Camino de Santiago – is it a spiritual journey, a physical challenge or a cultural experience? Or… all of them and even more?
Camino de Santiago is a way to discover yourself, spend more time in nature, learn more about yourself and others, see the Spanish culture and make new friends from ALL over the world, while walking through Spain, all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Everyone has different reasons why they do it, but essentially there are a few main ones: self-discovery, religion, adventure, traveling, meeting people.
The reason why I started this journey was because I was very close to a burnout. Stressed, haunted by an endless number of “to do” lists that would never end and constantly feeling like I am a computer with 100 tabs open that crashes a lot. Shortly, I was overwhelmed. I just needed some time to relax, have fun, explore, put my thoughts in order and try new things. And Camino was able to give me just that: hours and hours of walking in silence, time to think, beautiful views and amazing places in nature where I would just stop to meditate, journal, enjoy the view, listen to birds, look at ants walking, admire animals. Basically, going back to a simple life and just enjoying it.
The best part, however, was that I did not have to make any decisions; every morning, I would just wake up, put on one of the two outfits I had with me, pack my things and hit the road. Not even “Which way should I go?”, because the entire path is marked with yellow arrows, very visible and well placed, so you don’t even need a map. Sometimes, it’s nice to just follow the arrows and go with the flow. And if you are anything like me, and have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever (honestly, even if you make me walk in a straight line I will get lost), you will still survive. I only got lost twice, and it was really fun in the end, so it’s ok to wander around every now and then.
Many people think they could not do it for various reasons, either because they think they cannot take the time off work, they don’t have enough money, they could not manage without knowing Spanish or they are not in a good physical condition. But what they don’t usually know is this:
- Camino actually has at least 5 official routes to Santiago, and you can start from anywhere you want (therefore, you can walk for a week, two weeks, 3 months or whatever period of time you actually need).
- Camino is actually very cheap. You stay in albergues (they are like hostels, but only for pilgrims) and their price is usually 5-10 €/night and sometimes even “donativo”, which means you can donate as much as you have, and some of them even offer dinner/breakfast within that price. Also, most places have a kitchen and if you gather a few of your friends (that includes people you just met in the albergue, we’re all friends here) and cook together, it will cost 1 or 2 €/each.
- Most people who go don’t speak Spanish! Yes, it is advisable to learn a few things before you go and it makes the locals really happy to see you try, but most of them speak a little English and almost all pilgrims speak English. And if not, Google Translate will be your savior and best friend, as there is free wi-fi connection pretty much everywhere.
- From a physical point of view, anyone, and I mean anyone can do the Camino. I have seen very old people, very sick people, disabled people and children doing it, and there is even an organization that has volunteers who push a disabled person in a wheel chair who really wants to do the Camino but can’t do it alone. And as long as you listen to your body and take care of it, you can do it (even if you do 5 km/day). As Paulo Coelho said in his book, “The pilgrimage”, this is a road that anyone can do, but not anyone is willing to.
All I can say is the Camino is really magical, and in my opinion everyone should experience something like this at least once in their life. Although, I must warn you, once you get a taste of it, you might get addicted! I mean, how often do we find the time in our busy, chaotic lives to stay in silence, to reconnect with our inner self, to enjoy everything nature has to offer, to spend time alone with our own thoughts, and to connect to strangers in a profound, real kind of way, without our masks and without hiding the real person inside of us? All of this while visiting an amazing country like Spain, and not in the tourist type of way, where you go to Barcelona or Madrid for a few days and see the attractions. I mean in the real way, where you see the cities, towns, villages, locals, fiestas in the streets, you eat tapas and drink cervezas, you eat grapes out of the vineyards, apples from the trees, and blackberries from the bushes on the side of the road, you listen to the beautiful Spanish music while admiring the joy they have on their face while singing or dancing. And for the time you are there, you learn to enjoy life again, like a child who just discovers it.
Things I am the most grateful for on the Camino:
- learning that I am love(d);
- having the time in nature to relax, process my thoughts and truly enjoy life;
- meeting the most amazing people and making a real connection with my travel buddy Eva;
- laughing uncontrollably, most of the time to tears;
- beautiful insights about myself and the world around me;
- re-discovering how incredibly beautiful life is;
- learning to accept people exactly as they are and stop judging them;
- making my self-love a lot stronger;
- the real conversations I had with people, with no masks, no walls between us, just pure connection and rawness;
- re-discovering myself in new ways;
- seeing Spain from a different perspective;
- learning to let go of things and people more easily and live in the present moment.
This experience will forever be in my heart and I look forward to doing it again. Like one good friend I met there said: “El Camino is like a mini-life”. A tiny, short version of your life: you meet people, you loose people, you have all kinds of relationships, all your thoughts, patterns and behaviors are “under the microscope”, and it shows you a lot of things about yourself that you can take into your life and improve or things that you should appreciate more. And other than some stress, bad habits, fears and some money, you have nothing to lose!
If you want to find out more information, click here.
I hope you will take photos of the same places some day, in your own journey of self-discovery, learning and exploring and discover the Camino magic by yourself. And if you do, let me be the first one to say… ¡Buen Camino!
Written by: Chirvase Maria