“I walked the Camino because I was 18 and in search of adventure. I really just wanted to do something big, something that would make my parents think I was crazy. Also, I liked being outside, and the Camino would let me hang out under the sun all day. After I finished high school, I spent some time traveling all throughout Europe, and I thought the idea of walking from France to Spain sounded great.
One of the first and greatest things about my Camino were my friends that walked the entire journey with me. I loved my travel year but I was only in some places for a short time, so I was more or less traveling alone. Anyway, after a short trip to Ireland I flew to a town in France called La Rochelle. I was excited to get to St. Jean to start the Camino, but all the buses out of town were booked for the next 2 days. So I had a really nice time there and eventually got onto a bus to Bayonne. When I got off, I saw a guy who had all the gear on and totally looked like he was ready to go hiking. I looked at him and said ‘Camino?’ and this guy – with a completely shaved head, from Poland, and whose name was Pavlo – said, ‘yes Camino!’ I thought I should have a name like Pavlo’s, so he started calling me ‘Pedro,’ and the legend of Pavlo and Pedro was born. So we got on a train to St. Jean together, and almost immediately started walking on the uphill out of town. In a little while, we came across an Austrian guy who offered us some bananas, which we gladly accepted, and then began walking together with him. His name was Johannes, but I just called him “Austria” for the rest of the trip! We eventually got up to Orisson, and met two German girls, Kadda and Janey, after they advised us about the best sandwiches to get that day. We bonded that night in Roncesvalles – we stayed up so late, talking like schoolchildren, and definitely got a stern talking-to from the hospitalero running our albergue. I found it so liberating talking to these people after traveling alone for a while. We five were a team for the next 33 days. Of course we walked alone some days and we all had some alone time, but these people were my core group. There were a few days on the Camino where I would feel exhausted, or upset for any given reason and I remember just sitting on a stairwell with my friends drinking cheap sangria and all of my frustrations would seem to disappear. I will treasure the memories I shared with them forever.
Another thing I had with me for almost the entire trip was a walking stick. Halfway through the Camino, like day 15, I bought one that I liked from a lady who was selling them along the path. I came to really like the feeling of walking with it every day. I realized it was getting a tiny bit shorter every day, but eventually I got a rubber stopper to place at the tip, which I had sharpened. One night I borrowed a knife and started carving patterns all over the stick, just endlessly until I’d carved over the entire stick. I loved the finished product. Also, I noticed that over time the oils from my hand seemed to naturally varnish the stick, and I liked the way that looked. I wanted to varnish the rest of my stick, to preserve all those carvings. In one village I remember seeing a man painting a sign on top of his shop, and I saw a can of varnish next to him. after he finished, was nice enough to let me use his leftover varnish for my stick. I finished the job and tried to dry the stick overnight, but I guess it was humid in my albergue because the stick was very, very sticky. For nearly 3 days grass and dirt was sticking to the bottom, while my hand was sticking to the top! But eventually, the stick dried up and I just loved the way it looked. It was my companion for the rest of the Camino, and even afterwards when I continued onto Portugal. We were inseparable. But when I got to the airport in Lisbon to fly out, airport security told me i couldn’t bring the stick on board because it was too long. I almost panicked, but I looked at my watch and realized I had a bit of time. I went back through security, and to a cafe. I told the story to the Englishman running the cafe, who let me borrow one of his knives so that I could cut the stick into 3 pieces short enough to bring on board the plane. After some truly horrible carpentry on my end, I was able to get the job done, and get on the plane! Soon, I’ll re-assemble it and mount it on my wall – it’s one of my most prized possessions, and it represents so many daily struggles and memories from the Camino
Another thing that kept me grounded through the entire trip was my diary. I had resolved in 2014 to make a diary entry every single day. Some were very brief. One day when I was still back home on Australia, I was on the coast and only managed to write ‘today was hot.’ On other days I wrote quite a lot. But, my diary entries did a lot for me on my Camino and the larger year-long trip because in high school, everything was very scheduled. Almost every day. But during this time, I wasn’t in school or university, and I had to manage my own days. Focusing on the diary kept me grounded on all these unscheduled days and I never felt like I ‘lost’ a day. It was so satisfying to get home after my yearlong trip, and place my diary on my desk safely. By the end, it meant so much to me – I’d almost rather have given up my passport than the diary! I remember calling my dad the day before walking into Santiago. I was in a cafe and the wifi was horrible so we had a bad connection, but I remember telling my dad that I would finish the hike the next day and he just paused. Then he told me that he was incredibly proud of me. He told me that what I had done was something big. I think we both sort of understood that I was there, walking the camino, as some sort of weird ‘shaping process,’ and it was incredible that he could be a part of that. It was a really special phone call. It’s moments like this that make me so glad I was careful about my diary. Otherwise I might forget in the years to come. I keep a blog site and added my Camino diary to it, but the physical diary is easily most treasured book on my shelf.
I learned a lot during my travel year, and the Camino definitely helped change me. I found a way to solve little problems, to do things differently, and to not do the easiest thing in front of me. I changed, and maybe I can’t explain exactly how. But I didn’t show up thinking about how I needed or wanted to change. That’s why for anyone thinking about the Camino, I’d say you don’t need to be a devout Christian, or have tragedy, or have been fired from work, or just gone through a breakup. You can do this as a source of adventure. You can find meaning while you’re there. Amazing discoveries can come out of just taking a leap into the unknown.”
-Pete / “Pedro,” Australia