This guest post was written by Rebecca Brown, an avid traveller from Ireland.
Do people even go on pilgrimages today? Really? In the age of the Internet and all that?
Odds are, we are further from God (if there is a God) than we have ever been. And I’m not trying to belittle your belief system, I have one of my own too. However, I never imagined myself as the kind of person to go on an actual pilgrimage. In the sense that I will be walking the same road hundreds of thousands of people have walked since the Middle Ages, a road where people died, and which they traversed to feel closer to their deity. Turns out, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Admittedly, before we took the trip last year, I visited my mother’s homeland (she was born in Eastern Europe). Seeing where she came from felt like a spiritual homecoming, and that’s putting it mildly and overemphasizing it at the same time. When my husband suggested the Camino de Santiago, I was on the fence to say the least. However, he talked me into it, and the five weeks we spent walking across France and Spain were some of the best of our lives. That’s where the inspiration for this piece has come from, and all the people whose faces I am not likely to forget, but who will remain anonymous in the next page or two.
In a nutshell, here is why you should be going on a pilgrimage:
You are either rather young, or rather old
I know it sounds idiotic, but it’s true – we’ve met many young people out looking for adventure. They were in it for the walk, for the miles, for the nights by the campfire, for getting soaked in the middle of nowhere and chasing after a bus, (knowing that riding it is not the true Camino way, but nevertheless caring more about being dry than a true pilgrim). Not all were believers, and not all wanted to come, but I met one of them at Santiago de Compostela, who said it was the best vacation of her life.
On the other hand, we met an older gentleman from York. He has been walking a different Camino each year for five years. He told me he needed the time to spend in his own head, and that nothing can get your brain working like moving your legs. He’d been a top level executive for ten years, and now that he was one no longer, he wanted the time and the space to reflect on those years, the failures and the big wins. No better way to see yourself more clearly than to walk five hundred miles, he said. I’m thinking he’s probably right.
You (don’t) believe in God
Of course, there are those who take pilgrimages to feel closer to God, even today. There are also those who don’t quite believe, but would like to. The devout are some of the most interesting people to talk to on the Camino – they are calm, collected, and they can absolutely motivate you when you are about to chuck your shoes in the ditch and fly home. There are amazing heartfelt conversations to be had while you walk along. You may often find yourself questioning your own views of the world, and I don’t just mean your spiritual beliefs.
You want a challenge
This is admittedly me. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally – and see if I could do it. Turns out I can, even if I did want to quit three times. Let me warn you, there will be blisters. There will be rain and wind. There will be annoying people bugging you, but you can’t avoid them anyway. But you will have time to think, you will have time to breathe (I can’t stress this enough) and you will have the incentive to open your heart just a bit more. By the way, I am a terrible cynic in my everyday life, but something about the Camino has changed me. I have not only traveled from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, I have learned more about life and people in those 800 kilometers than I thought I could.
If this short rant has sold the Camino the Santiago to you as well, here are some of my expert tips:
- Choose a reliable tour operator. We went with Follow the Camino, based on a recommendation, and we were never once sorry.
- Choose even more reliable shoes. I finally bought these Hanwag Trek Light ones, and they were great – after I paired them with the right socks.
- Choose the most reliable socks. The socks are the most important part of your gear, don’t underestimate them for a second.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Upping your water intake will help you feel and walk better, no question about it.
- Leave the prejudice behind. Simply enjoy the walk and the air and the company. That’s what you’re there for.
Have you ever walked the Camino de Santiago? Would you like to, and if yes, what are your reasons? If these eight hundred plus words have not sold you the idea of trekking eight hundred kilometers, let me know why you are still unconvinced!