Today’s Culture with Travel guest post is by Rebecca
I was never the type to consider a walking holiday. Even less the type who would walk an ancient pilgrim route, and love every minute of it, after the first initial days of pain and suffering of course. However, last year, a very close friend of mine started pestering me about it as early as February, so by the time we were to head out on the Camino in May, I was cooked and ready to go.
To offer a bit of an introduction before we dive into the moral itself: the Camino de Santiago is a collection of pilgrim routes spreading across Europe, running across France, Portugal and Spain, to name but a few countries. Some of the longest Caminos run as long as several thousand kilometers, while the shortest stretch of road you’d need to walk to be able to qualify for a Camino is just over 100 kilometers. In other words, you can spend a few days, a month, or even several months on the road. I know all of this can sound intimidating. It sounded terrifying to me, to be completely honest. But trust me – it was all completely worth it.
There are not enough words to describe everything I have come to learn – and I’m pretty sure I could never wield them – but here are a few of the major points.
You need less than you think you do
If you make the mistake I did, and pack about 10 kilograms of things you don’t need early on, you will soon realize how little you actually do need day in and day out, materially, to get on with life in general. You can survive with one type of shampoo, not three. You can live without all the tech gadgets you think you need, that most of all. You can live and walk with three shirts and a dozen pairs of socks – you don’t actually need everything the media are trying to convince you that you do need. This realization comes rather early on during your walk – you will soon be too worn out to carry what you don’t need, and knowing what you need will come more than naturally.
There are people you will like, and people you will not
I had this idiotic notion that all pilgrims are amazing people. I was quite wrong, naturally. There are kinds of people you will like instantly, and there are simply people whom you will never really like, and won’t be able to have a decent conversation with. On the Camino, there are numerous hostels where there are communal dinners every night, where you really get the chance to talk to people. You will realize after a time who you can mesh with, and who has a very different take on life than you do, and you won’t be able to hit it off. Knowing this and accepting it will help you when you get back to your life! Knowing that not everyone can like you, and not everyone needs to, is one of the most liberating things you can learn on the Camino.
You have limits, but they are not where you think they are
I am referring to both physical and mental limits. First of all, walking about 20-30 kilometers every day will be painful at first. Very. There can be blisters involved, and muscle cramps, and sprains. But, your body will get used to it more easily than you think, and once it does, nothing will come more naturally than moving. That’s what we were made for in the first place!
Finally, if you think you can’t handle something, or are not sure where your priorities are, the Camino will set you straight. The is this stretch of road just outside Santiago de Compostela, where I suddenly realized just what I was going to tell my boss when I got home, and how I was going to say it. I still remember that bend with fondness.
As you walk, you mind can work better, and you will find yourself tired, but completely refreshed at the same time. You will also come to realize at some point you can do much more than you think you can. And it will be liberating. Whichever route you choose, you will be meeting locals ready to offer you fresh tomatoes, donkeys like something out of a movie, walking past churches with their own intriguing histories, and the only thing you can truly do is embrace it.
Jace and I walked a stretch of the final parts of the Camino Frances, and we booked our trip through Follow the Camino, who were super helpful in all the arrangements. If you ever feel you are in a bit of a rut, the Camino can be just the perfect way to get yourself back on track. If it worked for a cynic like me, it is bound to help you too.
About the author: Rebecca is a freelance translator passionate about her work, and grateful for the travels it has taken heron. She has recently started writing about some of her experiences at RoughDraft.