Short stories, Travel and Health Information
My Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
Exactly nine years ago to the day, on June 3rd 2011, my son Shivantha and I walked into the huge plaza in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Santiago de Compostela, completing our long walk along the eight hundred kilometre ancient pilgrim trail known as El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
Now, nearly a decade later, having reverted to the householder’s mundane life after my epic six week walk , I have had plenty of time to reflect on my experience.
“What”, I ask myself, “has changed in my life as a result of the Camino?”
One thing that I have noticed is that I have learned new ways of measuring the quality of life. Over the last few years I have been noticing in myself the obvious effects of ageing – and although I don’t consider myself as being old, I must confess that some parts of me do not work as well as they used to! Recovering from injury and illness takes longer than I seem to remember.
I learned on my long walk over the hills and mesetas of Spain that the important thing when one is on a journey is to enjoy the journey, not to strive to reach one’s destination as fast as possible. On some days we walked about 25 kilometres, on others just 10. Our objective became not a race against time but using the opportunity to savour the countryside we were walking through and appreciate the timeless vistas of northern Spain.
I have come to realize more than ever that the only things certain in Life are Birth and Death – and that Life is simply a Journey between Birth and Death. For some this journey is short, for others long.
Having walked the Camino, I firmly believe that when traveling it is better to enjoy one’s journey, to make the best of the opportunities one is afforded and to enjoy the company of those with whom one finds oneself traveling. No journey should be a process of waiting impatiently or with resignation for the destination to arrive! So should it be with Life. We must make every effort to enjoy the journey and the little stops along the way – rather than look on it as a boring period of getting from Womb to Tomb.
I was also able to use the time of my Camino to make the most of the company of those with whom I was walking – most importantly my son, but also the other walkers we came to meet along the trail. Walking with these others – Roland from France, Greg from Canada, Leonie from Brisbane, Fadi from Paris, Ruggero from Italy – we had shared a common purpose, despite our different backgrounds and even our various reasons for walking the Camino. This common objective opened the door to comradeship and co-operation – and encouraged a kind of solidarity.
Walking in company allowed me to meet folk from different parts of the world and different walks of life – folk I would never have met if not for the Camino, folk with whom I now keep in touch even though we have finished our long walk together and now live thousands of kilometres apart. I have made acquaintances, I have made connections and I have made friendships that I believe will last long after my journey along the Camino ended.
While walking alone at times I had the opportunity to think, to reflect and to ponder on things that the rat race of modern life did not give me the time or inclination to do. Walking with my son provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with him and to share time together without the constant interruptions of the householder’s existence.
Whether the change is a drastic one or a more subtle change in one’s outlook or values or attitude to life, it has often been said that one is changed by walking the Camino. I must agree. Whether the change is wrought by some Higher Force one believes in, whether it is the result of those one meets along the way or whether the change is simply wrought by having the opportunity to be away from one’s routine for four to six weeks, I cannot profess to know.
For me , walking the Camino was a once in a lifetime journey along an ancient trail that, meandering through hamlets, villages, towns and cities, along mountain tracks as well as through the flat hot meseta, was physically demanding and spiritually challenging. Nine years after we did it, however, I still cannot explain the walk I took across Spain.
But now more than ever, I am certainly glad that I walked the Camino.