Why walk the Camino?
It’s a good question and one that was asked many times as James and I walked across Spain.
For the many pilgrims we met along the way, there were many answers, some given freely, others only evident as the person opened up about themselves. We walked with Atheists and people of faith and none of that mattered. We were all pilgrims.
To heal. To have some space from their families and home life to revive themselves. To find yourself after being lost in the grind of life. To walk with your own personal god. To reconnect with a family member or friend. To contemplate deeply a major life decision. To drink and eat across Spain. Because it’s a cheap holiday. To find love. To confront addiction in the hope that it will be gone by the time you walk into Santiago. To lose weight. To get fit or rediscover your hidden physical strength. To regain lost confidence. To find romance. To recover from mental illness. To set a new speed record for walking across Spain.
Did all the pilgrims we met succeed? Did the Camino work miracles?
No, it didn’t. But it does work in its own mysterious way. We saw fellow pilgrims change over the 800km. Several even openly discussed their struggles and how they knew in themselves that they were in a better place having walked across Spain. They were having conversations thought impossible before they came to Spain.
There’s a saying that your true Camino begins when you leave Santiago.
James and I are home now. We flew from Madrid to Dubai, Dubai to Sydney on 12 and 13 May 2022. It’s wonderful to be back amongst our family and loved ones. But it’s also strange. We have lived in an extraordinary way for six weeks. Now we sleep in the same bed every night. We return to school and work. We don’t walk 25km every day, experiencing new people, languages, landscapes and places. It’s not going to be easy. But we know that we are pilgrims and that our Camino continues.
We have but this one precious life, these precious moments to savour.
So what about us? Why did we walk the Camino?
I thought I knew why before we left, but now I know a few more reasons.
To share the Camino with my son, James who I love dearly. He left Australia a boy and returned a man.
To have James call me to adventure when I was exhausted on the first day and walk in the snow, not on the road, to Roncesvalles.
To walk across Spain with the sun forever at your back.
To lose 7kg, a goodly chunk of my gut and to feel strong and fit.
To meet pilgrims who live only 150m from James in St James Road and share some wonderful experiences with them.
To share pilgrim dinners with extraordinary people.
To walk as the sun rises behind you and deer run across your path.
To walk and sing and laugh and cry with brothers and see their familial bond strengthen.
To spontaneously sing made up songs from Santo Domingo The Musical (c)
To sit in candlelight in an ancient church as pilgrims spoke from their hearts and tears were shed.
To meet Australian pilgrims on the side of the road out of Carrion and then share so many precious memories with them.
To be christened as a Camino Uncle.
For James and I to walk into a random pinchos bar in Pamplona and meet a fabulous English couple.
To join with our pilgrim family at the mass in Santiago.
To listen to fellow pilgrims when they really just needed someone to talk to about their lives.
To hear incredibly funny, but lewd (cannot be repeated here) jokes from a Canadian pilgrim. Call me and I’ll tell you his one about a hunter who’s gun keeps failing as they try to shoot a bear.
So, if you are contemplating walking a Camino, go with an open heart and an open mind. Be vulnerable. Be ready to laugh and cry and accept both with gratitude. Have humility and always say hola to the local Spaniards. We were never once ignored and I lost track of the number of times that we were given a big smile and a joyful, “buen Camino!” in reply.
As Uncle Pete says, “at the end of the day, there is only love.”
The true gift bestowed upon the pilgrim who is open to it is love.