“Walking 300 km with a backpack, not as a visitor but part of the landscape”
A few years ago, back in the pre-Covid times when travellers were free to follow their passion, I accomplished the greatest sport mission of my life. I walked Camino de Santiago, European most famous pilgrimage. It might not sound too adventurous at first but believe me, it was!
Santiago de Compostela is a town in north-western Spain, where (according to Catholic tradition) St. James’s relics were buried. After this discovery at the beginning of the 9th century, the “Saint James’s Way” became a major pilgrimage for Christians. Nowadays, it attracts various groups of people, religious and non-religious. Often, there can be found those who need a rest to re-arrange their thoughts and priorities or simply want to have an active holiday. Pilgrims can choose from twelve different routes leading to a majestic Cathedral, the sweet end of the journey.
We picked the French way, which starts at the borders of France and Spain and continues through northern Spain, all the way to the ocean. Unfortunately, my sister and co-pilgrim Dáša only had two weeks of vacation to spend on this trip, therefore we could walk just less than a half of the total of 800 km. It was still necessary to prepare carefully and avoid underestimating anything as the trail was about to lead us mostly through mountains.
At the beginning of September, after many hours of shopping for sport things I knew nothing about, I finally started packing. Dáša being a little bit of a control freak began weighing every single piece of clothing, even handkerchiefs and socks. She set a strict limit for how much we were allowed to carry. However, we agreed to bring one useless thing each. I chose my 20yo teddy bear, which has been travelling with me everywhere. And it turned up to be a brilliant idea. Firstly, it served as a great ice breaker, all other pilgrims on the way asked about it and sometimes we even ended up having a nice chat. Secondly, it often served as a good hanger for washed underwear.
Apart from a few small talks a day, we walked alone. Sometimes through villages, sometimes through woods. We slept in hostels called “albergue,” designated for pilgrims only. They were cheap and well organized. Even though there was one or two of them on every corner, the space was still limited and sometimes we needed to race a bit to get a bed for the night. The trail was that popular.
Some days were better, some days were worse. At the very beginning, I was full of energy, excitement and anticipation. However, towards the end of the third day, I already had terrible blisters and the heavy boots combined with a heavy backpack caused inflammation in my Achilles heel. Luckily, at one albergue, an old, old, very old physiotherapist gave me an amazing foot massage and got me fit enough to walk again. My sister and I had all kinds of issues and health problems along the way but to us they were just mild discomfort compared to the everyday joy and feeling of accomplishment. We even made some good friends and all of us are still in touch till this day.
However, the experience was much more complex than words can really express. When your day-to-day life reduces solely on such an activity, you carry all your possessions in the backpack and your only job is to care for your basic physical needs, the mind can finally relax and slow down and cleanse properly. No TV, no books, no Internet connection. You only focus on the ground you step on. You are not just a visitor or a tourist, you become part of the landscape and feel connected to everything around you. At some point, all pilgrims reach some level of a meditation and real peace of mind. I have never felt so confident and calm, so sure of who I am and where I am going in life. All my memories from those two weeks are an absolute treasure to me, they help me become grounded and see life from a better perspective. I wish to return to Spain and walk the entire track. Hopefully, the world will soon get back on track and trouble-free travelling will be allowed again. Once everything is normal, I am going to hop on the first plane back!
64th Edition of Weeklymonday (August 2, 2021)
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