Warning, this is going to be a long post.
Inception And Reasons
Around mid July, a couple of events changed my intentions for August – which was supposed to be a slow, holiday and chill month. On one side, my plans to spend time with family in Valencia had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 problems (difficult to travel from Romania to Spain), and on the other side, my personal plans to share some quality time with friends on Costa del Sol were also (abruptly) changed.
With just two weeks until the beginning of my eagerly expected time off, I had to take a decision. I could have stayed in Valencia, enjoy the heat, the beaches and the night life, or I could try some disruption, and do something I never did before. I went for the second option, and I decided to “go on Camino”.
Because of some poor planning, the beginning of the journey failed, but I bounced back, changed the outlook and started again. If you want to know the details, you can read this post.
Yesterday I arrived, after 11 days of walking and 381km, in Santiago de Compostela, finishing the Camino de Santabres / Via del Plata. It was an incredibly peaceful feeling, a profound inner shift and, at the same time, a pleasant event.
Here are a few blurbs of this trip:
- I spent only a handful of nights in albergues, because of the Covid-19 restrictions. The rest was spent in hostels, cheap hotels, pensions or “casa rurales”.
- The nights I spent in albergues weren’t as fulfilling as I expected, because there weren’t so many pilgrims. I did have the chance to meet and speak to some very interesting and nice people, though.
- The first 5 days – and, partially, the last 2 days – I walked completely alone. That accounts for more than 150km of solo walking, with absolutely no other soul to talk to. This made for a lot of introspection (see below The Inner Journey).
- I started on 36 degrees Celsius, during “ola de Calor” in Castilla y Leon, and ended at 16 degrees and rain, in Galicia.
- At the end of the 4th day I managed to pull my left calf muscle, after jumping a fence. The injury wasn’t as bad as to stop me, but it was just enough to not recover in a matter of days, so it remained at the same stage for the rest of the trip. That means I limped my way to Santiago, and, at times, this was quite annoying. Right now, after just one day of rest, it has recovered completely.
- The landscape was absolutely amazing, for 90% of the time. I walked through endless, dusty plaines, enchanted forests, magical little towns, and a lot of other nice places.
- The food was also very good. I didn’t eat that much when I was walking alone, but when I shared the road with other pilgrims I observed I tend to indulge. Also, it’s impossible to stay vegetarian in Galicia.
The Physical Challenge
Doing the Camino means you’re walking every day, for 2-4 weeks, depending which Camino you do. The distance is between 20-35km, on average, sometimes less, sometimes more. It’s not that difficult, but you have to take care of your feet, stay hydrated and eat well. Also, you must be pro-active in stopping blisters from forming, as this can quickly escalate into something that slows you down dramatically. I didn’t have any blisters, except a small one after the last day, but it healed very fast.
So, if you’re starting the Camino only for the physical challenge, for a nice hike, this is what you should expect. If you’re only doing it for this, it’s already rewarding. The effort is just enough to put you to sleep very fast every evening, but it’s not very consuming. Also, as a hiking challenge, like I said, the scenery is absolutely beautiful, so it’s well worth it.
The Logistics And Socializing Part
The second component of what I call “the Camino experience” is the logistic and socializing part. Logistics means you pretty much don’t know for sure where you’ll spend the next night, and you have to adjust your plans a lot, search, reserve and be ready to follow last minute changes.
Under the same logistics area I’ll put a certain routine that you will have to form: once you get to your target for the day, wash your clothes, prepare something to eat and make sure you have at least an idea about the next day target. Because you’re not doing any of these in a “normal” life, it’s quite unexpected and it requires a certain adaptation time.
If you sleep in albergues, which is the standard Camino experience, you will also share your living space with other people, which is also something many people don’t usually do. At times, I thought that this albergue experience is like a summer camp for adults.
And then there’s the socializing part. On Camino, you get to meet other people, and, at least in my case, these people proved to be really nice human beings. We became friends very fast and there’s a certain link that has been created in a very healthy way. Before going on Camino I heard about this, and I was curios how it works. Well, it just works.
So, on top of the physical challenge, you also get the logistics and socializing part. These two components together should be enough to want to do this. But the most important part is what I call “the inner journey”.
The Inner Journey
Many people told me that “the person that ends the Camino is not the same with the person that starts the Camino” and, in all honesty, I was a bit apprehensive about this. You know, this whole “transformational” thing seemed a bit too odd to be true. I mean, you’re just walking for days, what could happen to you so deep?
Once again, I have to back up and admit they were right. There is an inner journey, and there is a transformation taking place. Of course, I am the same person with the one that started, it’s not a question of losing your identity (at least for me). But there are some parts of my personality that have been changed, in a relevant way.
Some parts were left behind and I’m talking mostly about a certain type of expectations from other people (which weren’t very healthy to begin with). Other parts were enhanced and here I’m talking about clarity, self-worth and discipline. I tend to see things in a much clearer light, I have a better idea about who I am (that implies also what I deserve, see below) and I tend to be more organized.
But the most important transformation was an embodiment of something I knew for a long time, mentally, but never really integrated at a deeper, more real level.
It’s the fact that, no matter what, what is meant to happen to you, it will happen. I always knew, mentally, that there is this link between your actions and their outcome. Something that can be defined in terms of karma, for instance. If you do good, you will receive good. If you planted the right seed, you will get the right fruit. It may be right now that you’re not getting anything, but this is just because the fruit has to ripen. Give it time and it will ripen beautifully.
It’s one thing to know this, logically, and a completely different one to feel this with your entire body. That’s why I call this thing “embodiment”, because it was really like this concept of “you will always get what you deserve, don’t worry about it” descended from my mind and pervaded my body.
Along with this came a deep feeling of relaxation and peace. It was like all the anxiety disappeared and left place to silence.
I don’t know how long this will last, but, for now, it’s quite consistent.
So, this was my Camino experience. I highly recommend it and the only thing I can add is: stay open, stay flexible and Camino will, eventually, bring you gifts you never even dreamed about.