to talk about all the great things but it’s not so easy to talk about the tough parts. To do so, means admitting we were lonely or short-tempered or afraid. To do so is perceived as negative and pessimistic, and who wants to be accused of that?

It’s easier to tell everyone about the cheap wine and the great people, and give a glossed-over account. It’s much easier to proclaim our physical greatness and say it was “challenging”, just like people talk about triathlons and marathons.

The reality, whether we ever articulate it, is more complex.

But there was greatness too.

Oddly, the things that I found tough about my camino were also closely tied to the things that were great about camino. The aches and exhaustion were accumulative, but so was the sense of achievement with passing through every small town and village. The longer I walked, the closer I got to Santiago. That achievement made the aches and pains (somewhat…ha ha!) more bearable.

And even though I found the crowds intolerable at times, to have walked it all alone would have been lonely. I made great connections along the way, shared picnics and laughter with people from all over the world, and have had the joy of meeting up with some of those friends since then. We have a shared experience and shared memories of the road. And I have to say, when I finally arrived in Santiago, being able to share the occasion with close friends was one of the sweetest moments of my journey. I may be a happy introvert but even I understand that having good people in life makes it all sweeter.

Camino *is* great…but tough…but great…and tough…

Losing Weight on Camino

As recently as yesterday, someone asked me:

Did you lose weight on the camino?

(As if my reason for walking 500 miles in the sweltering sun was to get in shape for the Christmas party season!) I know it’s a logical question to ask – after all, you do a lot of exercise and you lose a lot of weight – that’s how it works, right?

I’ve been asked this question almost as much as “How long did it take you?” and the two questions often go together. I don’t mean to sound like a snob but my camino experience was *so* much more than a fitness program.

You want to know how much weight I lost?

You’re kind of missing the point.

And yet, I understand that most people don’t want to get into a deep conversation about something that is kind of abstract.

I get it.

In the years before my camino, I remember meeting people who’d already walked. I often asked them:

How was it?

And they often replied with something along the lines of:

Amazing! But tough!…But amazing!…And tough…

And then they’d kind of trail off and I’d stand beside them feeling confused.

Their response told me nothing and I didn’t really know where to go from there. No doubt, I asked about the cheap wine and the weather, and eventually changed the conversation to something more tangible. It was easier than trying to understand the hazy lightness in their eyes, or trying to figure out what exactly was so amazing and what exactly was so tough. I didn’t understand that contradiction and I didn’t know how to ask for more specifics.

After *I* came home, I experienced that conversation from the other side as everyone asked me:

How was it?

And you know what? I found myself saying:

Amazing! But tough! …But amazing!…But tough!…and then I’d kind of trail off in a nondescript way.

And I watched *their* eyes glaze over, just like mine had done years before! 😀

I can only assume that they struggled to find a way in to my vague reply and didn’t know how to direct the conversation. Invariably, they picked out the things they felt most comfortable chatting about: the weather, their surprise at how I walked it alone, and the names of people they’d known to walk some/all of it before – people I’d never met but with whom I had something in common. I sometimes feel that people ask about my camino experience as a way of cataloguing me rather than trying to understand me.

A lot of the time, people have a vague and passing interest in this camino thing and it’s just a piece of news that gets passed around without a lot of substance. The questions are brief and light. There’s very little probing. We talk around the subject but often don’t get into the meaty parts of my experience.

This happens on camino as well as off camino:

When I was on my last week of walking between Sarria and Santiago, I met a couple who walked roughly the same pace as me. We crossed paths several times over the course of a few days so we had lots of opportunity for small talk and chatter. Walking camino was their first-ever holiday alone as a couple. They’d left their 3 teenage children at home and spent 10 days walking together, relishing the freedom and the friendly community around them. By then, I’d been walking for 4-5 weeks and I was a transformed person. Those weeks and miles had changed me on a fundamental level, even though I was only beginning to articulate those changes. I assumed everyone around me had also been transformed on a fundamental level. I assumed this couple had experienced some sort of revelation about themselves or their life – after all, it was their first holiday alone and they’d chosen to walk instead of sit on a beach – that’s got to have an impact, right?

Over lunch I asked them: So how has the camino changed you?

They looked at me with panic in their eyes. They glanced sideways at each other and shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They wanted to talk about cheap wine and the friendly pilgrims but I’d upset that easygoing balance by asking such a loaded question.

They looked *so* uncomfortable, I may as well have asked them their favourite sexual position!

They stumbled, they stuttered, and eventually came back with a well-worn platitude as a response. They didn’t really have a transformative experience and looked truly distressed by my question.

I came to realize that most people don’t really want to talk about the nature of spiritual wellbeing after walking 500 miles. Largely, they want anecdotes and details they can relay to someone else. They don’t really care whether I feel more comfortable in my own skin and am more content in myself as a result of camino. They also don’t care that I gently, unexpectedly, stopped stressing and fretting over things that had dogged me for most of my life.

So, they ask me about my weight loss program instead.

The funny thing about being asked this question is that most of the time, people have a sort of breathless anticipation as they wait for my reply. There’s a lightness to their expectation. Their heads lift a little higher as they wait for my response. They really want to know if I lost some extraordinary amount of weight while also having fun and being on vacation.

That’s the dream scenario, right?!

And I wonder, if I told them that I did lose some extraordinary amount of weight in such a short amount of time, would they consider walking camino for themselves? Would the great tales of weight loss seduce them into doing something they’d never otherwise pursue?

I’m amused by the question for all sorts of reasons and I always answer it the same way:

I weighed exactly the same after camino as I did before camino.

I stood on the bathroom scales out of curiosity and was genuinely surprised I weighed exactly the same – pound for pound.

So, I can’t claim to have experienced a Camino Slim-Fast Plan!

But I did notice that my body shape changed a lot. My clothes fit me differently and sat differently on my frame. My body toned up. I guess I probably did lose weight but gained muscle mass. And one day, very close to the end, I recall looking down at my legs and actually failing to recognize them. After nearly 6 weeks of walking, they looked like they came from someone else’s body instead of my own. That was the strangest moment of all – literally not recognizing myself.

I came home feeling more fit and toned than I’d ever felt in my adult life. I’m not a runner but I felt like I could take up sprinting, I was that fit. I didn’t run, though, and within a few weeks my body shape returned to its former self. I missed that wirey strength and energy in my body but at the same time, my feet were too sore for walking such long distances every day. And anyway, it was autumn by then and I wanted to curl up beside a warm fire and hibernate.

But next time, I’m totally going to lose an extraordinary amount of weight and get a Slimmer of the Year award! 😀

Did you lose weight on camino or get asked the same questions I did? Are your loved ones as fascinated with weight loss or is it just me?!

A New Beginning in Burgos

When I decided to stop in Burgos and get a private room, I knew a few things:

  • I was running on empty
  • I needed some space and time to myself
  • I needed a chance to mentally regroup

I slept soundly the first night in my little single bed. Such bliss! I planned to continue walking the next day but when I woke in the morning, my body said otherwise.

I asked if they had space to let me stay a second night.

, the receptionist replied.

Delighted and relieved, I went back to bed and slept for another 5 hours!

This was *my kind of camino!*

Even though I planned my camino journey in just a month, I knew in advance what my “challenges” were likely to be. I wasn’t that worried about breaking a leg or getting lost on the trail. I wasn’t even worried about the alleged lack of beds or the fact that I spoke very little Spanish. Before I ever strapped the backpack to my shoulders I knew that these would be my main personal challenges:

Separately, I had a sense of what my physical challenges would be but funnily enough, they tied into the personal challenges above. I guess it’s a case of:

Where the mind goes, the body will follow.

How did I know what my stumbling blocks were? Well, these were my challenges in everyday “real life”. I knew I carried them with me to France and Spain, too.

I knew who I was “going in”.

Question was, who would I be “coming out” at the end?

Time, and lots of walking, would tell.

I’m not ashamed to admit that by the time I got to Burgos, I was starting to get a little crazy around the edges. My nights in Villambistia and Atapuerca pushed my buttons and I felt frazzled almost all the time. I had a notion that walking Camino would fill me with blissful contentment and radiant connection with my fellow pilgrims: so why was I feeling grouchy and tearful?

I put it down to being exhausted and over-stimulated, and just not getting enough sleep to recalibrate. Simple as that.

I’m like this in my everyday life, too. If I work too hard, play too hard, and don’t get enough “down time” on my own, I get strung out and sick. In my “real life”, I have a private room every night. I have a front door, which keeps some of the madness at bay. When my life gets too loud, I have ways of turning down the volume.

On Camino, I didn’t have any of those things, so taking 2 nights in a private room in Burgos was my equivalent of “turning down the volume”.

I slept a lot, I explored the city on my own, and I ate a beef burger (not chorizo, not baguette, not pork!) in a trendy, hip wine bar full of young people in a party mood.

Burgos was one of the spots on my Camino where I got to hit the “RESET” button and it gave me a new beginning.

Getting some sleep helped quieten some of the crazy and I came to realize a few things:

  • I need what I need. Some days I need to walk fast, others I need to walk slow. Some days I need a private room to sleep and be quiet. Instead of judging myself and berating myself for needing these things, I’m better off just tending to those needs as best I can, and getting on with things.
  • I was roughly 1/3 of the way into my 500 mile journey. For almost 2 weeks, I’d walked with a tentative hope in my heart. I hoped to make it to Santiago and I wanted to make it to Santiago, but I was never sure I would make it to Santiago. I had done no physical training and I was never sure whether my body would continue to rise to the challenge. In Burgos, I realized I was 1/3 of the way “there” and that knowing filled me with confidence for the next leg of the journey.
  • I needed to walk more for myself. At different points up to then, I’d changed my pace and plans to suit others – usually because I didn’t want to offend them. I had a notion that walking Camino meant we were all equal, all humble, and all with the same agenda. I was a bit misguided in that belief. In Burgos, I realized I needed to get a bit more selfish about my own process, my own needs, and my own journey. I needed to “grab it by the horns” and go make it my own.

I got the rest and sleep I needed. I turned down some of the crazy. I left my little bed and the city feeling a bit tougher, a bit stronger, and a bit more focused.

I didn’t know what it would bring but I knew I felt ready for the challenge. Burgos had given me a chance to hit “RESET” and start again.

Does this sound familiar at all? What did *you* do to hit the “RESET” button in your life – whether on camino or elsewhere?

 

 

 

 

 

Spain: Walking from La Rioja to Castilla y León

Crossing from the La Rioja region into Castilla y León….

I love that the Camino signage changes from region to region….

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And I love that the water fountains along the way are so ornately rustic:

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Brierley’s guidebook tells me that “Castilla y León is the largest autonomous region in Spain with an area… 11 times the size of the region of Madrid but with a population of only 2.5 million (less than half that of Madrid).

You will spend over 50% of your time travelling through 3 of its 9 separate provinces Burgos, Palencia and León. It contains the incomparable Meseta the predominately flat table or plateau region that makes up a third of the Iberian peninsular…

Cereal crops cerales hold sway here, mainly wheat but with oats on the poorer land and some sheep and goats grazing on the hillier parts. It is a sparsely populated arid region, primarily flat with gently rolling hills. However, the seemingly endless horizons are broken up with delightful villages seemingly unaffected by the speed of modern life.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camino Challenge: What if there are no beds?

A friend recently asked me:

What do you do if you arrive somewhere and there are no beds?

We were talking about my time walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, last year. In following my blog, they’d been surprised to read about the race for beds and the sense of competition I’d experienced in the early days. I was surprised by it too, and found it very upsetting. I’m no Holy Joe but I never expected to find power struggles and gloating on a pilgrimage route. I never expected to see people literally running past other pilgrims to get to the hostel before them. That was both sobering and sad.

I knew that there was pressure on the limited beds along the Camino. I also knew that there was a possibility I would get stuck for a bed somewhere in my 500 miles of walking. Apparently, some 200,000 people walked the French Way in 2013. With numbers like that, the chances are pretty high that many people get stuck for a bed. But I didn’t want to walk Camino in a state of fear about where to sleep at night. I made a decision about how I’d handle the situation if it ever arose. You can read about it here.

I did arrive in towns and villages to learn that there were no beds left and it was rather heartbreaking. Sometimes, I walked for 8-9 hours in over 30 degree heat, and desperately wanted to find a place to sleep for the night. Being told there were no beds left was gutting.

What did I do? Well, in case you missed it, I wrote about my experiences in these posts:

I felt the race for beds most acutely in the first week. After that, things quietened down a bit, for various reasons. Of course, there was still a pressure on the limited number of beds available: it just affected me differently.

So to answer my friend’s question, here’s what you can do if (like me) you don’t reserve your accomodation in advance but arrive somewhere to find there are no beds:

1. Politely ask the locals for help.

Chances are, they’ve seen other pilgrims get stuck before so they might know what options are available locally. Sometimes, that means sleeping on the floor of the local community centre. Sometimes it means sleeping on an armchair in someone’s living room. You might not get a bed but you just might get somewhere to sleep. Understand that there’s a distinction between these two things. Be grateful for whatever is offered.

Three women arrived in Zubiri the same day I did (and like me) learned that there were no beds left. They discussed their plight over a beer in the local café bar, and shared their story with the waiter. He felt so badly for them that he offered to host all three of them in his home. To some of us, that might sound inappropriate. In reality, he was being hospitable and sincere, and the three women were delighted to take him up on his kind offer. When he finished work, he gave them full use of his living room (complete with armchairs and a couch) and even cooked dinner for them as a way of apologising for the over-crowding in the town that night. Isn’t that sweet?

Not every local will want to be this helpful and they’re not obligated to host pilgrims in their own homes. But generally speaking, they do want to help. If you’re nice to them, they might help you figure out somewhere to stay, without having to resort to these next options….

2. Walk on to the next town or village.

I had to do this more than once, as did many others. Surprisingly, when you plan to walk 500 miles, some primal part of your brain kicks in and

walking = survival

So, walking a few more miles to the next town can be surprisingly okay!

It’s not easy when the weather is exceptionally hot, cold, windy, or wet. It’s also not easy when you’re injured, sick, exhausted, or depressed. You never know when you might have to give an extra push, so keep some energy in reserve. Feel like walking 25km? Well, you might need to walk 29km to secure a bed, so factor that in to your planning and your coffee breaks each day. Then, if you do have to walk on a bit further, you’ve got the energy to do it.

3. Take a taxi to the next town or village.

If you can’t walk on to the next town or village for whatever reason, you might find a taxi to bring you there. The first time I availed of a taxi, it was organised by a hostel owner in Zubiri because the town was full. She kindly organised taxis and accommodation for 20 of us that evening.

The second time I had to use a taxi was when I arrived into Los Arcos at 5pm, with three other women. Again, the whole town was full. One of my co-walkers requested a taxi to the next village and we were thrilled.

In both cases, the taxis got us safely and quickly to our new beds. But the next morning, we had to decide whether to go back and pick up where we left off. You’ll have to face the same decision, so be prepared!

4. Take a bus to the next town or village.

This follows the same sentiment as my previous point but this only works if you’re in a town or village that’s big enough to have a bus service. Oh, and if you arrive at such a time in the day whereby the bus hasn’t yet departed. I didn’t take the bus at all and never even looked at a bus schedule, so I don’t know how well this one works. If any of you reading feel like adding your two cents here, please do!

5. Sleep outdoors.

I met a guy who crossed the Pyrenees on his first day of walking, and arrived into the town of Roncesvalles at 7 in the evening. The hostel and private rooms were all taken hours earlier, so there were no beds anywhere. He’d already walked 27km that day, including the climb up, over, and down the mountains. There was no way he could walk any further so he slept on an outdoor bench that night. He admitted it was cold and uncomfortable but he said it was fine, really.

I think he might have been Rambo in disguise!

Weeks later, I walked alone and learned that two of the villages I passed through were full. Helpful pilgrims shouted to me in the street and confirmed that there were no beds left, and that I would have to walk on further. I didn’t know these people, and I didn’t even have to stop or take off my backpack to find out the information – they literally yelled to me from across the street!

I hoped the third one would have a free bed. I had enough energy to make it to the third village but I really, really didn’t have it in me to walk any further than that. So, I decided this:

If there are no free beds in the next village, I’m going to sleep outdoors.

I’m not beyond it!

I eyed the wheat fields and their bales of straw with a sort of exhausted lust. The straw looked soft and I figured it would provide extra warmth. I didn’t expect it to be terribly comfortable, but the ground was dry I was open to sleeping out, if necessary.

I know that some would never, ever consider sleeping outdoors, especially without a tent, a ground mat, and regular camping supplies. But people do it. It’s not that weird, really.

6. Sleep somewhere else.

I met a woman who arrived into the village of Villamayor de Monjardín to find there were no beds available. She didn’t have the energy to walk the 10k to the next town, so she asked the locals for help.

One said: I have a spare garage. You can sleep there, if you like.

Someone else said: I can give you some cardboard and old sacks to put on the ground.

Some pilgrims who’d already secured beds said: We have camping mats we don’t need tonight – you’re welcome to use them.

So, she joined 14 other pilgrims and slept on the ground in someone’s open garage. She wasn’t on a bed, a sofa, or a gymnasium floor, but she wasn’t outdoors either. She was safe and dry, and survived the night just fine.

Are there other options available? I can’t think of any right now. Maybe those of you who’ve already walked (some or all of) Camino can comment and remind me if I’ve missed something. Please do!

For those of you yet to walk, let me know if you have questions 🙂

Three Cheers for Everyone Walking the Camino de Santiago!

Only 589.2km left before I reach Santiago!

Sometimes, even now, I look at those numbers and I’m quietly stunned.

How on earth did I walk 800km across France and Spain?

How does anyone walk such distances, especially in just a few weeks?

I think the human body is an impressive piece of work. We’re built to move and even in this age of high-speed travel, we’re capable of walking hundreds of miles. We’re quite a bit removed from our caveman ancestors but I’m glad we haven’t lost our capacity to walk long distances and go see what’s out there.

Despite all the modern conveniences, we’re still able to go back to basics. I love it.

And to all the pilgrims, past, present, and future – I salute you!

I salute your willingness to embark on the Camino journey. I don’t care how many miles you walked or how many blisters you endured. I don’t care whether you went home after a day, “finished it”, or have walked it a dozen times. I’m hoping it was a positive experience but even if it wasn’t, I salute your willingness to get up from your couch, move away from your desk, and go take your body for a long walk. I applaud your sense of spirit and adventure, and your courage to go do something different.

It would have been easier and quicker to take the train, right? And I’m sure it would have been more convenient to book a beach holiday instead of sweating your way across the Iberian peninsula!

Beach holidays have their place but they’re no Camino. Sometimes the world tells us that the beach holiday is normal and that to walk 800km across Spain is not. Whatever your reason for choosing Camino – whether you wanted a pilgrimage or a cheap walking holiday –  I’m sure there were some people who couldn’t relate to your choice.

Maybe they thought it all sounded a bit dull. They might have thought it was very odd. They might have thought you were having some sort of mid-life crisis.

I’m sure you knew people, just like I did, who thought you were mad to propose walking across Spain, especially if they’d never heard of Camino before. Some of my nearest and dearest hadn’t heard of Camino and thought I was heading off into the wilderness alone, to navigate and trek my way across rural Spain, for however long it took. “Mad” doesn’t even begin to describe what they thought of me! I will always remember their worried looks, trying to decide whether to be more concerned about my mental health or my chances of getting killed in rough scrubland.

It took a long time to convince them that I wasn’t unwell and I would be okay. Spain is quite a civilised country, really!

But I understand their concern and their desire to talk me out of my hair-brained idea.

Maybe some of the people in your life responded in a similar way? I’m sure it made your decision-making just a bit more complex. It’s one thing to head off on Camino when the whole world is applauding your choice. It’s a bit more tricky when the people around you are scared or resistant.

And yet, you did it anyhow. That took courage and faith. And I’m hoping you got to feel what I felt, at least once somewhere along the way:

That walking Camino was one of the most sane things I ever did!

I came home proud of, and awed by, the power of my human body. I came home feeling proud of everyone I met along the way, and of their enormous achievement to have walked the path, too.

I started out with the best intentions in the world but with no idea of whether I would be able to fulfill them.

800km (500 miles) sounded like an awful lot.

Make no mistake about it – 500 miles is a long way to walk.

But like many great things in life, it’s not something to be done all in one go. It takes steady perseverance, one step after the other, one day at a time.

Before you know it, you’ve covered more than 200km.

Before you know it, you arrive in a small village called Azofra and find that you’ve only 589.2km to go.

Magic!