They say that there are three parts to the Camino de Santiago.
The first is the fight with your body which takes about ten days to adjust to. The second, the fight with your mind, in which you question your actions of walking for so long, being there, and every single aspect of insecurity that humbly hid away in that head of yours. Finally, there’s the reassurance that you are achieving greatness; the third stage is enlightenment.
Well, I can only say that my whole journey consisted of the fight with my body. I kept telling myself the pain would reside, I only had two days, then one day to reach the ten day mark. But the pain increased, and increased until the last day of my walk into Santiago de Compostela when I realized that I had finally broken in my hiking boots. Unfortunately, my happiness dwindled in between this extraordinary realization and the tropical storm that approached with severity.
There was no self-reflection on my part. I mean, sure I thought about my past, I thought about what brought me there, but mostly I thought about the person I walked with and what brought them there. I thought about how many more kilometers I had to walk to reach a bed, I thought about the terrain that lay ahead. And sometimes, but only sometimes and briefly I might add, did I think about what I am going to do when I came back to what I left behind.
Two years ago, I had the great idea of walking across Canada. The thought was provoked by an intense journey in Greece a year before where I decided, on a whim, to walk twenty-six kilometers. That day in Greece was a profound experience, but now I believe these things come at the right time, the enlightenment creeps in like the sun at dawn.
But surely, I wasn’t going to walk across Canada although I found mighty good evidence of two troopers who did this in the early two thousands which I thought was epic on their part. But I didn’t have a partner.
So in my eager stupor I decided to google “walks” across Europe. I had my eye on the Scottish highlands, but considering it was one of the most popular pilgrimages I chose the Camino de Santiago.
A year ago I could not consider myself a happy person, nor a content one. Life worries piled up and my heart constantly felt heavy. However, if someone had asked me what was wrong, what made me sad, I’d find myself grasping for invisible reasons just to please my ego. I knew I felt sad, I just didn’t have a good enough excuse.
So I turned to fear.
I knew I wanted to walk the Camino one day, I just saw it more as dream than reality. In truth, I was terrified of leaving and being on my own in a foreign country.
In January, my 25th birthday rolled around and I realized I had not done anything significant for myself. I contemplated the idea of crossing eight hundred kilometers. In February, I booked my ticket to Paris.
On August 12th my parents phoned in the early afternoon telling me they’ve just left their house and will be at mine in thirty minutes, I should be waiting downstairs for them with my baggage by then. After I hung up the phone, I ran to the washroom and vomited the coffee I drank earlier that morning. The fear kicked in. I looked at myself in the mirror, tears rolled down my face, I told myself that I didn’t have to go through with it, my parents would understand, in fact they’d be happy and relieved.
At the airport it was time to say good-bye. My father hugged me and kissed me as if it was only another day. My mother embraced me heavily, and I felt tears flood my eyes, but I fought hard to hold them back. I didn’t want her to panic.
I was afraid. I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it. Was it to punish myself? Was it to find myself?
But the second I boarded that plane, I looked out the window and I felt all of the fear release me. I had eight hours to figure out how I’d reach Saint Jean Pied de Port where my pilgrimage would begin.
I gave myself forty-four days to spend in Europe; Thirty-five (in case of injury) to walk the Camino.
I finished it in thirty-two, and it was the most happiest, most extraordinary thirty-two days of my life.
That’s the thing, I have no words, only the ones that led me to it.
The thing about such a pilgrimage is that you meet individuals like yourself and you fall in love with all of them for they embody all that you embody. They walk for the reasons you walk, which are many.
The Camino is like a time machine.
Here’s to all the fellow pilgrims I met along the way, the friends who have shaped me into the person I am today, and for the happiness they have given me which still lingers to this day.