Two years ago: My arrival in Santiago de Compostela

Two years ago, I arrived at the plaza in Santiago de Compostela after 32 days of walking roughly 800 km. It was a journey that began at the Pyrenees on the edge of France and passed through scenic mountains and picturesque valleys, modern cities and modest farming villages. I had woken up at 3:30 am that morning to walk the last stretch of 20 km with a group who I became friends with throughout the past month, in the hopes of getting into the city before the onslaught of pilgrims and tourists.

I know I post periodically about my experiences on the Camino de Santiago, but I don’t think I’ll ever adequately be able to write any collection of words that would do my experiences and emotions justice. It was a true journey of the spirit, an ongoing expression of limitless faith, hope, and love. It was a supreme test of perseverance, waking up early every morning (sometimes earlier than desired, ahem, those nuns playing new age music at 5:45 am in Carrion), walking across all sorts of terrain through the pouring rain, blistering cold, numbing wind, pulsating sun. From the outset, there were difficulties: I got lost on the very first day, mistakenly climbing a winding mountain road that ended up adding at least 4 km to the day. Realistically, I should’ve taken a break after just the third day when I limped into the city of Pamplona, searching for a pharmacy to treat weak knees and sore heels. I would also catch a lingering cold and get an allergic reaction to a spider bite later on.

But after all of those challenges and many more, I made it to Santiago de Compostela. I actually made it. Me. I remember feeling weightless walking through the streets of the city, taking the last steps to the centre of the plaza. There was no more walking. I leaned against both my walking sticks, bowed my head, and, overwhelmed at finally reaching my destination, I wept. “I’m here,” I thought. “I’ve arrived.”

A warm embrace to everyone I met along the Camino. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since our paths first crossed. I’m grateful to have shared part of the journey with you 🙂

Route over 32 days from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela
0001. Camino (2)

Me!
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One step at a time

One step at a time. A simple phrase, but one which takes on greater meaning when you’re somewhere on an 800-km trek from the Pyrenees to Galicia, Spain. One step at a time. That’s the only way you can accomplish such a challenging journey, to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what weather conditions you face and whatever physical or emotional baggage is weighing you down. One step at a time. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Caminoon the Camino de Santiago

between Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

One year ago today, I began this pilgrimage from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. I take a look back and memories flash through my mind, some like blinding lightning, others like a slow-motion replay of a sports highlight. Many memories will forever remain vivid, while I guiltily acknowledge that some are already fading, and might disappear with the passage of more time…

But I will remember to take life one step at a time. And with each step, attempt to recognize what makes life so mysterious yet gratifying, be appreciative of every breath, every foot forward, every person that shares my journey, and every person that almost inexplicably appears with an almost inexplicable precision when I need a reprieve from my solitude.

The Camino also taught me that the path – my camino – that I walk must be my own. I must walk at my own pace, not be afraid to take alternate routes, and always listen to my body, mind, and soul. I can’t live for the wishes and expectations of others and place their dreams in front of mine, no matter how good-intentioned they may be. I know it sounds incredibly selfish, but that path won’t create happiness and ultimately the person who ends up hurt is myself.

I believe I am still on a pilgrimage and that I continue to walk my camino. In fact, it’s an often arduous journey and the road looks like it never ends. But I can say that if there’s a destination, I’m closer to getting there today because of my experiences last year.

Journey to Ometepe

I’m a firm believer that the journey to a destination should be approached with as much importance and regard as the destination itself. There’s so much excitement, so much to absorb, so much to take away from getting yourself from Point A to Point B (often via Point C and Point D, depending on your luck). I’ve read that Ometepe Island should be part of any traveller’s itinerary to Nicaragua. And now, after having visited, I can confirm this statement’s validity, but as this is beyond the scope of this blog post, I won’t explain why at this moment…

After spending four nights in Granada, I checked myself out of my hostel and the uber-comfortable double bed that had been my crash pad in the dorm, and walked to the bus terminal, passing through the bustling shops and markets that spilled onto the road. I had walked this same road two days earlier to catch a chicken bus to Mombacho, but its familiarity did not temper the noise, odours, and peculiarities I had noticed the first time around. This was my first time taking a chicken bus alone; I’d taken them to and from Granada the past couple days with friends, so I found myself more alert travelling by myself. I felt that the bus was packed much more than on previous occasions, and it was interesting and entertaining just watching all the different vendors selling everything from food to pens that doubled as two-year calendars…

Upon arriving at the bus terminal in Rivas, I tried to pair up with others who were going to Ometepe in order to share a taxi. It was all in vain because unfortunately, everyone was either already part of a big group or had already gotten in a taxi, leaving me with taxi drivers offering very inflated prices to get to the port in San Jorge. I ended up speaking with a rickshaw driver who said that he’d take me to some taxis further away from the terminal, who would offer lower prices. I figured, “Why not?” and got in, and enjoyed the ride a couple streets over, pretending I was a celebrity being the recipient of numerous stares while on the road.

The rickshaw driver pulled over not far away from the terminal, and started telling the taxi drivers that I wanted to get to San Jorge. They were offering the same inflated prices as those at the terminal, but I was able to bargain it down a little, though I still think I overpaid by a dollar or two. At any rate, I got in a taxi for the ~7km ride to the port, happy that my journey was finally progressing…

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Short reflections on the Camino de Santiago

El camino que camino es el mío – The path that I walk is my own

I filmed a few short videos while walking on the Camino de Santiago in May and June of 2013. In general, they show the amazing landscape that my eyes bore witness to, and the emotions and sentiments that I felt on the trails. I hope to go into more detail at some point, but I thought that I’d share these videos now (some are over 2 months old already!), lest they remain mere digital footprints on my iPhone that are left unshared. This, frankly, would be a shame – the Camino for me was an incredible, restorative 800-km journey buscando un poco más de la verdad: searching for a little more of the truth – my truth – what compelled me to walk such a large distance in a month’s time, to leave everything familiar and comforting to me behind, to put my faith in the unknown, to question how and why and humbly attempt to find answers, to trust and seek companionship in people who were just strangers before embarking on this pilgrimage…

I don’t pretend to have all the answers or speak of my experience as authoritative, but being an experience all the same, maybe there will be those who will want to seek out answers and search for their truth, and will be compelled to learn more about the ancient pilgrimage route that grows ever more popular in a world of increasing disillusion…

Camino de Santiago, Day 2

Camino de Santiago, Day 2, part 2

Camino de Santiago, Day 3

Camino de Santiago, Day 4

Camino de Santiago, Day 6