When I went on my first Camino in 2014, I had a great time and what I felt was an important spiritual reawakening. And I needed it – I was in a bit of a life transition and needed to rediscover myself. I sat down to write about that Camino because I felt it was deeply important in molding who I am today. In early 2017 I felt the call again, and decided to hike the full 800km Camino del Norte. I did it for adventure, to get in shape, to try a different route than the Camino Frances which we walked in 2014, to re-bond with David whom I met on the first trip, and with an open heart to what might come our way.
And it was amazing. People often say that a Camino brings physical, mental, and spiritual challenges, and this journey had plenty of each. Physically, the first week or so was very demanding. Every one of those first few days combined long distances between stops, and rugged, hilly landscapes (We’ve posted daily summaries in our “Blog” section if you’d like to see what the trek is like). At over 40 days, the sheer length of it was a grind for me, even though I am fairly used to these types of hiking trips.
Mentally, we were initially a little intimidated by the big climbs, long days, and rocky ground, but we eventually built the confidence and strength to cheerfully tackle them. We also began to feel isolated. While David and I enjoyed each other’s company those first few days, we yearned to meet other pilgrims along the trail and form the bonds and friendships we made so readily on the Frances. In the earlygoing, it seemed that the Norte had more quiet and less talkative travelers. We wondered if this trek would mostly be the two of us doing our best to keep each other entertained!
That all changed on a miserable windy, rainy, and cold day as we hiked out of Portugalete, north of Bilbao. That day a group of other similarly miserable pilgrims decided to stop early, well short of the plan our guidebooks gave us for the day. That day, taking shelter from the elements, we got to know one another better, and also decided to walk together towards Santiago. That day turned an already brilliant trip into one of the most memorable experiences of my life. That day and every day moving forward, I got to bond with a truly amazing, entertaining, and caring bunch of new friends like Keith, Wooju, Kexx, Joe, Serena, Courtney, V, Anne, Javi, and “Uncle Giovanni.” We laughed, ate, drank, celebrated birthdays and special occasions, played games, we took creative and wacky photo shoots, we re-wrote song lyrics with Camino themes, we all bought the same t-shirt and made it our group “uniform,” and for weeks, we really had the time of our lives.
And this is where the spiritual challenge for me came in. I regularly wondered if I would have the spiritual moments and personal realizations that I had on my first Camino, and then began to wonder why that wasn’t happening. And one evening, after our day’s hiking was done, I looked at our new “Camino Family” – having a ball as always – and realized that THIS was my Camino’s spiritual gift to me. I began to think about how so many people are lost in their work, duties, and daily to-dos and never have real time to devote to their friends, to their loved ones, and to simply enjoying life. I live in Washington DC – I have to schedule a 20-minute coffeebreak a week in advance with certain friends.
You don’t always need to dig so deep to find the meaning in things – even a Camino. Sometimes it stares you right in the face. This Camino taught me every morning, noon, and night that life is best when spent with our loved ones. I hope to carry that realization with me always.