So you’ve heard about this increasingly popular long walk in Spain that’s touted as a religious pilgrimage that’s been active for over a millennium. The first question that pops into your head might be along the line of why would anyone strap on a backpack and put themselves through such a physically punishing endurance test when you might not even be religious?
While it’s true that the Camino origins are certainly religious, present day “pilgrims” tackle this walk for an almost infinite number of reasons. They could be at a crossroads in their life and need the time to ponder their next move. Or maybe they have suffered a calamity in their life and need to process it. Or it could be something as simple as needing the exercise for health reasons.
Whatever your reasons, the Camino has a way of showing you what you need to know. They say that no one walks the Camino by accident and that you’re “called” to do it. Whether this is true or not, there’s no doubt the Camino has a big impact on most people that undertake it, even if that comes in the form of learning to deal with failure for those unable to finish it.
Here is a synopsis of some of the major attractions that call people to this ancient road.
SLOWING LIFE DOWN
Today’s life is lived at a manic pace by most of us. Deadlines, responsibilities, distractions, you name it, all these things add up to a life lived in a blur without stopping to smell the roses. The Camino life almost forces you to take the time to slow down and gives you the time and space to reset your priorities in life and ponder whatever it is that brought you out on the road.
There’s something very liberating about having no responsibilities or decisions to make outside of where to stop for lunch. You start to notice the beauty around you. You take the time to have real conversations with fellow walkers and actually listen to what they’re saying. Your perspective changes and you start to realise there’s more to life than deadlines and responsibilities.
One of the real beauties about walking the Camino is the Camino community. There’s a very real sense of being in this together. You’re all out on the trail experiencing the same highs and lows and having similar breakthroughs.
Everyone who walks the Camino has their own story. They might have just had a life changing event happen to them like losing a loved one or job. They may have had a medical issue like being diagnosed with a disease that they need to process. Or they may just be at a crossroads in their life and need the time to find the right direction for them to move ahead.
Whatever their reason, it’s amazing how people open up to virtual strangers when in an environment like the Camino. It’s not uncommon to find yourself walking with someone you’ve just met and finding them telling you their life story. And vice versa.
Whether it’s someone you come across once on your walk or someone you end up walking with much of the way, there’s a very real feeling of these people being your Camino family. You take a part of each of them with you, and they of you, and quite often lifelong friendships are formed.
The Camino is no walk in the park! Walking 20-30km a day for weeks on end takes a toll, both physically and mentally. Physical ailments ranging from blisters to walk-ending injuries are common. Very few people walk the Camino without some pain along the way somewhere.
But it’s this very challenge that brings many people out on the trail. If it was easy then everyone would do it. Once you have decided to do it and you tell friends and family, the predominant response is along the lines of are you crazy?! Maybe. But ask anyone who has completed it and the overwhelming feeling is one of a true accomplishment. Something that proves you can do anything that you set your mind to, and often instils the confidence to tackle even bugger challenges in their lives.
Just because we don’t live in the middle ages when the Camino was walked exclusively by religious pilgrims, doesn’t mean people don’t still walk it for these reasons. Even self confessed atheists will find themselves attending pilgrims masses along the way or staying in convents. Religious symbology still abounds on the Camino. Whether or not you believe that the remains of St James are interred in Santiago and by walking the Camino you are absolved of your sins, the very fact that centuries of pilgrims did believe this is palpable throughout the walk and it’s very hard not to be affected by this.
HEALTH AND FITNESS
Whatever alternate motivations you might have, the fact is that you are walking long distances every day. Depending how far you walk and how much vino you imbibe on along the way, this obviously can have huge health benefits.
You may find yourself having to move a notch or two in on your belt as you progress along the walk. The aches and pains in muscles that you didn’t know existed at the start of your walk gradually subside as you become accustomed to the physical rigours. And by the time you return home don’t be surprised if family and friends ask where you left the old you as they marvel at your physical transformation.
These are just some of the main motivations for people to walk the Camino, but there are as many more reasons as there are pilgrims. Whatever your hope to gain from your walk, just be open to other, totally unexpected, breakthroughs in areas you may not even know you needed help with. The Camino has a way of giving you exactly what you need, whether you know it now or not.