“Camino” usually translates as “road” or “path.” It also means “journey”. Back in 2015 I took this journey and here is what I learned on the Camino.
El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James the Apostle was allegedly buried. El Camino de Santiago means Way of Saint James. Millions of people have walked this pilgrimage way \over the centuries and now has eight main routes that lead to Santiago in Spain.
The most popular path is the French Way (El Camino Frances). This 800-km long route begins in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in Saint Jean Pied de Port. This is the one I chose.
How I Decided to Walk El Camino
People walk the Camino for many reasons. Though it began as a religious pilgrimage, the majority of pilgrims today don’t have religious motives. Some people don’t even know why they do it. Others may begin with one idea about the Camino and end up with many new ones during the walk.
It is said that whatever you are searching for, you will find it on the Camino. And this is actually the reason why I began my adventure. I had finished law school, about to begin my first job when I began questioning my choices.
The company that had offered me the position was perfect… for my parents. They were very proud of me, so when I refused the job and told them I was thinking about walking El Camino, their disappointment was obvious. When they asked me why, the only thing I could say was: “I don’t feel alive, and I feel I need to do something different”.
I was one of those people who had no idea what they were looking for when they began walking. So, if you ask me what you need to leave your regular life behind for a while to walk the Camino, my answer is simple: a well-packed bag, an open heart, and a beginner’s mind.
What I Learned About Myself On the Camino
It’s difficult to find the right words to describe El Camino de Santiago because the journey is different for each pilgrim. Everybody walks for many hours daily and has the chance to admire picturesque landscapes and meet incredible people. Everybody arrives in the next village or town, checks in, indulges in local meals, changes their clothes (and washes them since you carry what you need) and rests. The next day it all starts again. For each person, the Camino is and feels different.
My experience has taught me some things I really needed to learn. One of the most important was to connect.
I always concentrated on studying because I believed, or I was taught, that having a great career is the most important aspect of life. So, I never really connected. Not with others, not with nature, and definitely never with myself.
During the weeks walking towards Santiago, I changed. People I met became part of my story. Pilgrims who respect the traditions of El Camino greet everybody they meet with “Buen Camino” which means “have a good journey”. It might sound unimportant. How many times have you greeted the people you meet on your way to work?
And there were people I shared beautiful moments with, and the connections were meaningful and memorable. I’ve made great friends and connected with nature. I forgot about social media and instead enjoyed beautiful sunsets alone or with my new companions. On the Camino, I actually enjoyed spending time by myself.
Walking for so many hours every day also gave me the time to look inside. Even though I never thought this was possible, I found a lot of joy in this aloneness.
Another thing the Camino de Santiago taught me was to keep walking, no matter what. There were moments when I felt tired, or when my whole body hurt. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I continued my journey and conquered all the challenges.
And there is more.
I actually found meaning in pain. Something my upbringing had never allowed me to do.
What Changed After My Journey?
I always believed I should follow my dreams and aspirations, without thinking about the now. Stress, I thought, was part of life, and that it could actually help me reach my goals.
I never considered life to be a journey, only a destination. I know this is already a cliché – walking the Camino made me realize how true it is. So, when people ask me what changed after I completed this pilgrimage, I always tell them I learned to treat my life and the path I am on like I treated the Camino.
How do I do that? I take time to enjoy the moment, and I am open to connecting with new people and with my surroundings. Now I also enjoy my time alone, and I find meaning in the negative aspects, such as a rejection letter or a bad day at work. I keep walking because I am sure great things are waiting. Also… I am not a lawyer.