“Why did you walk the Camino de Santiago?”
This is a question I have been asked many times. Even though this is very personal, I still would like to share some of my motives and impressions as a pilgrim in this post.
It may sound like one of the biggest stereotypes in history but for me one of the main reasons why I decided to walk the Camino was to find myself. I needed time for myself, I needed time to think and I needed to ask myself what I actually want in life. When you’re walking for hours every day you certainly have enough time to think about all these things.
From day one it was clear to me that I’m actually quite happy with the lifestyle I’m currently living. My attitude towards travelling didn’t change along the way. Travelling is and hopefully will always be my passion and I’m not ready yet to give it up for anything or anyone. It comes with all its ups and downs but it’s certainly what feels right to me now.
They say you should not think too much about the past and the future but instead fully live in the present. And certainly, this is right, but to me, it was important to use this precious time to also address different issues from the past. Not all of these things I thought about while walking were pleasant, but I just felt the need to deal with these subjects, so that I would be able to put certain moments behind myself. I still believe that many things in life happen for a reason and that we learn something from every experience, no matter if it was a good or bad one. Therefore, I try not to cut out the past or regret my decisons/ actions but instead learn from them and try to do it better the next time.
While thinking of the past but also the present, I realised that I can call myself a very lucky girl. I have a wonderful family, great friends and actually mostly live a life that makes me very happy and for all this I’m very thankful.
2. Physical and mental challenge
To be honest, I don’t think I had ever walked 20km or even more at once before. When I went on the Camino I knew that I wanted to cover an average distance of about 25km a day, but I didn’t deem it necessary to practice for this beforehand. Even though I was never unathletic, I also couldn’t be called a true sportswoman. Anyways, except for occasional swimming and running and working as a hurried waitress throughout the winter season, I didn’t do anything to prepare for my upcoming pilgrimage.
So, there I was on my first day, knowing that I would have to cover a distance of about 500km to reach my destination. All I could do was to start walking. On my first day, I started easily with 23km and arrived as fresh as ever and therefore at first thought the whole pilgrimage wouldn’t be much of a challenge for me after all. However, after most people I met at the end of that day enthusiastically told me about their countless blisters and wounds, I had to accept that I would probably have to suffer at some point as well.
From day five on my feet were very swollen, covered with red spots and barely recognisable as human feet anymore. Suddenly, walking wasn’t a pleasure anymore. Still I knew this pain was all part of the journey. Even so, I was very relieved when we had a day break in León after a week of walking and could rest our tired bones. I bought some Voltaren at the pharmacy and after some days of treatment, my feet and lower legs slowly went back to their normal size. Still, there were days when I could barely walk anymore and every step was very painful. Looking back I think this was mainly caused by my heavy backpack (I guess 14/ 15kg might have been a little too much).
Anyways, during this journey I learned how important a strong will is. I never gave up, never had to take the bus or send my backpack ahead to the next destination. I may have walked slowly but always managed to move continuously. One step after the other. Small breaks during the day, interesting conversations with fellow pilgrims and little rewards in form of delicious ice cream or snacks also helped a lot.
Not every day was the same. Some days it felt like I could walk forever and some days it felt like a never-ending story. But at the end of the day, I was always proud of what I had achieved and thankful for the whole experience.
As already mentioned many times before, people play a very important part for me while travelling. You may meet people that you directy connect with and maybe some others that you don’t want to connect with at all. Most people I met on the Camino were much older than me. The variety of personal backgrounds and professions couldn’t have been any larger.
Despite these differences in age, personality and occupation we were all on the same page in life. We all were walking the Camino for a reason. Most of us were wittingly or unwittingly in search for something. We had something that connected us. And I must say I haven’t felt that comfortable with people in a while. I could be myself and feel accepted and appreciated for who I was. It didn’t matter where one was coming from only where one was going to. It’s incredible how much generosity and kindness I experienced on this journey.
I was especially overwhelmed when people, who I hadn’t even known a few days before, made my 25th birthday one of the best I’ve ever had. I was invited to breakfast, a high-class dinner and received some thoughtful gifts. But the greatest gift was their presence and with it all their positive energy.
With some of the pilgrims I only walked a short distance whereas others joined me for a big part of my journey. We waited for each other, shared many meals and lots of wine, stayed at the same accommodations and had inspiring conversations along the way. As much as I enjoyed time on my own on the Camino I also really appreciated this incredible community spirit. To me, this is one of the best parts of the journey: To find your own little Camino family who you can share this experience with.
Even though I’ve been a nomad for some years now and never stay at the same place for too long, I also usually quickly establish my everyday life around my obligations, duties and habits. I only like daily routine to a certain extent and therefore always look for opportunities to break free from it and bring a little change into my life.
Before I went on the Camino, I waitressed in a skiing region in Switzerland for five months. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all and it was a hard time for me, marked by a lot of stress and loneliness. All that kept me going was the thought of earning enough money for my upcoming travels.
So during this time, I was glad that I had something to work towards to. My Camino. My get-away from the everyday life. As soon as I started walking, I felt that the pressure from outside and most importantly inside started fading away. I had no obligations and was accountable to none. The further I walked, the bigger the distance became and the easier it became to keep certain moments in perspective.
I met many people along the way who were concerned about going back to their everyday’s life. They felt afraid to give up this certain spirit of freedom. We all somehow were in a different state than back home. It’s not like it was always easy, it just was different.
Creating a distance – mentally as well as literally – can change you and your way of thinking. At least I felt a certain change along the way. For the better…
It always feels good to be outdoors. Therefore, I sometimes wonder why I still spend so much time inside. There are times when it can cost me quite an effort to motivate my lazy self to go out and get some fresh air. As you can imagine, with a pilgrimage it is inevitable to not go outside. You actually spend most time of the day outside and only stay inside for your nights’ rest.
And it felt so good to be outside. I was walking for hours every day and meanwhile enjoying the (predominantly) beautiful scenery, smelling the fresh air and listening to the sounds of nature. I was really lucky with the weather and only experienced two days of rain; the remaining time the sun was shining and the sky was intensely blue.
During this journey I learned that it’s wonderful to be part of nature and experienced the simple joy of living in such a beautiful world. I started paying more attention to small details such as moving insects on the ground, flowers in all their colourful varations, slowly swaying cereal on the fields or a bird floating on a water lily in a stream.
I remember that one situation when I was walking all by myself through a forest without seeing anyone in front or behind me. Suddenly I just stood still. I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath. I listened to the countless birds humming. I felt like I’d entered a magical world and simply felt happy to be alive.
Everything was beautiful in its own way to me.