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El Camino de Santiago Reflection: My First Time Walking the Way of Saint James | Hayley Elizabeth
June 2018 Last June, my brother joined me in Spain to walk El Camino de Santiago. It was my way of saying thank you for a great year after living and teaching in Spain. I lived in the south and this was a great way to slowly explore the north, truly experiencing each small town along the way. Be sure to check out my photo diary to see my best pictures. On the walk, I kept a journal and wrote about every single day of our hike. I’m not going to write each and every day of my Camino experience on my blog. It was a personal journey and honestly, I don’t think many people would be interested in reading every excruciating detail of our day to day life (including what we ate which was mostly uneventful and only sometimes interesting). But make sure to check out this other blog post I wrote with a peek at my journal and tips for writing while hiking. I’m currently using my journal to help write this blog post. The florid details are fading in my hapless human memory. I asked myself four questions after completing our 460 km walk. I encourage you to ask yourself these same questions after you walk El Camino (if you do). And be sure to do so right after while the memories, the experience, and the feelings are fresh and poignant. This reflection (my absolute rambling) was taken from my journal. I hope you enjoy reading my reflection. What do I think of El Camino after finishing it? I really enjoyed my experience walking the pilgrimage. I learned about living with less. And practically, just wear the same outfit every day since you’re going to smell anyway! Life is simplified: wake, walk, eat, sleep. Everything is reduced to the essentials of life. And I realized socializing is one of these things; human connection is vital. After a day of straight walking and not talking or interacting with others much, having good conversation stimulates the brain. My body was pushed daily and most nights I sat, rested my body, and met others. It was so important and I loved this part of the Camino. I met so many incredible people from every continent who each brought their own hardships and stories. In this way, the walk was refreshing. I was not concerned with what others thought of me– appearance wise especially. (Tiredness makes you prioritize.) When interacting with others it’s about sharing self– what’s on the inside, not the outside, that matters. As for the outside, my body and what I thought I could do was tested always. Heat, hills, soreness, bug bites, sickness, asthma. I overcame each time. I survived and continue to thrive. Staying healthy and exercise is so important and having such a great amount of time dedicated to it was refreshing and rejuvenating for my body. Especially since I sat a lot during my year in Spain and commuting a total of three hours a day. I definitely would do the Camino again and be more prepared! I wish I could have walked the whole thing but it was hard after a year in Spain and being away from home so long. I did so much traveling last year and I enjoyed all of it, but I’m looking forward to a break and a recharge. Financially, it was a bit tough. Doing the hike is not expensive but I would have felt more comfortable with a bit more of a cushion. Not to mention packing smarter, not harder. I learned the hard way that you don’t need much! What does El Camino mean to me? There is no right way to Camino! Every person’s walk is their own. It’s flexible and it’s what you want it to be. What are you gain is up to you. Having intentions before starting and working on your personal mission can shape your experience. And practically, you set the pace yourself. There should never be a time restriction. (In a vague sense, yes but you should stop when you need to stop.) You can walk as much or as little as you want or can each day. No one– and no book especially– should set your pace. That’s the great thing about it. You can do as much or as little as you want/need. This also brings the hardship of saying many goodbyes. It’s the nature of the Camino. People come in and out of your time on the way. Some are only brief flashes of light why others might brighten your path for longer. It’s a great sadness and such a bittersweet part. It’s just like life. People walk in and out of your life and, for however long, walk with you and keep you company. In the end, the pilgrimage did help me realize some of my beliefs more certainly. In all aspects of my mind, body, and spirit, I was in a state to do this walk for three weeks. What a privilege to be able to do this and what an achievement to finish. Spain was good to me! The country isn’t for me (to live and work) but it has so much to offer and it gave me a lot. I learned so much and grew as I walked step by step, kilometer by kilometer, town after town, and was hosted and granted space to reflect again and again. What did I gain? I gained a strong body and a love of walking. It really is my exercise of choice. Just walking this Earth. I like that it’s steady and slow so I can take and what’s around me and appreciate it. Talk with people that I walk with and not rush but take my time. I can breathe in steadily. Breathe in my surroundings with all my senses. The sensation of the five senses become melted together. I didn’t become enlightened but I have my dreams and I’m ready to tackle them. I wasn’t anxious or worried during the whole hike. I do struggle with anxiety and get easily stressed by the pressures of life. But I was either too tired to worry or not concerned because I was living in the moment. Every day I was living in the moment, taking it in. Now, to incorporate this mindset into daily life. I gained so much that I’m sure I don’t even realize some of it. I’m so happy I journaled and documented this experience. Reflecting is how I can grow and be grateful. Just the act of putting thoughts to paper and formulating words is existence itself. I know that I want to write and I’m itching to get my world created. What do I think of my overall experience walking El Camino? Overall, it was a good experience. I loved that my brother could do it with me and keep me company. What a comfort it was to have a companion and such a great support and motivator. He really did get me through tough times when I just wanted to quit. I would definitely do it again (the whole thing) and I would love to do the northern route with its beautiful coast and mountain views. I want to meet pilgrims again. I think at any stage in your life, it can offer you different things. Thanks to a good first prolonged walk! I’ll never forget what appreciation I felt for a bed after a long day, lots of water on a hot day, food after working your body sore, and wine shared with incredible people. Buen Camino! Related