We all have dreams that we choose to share or not with people around. My dream started 4 years ago (2009) when I read about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. An 800 km-long path people used to walk on since Middle Ages to see and pray to the tomb of Saint James, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. Together with the Jerusalem and Rome pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James was one of the most important pilgrimages Christians used to do. But to be honest, the religious meaning of this way didn’t attract me at all.
I was fascinated with the idea of taking some weeks off and just walk. No job, no unsatisfied clients or people knowing me around. Walking and thinking was the perfect dream I had! Making it happen, seemed the most impossible thing at that time. Even now, when I am writing this story I cannot believe that things happened so unexpectedly and quickly, just when I needed this adventure the most. This is the first thing I learnt deep inside: when you have a dream and you really wish for it to come true, things happen in a certain way to help you achieving it. And indeed, certain things started to move in the right direction even if I didn’t appreciate all of them as positive at that time. And now, I know people came actively into my life playing a special part in helping me living my dream, and I thank all of them for their contribution.
I guess you are wondering about the difference of 130 km. This has also a story behind. As I said, the religious part of the Camino didn’t impress me, so my first objective was not Santiago. I always dreamt to see Cape Finisterre and the Atlantic Ocean, the place where people used to believe the world ends. So, to be more precise, I walked “El Camino de Finisterre” starting in France in Saint Jean Pied de Port, climbing the Pyrenees on the Route Napoleon, reaching Spain in Roncesvalles and going further through the 4 regions of the Northern Spain: Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y Leon and Galicia.
First thing I learnt during the first 2 hours of walking was listening to the rhythm of my heart and harmonize body and soul with the heart beat. In the beginning, you always want to be fast, but each heart has its own rhythm. Respect it and you will for sure reach the end! This is linked with the respect of the others rhythm. Walking too much together creates a magic relationship, but not always a good one. Everything lies in one’s own rhythm and you have to respect others rhythm while you respect yours. So, walk, and let others walk!
The Second lesson Camino taught me, also came in the first day when climbing the Pyrenees and walking 30 km in a windy and sun burning day, between snow-bound and muddy paths. Never carry on more than you can manage! We tend to overestimate our capacities and grab a lot of things in the backpack based on “just in case…” idea. Wrong! There, you are forced to decide between putting your physical capacities at risk, or leave parts of the useless weight behind. The decision is not difficult at all when you feel like hit by a train and the bothering thing is that you have been really unlucky and survived to feel the pain.
Yes, pain is also a companion on the Camino. Sometimes the muscles are not functioning anymore and the legs refuse to go on. You may experience walking only 2 km with 1 leg and 2 trekking sticks for more than 1 hour. But the best part is that when a funny guy wants to help you, and then he realizes the only thing he can really help you with is not possible as you are in the middle of nowhere and he cannot carry you on his back, he offers you chocolate. I will never forget that funny Austrian smiling face saying: “Here, have some chocolate!” It’s everything your soul wishes for: someone near who cares about you, and some chocolate to raise the sugar level in your blood.
The nicest thing is that you are never alone on the Camino. Life is always giving you what you need. When you are sad, you have to dine with a funny group of five people who are making you laugh for hours. Roberto and Luigi, two Italian guys, so different yet so close to the Camino’s spirit; Bernard, the German guy, walking for three weeks with Roberto and Luigi, who had already received an exotic Italian influence; Lyne, the nice and funny French lady, and a very good English speaker, searching for inner balance; and Elena, the Romanian girl always laughing loudly and healthily. Roberto made me laugh a lot. He had a nice way of telling jokes that you couldn’t resist laughing at and he had the power of sharing his positive spirit. Luigi had a wise way of seeing and analyzing the differences between prejudice and reality and I was really proud of him, seeing that the Camino changed his perspectives. Bernard was a nice and funny presence, so un-German like, but a deep soul. Lyne, elegant in the way she was walking, with a strong desire of finding equilibrium. The funny and playful Elena whom I met again later in Bucharest and we both realized then that we need another Camino to end our stories.
When you are alone and tired in the middle of nowhere, it’s rainy and windy and foggy, and fear is your only companion, a smiley face comes out of nowhere, asking you where are you going and decides to come with you. This was Riccardo, an Italian with a Scottish face guy I met when everything seemed to be more and more difficult to handle. He used to walk fast even in the rain, and he made me laugh a lot during the evening in Santiago. Those two hours spent in the Seminario Major’s kitchen looked like celebrating a victory. We didn’t have too much, no fancy food, but we had our souls full of energy. I will never forget how we started to speak a so called Latin-Italian adding at the end of each word “-um” according to the certificate we received in Santiago where our names were written in Latin: Dianam-Mariam Georgescum: “Andiamum insiemem a Finisterrum!” – Let’s go together to Finisterre! Childish, I know, but funny. I was laughing and crying in the same time! And we started another three days of walking together to Muxia where we decided to split.
When you are hungry and you have only a small tuna can and some chocolate in your backpack but you really need a hot dinner, a Danish guy asks you to join him and eat rice with mushrooms he has just finished cooking. Having nice people around, all the “shitty evenings” suddenly become brighter!
Camino teaches you to appreciate life and be happy. Sad experiences and old wounds are accepted and rapidly healed. You realize that you don’t need too much to be happy and go on. You just need basic things as “The bare necessities of life will come to you”.
A lot of positive messages are written on the Camino. Part of them may become mantras in difficult moments as this message I found on a wall: “Nothing is going to stop me. Even if my body falls broken, my mind and my spirit will carry me on.” And they did. They carry me on walking slowly with my right leg stuck for some days.
Camino also reveals evolution. You walk across the Northern Spain and if you are living each moment, you notice cultural differences between the four regions. You feel the evolution of the language. When you enter Galicia, suddenly you don’t understand a thing. The dialect is similar with some dialects from the south or north of Italy and at a certain point seems like Moldavian. It’s really amazing and the experience itself makes you richer.
Camino teaches you about diversity. You meet different people from different cultures and you think the language could be a huge barrier. In reality, you can understand people speaking Korean if you really want to, as you can use body language and mimic. So, language barriers are not real. Psychological barriers are indeed dangerous. Putting labels on people just because they have a certain behavior or they are coming from a certain country, it’s not healthy at all. The nicest thing is that you learn to accept others while they are teaching you a lesson you need for your own evolution.
The Europeans used to think that, where the sky meets the ocean, it’s the end of the world. And there is Finisterre or Fisterra (in Galician dialect), the end of the Camino and the best place of reviewing 32 days of walking and just living on the edge. Your own value system is different now, you feel like a new person, one that is more focused on living her own life and mission. Unseen wings are already mature and ready to fly while freedom becomes your best friend.
The end always looks like an end. But beyond the thinkable it’s the unthinkable that always reveals a new world to whom wants to see it. And after this Camino, the horizon is hiding a new Camino to be discovered. Life is a sum of Caminos we choose to take and each of them is a mix of joy, pain and full happiness.
The balance is always in our hands!