The Camino has inspired authors from Paulo Coelho to Shirley McLaine and spawned a Hollywood film “The Way”. It has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years and has enjoyed a renaissance in the last 20 years to the point where the numbers were reaching almost 350,000 people per annum (pre-Covid). So how does the simple challenge of walking along a well-trodden path inspire the sense of magic and awe that calls on people from all over the world?
The Camino might have you walking along the same physical path as those around you, but it’s a unique experience for each individual. Every person carries his or her own thoughts as they walk and is afforded the opportunity to let these thoughts develop over time. Jim Francisco, an American teacher who became a good friend of mine as our paths kept crossing on the Camino, told me that the Camino had “Answered questions I didn’t even know I had”.
For some, the time spent walking is a deeply spiritual experience. For others, it is the laughter shared over a cerveza or two. Sometimes, the Camino is where you lay to rest some mental baggage you might be carrying from the past. Perhaps it is where you find the inspiration to take on a new challenge in life or find the courage to start refreshed into the life you have left aside for your time on the Camino. And most likely, the one week, fortnight or month you spend on the Camino will find you experiencing all of those things.
For those seeking a physical challenge, the Camino provides that too. The beauty of the Camino is that you create your own boundaries – whether you are an experienced walker or a complete novice, you decide what you want to achieve and how you want to go about doing so. Respect for each other abounds among the peregrinos (pilgrims) – respect for the unique challenge that each person faces and the achievement it is to face up to that challenge and (hopefully) overcome it. ¡Sin dolor, no hay gloria!
You might face blisters and you might shed tears. Quite possibly, your emotions will get the better of you at some point. But for each moment you feel like stopping, there will be many more where you are walking on air and feeling thrilled by the beauty and possibility of life.
Maybe the best way to describe the Camino is to admit that it can’t adequately be described in mere words. It’s like sitting around a dressing-room with your team-mates in the immediate aftermath of your greatest ever triumph – your eyes meet your friend’s across that room and a simple nod suffices, you both understand that words need not be spoken as they could never do justice to what you are feeling.
There is only one certainty with the Camino – it will remain with you forever.