“So how was it?”

That’s a question most people will ask. Me, in my honesty (in my head): “I don’t know.” Out of my mouth, “It was great.” “Tell me, tell me, what was great about it….”

In this age of communication and immediacy, people want the “5 things I learnt on the camino” or the “10 things I will change after doing the camino”. 

Actually, the more honest answer is “I don’t know yet“. I’m still processing my camino experience. I’m trying to find the right words to capture the sentiment. It is so hard to summarise 7 weeks into 5 seconds of conversation.

At the moment, I just don’t know what I’ve been through. My head is fuzzy, and I am drifting from one moment to the next in an unfocused way.  My blisters are still healing, my big toe nail has turned a deathly black and I still have the chest infection from Santiago nearly 2 weeks. 

I’m feeling rudderless. Where that was ok on the camino, I am back in the pattern of modern life where I believe society says that’s not ok. And so, I am finding the new me in this space. I am changing my beliefs of what society says I must do.

What I can say is that it has been a journey of epic proportions – not just for this (previously) unfit being, but for anybody. It’s been good, bad and ugly. 

I am not effusive. I tend not to express extreme emotion. That’s not to say I don’t feel it. Right now, I’m rifling through my index cards of descriptors to find the right words or string of words that expresses my internal landscape. I have not found it yet – not to the degree that is right for me. I cannot yet write the insights from my experience in a categorical way. 

But here’s what I’m doing – if doing is a reflection of what’s going on in my mind.

  1. I’ve ordered a guidebook on the Camino Del Norte.
  2. I nearly booked tickets to fly to Santiago with my son to do Finisterre. Unfortunately, he had parties he wanted to go to.
  3. I’m thinking of walking 3 weeks in September from O’Cebreiro to Finisterre. At the same time, I’m wondering whether to walk 6 weeks from Irun.
  4. I’m looking at signing up for an endurance charity walk in August.
  5. I have started researching the Via Francigena and downloaded an app to learn Italian.
  6. I’m treating my wardrobe as my mochila. Throwing things I haven’t worn or used in a long time. I’m only keeping the things I use. The camino has taught me that it’s possible to live with 2 changes of clothing. I don’t need a month’s worth of (now) ill fitting clothes.

A few reflections for myself

  1. I have enough. What I have is enough. I don’t need to keep chasing to buy loads of things. Just buy what I need. Just buy one of what I need. Spares are not needed.
  2. I am in complete awe of faith – of the artists And craftsmen through the centuries and of pilgrims – even today. Though I was brought up in the Catholic faith, I do not have the depth of religious belief I once did. But that does not diminish my respect for others that do and their ability to express it – through words or art. In that sense, it irritated me that non-believers complained about how long masses were, or just turned up to see the botufumeiro, tap St James on his shoulder or check his bones out. Santiago is not a theme park. If you are going to go, go with respect and reverence to the faith of others.
  3. Sadly, it is clear church numbers are dying as reflected by congregation numbers and their age. Abandoned churches, resurrected churches, ruined churches. A sign of the times it may be, a passing of an era.
  4. I loved being a part of the experience through history. I really loved this. The joy, the excitement, growth, the pain, the suffering, the disappointment. All experienced in different ways through the ages by pilgrims, but all summarised by the same or similar words. The camino is still sufficiently unique to be an experience and not a tourist destination.
  5. For 800 km, I endured and reflected the strength of mind to get up and go everyday no matter how short the distance. It seems easier to do this on the camino where new discovery awaits at every turn, than at home where routines seem more set in stone.
  6. The camino is just a road. It is no more magical than this iPhone I’m typing this blog on. What makes it magical are the people you meet, and the time you have with yourself. You may be with them a day, or a week. And friendships may last a lifetime or it may not. But whatever it is, that moment in time is unique. It will never happen again. So relish the companionship. It will be gone in a flash – never to happen again in this unique configuration. It is a moment in time. In other words, it’s the journey not the destination that matters. And the journey is made up of people, not of things.