When my friend asked me to join her walking the Camino de Santiago with a guided tour of one week, I decided why not? I always wanted to have a walking holiday so it’s something that I could tick off my bucket list. I didn’t look into what the Camino is or the history or anything like that. I just went with the flow and followed the tour guide and the arrows.
We arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port a Basque village in the foothills of the Pyrénées with our group. Everyone in the town was sitting in restaurants or strolling around all in walking gear, rucksacks and walking sticks all very casual and low maintenance, except for me. Me being a high maintenance person who would never go out without wearing make-up arrived in my skinny jeans, full face of make-up and sandals. Oh, how I stood out!
Settling in to the Camino
Once we checked in, on went the hiking boots and hiking jacket and off out we went exploring the town of St Jean. Everyone was so friendly, passing saying “Buen Camino” I asked my friend what they were saying. She explained it’s a greeting fellow pilgrims say while passing other when walking the Camino. It dawned on me then and there, we were fellow pilgrims now.
Walking up a steep street in St. Jean, I noticed hiking boots hanging up on a wall that left me wondering what they meant. It was, as if to say these people who hung up their boots had completed the Camino had already experienced the effect the Camino has on you.
Day 1 from St. Jean Pied de Port
On the first day we started early, cold and foggy. Off up the mountains with us we went with our rucksacks and packed lunch. Day one consisted of 25km walking before our next location. About 16kms in I felt like my legs were giving up on me. I really wasn’t enjoying it anymore, I just wanted the day to be over so put my head down and walked by myself not chatting or interacting with anyone in the group.
Believe it or not coming up to the 20kms mark when I could actually see that we were reaching the end of our day, I got my second wind. I managed to summon up enough energy to take me to the finish line on day one. Feeling loaded with pride in myself and a renewed sense of ‘can do’ in myself. I now believed I could face day two convinced if I could do day one, I know I can finish day two.
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Going guided on the Camino
Before we got tired on the climb our amazing tour guide started to give a history lesson about St. Jean Pied de Port and on objects we passed especially the Camino arrows (our map/guide). Walking all the day was surprisingly calming and enjoyable but my favourite stop of the day was the last stop of the day, just before we got to our hotel. So good to sit down and get a coffee and a snack and take off the walking boots for an hours or so to air the feet after walking about 18kms.
Our tour guide pointed out objects to us along the way, advised us of keeping a pace, of meeting points and where we would rest to eat our packed lunches. The climb alone went from ‘adrenaline pressed cocky woman’ to ‘stressed because of the steep climb’ to ‘getting so hungry’ to ‘exploring the areas’ to ‘realising your appreciation of your surroundings’ to ‘realising how at peace you are, how with nature you are how you start to look at life differently’ All within one day or 25km.
From being a group of strangers to being a little family
On arrival at our next hotel, after going through all those emotions, it was time to kick off the boots and have a shower before getting dinner. When I kicked off my boots I thought about those boots hanging in St. Jean. One day I’ll hang up my boots.
Over the three days we dined morning, noon and night with our group. Little did I know how much we would get to know each other so well in such a short space of time, how we encouraged each other, how we looked out for each other. The group became a close team; the group became our little family.
All those emotions experienced from seeing all the shrines along the way of where people pick up a stone, stood still for a minute and think of what’s bothering you, what makes you sad, what grudges you are holding onto, why your angry etc. You think about what’s wrong or that sadness for the loss of a loved one.
Once you put that stone/picture/anything on the shrine you have to let it go of all your anger/worries/sadness. You learn to let it go and leave it exactly where you placed that object and you walk away lighter. That’s how I felt anyways after I did it on day 3, leave it there and move on. Be it spiritual or whatever you want to call it, once you walk the Camino you will understand.
The best days of my life
I may have only done three days but those three days were the best days of my life. High-maintenance, what’s that? It took me down a peg or two and makes you appreciate what you have and what loved ones are around you because that’s all that’s important. Life can get busy and hectic and it can suck you in until you get over what’s going on in your head. Now, when I get like that, I stand back and remember what I felt them few days on the Camino.
One day I will complete it all and hang up my boots for good, but until then I’ll bring my boots home and wear them every inch of the way. My day will come and someday someone else will see my boots hanging and think “what are they hanging up there for?” They will figure out the answer one day just like I did.
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Originally published on 27th October 2016