Rebecca Brown writes for us today on her experience of El Camino de Santiago – and why she thinks it is one of the most popular walking routes for self-discovery and positivity in the world.
They say that no matter what you are looking for, you will find it on El Camino, that the pilgrimage helps people change themselves and their lives. And this is what I had in mind when I decided to embark on this journey.
Bad news came abruptly, exactly when I thought I knew who I was and my purpose of living. Then, in an instant, I found myself at a point in my life when nothing made sense, and I felt like there was no reason not to give up. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation, and a friend suggested walking El Camino. I decided to do it, and, though at that point I had no idea what this pilgrimage was all about, it ended up being a memorable path towards self-discovery and positivity for me.
What is the El Camino de Santiago?
English speakers call it the “Way of St James”, and it is an impressive network of ancient pilgrim paths that meet at the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the tomb of St James allegedly is.
The pilgrimage started thousands of years ago as a spiritual journey made by faithful Christians. Some of its routes are as old as 1200 years, and they are still walked today, though religion is not the main reason for the pilgrims anymore.
Some are still drawn to El Camino by a strong spiritual need, while others want to challenge themselves by walking many kilometres day after day or search for a liberating connection with nature, themselves, or other like-minded people. There are, of course, many who want a chance to get closer to authentic villages and towns, people and cultures, as well as to admire scenic landscapes.
Everybody I met on the Camino had a different reason why they were there, but the truth is that most of us had no particular idea. We just had a moment in life when we needed “something”, and we hoped to find that while walking towards Santiago de Compostela.
Walking towards Santiago de Compostela
The Camino was difficult for me. I wasn’t used to walking so much, and my feet started hurting during the first couple of days. But I had a strange feeling that getting over this would help me find the strength to overcome everything else in my life.
I chose to walk the Portuguese Way, though the French one is the most popular. I wanted to meet people, but I didn’t want my path to be crowded. Also, I started in Porto, because 227 km from Porto sounded better for my fitness level than 610 km from Lisbon.
El Camino Portuguese promised and delivered incredible landscapes, charming villages, and historical towns. I met great people, and some became my friends. But the most important thing that the pilgrimage brought was joy, the joy of waking up the next day in a beautiful foreign country, enjoying the nature and doing something I believed I wasn’t capable of: walking tens of kilometres daily by myself.
In the beginning, this gave me a chance to think about myself, my life, and the problems I had to face when I got home. But after a couple of days, I stopped thinking about any of the reasons I had to be afraid or upset, and just enjoyed my walks, the surroundings, and the interesting conversations with strangers, who could always become friends. It was liberating.
Why is it the most popular route for self-discovery and positivity?
I have always been an avid traveller, so I have visited a great number of countries. But nothing gave me what walking El Camino did: time and strength. I had the time to stop and smell the flowers, and the time to stop and chat with a fellow pilgrim over a cup of coffee without checking my watch.
The only place I needed to be was in a hostel or albergue by night. But I could enjoy everything that came on the way, without stressing about being late or my pain. Exactly how it should be in life. Yes, my feet were sometimes hurting, but the beauty of the surroundings, the delicious local meals, and the laughter of the people made me completely forget about this inconvenience. Exactly how it should be in life.
Before walking El Camino, any kind of problem, even small ones, would have been a catastrophe for me. Not anymore. Even big issues are treated as they are, inconveniences that should be known and solved, but never allowed to take control over my life. For example I didn’t let my painful feet steal the joy of El Camino away from me.
But this was my journey. Others are different, and El Camino is a place for everybody and every type of voyage towards self-discovery, self-love, and positivity. And if you are dealing with something that makes you feel like there is no solution, I can wish you “Buen Camino”!
Rebecca is a translator, an interpreter and a digital nomad, living her best life while traveling the world and breaking out of her shell. Her ultimate dream is to visit every country in the world, and she has so far been to 49. When not writing or trying to find the perfect cappuccino, she tries to blog at RoughDraft.
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