“I read ‘My Camino,’ written by Canadian author Sue Kenney about 20 years ago, and immediately added the Camino to my bucket list. I may not remember her story exactly, but I do remember the intense feelings she conveyed in her book – how she confronted and surmounted her fears, stepped outside of her comfort zone, and allowed her spirit to grow. I felt her grow into a kind of freedom that I really craved.
In 2014, I went back to work after recovering from an illness. I winced as I settled back into ‘busy mode,’ going back to being pulled in every direction, always running to corporate meetings, trying my best to schedule time with friends, squeezing in time to volunteer, and being there for my family in any way I could. People all over the world have this situation – being too ‘busy.’ They go through the motions, they do so much, but feel like there has to be something more. To be clear, I had much to be grateful for: a loving family, a network of amazing friends, a boyfriend who I adore, a job with a company that has given me great career opportunities, and overall a very comfortable lifestyle. Despite all of this, I still had a deep inner voice screaming at me on a daily basis, ‘THERE IS SO MUCH MORE OUT THERE FOR YOU, FIGURE IT OUT!’ I’ve always had an introspective view, but just never had time and space to really examine that side of myself. I craved the adventure of doing the Camino alone, of reflecting on my journey, and of having my own story to tell.
One day I discussed the idea with my boyfriend, and when we were out with a group of friends a few weeks later, he blurted out that I was doing the Camino. The next thing I knew, my plans were public, and I figured that I may as well commit to it. The rest just happened so quickly and easily. I did some online research, I went to a couple camino meetings, and I booked a flight to Spain. 20 years of wishful thinking was about to become a reality.
I began my journey in Astorga and ended in Santiago, 10 days and 266 kilometers (165 miles) later. I fought blisters the entire way, as I had bought shoes that were a bit too small and there are paths where you’re walking on rocks for hours at a time. But, I learned to cope. Many peregrinos had begun their journeys well before Astorga, knew each other already, and spent their days walking together. I on the other hand began midway through the Camino Francés and tried to take what side trips I could when something interesting was off the main path – this meant that I was always encountering new people. And that was the most surprising part of my Camino. I decided to do it alone, but I met so many people, from all different walks of life, from all over the world, who all affected me in truly special ways.
The first person I met was an older Spanish man, José, and when I talked to him I felt like I was somehow talking to my father – as if he was speaking through José and letting me know he was with me during my Camino. Somehow I had hoped to see him again before I left Spain and almost like magic, I saw him on both my and his last day in Santiago – as he was walking to catch his bus home. I was so happy to see him and get to say goodbye. Another man I met on my first day, was an Italian with an amazing name, Arcangelo Michele – like the Archangel Michael! We had a great conversation about our spirituality. A few days later, I was walking with a girl from the USA and I started to feel serious pain as a big blister on my foot broke. Out of nowhere, and in the middle of nowhere, I heard a familiar voice ask, ‘tutto bene?’ It was my archangel, with all the fixins to treat my blister. I felt so grateful. On my last day of hiking, I had gone nearly 40 kilometers and was within 1 kilometer of Santiago. I could feel the emotions of completing my journey and really wished there was someone was to experience this with me. Again like magic, I saw a guy I very briefly spoke to a few days earlier. Without even knowing, he offered to walk me down to the center of Santiago and to the end of the Camino. Again I felt so grateful. There are so many more people who impacted me on a daily basis and I could recount stories like this forever.
The Camino was a memory I will treasure forever. It impacted me physically, socially, and spiritually. Physically it was demanding, but like I said I learned to cope. Socially, I truly loved meeting all these amazing people each with their own fascinating story, even though I had initially intended to walk alone. Spiritually, I experienced a ton of personal growth packed into a seemingly short week and a half. I felt connected to something bigger on the Camino. It was so evident, everything seemed so clear, it was like each day I felt heaven and the universe, and that everything that I needed to know, every answer I was looking for, came to me. There are so many things that the Camino gave me, but the most profound lessons and messages I got from it were:
- ‘The Camino provides’ (a very popular peregrino saying) – what you need is always there, it will come to you, so let go of your worries and fear, and go forth.
- We are all one – we are all connected, we all experience both pain and happiness. We might all have different journeys and different stories, but we must use our own individuality to positively touch the lives of others.
- Being alone is OK! – it was really fun spending time with myself. I resolved that moving forward in life I would take time to do these different special things for myself, and not always feel so pressured by social, family, and work demands.
- We have a choice every day – often on the Camino my feet hurt and my body was tired. Some of the albergues I stayed in were not very clean or well-equipped. I could have chosen to focus on these things and let them consume me. Instead, each day I told myself to ‘choose’ to focus on the beautiful scenery around me, the amazing sunsets, the incredible people I met – like a man who one day me struggling and offered to carry my backpack for 1km – and the little surprise joys that each day brought – like a girl selling absolutely delicious cherries on the side of the road.
I will always treasure my Camino, because above all else it taught me that we all have a choice everyday. We can decide to focus on the positive or the negative, and there is always good and bad in every situation. Our happiness is determined by our ability to persevere through difficult things while cherishing and taking joy from the simple yet beautiful things that each day brings us.”