In my previous post I explained a few reasons that, from my point of view, are good and more or less convincing to do the St. James Way, el Camino de Santiago. All of them can be condensed in one idea: flexibility, to do the Camino and make it in your own way. Short or long stages, in a cheap or expensive way, lonely and intimate or in group, the choice is yours. More than ever, I can use the lines from that poem of Antonio Machado, ‘walker, there is no path, the path is made by walking’ (Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar)
But I told you that no one of those reasons is the one that had make me to fall in love with the Camino.
What had make me to fall in love with the Camino is the people.
And this is me saying this, being myself someone introvert; and despite years had made me to wake up and throw away all the nonsense, I’ve always had difficulties to mix with other people. And it happens that the Camino, as any other challenge in which you travel light, out of your comfort zone, running away from the ‘easy’ and ‘safe’, is an opportunity -no strings attached- to hit the ‘reset’ button, to test yourself again, and to come closer to that person you want to be. An opportunity to be more capable, more authentic, bigger. Without masks nor pretenses, without hesitations nor fears.
And in a similar manner, all those you encounter feel the same way as you do. No ‘raised defenses’, no weird looks, no hidden intentions. No differences in age, sex or faiths, from the youngest (and bravest) one to the most experienced, they fit in whenever, wherever and with whoever they want to, since there is no place for deceit, ¡as if it could be possible, after walking 30 km each day, to still have the willing to pretend to be something you are not!
And maybe that’s why there is this feeling of brotherhood, of everybody caring each other, those good vibrations of pure friendship and humanity, all represented by simple things such as sharing the bread and the tomato of a simple dinner with someone you have just met; or being able to leave your phone charging away from your bed and being sure you will find it intact tomorrow; or the relief of knowing you can carry expensive equipment (now I know I can bring my good camera the next time), and the certainty that if something happens to you, if you get dizzy, if you lose your luggage, or you have any other problem, may it be big or small, someone is always going to help you, no matter what. And the way you make big friends in just a couple of hours after sharing a few kilometers, the good-byes (even in the first day) are already hard.
For me, this human experience, is the best of the Camino.
Now, talking about me, start the Camino has been an idea in the back of my head for a long time (perhaps since 1993), and even the very day I was about to start, I didn’t see it very clear (Will I be able to reach the top? Will I endure until the end? Will I break myself and had to go back home?). The day my father set out the idea of doing the Camino together -only with a couple of weeks of anticipation, having already other plans for my vacations- I quickly answered yes, without hesitation, and despite having him as the best ‘sherpa’ possible, the preparation that I had was very scarce.
With the very present memory of my mother, whom we miss so much; and the well-meant envy of my sister -she couldn’t come because of her job, and no doubt she will come with us to continue the experience next year-, the idea was, and has been, to enjoy the Camino along with my father (this was the third time he was doing it), share the experience as father and son, get to know each other even more if it is possible, and to demonstrate ourselves what we are capable of.
That was our choice, for the first days. Of course, the walking can be as lonely, introspective and intimate as you want; as it could be anything between that and going along inseparably with someone else. Again, the choice is yours.
Nevertheless, as much as I love my father, and despite the fact that I’m 30, you can imagine what can be to live together with your father for 10 days! hahaha, specially considering the character sometimes we both have. We had some scenes -now I remember that with a smile-, and certain day we mutually agreed to give each other more freedom, and I think that’s the best thing we could do: we changed from eating alone our dinner each day, to share, without warning, our table with a japanese and two german girls, two guys from Austria, another one from Korea and another one ¡from New Zealand!, and that’s something my father showed gratitude to me, as that was something that opened his eyes.
We both are able to talk a little bit of English (not very good, but sadly not common enough among Spaniards), and at the end of that night, I told him ‘Do you see it now, that this way is better?’ Since that day, we kept walking alongside, but separate, at our own pace, and opening ourselves to share the Camino with other people. And I think that to have walked it both ways (close to my father, as well as freely), was the best combination possible.
And now, my friends, I’m going to try to be as clear as possible about what the Camino had meant to me. In my life I keep in my memory two precious experiences that I’ve always thought both were unique and never to happen again. The first one was my first college year, when I left home and where I met the ones who are now my eternal friends, and that is something I’ve almost narrated in real time. The second one, the year I had the very unlikely chance to live in Denmark as an ‘Erasmus’ exchange student. To be an erasmus is something, I’ll assume you already know it, everyone who has done it will tell you wonders about it, and I am here only to confirm it. Leaving not your house but your country, but most importantly, knowing people from so many different cultures (on top of the culture of the country you are living in)… is something that makes you grow immensely, and I cannot help myself but to insist to everyone who can do it to do it.
And there is the trick of those two experiences: ‘to anyone who can do it’.
And that is precisely the best thing about the Camino: everyone of you, anybody, can do it. And this, at the same time, enrich the experience with even more diversity, of cultures, ethnic groups, ages, and beliefs. In the Camino, that was completely unexpected for me, I’ve got back that sensation, that feeling of rewarding challenge when you are out of your comfort zone, lost and found again, and surrounded and accompanied of excellent human beings. And I’ve realized that I can live it again, whenever I want. But you already know the place! ;)
Now, I think that you don’t do the Camino only because of the challenge, or the blisters, or the kilometers; or because you want to find your God, or yourself, or rediscover your loved ones, or your faith in the people and the humankind. But for all of these reasons, all at the same time.
One walks the Way to feel alive. One walks the Way because it is life.
It will be difficult to met all together again, but I hope and expect to keep contact with all of you, the ones I’ve met along the Way. Joanna, Chema, Ana, Vicent, Flor, Nicola, Marino, Ramona, Audrey, Albert, Eva, Hi Chi, André, Viola, Jiwon, Choi, Zio, Eufrasio, David, Dirk, Alfonso, Espe, and specially Chiharu and Lee Hyeok -to whom I expect to see more sooner than later-, and many more whom I never heard your name, it has been my pleasure and honor to have shared this brief but intense experience with all of you. It’s a shame that I almost don’t have any photos of you, I hope to recollect the ones you took with your cameras, so I can have good memories of you.
To you all, a big hug, and to the ones still on the Way to Santiago, and for your life, ¡Buen Camino!