Nilanj, USA (2017)

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.

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“When I went on my first Camino in 2014, I had what I felt was an important spiritual reawakening. And I needed it – I was in a bit of a life transition and it was deeply important in molding who I am today.

Well, in early 2017 I felt the call again, and joined with David – whom I met on my first trip – to hike the full 800km Camino del Norte. I did it for adventure, to get back in shape, to try a different route than the Camino Frances, to re-bond with David, all with an open heart to what might come our way. And it was amazing.

People often say that a Camino has physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, and this journey had plenty of each. Physically, the first week or so was very demanding, even though we both have plenty of hiking experience. Every one of those first few days combined long distances between stops, and rugged, hilly landscapes with steep, rocky climbs. But we eventually built the confidence and strength to cheerfully tackle them.

Mentally, the quiet and relatively lonely early days of the trip made me feel a little isolated. David and I enjoyed each other’s company but we yearned to meet other pilgrims and form the broader connections we made so easily on the Frances.

That all changed on a miserable windy, rainy, and cold day as we hiked out of Portugalete, north of Bilbao. That day a bunch of wet, miserable pilgrims including us decided to stop earlier than planned to get out of the pouring rain. We took shelter, got to know one another, 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, and V. And along the way we added new friends like Anne, Javi, and “Uncle Giovanni.” We laughed, ate, drank, celebrated birthdays and special occasions, played games, held creative and wacky photo shoots, re-wrote song lyrics with Camino themes, we even all bought the same t-shirt and made it our group ‘uniform.’ For weeks, we really had the time of our lives.

And this is where the spiritual aspect 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 my ‘Camino Family’ having a ball as always. I realized that I found this Camino’s spiritual gift to me. My spirit and soul truly felt alive during this trip. 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, or just to simply enjoying life.

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 we have to devote some of our time to smiling, to enjoying life, to counting our blessings. I hope to carry that realization with me always.”

-Nilanj, USA

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