Have you ever read about the camino? Did you feel encouraged to walk the Way of St. James someday? Or maybe walking the camino this is your biggest dream?
Well, I made it! After 2 weeks of walking, fighting with exhaustion, numerous blisters, the heat of the day, crowded dormitories and a terrible cold I crossed over 300 km to finally reach Santiago de Compostela. Was it worth of this effort, you may ask. And here is what I want to tell you about the camino.
How does the camino look like?
I was waking up very early, before the sunrise most of the time. I was dressing up in the dark and leaving the dormitory as quiet as I could. I was starting to walk in the dark, watching the stars over my head and later also a slow sunrise. I was having a breakfast along the way. I was walking for 5-8 hours a day on a variety of terrains: mountains, paved sidewalks, stairs, streets, fields, pretty much everything. Then, I was having my lunch, a short rest in a shared dormitory, a quick visit in a village or town where I was staying in. I was eating a dinner and then was falling asleep very early.
Next day, I was doing exactly the same thing all over again.
For two weeks.
Boring? Not really, as for me this was precisely a miniature version of a human’s life. And this is when and where EVERYTHING happens.
Most people consider walking The Way of St. James a spiritual act itself. This is just one way to consider it. But after walking it myself I can tell you this: it is UP TO YOU how spiritual and life changing experience this is for you.
True: there is very little spiritual services available along the Way, which might be shocking to you. Closed churches, no priests, hardly few parishes that provide an evening mass and a blessing to pilgrims. It would be a great disappointment to me so I did a really clever thing: one of the people I walked the camino with was a priest. This resolved the major part of the spiritual problems: we had an everyday mass, we had a recitation of the breviary in the morning and in the evening and a person to turn to in any spiritual need. So for me, this was an authentic spiritual pilgrimage.
And I think this is important for people to know it in advance to avoid the later disappointment: you need to take care about your spiritual needs. Especially when walking the camino.
Is the camino helpful in your personal growth?
Yes, it is. But only if you make an effort. There is no way that someone else will do this job for you. The Way is just like our life: hard, repeatable, sometimes breathtaking, always shared with others and preferably purposeful (or at least it should be!).
And in our crazy world where we all have an impression of running in circles the experience of the camino is really powerful. It is a plain walk from A to B and with a purpose at the end.
And it is powerful because you can physically and mentally feel it.
All you need to do is to wake up and walk for a certain amount of time with your backpack. So easy, and so hard, at the same time!
For better or worse
You’re not alone! This was the second most powerful experience I had when walking the camino. Even though this was off season The Way was FULL of other pilgrims. For better or worse. Literally! On the one hand, it is great to have someone to talk to, share the joy of watching the sunrise, complain about blisters, looking for accommodation or share a large meal. On the other hand, it is very annoying to hear of the snoring for the whole night. And for this reason not sleeping at all. Also, people are loud, sometimes rude, leave a mess in a shared bathroom and sometimes even occupy the very last bed in a dormitory so you have to walk further to find a place to sleep.
Just like everyday life, isn’t it? We’re usually fed up with our neighbours, colleagues at work, people in shops or buses we use. And believe me: the camino is just the same and people are equally irritating. But again: IT’S ALL UP TO YOU. The way you deal with your irritation is always up to you. And a pilgrimage is a good moment to work on your behaviour. Being tired or even exhausted or in pain does not help but this is a great moment to start.
Oh, and there is another issue related to a group you share the camino with. The bedbugs! Yes, they really are there. Paradoxically, however, I got bitten by bedbugs at the very end of The Way in a hotel in Santiago de Compostela where we had a room for ourselves. In the major part of shared dormitories, you will get a single use sheets, which keeps you safe from the bugs. But just as I said: for better or worse.
For me, it was always helpful to think that other people are also tired and I should treat them just the way I would like to be treated in the same circumstances. Sharing a painful experience – and walking The Way is painful and demanding – helps to develop your empathy.
Once in a Lifetime
All in all, I think that walking the camino is a very important experience. Hopefully, my story and pictures shared here will give you a strong impulse to walk it someday. But remember about the right mindset before you go. Otherwise, this experience will disappoint you.
And just as I told you in my previous post: if you never try you will never know.
Here is a short video I recently published. It takes you for a walk and I think it shows how The Way is for real. Psst watch it in HD!
Disclosure: I walked on foot 311 km starting in Leon and arriving to Santiago de Compostela after 13 days (October, 1st). I continued The Way to Muxia and Finisterra by car.