7 things I’ve learnt from walking the Camino

I learned recently that Compostella means field of stars, pilgrims who used to walk the Camino in ancient times used the stars and the milky way to guide them, there were no waymarkers or guidebooks back then.  The stars led them to the ancient city of Santiago De Compostella.  The city in a field of stars.

I think walking towards a field of stars is pretty special, it’s also an apt description of what Santiago feels like; a bright and mysterious city, filled with hope and magic, bringing light into the darkness. The people walking the Camino are like stars too, with their hopes and dreams and challenges and faith, all shining in the cathedral square at the end of their walk, shining eyes with glistening tears, shining hearts bursting with pride and shining faith glowing from within – whether that’s faith in God, other people or the incredible faith built within themselves, they made it. Their journey is complete.

So what is the Camino De Santiago?

The mystical and magical Camino De Santiago seems to be growing in popularity. More people seem to be walking the Camino and more people have heard of it. It’s an ancient pilgrimage with routes starting all across Europe but mainly in and around Spain. The most popular route called the way of St James (or the French way/ Camino Frances) starts just across the border of Spain in France and takes over 6 weeks to walk 800km right across Spain. It is said Apostle St James’ remains are buried in the Cathedral in Santiago and Pilgrims have been walking for centuries to pay homage to this. Now, people walk the Camino for so many reasons, fitness, spiritual, tourism or simply, as some people say,  “because it is there and I am a walker“.

There are shorter routes and different starting points, but all roads lead to Santiago de Compostella, a beautiful ancient city in Northen Spain. The routes are all waymarked with bright yellow arrows and the people walking the route are called “peregrinos”. There are guidebooks and places to stay all along the various routes and the sense of comradery and unity is powerful.

I walked part of the Portuguese route back in 2016 with my Dad and my Brother and at the end of that route, I got engaged (blog post coming soon). It was then when I decided I wanted to walk from Santiago to Finisterre, the formal end of the Camino, together, with my husband on our 1st wedding anniversary – and so that’s what we did and it, and it was incredible.

The whole point of the Camino, is in the name –  it’s a journey and everyone’s journey is different, so are their reasons for walking.

Trying to summarise what I’ve learnt from this incredible journey is ineffable. Not only was it a powerful journey, holiday and adventure, but in addition, it was a time to reflect on our first year of marriage. It has also started the spark of an idea, a small star was ignited and it’s slowly burning brighter – I’m pretty sure this won’t be my last Camino, I have an invisible pull to walk again, but this time – on my own. Whilst, that story remains a draft, reflecting on our most recent adventure has been beautiful.

The 7 things I’ve learnt about life, from walking the Camino:

1. The Journey is always the best part. You get swept away working towards something. The end of the week, the end of the year, a project, a goal… ‘everything will be better when’. The truth is, ‘when’ never arrives, you turn a corner and there is another hill or more work to do.  The journey has to be enjoyed. The end can be disappointing or it can be untouchable. If we don’t enjoy our journey to get there, how can we ever feel gratitude and appreciate what we’ve got right here right now? A lot of people say they feel disappointed when they reach Santiago, it didn’t meet their expectations. This is the problem with reaching the end goal, you realise there is no more walking,  no more pain, only the short-lived joy of success, followed by the unquencable desire for more. Enjoy the journey because you’ll always want more. Enjoy the journey because sometimes, you’ll never reach the end. Enjoy the journey because you’ll always remember the struggle and who was there with you to make through to the end.

2. You don’t know how far other people have walked or what their route was like. Sometimes we just don’t have enough patience or empathy for each other.  We have no idea what other peoples lives are really like. You can’t assume someone has walked as far as you and you can’t even begin to know how hard their route might have been. Breathe in and count to 5, let’s just give each other a little bit more time and space. What is easy for you might have cost someone else everything.

3. The end is never the end. You think you’re done, but there is still another 5 miles to go. You think you’re beat but you can dig a little deeper and keep going.

4. Everything is better when slowed down. I hope to repair certain important connections burned through by artificial speed, by inattentiveness. I walk, as everyone does, to see what lies ahead. I walk to remember.”  ― Paul Salopek. The world slows down when you walk, everything stops to the pace of your strides. You see things you would have missed, zooming by in a rush, in a car, concentrating and blind – with your eyes wide open. Walking slows the world down and it’s much better that way.  You really feel the length of a mile and the seconds in a minute. We rush through our days as if the end is the prize, but really slowing down and living each day – that is what will make us feel alive. 

5. The simple things in life provide the most happiness.  A coffee break at 11 am,  a coke an incredible homemade lunch at 1 pm followed by a cold beer and a plate full of free tapas, the sunshine on your face and the empty blank canvas of an evening stretched out before you. These are the simple pleasures of the Camino, these are the treasures of an everyday adventure.  The simple things are what provide us with pure happiness and contentment. You might be happy for a while with the finer things but really we know what we need and it’s not complicated.

6. Life is better with less stuff. You can carry everything you need on your back and it is completely liberating. Less stuff means less worry. Less hassle, less greed. You need a lot to build a life: love, family, friends, hopes, dreams, gratitude – but you can carry all of that on your back. You don’t need a lot to live a great life: clothes, someplace to sleep, some great books – but you can carry all of that on your back. Stuff drags you down. Comparison, self-worth, ungratefulness and prestige. Stuff is great but ask yourself why you need it.

7. There is a rainbow waiting for you at the ends of the earth. There will always always be light at the end of any dark tunnel. There will always always be hope.  Just keep going. There really was a rainbow at the end of the earth and the walk to get there was what made it even more beautiful.

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