Whenever I talk about my experiences on El Camino with anyone who hasn’t walked one of the ways yet, I tend to discover a huge desire and admiration in their eyes. Then, when I tell them that I’ve done it three times on three different roads, the admiration changes to confusion. They seem to think that it doesn’t make too much sense that after one huge effortful experience one decides to repeat it again… and again. Hopefully after reading this blog you will see that the simple truth is that the richness of this different kind of life experience is what attracts us to repeat the same path, or to travel different ways.
Most people choose Camino Frances for their first experience. It is the classic way that has been walked for hundreds of years by pilgrims for mainly religious reasons. Nowadays it has become extremely popular and touristic, and more than 100.000 people walk it a year. It has both advantages and disadvantages for those whose aim is to start this path with high expectations about obtaining deep spiritual experiences and diving into their inner profoundness…
I had no spiritual expectations nor the necessary equipment or preparation for my adventure. I just wanted to get away for a month in August and do something interesting. On the very first day I realized that it was a much more difficult challenge than I expected; walking more than a month in tough circumstances to get to the 800 km destination of Santiago de Compostela, I definitely underestimated the level of this challenge. Unpreparedly I set up a deadline of 24 days. Taking a bus wasn’t an option. Moreover, I carried a backpack weighing 14 kg.
I had terrible muscle pain in every little part of my body after the first day, and facing the fact that it was not going to work out as I imagined devastated me for the third day. By 2pm, with more than 40 degrees of heat, I had no water for a couple of hours, and the village that was supposed to be there, wasn’t. Pilgrims and human beings were nowhere to be seen. I got stuck. I thought, I’m gonna die here in the middle of this Spanish desert. I gave up mentally. It was not working out the way that I had imagined.
No more forcing.
No more pushing.
Let it happen as it should. I didn’t care. I stopped and sat right there, right next to a bush. …And in this defining moment of letting go something happened that deeply determined my whole Camino experience, and the next two beautiful years…
Of course, I survived, and I didn’t take the bus. 🙂 Something kept me strongly motivated and every day I felt like there was meaning to my life. Regardless of the terrible joint problems in my knees, the 12 hours of constant walking every day from dawn to dusk, and in spite of the fact that I wasn’t able to wear shoes properly anymore on the journey, these happenings became secondary, because every moment was a miracle. We made it together. With the impossible weight of my backpack, these 22 days were the most physically painful, but deepest experiences of my whole life.
After two years I felt a strong urge to achieve my own Camino experience. With the aim of exploring a new country, I picked the Portuguese “way” that is “just” 600 km from south to north, from Lisbon to Santiago. Incredible heat, badly signed paths, and no pilgrims for the first 300 km. Slim backpack, proper shoes, shorter treks and solitude. It is the Camino of silence and loneliness…
…and emptiness. Walking a path on which the number of pilgrims has never been significant is incomparable to the richness of the experiences and thoughts that impacted my emotions on the French way. No miracles, but I exactly got what I needed. I was able to let go of the past and move on. Meeting 3 Hungarians on the last day was such a pleasure. But I said goodbye. Arriving at Santiago alone, I took the plane and went home disappointed with some satisfaction from having my own Camino.
When I have to experience something, life just constantly gives me signs to deal with it. Before doing the French Camino, I was receiving them for 3 years. Before the Portuguese way for half a year, and well, when I just couldn’t get rid of the draw of the North way for a month, and I was aware that life in Europe was coming to an end soon.
Nothing appealed to me more than having a last one, the most beautiful but the most physically tiring one as it is said. With a wisdom I had gained from my previous experiences I was very enthusiastic about what this Camino would bring me in July. …And what I could give to this Camino of myself and to the people I met. On the very first evening I met my amazing company with whom every day was nothing other than constant impulses, happiness, lots of joy and laughter, language improvement, getting to know their souls, and breaking through a little bit of the physical limits again.
After more than a month of walking, nearly 1100 km, one day at 30 degrees I got sick due to dehydration. But, after 4 days of walking and 40K later, I caught up with my company. There were incredible views; mountains and seasides appearing almost constantly next to me. Awesome conversations, indescribable feelings, blending into a community… My Northern Camino was all about them. There was a fellowship, a sharing, an attentiveness which allowed us to get involved with each other intensely. It was supposed to be the last one. But when we had just said goodbye to each other at the bus station of Muxia, I knew that it was just the beginning of my new life…
Camino gives you a different perspective on life.
The problems and struggles that weigh on your mind in your daily life, suddenly disappear when your constantly suffer. You must take one step after another. That is the most important thing. Accept the people that you encounter and the impulses that you have. Every day you need to wake up early and do your task. No excuses. You create your new daily routine. Needs and thoughts change after the first 3 crucial days.
The most important necessities become water, food, sitting down and a mattress to sleep on. Certain things such as smelly people, cold water for your shower and the lack of Internet connection or looking good don’t bother you anymore. You are happy in the moment, happy for your life and that you are here, walking this path. Nothing else matters. Communicating, sharing thoughts and ideas and being receptive to others becomes genuine with everyone without any kind of fake intention. You just a enjoy carefree existence.
An interesting thought is that the “Camino is actually our real life.”
I used to agree with it during doing my first one, but I don’t share this opinion anymore. It is true for sure that you start to behave as an instinctive human being with the aim of giving and helping people and saying what is in your heart. But it is still just a path created by us to reach a different state of mind in which everything has a different meaning. Physical suffering and constant walking helps a lot to change your mindset, especially on the French way which requires an incredible amount of energy with every single step. The abilities and creative ideas you obtain on the way can be applied to many real-life situations.
One thing is sure: on the way, you always get what you are craving for, so as in life. Do you start to walk it with the intention of loving, giving, sharing or with the intention of receiving, claiming, taking or wanting?