Do you know that feeling? 60 minutes of yoga, embracing the moment as you lie on the floor. 15 minutes in the sauna, three different infusions, relaxing in the sun as you cool down. 40 minutes running 10 kilometres sweating everything out, looking forward to that cold shower afterwards.
Everyone needs to relax. We’re not Shaolin monks who can easily put ourselves into a calm, meditative state. We need a trigger to let some water out of the full glass. If you don’t, you overflow. Everyone needs to keep some reserves to fall back on. But if you exhaust them… Well, then you fall flat and there goes your life.
My glass was always full. My reserves were running low. I had two big problems: I have always done things for others and oriented myself towards what other people thought was good and right. But happiness is a matter of definition, and should come from within.
On this pilgrimage, I managed to get out of this spiral for the first time. It’s not only a way to siphon off some water, but even to completely empty the glass so that you can define what is in fact your own way.
But my first Camino didn’t start well. I hadn’t read anything about it. I just packed some things and knew that it started at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
Long story short: got stranded there, got up too late, got lost in the fog, struggled through pouring rain and snow, ate too little food, drank too little water, drank from a sheep trough, and ended up on the first day with a 39ºC fever. I went on like this for about five days. I walked about 45 km daily and just ran down my spirit.
However, the turnaround came quickly. It stopped raining, I got well again and got to know some great people. I can understand if you’re wondering why one would march 900 km over mountains and plains, but in the end it was the best thing I have ever done for myself. I found myself on the Camino, my thoughts a lot lighter. To anyone who’s lost, I can only encourage you to walk the path.
On the Camino you’re alone, but never lonely. Whoever wants to talk will talk. Anyone who’d rather stay silent remains so.
I never made small talk, but rather had profound conversations with people who were, like me, searching for something. People help each other, provide support and compassion. I even met one of my best friends on the Camino.
In the beginning, many people think they just need to clock up their metres. Eventually, you realise that you arrive at your destination through a kind of continuity – and without blisters!
Everyone manages, regardless of their condition, but eventually of course there are the inevitable twinges in the knees or hips. That’s part of it. The most important thing is that you walk the weight of the world off your shoulders and eventually reach the point where you stop at beautiful places to have a picnic break, or to sit for an hour by a spring.
What to expect
“The road is not what one is looking for, but what one needs”. Anyone who walks the Camino spends a lot of time alone and learns a lot about themselves. At Cruz de Ferro, I put down a stone as a symbol of something I would like to leave behind me. I have never felt lighter.
Santiago? Simply amazing and full of love.
Finisterre – the end of the earth? Indescribable. It feels a bit like in The Matrix when the evening sun goes down. As if one would have to just fall backwards, and just keep falling and falling to wake up again sometime in ‘reality’.
What is a typical day?
You share the dormitories of the hostel with 5 to 60 people – yes, 60! – and you sleep well. Honestly! Anyone who has hiked 25 to 30 kilometres can sleep easy. The first walkers begin to move at 5am. I woke at 8.30am and usually was gone by 9am, quite relaxed in being the last. The day often started with a café con leche in the sun by the river, or when the starry sky could still be seen at sunrise over the fields.
At one o’clock, you have lunch because you work up a serious appetite. Sometimes I just sat down with fruit, bread and cheese by a spring, a stream or a tree. Between 4pm and 5pm I stopped where I found it the most beautiful. I stashed my stuff, explored the beautiful old cities, and ate dinner with the other pilgrims. Seven euro, three courses, wine and water for free. Before bed, we danced salsa, sang karaoke, held long conversations. And the happiness builds somehow, day by day.
If you are stuck mentally, need to rest, or to reinvigorate your energy levels, I can only recommend walking the Camino de Santiago. And so you have a better start than I did, take a look at my pack list. Then really, nothing can go wrong.