I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I discovered while walking the Camino. These are my insights, I’ve called them secrets because they were hidden and have been revealed while walking – and it sounds dramatic like those youtube videos.
On day nine of our journey we met an Irishman, Clem, who told us “day to day life is rushed so make sure you don’t rush your Camino”. This is a pearl of wisdom and for me the greatest secret of the Camino.
The days when we really slowed down and enjoyed the countryside, company, air we breathed – those were the times we connected with the moment and could feel life streaming through us. I’ve already forgotten the pain but these days are still with me.
Next time (!) I’d allow myself twice as long to walk it. Most of the Camino is incredibly beautiful so take the time to bathe in it.
Walk less, enjoy more
Part of not rushing is walking less distance than you’re capable of. I would suggest trying half or two thirds of what you think you should or would like to do. You’ll still need to shower, wash your clothes, go shopping, cook something, relax with a beer/wine/cuppa so give yourself that time by walking less.
I found I could walk up to 4 hours no problem, after that my feet would start to ache. After 6 hours they would start to ache a lot. After 8 hours it’s time to stop because it’s not fun anymore. This isn’t including breaks.
Psychologically there is an internal tug of war between walking less and the hundreds of km’s that are left to walk and the time left to walk it. So I think the secret is in setting your distance expectations when planning your trip and while walking.
The distance you walk each day will depend on your natural pace, the landscape/hills, the surface (dirt, stones, asphalt, rocks, scree), the weather, any injuries and how you feel that day, and of course where the next available bed (and kitchen) is.
Adapt, adjust, accommodate
Fostering an internal attitude of flexibility while setting your daily destination goal calms the heart and waters the roots of synchronicity. On the other hand so does using booking.com or getting on the phone to an albergue and reserving a bed so you can then just take your time in getting there!
We started from St Jean Pied de Port at the start of September 2016 because we thought there would be fewer pilgrims on the way at that time of year. We were wrong and it turned out to be very busy, with Roncesvalles (capacity 400) having to accommodate pilgrims in containers each night! Don’t suffer “where will I sleep tonight” anxiety if the way is busy with many pilgrims – just choose an albergue the night before and book it.
Pilgrimage is internal
When we leave home to embark on a pilgrimage we are taken out of the routine of our everyday lives and our vrittis change.
Walking every day has a magic quality which combined with the slowly changing landscape, time to contemplate, warm hearted community and the mantra like repetition of the days – walk, eat, sleep – promotes change in our internal landscape.
For whatever reason it is started, and there must be a different reason for every person who walks the Camino – to help make a decision, to overcome a difficult situation, to look for an answer, to celebrate, or to answer a calling – it is internal.
Pilgrimage is one way we search inside ourselves.
It is infinite in there and maybe that’s why it’s said the real Camino starts at the end. Perhaps pilgrimage, like knowledge, is never ending.