Camino de Santiago: the pilgrims

“Live to the point of tears.” – Albert Camus

I am surrounded by some of the happiest people in the world. The people that make the best out of the worst days, and the people that never stop being interesting. You know, the kind of people that have an idea and do it. They want to go somewhere and go. Adventure seekers. Fulfilled. I am surrounded by some of the happiest people in the world.

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It has been so much fun to tell the tale of my Camino de Santiago adventure with Bradley. You know the story of our one week pilgrimage as relived in entries:

Camino de Santiago de Compostela: A Diary

Delicious Ambiguity

Camino de Santiago: the checklist

This time I will shine some light on two good friends’ journeys: Cat and Matt. As I typed their names, I could have sworn they are Dr. Seuss characters. Not today. Cat and Matt, who do not know each other, are both Americans, in their 20’s, teaching English in Madrid. Their Camino tales were of high interest to me because 1) they’re my friends, and 2) they walked way more than I did!

CAT’S WALK

 

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Cat holding the shell, a symbol peregrinos (pilgrims) carry on their backpacks while on the Camino.

 

1) Is there anything you wish you had known before the Camino or done differently?

“My Camino de Sanitago pilgrimage was exactly as I needed it to be. ‘The Camino provides’, is what she told me my first few days walking. I met a South African mother and daughter, and the daughter told me these words at our first ‘Camino Family’ dinner. I didn’t understand these words at the time, but I trusted, or hoped, that whatever meaning those words were supposed to have on me, would reveal itself in due time. I walked 200 kilometers for 10 days on 2 different routes: St. Jean de Pied de Port, France to Pamplona, Spain and then Sarria, Spain to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.”

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2) What was the best part of doing the Camino?

“The best part of the Camino was the relationships I formed. I met an American/worldly mother and daughter, Irishman, Indonesian, Californian, and Spanish woman who taught me so much about life, the world, travelling, meditation, and God. I can’t begin to describe how much their presence impacted me. They truly changed me for the better, and I’m so grateful to have met them. The Camino provided me with everything I needed- with joy, time, space to process, love, and with people who I formed special relationships with and who pushed me to think and be better.”

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3) What was the hardest part of doing the Camino?

“The hardest part of the Camino was the early mornings- but also the most beautiful way to start any day. Waking up every morning around 6:30 and walking in the dark, and then seeing the sunrise, the birds begin to wake, the hens clucking, and the cows mooing- it’s spectacular. I’m so grateful for the Camino, and I hope this encourages you to walk it one day too. You can be sure that the Camino will provide exactly what you need.”

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4) Why did you do the Camino?

“I decided to do the Camino because I wanted space and time to reflect. I had just spent the last 9 months living and teaching English in Madrid, Spain and I wanted to give myself space to breathe and process everything that had happened that year, before returning home to the states. Walking the Camino de Santiago had always been a dream of mine. I made a promise to myself last summer, that if I decided to teach in Madrid, that I would hike the Camino for 2 weeks before returning home. It was the last thing to cross off on my ‘Year in Spain’ bucket list, and I’m so glad I honored that promise to myself because the Camino truly did change me. The Camino pilgrimage itself is a beautiful place. There are very few experiences in life where you’re with a group of people, with the same mentality of working towards a common goal. It’s like running a marathon, but for days and weeks at a time. Everyday you see the same people and walk for hours, together, and then apart, and then together- bumping into each other on the trail and café’s along the way. After walking, you eat meals together, wash clothes together, and then sleep together in the same pilgrim’s hostel. There’s an unsaid camaraderie, of being with and for one another. And with that, comes an openness- of the heart and mind. I found myself being my authentic self so easily because we were all so open and trusting to one another.”

MATT’S WALK

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Map of the world

1) Is there anything you wish you had known before the Camino or done differently?

“I did a lot of research before beginning the Camino (blogs, websites, friends’ personal experiences) so I felt very prepared. Honestly, there was nothing that I wish I had or wish that I had done differently. Because August was the busy month, I was worried about albergues being full so I brought my hammock. Didn’t use it once. So I wish I didn’t bring that. I wish I had watched the movie “The Way” before, but I never got around to it.”

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2) What was the best part of doing the Camino?

“Hard to say the best part. The whole thing? My favorite day of walking was from St. Jean (France) to Roncesvalles (Spain) through the Pyrenees mountains. My favorite city that I stayed in was Estella. There happened to be a festival during the night I stayed, and experienced running with the bulls. My favorite part of each day was watching the sunrise. I also loved attending mass in the many cathedrals and churches. And of course, the wonderful people that you meet along the way.”

 

3) What was the hardest part of doing the Camino?

“The hardest part of the Camino…sore legs that never stop being sore. It would keep me up at night. But the toughest part was walking through the meseta. The stretch from Burgos to Leon. Basically, it’s flat, hot and nothing but wheat fields. Few towns to stop in. No shade. The road would go into the horizon. The last kms of each day were very difficult.”

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4) Why did you do the Camino?

“Before I began the Camino I wasn’t really sure why I decided to do it. I couldn’t find a teaching job in August…so I thought why not, the Camino sounds like a cool adventure. After about a week into the Camino, in Belorado, I met a great group of Aussies. Super Catholic. I’ve met very few people committed to the Catholic faith as these Australian lads. They really challenged me to relook at my Catholic life and to take it seriously. So that’s what I did. From there on The Camino became a religious experience for me. An act of penance.”

 

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Matt at the end of his looong walk.

 

The Camino can be done for a lot of reasons, just like any adventure. My reason was not religious, nor was it even my idea to go on the Camino in the middle of summer (I’m looking right at you, Bradley). But it happened to be the escape I needed to launch the next stage of my living abroad experience. With all that time walking, I began to reflect on my life, my happiness, and started a whole new stream of ideas I am eager to try! On our first day, as I was answering Bradley’s famous question, “What’s Your Advice for Living?” I experienced a living example of my words, which revolved around the topic of kindness and smiling. An elderly man in one of the old, almost-abandoned looking towns we walked into, gave me a little bouquet of wild flowers. His arms were wide open with a big, toothless smile on his face. “BUEN CAMINO!” he told us. Kind of like the Camino version of “happy trails”, something you say to peregrinos as you walk past each other. One elderly man in a small Spanish town made a difference to two people, and now you know about him. Kindness goes around easy.

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Buen Camino dear friend.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Camino de Santiago: the pilgrims

  1. I love how you lead this blog. It’s like you took some of my thoughts and put them on (virtual) paper. And you, Vanessa, are one of those people for me by the way. You inspire me to want to carpe the hell out of every diem. And so do Cat (God, we’re going to miss her this year) and your friend Matt. He looks like a great person!!! (Friend from camp?). Can’t wait to see you in two weeks. xoxo

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