During April and May of 2018 I hiked my first camino. As this was my first camino I chose the popular French way known as The Camino Frances. Yep, Frances walked the Frances! Ha ha see what I did there. Actually, I jumped on my sister’s camino plan. Luckily, she was happy for me to join her along the 800km ancient pilgrimage route that begins at the base of the French Pyrenees and meanders its way through the regions of Navarre, La Rioja, Castille and Leon and Galicia in Northern Spain. I walked across a country! Literally. It was a 28 day adventure with a backpack and a really cool story of how together with a swag of armchair followers we were able to send a whole class of girls in Sierra Leone to school for a year. To this day it continues to impact my life. I continue to return to the camino to walk and here I am creating a new something with all my camino experiences.
Why did I walk my first camino?
After having returned to ‘normal’ life after a six month sabbatical with my husband and four kids travelling through Southern Europe in a campervan during 2017/18 I was a bit disenchanted with the online travel space. It seemed loud and without boundaries. I was also in need of some post adventure purpose. I love an adventure and the lure of a long hike with a backpack, along this trail they call the camino seemed to be calling me.
Inspired by my 10 year old daughter, who before we had left for our sabbatical together with her friends become ambassadors for girls of the same age. Girls, who by birth were denied the same privilege. They fearlessly set about creating events to raise money to educate girls. In the words of Morgan Koegal, who, at the time was the CEO of One Girl Australia …
” … when something feels wrong in your gut – do something about it.”
and those 10 year old girls did exactly that! They fundraised by among other things raffling sustainable donated prizes to be able to create educational opportunities for girls in Sierre Leone.
Now, a year later it felt like my turn. I wanted to find a way share a different story about travel and to contribute to that space creatively and sustainably. I wanted to combine my love of adventure with charity and to get ‘busy’ fighting a good fight. Girls being denied an opportunity to go to school, simply by being born a girl – that’s not right. So I began a story in which I would find a positive way to share travel. An epic adventure. And hopefully, I would also contribute positively to the online travel space as well as get people out hiking!
My experience along The French Way …
My camino was an incredible experience on so many levels. I walked this ancient path that dates back to the 9th century in a year that 327,378 fellow pilgrims also received a compostella walking the various caminos. Together with my sister. We laughed (hard), cried (also hard), we groaned (primally), moaned (and laughed again), bantered and joked. We made friends for life and for the day and looking back mostly we loved our time doing this together. What a gift that time together was. I can honestly say I did not for one moment wish to be somewhere else. Sorry kids! Ha no there was no need for me to worry, they were well taken care of at home. I do have an incredibly supportive husband.
Physically, it was doable for me, although of course not without challenges. I pushed through sore feet, fatigue and ended my walk in tears with shin splints, both shins. Joy. For me the biggest learning along this camino was about people and how I relate. It constantly met me in the face. I spent time with fellow pilgrims from all over the world and all walks of life, it challenged so many of the preconceptions (read judgements) good and bad that I was often so quick to form about people. The camino taught me a new kind of humility. It also taught me I needed to connect with people more that I thought I did. I was perhaps a more extroverted introverted than I had believed myself to be.
As we experienced the absolute privilege of living this experience, the beautiful time together, the camaraderie, the meditative beauty of motion that is walking, the simplicity of living from our backpacks, the awe of the Northern Spanish landscape, historical hamlets and culturally infused cities there was another, perhaps bigger story in the making. The story of the walk for one girl. That story ended as a walk for 30 girls. Along the way I was supported by so many people. People who read my daily bog posts and donated to the charity. People I knew and many I’d never met. It was an absolute momentous experience to share with people, mostly women from around the globe.
Along the way and towards the end I met Andrew from Germany. His sister had walked the camino years before. Something he told me has always stuck with me. His sister had said to him…
“… you won’t understand your camino until you come home. It will take some time.”
I think I’m getting that now. Walking a camino has a different meaning to each of the pilgrims who walk it. Some people articulate it directly but it has taken me some time. Perhaps, it also changes and evolves with time. Now, whenever I am at a party someone corners me about the camino, more and more people are asking me about walking a camino. It feels like an invitation. An invitation to find myself again off the camino by sharing my stories from the camino. A way of tying the wisdom gained from such an experience with how I live my daily camino, the camino that is my life. Ok, we’re getting deep now. That’s the camino experience. It is a profound journey and for some of us it keeps giving. In fact, there is a saying along the camino and that is ‘the camino provides’. That is whatever your need, it will be provided. It is an invitation to trust.
Have I been back?
Yes! I’ve been back a few times, solo, with a friend, most recently I walked with one of my children. In fact, I have three caminos currently in progress. A solo camino towards Rome, via Francigena. I started this one from my front door and currently I’ve walked out of The Netherlands and into Belgian for this one. The northern camino which I started in Irun and am currently in Santander for this one. The Camino Frances with one of my sons, we started in St Jean Pied de Port and are ready to pick up where we left off in Puente la Reina in a few months. One of my best friends is coming to do section of the camino Frances later this year and it will be a hoot. It is very possible to do a camino section by section.
Should you walk a camino?
Only you can answer this, but if you’ve been called … you probably will. Start with walking everyday. There are so many ways to walk a camino. It can be done with all kinds of budgets, ailments and at any age. The more I walk the more I know this to be true. Traditionally, pilgrims took the route for religious reasons, many still do but now as Leslie Gilmour (pilgrim and writer) says …
“… modern Pilgrimages seem to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in life, a time to think, and for some a challenge”.
I think in this modern world many of us are craving more of this! And we’re figuring out how this can be the ‘normal’ in our daily lives. To me the camino gives you a handbook for this. Get up, leave yesterday behind, travel with just what you need, walk through the day, walk towards somewhere, at the same time being right where you are, smell the fresh air, move your body, see yourself, be in awe of yourself and what you’re capable of, experience challenges, figure things out, do what needs to be done, enjoy the company of others, enjoy food, sleep. Repeat.