It has been a few weeks since I am back home from my Camino adventure and of course the routine got me already. But still the trip has its influence on me.
I am much more relaxed and don’t let others stress me. When you go backpacking and carry along all the essential things you recognize how few is necessary. I think that is where my serenity comes from. It is simply not worth it to worry about things you can’t change. Take what happens and learn to deal with it.
I got to know many different people on the was and each was special and wonderful in his oder her way and taught me much. No one had too much stuff and plenty to give, but everyone was so generous. When I had no sunscreen I got offered to use somebody elses. The same with band aids and cortisone cream for my mosquito bite. But the people had even more to give emotional. When I was struggling with the way they encouraged me to go further and at the end said: “You made it!” with sparkling eyes. I will never forget that, it was so great.
Also the physical effort marked my body: my feet now look much better, than they did on the Camino. I had blisters over blisters and missing skin. Now it grew back and the excess skin from my blisters is almost gone. I had big problems on the Camino. It started with sore muscles in regions I didn’t knew I had muscles in and an aching hip. When this was over I got my first blisters wich renewed every day until I stopped walking in Finisterra. Then my knee hurt, next my Achilles tendon swell and hurt and at last my boots were so worn down, that my soles hurt, because of the weight they had to carry and the lack of damping.
But I also got to know positive changes. I had good night sleeps after the physical activity. Most of the time at 9:30 a.m. I had already walked about 12km (7.5 mi), which was good for me and my eating and digestion. I didn’t each much in the evening, more during the day. I felt like eating less makes me move better. An observation that I would like to transfer to my daily routine. Unfortunately I don’t always follow my head in those things. When I come home after a long day at the office I am often so hungry, that I tend to eat fast and thus too much. A siesta in the early afternoon, like I had them on the Camino would be great. Maybe I should talk to my boss.
Before I started my journey I had lots of questions in my head.
Will I be alone?
This issue got solved after one hour on the trail when I met two girls speaking German waiting at a traffic light in Léon. I asked where they are coming from and this way I got to know Sandra and Julia. You will meet new people every day on the Camino. Even me, the one who is sometimes too shy to speak to people found friend immediately. You can be by yourself if you like and walk the way alone or you walk with somebody. Anything is possible.
How do I get along with no Spanish?
Although Spaniards, like Frenchmen speak few English they know exactly what the pilgrims need. Sometimes you use your hands and feet to show what you want to say and often there is a pilgrim near that can translate. Although I was with a lot of Germans most of the time we talked exclusively in English so that everybody understands everything and nobody feels excluded.
How much money will I need?
In the three weeks on the camino I got three times each 200 EUR from the ATM and brought some of the money home. Souvenirs already included. Counting in the flights I spend all in all 900 EUR, which is daily 40 EUR including flights and 30 EUR excluding flights. We cooked almost every day together and thus had low costs. The cheapest day was 6.40 EUR when I paid 5 EUR for my bed in the albergue and my share of the meal was 1.40 EUR. And this included a glass of wine too. In Santiago I spend much more each day: My bed was 16.50 EUR , a bear and a wonderful meal in a vegetarian restaurant with dessert 30 EUR, so 46.50 EUR for this day.
How will I sleep in a room full of strangers?
I must confess, that this was my biggest fear. When I am exhausted and tired, needing time to rest, sharing a bedroom with so many strangers. Going to the toilet at night in my pajamas, the sounds and smells of the others… It wasn’t as bad as I imagined. You will get used to the permanent smell of feet and if you have ear plugs you won’t hear much from the others. The bed will shake when the person above or underneath you turns, but you will be tired and so not be bothered by it. I got used to this way of sleeping after only two nights. An alternative are hostels or hotels which also often have bedrooms for four, so you can safe that money. And to be honest: it is part of the whole Camino experience.
In which stages should I go?
I didn’t have to think about how far to hike each day, because I met these nice people who I wanted to be with and share meals and talk to in the evening. They built me up after a hard day. So I walked as far as they did. Some days it was easier and some days it was hard. It meant going beyond my power. But having this company in the evening was worth it. We walked the stages as in the yellow guide-book. Sometimes we walked a village further or stopped one earlier.
How will I get along as a vegan?
“What is there left for a vegan to eat?” People sometimes ask me that. I would never have thought that I would ever ask myself this question. Vegan options are rare on the Camino. If you plan your stages within the vegetarian albergues you will probably get more lucky. I had salad and fries more often that I like it. But I also had lots of lovely vegan meals. Especially at the beginning where every albergue has a well-provided kitchen and I cooked with other pilgrims and shared packages of rice, noodles and chickpeas. Thanks to Lara, who is vegetarian they already cooked vegetarian and then cut back even more so that we could all eat. We had paella with veggies, pasta puttanesca, salad with chickpeas, fried potatoes with salad and a glass of red wine. We also got a bar of chocolate from time to time and shared it for dessert.
My breakfast was baguette, fruit and salty nuts. I sometimes put a chocolate bar in between the baguette and had a chocolate sandwich or spread avocado and tomato slice on it. As a snack I had oat cookies that I found in the supermarket on my first day in spain. They have a little chocolate in them and are super yummy and filling because of the oats. You see that you won’t starve as a vegan pilgrim. I heard of vegan pilgrims who changed their diet to vegetarian on the way, because it was too hard. I couldn’t have, I made it fine without animal products. I only made exceptions for the wine. I couldn’t know if it was vegan and the shop owners did not too, so I stopped asking.
What to pack and will I miss things?
Since I had some hiking experience I had a standard packing list in my head. That was easy. In this post that I wrote before the Camino and recently edited you find my packing list. I am glad that I packed my MacBook to blog about my experiences. Sure, a notebook would have done the trick. But you see how long it took me to write this résumé that I don’t have time in my daily schedule to write that much. So it was great to keep you posted every day live. It has also been my connection to home and on one evening in Finisterra I watched a movie on Netflix with a bowl of popcorn and some beer. That was nice.
Will the Camino change me?
Until one day before Santiago I was sure that this is just a hike. Sure, you can easily construe happenings in a way that makes it magical, you always can interpret thins this way. You don’t need a hike for that. Those wore my words or kind of words to Katy who walked with me that day. I was afraid to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and feel nothing. It wasn’t like this. As Katy and I arrived at the cathedral we hugged and I was touched. Also the mess that we participated later was very moving and ended in wet eyes. I cried because of exhaustion, relief, mental overload because of the crowd of people, the noise and the moving chanting chorus in the church.
In the week that I spend in Finisterra I calmed down, the pains in my body faded and I had my head free to process what I have experienced. And then the way had me. In my head beautiful memories appeared and I saw how much I have learned. Learned in interaction with others and learned about myself. About my strengths and weaknesses. On the way to the airport I formed sentences in my head to write about in this résumé. Of course I forgot those sentences by now, but what remains is a feeling. A felling that I had on my last day in Finisterra on the beach. We were about 30 people and walked to a beach to celebrate a little by the bonfire. For a moment I was away from the group and lay in the sand. The roaring sea in front of me, harsh rocks in my back, underneath me the fine sand and this scene covered with a sky I have never seen before. Like a star blanket that covered the scene. I felt so protected in this moment. So far away from home, alone, at the “end of the world” and I wasn’t afraid of anything. (Oh my. Writing this my eyes start to fill up again. That is also the Camino’s fault: I am a big cry baby now).
The most important lesson that I learned on the Camino is this:
“What happens, will happen. Just care how you deal with it and make the best of it.”
Will I do it again?
Definitely! I don’t know if it will be a pilgrimage or another trail. But I will definitely tie my hiking boots again, grab my backpack and go for a long hike. A big dream is the PCT – Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail in the USA which I would like to hike. If I will do this in this lifetime or the next, I am not sure. But I also want to hike the Camino again. Not soon, maybe when I retire? Because I haven’t seen all I want to see.
What would I do different the next time?
The way was good as it was. Period. I don’t want to mess with that. I taught me things and contributed to make me the person that I am today. There are a few things that I would consider be more sensitive about. For example my boots. I had terrible boots and a lot of pain. This I would change. Maybe next time I won’t bring my MacBook, but I am not sure about that, because I liked having it with me (not to speak of the extra weight). Next time I would probably plan ahead so that I can crash in the vegetarian albergues and maybe I would listen to my body more and stop, if I feel I need to. That’s it. I am very happy with the way it was.
I recommend everybody to go on this kind of adventure. By themselves. The experiences that you make, the people that you meet and the getting to know the real you will follow you for a lifetime and maybe change, at least influence you. I am so happy that I made the decision to walk the Camino de Santiago and I am looking forward to my next trip with myself.