I recently walked the Camino de Santiago with my sister Kath and her daughter Emma. The Camino is a pilgrimage walk across Spain.
There are several routes, but we walked from St Jean Pied de Port in France over the Pyrenees into Spain all the way to Santiago, a journey of 500 miles.
The first day was relentless, the climb was strenuous and just went on and on. It took us 10 hours in all to get to our first days destination of Roncesvalles.
I knew it would be physically and mentally challenging but I had underestimated how much. I had been on practise walks for several weeks beforehand but Cheshire’s a bit flat!
I felt I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I kept saying “Put one foot in front of the other, keep going Yvonne”.
What were my reasons for doing the Camino ? , well they were two fold really :
One to prove to myself I could do more than I think I can and secondly to offer hope to others who suffer with mental health problems because it’s something I have personal experience of.
Your bed is usually in what’s called an Albergue, which can be one large room of bunk beds, or smaller rooms with bunk beds in. The Albergues varied enormously from ‘flea pits’ to small clean well kept rooms. Some had kitchens and others didn’t, sometimes meals were provided for about 6 – 8 euros each.
Sometimes it was a case of we had no food but a kitchen with wonderful facilities, or we had food and no kitchen to cook it in, or no utensils in the kitchen. When there were lots of people trying to cook you had to learn to be patient, but I could feel myself at times in ‘hurry up’ mode!
At the beginning of the walk I felt I had to keep a certain pace up in case there wasn’t a bed left , but this went against my inner feelings of it’s not the getting there, it’s the journey that’s important. By about the second or third week I wasn’t thinking I hope there’s a bed I just knew it would sort it self out and to trust everything would be ok.
I was quite ill a lot of the time and in a lot of pain. I found it hard to release on it, and I was ‘attaching’ myself to it. When I was feeling well and in the ‘right place’ I began to see my surrounds more and enjoyed the early misty mornings when the day is just waking up and you feel you are the only one experiencing this new day. There were beautiful yellow and blue butterflies to light my way, guiding me along the path, and the grass bent over as if to say this is the way, follow me.
I enjoyed my silences and would walk ahead or stay back just to be on my own, stopping to touch the wonderful eucalyptus trees, or sometimes I would just stop dead in my tracks realising I had been somewhere else in my head and not ‘present’ then I would just stand still and stare, scanning the landscape, being the observer, soaking it all in.
The people you met along the way made it very special. At first I found myself afraid to share what I had with me in case I needed it but when you see someone suffering and you have something that could ease it you learn to trust and let go of the ‘need’ and it becomes much easier.
There is so much more I could say but I couldn’t possibly write it all down in this article but to summarise the Camino was an enlightening experience which taught me to trust, share, and be patient, and I think what made it was the people I met and the beauty of the landscape.