Camino de Santiago | The Pilgrimage that changed my views on life
Those who come to the Camino with a heavy heart always leave with a lighter load.
It was 10 PM and I was still scrambling trying to pack, unpack, and repack my backpack for my journey. “Do I have enough underwear? Will I really need this hat? How often am I really going to use this sunscreen? Do I really need a sleeping bag? Maybe I do, in case we have to sleep outside…” My good friend Stacy had already completed this journey before, so when he told us what to bring, I trusted him. After my journey was completed, I no longer trusted Stacy - joking, totally still trust him with my life, but I had NO use for that sleeping bag.
If you don’t already know, El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage completed by people of all European nationalities. The general idea is to start right from your doorstep and walk all the way to Santiago, Spain where you will be greeted by a flock of nomads who all smell just like you. All over Europe, you will find small seashell signs posted in random forest trails and city pathways. This is to show you the path to Santiago. My friends and I were up for the trek, so we packed our bags and left for Spain.
Every day of the Camino was different. We always started before sunrise just to try and beat the Spanish summer heat. We would get our water and daily cortado at our first stop with a bite to eat. We learned from day one that we shouldn’t push ourselves too much into the afternoon because you never knew when the next town was coming up or if all the albergues would be full. That was not something we were willing to risk. An albergue is a hostel; all of the ones we stayed in were safe and relatively cheap and clean. Everything during the Camino was relatively cheap because they knew that the pilgrims didn’t often carry a lot of cash for safety. Our bodies were fueled by the same food every day. We ate nothing but paella, razor clams, roasted green peppers, aquarius, and Estrella Galicia beer. I was so in love with the green peppers that I made it a mission to find a patch so I could put it on my travel blanket.
We learned a lot about each other during this trip, but we also learned a lot about ourselves. The three of us shared stories about our personal lives that we never would have otherwise. Distance seemed to be the theme of my year 2017-2018 staring in November. Any kind of distance I traveled by foot always pushed me to a stronger mentality. Being able to pick yourself up at 0500 after walking 24 miles the previous day with a pack on your back takes a lot of strength. Doing it day after day shows dedication. Every step that I took, I wanted to quit but when I looked to my fellow peligrimos (pilgrims), I dug deep and kept moving. You would see older folks plowing through the crowds, and young adults hanging out on the side of the trail. It didn’t matter how fast or slow you were going, you were always greeted with a smile and a “buen camino!”
History along the way of El Camino
There was so much history to see along El Camino. We passed by many churches, and landmarks like the photo above. That photo was taken in Muxia, where they say Saint James remains landed here on the boat of the Virgin Mary. The waters of Muxia are very rough along the rocks, so they also say that the Virgin Mary calmed the waters so their boat could land their specifically. Near the church of Muxia, there is a stone statue from the boat. There was something very calming about being in this area. The sound of the ocean waves hitting the shores and being hit with the mist was refreshing after walking as far as we did.
Our last endeavor on our backpacking journey was to reach the ends of the Earth with each other, so we made our way to Finesterre. Finisterre translates into “End of Earth”. It is the furthest Western point of Europe. It is called this because the Romans believed that this was the most western point of their large empire. When we were there, it certainly felt that way. A thick fog had rolled in where you could no longer see the horizon. It just looked like the water dropped off into the abyss. Truly a mesmerizing experience after such a spiritually awakening journey.
This is a journey that I would recommend for anyone who needs time and space to clear their head; for someone who needs to put themselves in a challenging situation and a new environment. Whether it is for a religious enlightening or a personal enlightening, it’s worth the trip. It definitely sets you out of your comfort zone, but oddly enough, makes you feel like you’re right at home. I would do it all over again if the opportunity came up to revisit the End of the World.
Kilometer ZERO! Finisterre, Spain