The Camino pt 1: Why I Walked
A few months ago, in April, I set out on the trip of a lifetime, to walk the Camino Portugues, 305km across Portugal and Spain. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to share this experience with you, because a journey spanning three weeks, two countries, and a half a million steps provided a great many stories to be told. When I considered how to compress everything into one blog post, I decided, in fact, that I couldn’t. So today’s post is the first of three recounting the magical journey I took on the Way of St. James, more commonly known as the Camino de Santiago.
People who walk the camino, regardless of their reasons for doing so, are referred to as pilgrims. This is because the Way of St. James was originally a religious walk, done as an act of devotion. Nowadays, people walk for a variety of reasons, but most talk about feeling a pull to the Camino. I definitely felt that pull and it made me wonder whether there was an epigenetic reason, given I come from a long line of European Catholics.
On the Way, the most common question that pilgrims ask each other is why they chose to do the walk. It isn’t exactly a common travel experience, though it certainly is one of the oldest, nor is it particularly glamorous. My decision to do a Camino came about over a year before I embarked, when I was reflecting on my 9th rebirthday, and I decided that for my ten-year anniversary of becoming a healthy, active person, I wanted to take an active trip to commemorate this life-changing journey. I didn’t anticipate that my ‘why’ would change as I walked, and it would become apparent to me that I was pulled to do a Camino for more reasons than one.
When I travel, I love to research, so once I made the decision, I began reading everything I could about the Camino. I learned that there are many different routes to Santiago which have historically been taken by pilgrims from all over Europe. Initially, I thought I would do a portion of the most popular Camino, the Camino Frances, but upon doing more research, I decided on the Camino Portugues.
There were a number of reasons that I chose this alternate route. I knew I would only be able to take at most three weeks off work, and the Camino Portugues is short enough that it can be walked in about 12 days. I also liked the idea of seeing two countries, and I had never been to Portugal and Spain. Food is also very important to me when travelling, and research indicated that in Northern Spain, the camino food was mostly meat and potatoes, whereas in Portugal there is a wider variety and a lot more seafood. I did not regret my decision for a moment, and the Portuguese part of the camino ended up being my favourite.
Embarking on the camino took a great deal of preparation and research. There’s a lot to consider when you have to anticipate everything you might need and all you have is a backpack. I poured over blogs with recommended packing lists and advice. The one thing I regretted was that I didn’t learn more about foot care before I left. I optimistically thought that with good boots, liner socks, and wool technical socks that I should be good to go. I could not have been more wrong. My feet were a lesson in hubris, painfully learned. If I were to do it again, I would definitely be sure to bring some comfortable hiking sandals for days when the walk was easier, I would take my boots off a lot more often early on to let my feet breathe, and I would bring more proper blister plasters. If you plan to do a Camino, be sure to take foot care seriously.
I didn’t really train for the Camino, because it was a hard winter in Canada, and there weren’t exactly a lot of opportunities to go for long walks. I did keep up with my tri training, and I hoped it would be enough to keep me in decent shape for the journey. Fortunately, for the most part, it was. My body definitely went through a lot of pain, from my feet, to my back, to the surprise aching of my hip, and at the end of each day I collapsed gratefully on whatever bed I had for the night. But, each morning, I was able to keep going, and I frequently thanked my gift of a body for allowing me this journey (while often also apologizing to my feet for what I was putting them through).
At times when I struggled on the camino, especially on the first day, my longest, I came back to my why. I had a moment that day, when my back was aching and my legs were exhausted, and the rain prevented breaks when I should have taken them, when I thought, ‘this pack is almost as heavy as the weight you used to carry on your body’, and I smiled. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered where I started, and how far I have come. It was the first day of a 305km walk, but only one more day on my lifelong journey of health.