El Camino in Spanish
The Way in English
Droga in Polish
However I choose to call it, it is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever done. There are books written about it, movies filmed, songs sang and now i’m trying to add a little print of my own. It is not easy task, as writing about month long journey seems to be harder than the walk itself.
It was about 8 am. I think only once before I left the pilgrim hostel this late. And I was pretty ill then. This time, I was with my Camino friends. We decided to walk this day together. I don’t know, if anyone actually made this decision, but somehow we all felt the same. It was beautiful morning and sun was already up. We didn’t talk much trying not to add to already perfect start of the day. As we entered the forest four shadows appeared in front of us. I looked at them and thought how quickly those three became so important to me. How fast they mattered. How much I cared about them and how soon I learnt they cared about me too. The tears blurred my vision, but in my head this image is as clear as ever.
I remember only two weeks earlier I was sitting on the bed in beautiful Monasterio De Valdedios in Asturias, which means God’s Valley. I was excited about this stay. Big monastery in the mountains. Movie like picture. But that afternoon I felt tired, and weak. I lied down for a nap, but ended up feeling worse. Shivering, hot and cold sweat covered my body. My head was spinning and my stomach felt even worse. The dampness of the room was making me feel unwell. I run to the bathroom and was sick. I don’t know how long I was sitting on the floor of that bathroom. I just could not move. I didn’t want to move. It was that moment when I really wanted to be home. I was missing my family, my friends, missing my warm bed. Why was I walking? Was this too much, too long? When I eventually picked myself up and left the bathroom a french guy was waiting for me outdide. He grabbed my water and stayed with me outside. Camino….always provides.
When I left London I wasn’t planning on meeting people and even more so making friends. I wanted to be alone. Have time to think and just enjoy the country and the nature; in fact I was looking for solitude. But what I learnt on that day was that sometimes what we think we want is not what we really need. And as my friend would tell me much later “Camino always provides, not what you want but what you need”. I smiled when he said it. I already knew it. I arrived to Irun on beautiful sunny afternoon in late July, I felt brave, little nervous but ready for the adventure. I enjoyed the evening in the charming little town, watching people. There I collected my pilgrim passport and found my first yellow arrow. Following day I started my walk. It was raining but the views were amazing, the air was fresh and the smell of the forest therapeutic. I arrived to the Pasajes de San Juan, a very charming fishing village and tried traditional Basque food before tiny boat took me across the town. There I would make a final climbs to San Sebastian. The city with the beautiful beaches and the sea views to die for.
On the second day I met the Italian, who later would become our “Mexican”. Francesco offered me chocolate. We clicked. He seemed relaxed, without the guide or plan. I was intrigued and quickly felt comfortable next to him. It was so nice to share some of my first experiences with someone. But the next day would be the last time I’d see him on the Norte Way.
On the Camino you don’t belong to anyone and no one belongs to you. We all talk to each other and some people you will walk for days with, others for hours, others for just few minutes. And that is ok. No one owes you anything and no one should feel bad about leaving you behind. It is kind of unspoken Camino law. You have to let people go. Even those you like very much.
Next couple of days I walked with Agnieszka. She walked all the way from France and was on the road for over a month. This was also her third Camino. She knew very well what to do, where to stop and shop. I felt like little kid around her. She told me lots of useful tips, but in the end the pace was too much for my beginners legs and so we parted after the Montasero de Zenarruza, beautiful monestary run by Monks. After eveninig of beautifully sang prayers monks made us dinner and offered some locally brewed beers. This monastery was in the mountains, high above the clouds and I wondered if possibly by some accident I have gone to heaven for a day.
The Basque country was amazing. The hills, the trails, the forests. I was in paradise. Even walking into Bilbao was stunning. I caught up with a Spanish entertainer Rique, and we sat in the middle of the square, where he made mid morning breakfast, we then lied down on the pavement and just were.
But there were days I kept to myself. I was looking for solitude, and most of the Cantabria I’d walk on my own. I slept on the beach, I’d go swimming away from others. Anything for little more me time.
This changed towards the end of Norte route where I arrived to Guemes. A tiny village and one of the most amazing hostels for pilgrims. Ernesto, 80 year old priest said to us “we have all this space, lets learn again how to share it”. No pilgrim is ever turn away from there. Everything is free, the lunch, the wine, the beds. It made me think.
I went to dinner with changed attitude. I sat for the first time in the middle of others. I spoke to all and I loved it. People were interested in me, and I was interested in them. I walked with some of them from day one and knew so little about them. Everything in the name of the lonely adventure. I realised this was not it. Not for me anyway. I was focusing so much on my idea of the camino that I was not allowing for the camino to show me it’s true beauty. And this beauty would be the people.
My Norte Way soon came to an end and I would carry on with the Primitivo route. A little less known, little more hilly, little less busy and little more challenging.
This route had biggest impact on me. It taught me some lessons and introduced me to the best people. Three most amazing human beings. Plenty more fab pilgrims. And endless number of locals who were always so excited about pilgrims walking the Way. Those elderly farmers, who reside in tiny villages, who hear your steps and clicks of the poles and rush out the door to offer you water, offer you some fruit and offer you the most amazing smiles, stories and warmest welcomes.
Primitivo route officially starts in Oviedo. Juliean who I met few days before told me so much about the place. For him this city was the true start of the Camino, the original route. I could not wait to see it. The old town. The stunning historical buildings, little chapels, large churches and of course the Cathedral. I was wowed instantly. I took my time. I wandered round little squares, tiny streets, I ate, I drunk and I prayed. Even my backpack wasn’t feeling heavy. I could walk in this city for days. As I walked towards the albergue someone caught my eye. I could not believe my eyes. Francesco, my Mexican was there. He also saw me. I run to him and he gave me biggest, most sweaty hug. The shock, the surprise and most of all happiness. I have not seen him since the very start of the way. He has changed. He grew in confidence. He was louder. He also sounded happier. Instantly I felt like my old lost friend has came back. Little did I know that we would walk to the end together. That we would grow so much closer together. That he would become someone very important.
That evening we went to a dinner in the city before officially starting the second part of our Camino. I liked company of those guys. In days to come we would spend pretty much every evening together. We shared day’s walk, the stories, the ups and downs. The struggles and the highs. When walking with Francesco, we would listen to music, we would talk how lyrics fit with our lives. Discussing the difficulties each one is facing back home. Telling stories, talking about our friends and families.
And then came the third, Elisabeth. Most lovely girl, pastor from Germany. She had the worst time choosing if to walk with us three or stay behind with others. I kind of forced her to walk with us. We needed and wanted her in our little group. Elisabeth was my rock in my hardest days. When I was missing home, crying that I want to go back. She was there, holding my hand, praying for strength. She was also a lot of fun, when the going got tough and we could no longer walk up the hills, I’d tell her to count….hearing the “eins, zwei, drei, vier” was just priceless. And funny.
As a four we made it to Galicia, the fourth and final country in North of Spain. That’s where Kari met his Camino angel, who helped him on the road. We would then talk how few of us would do such selfless act. To help a complete stranger. But there are still some amazing people out there, who will think of others before themselves.
Last days felt shorter, walks faster…times always seem to move quicker towards the end.
Final day was going to be our toughest walk. We all knew it. I wasn’t ready to finish the Camino. And 22km wasin’t far. Francesco played a song. Tears slowly started to run down my cheeks. Emotions were brewing inside me. I was really fighting not to burst out crying. Thankfully soon we found a caffe and stopped for some breakfast. We ended up stopping in pretty much every single bar on the way. This day had to last longer. We could not rush it. We would not rush it. When we played “our” song “Have you ever seen the rain” we sang on the top of our lungs. And then other pilgrims joined in. They sang too, they danced. Shivers run through my body. On the last leg of our journey everything was shared with others. Nothing was just for me.
About 8 hours later we entered the city of Santiago de Compostela. The emotions were growing even more. I was in almost a state of a trance, I know I walked, I know I breathed, but it felt so unreal. Like I was not really there. We were all silent. Walking hand in hand. We reached the town, the little roads leading to the passage, Scottish pipes playing in the background, we walked under it and entered the plaza. The sun was still covering the stones, I didn’t look up, I didn’t turn towards the cathedral. I could feel it behind me but i could not turn, not yet. We walked to the middle of the square. And there it was, this grand, amazing, mesmerising Cathedral. It was sandy almost golden like colour, tall reaching the sky. I started to cry, tears finally finding a way out. I cried, cried like a child that found their home, cried remembering all those days, all those kilometres, all those paths, remembering all the people, the places, all the feelings. Every minute of “My Camino” at that moment was flashing in front of my eyes. I could not believe I was here. It wasn’t my life dream coming true, this only started as a challenge, nice journey to do. But now, at this exact moment the Camino became my dream and my reality. I stood there by the feet of this beautiful place, where other pilgrims stood centuries before me. This was my most precious moment. I not only walked for over 850k through the Basque, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia to get here. On the way I have met so many people. I made so many friends. I shared so many memories. I became a pilgrim. I earned my shell.
My Camino, in The end was made by the people:
The Italian who choose my song and then sang it for me
The Pole who pushed me to get up that bloody hill in the pouring rain
The German who prayed for me in the middle of the bar when I was at my breaking point
The Spanish who made me lunch in the middle of the Bilbao square
The 70 year old Australian who kept forgetting his poles and then stillw overtaking me with ease
The American who tought me about history, culture and traditions of the Spanish towns I was passing
The French who brought me water and sat with me when I was ill
The Irish who had the best sense of humour and made me best dinner
The Columbians who slept next to me outside the church
The English who pushed me to look deep into my soul and pointed me to the best paintings in the church
“I exist because I have friends. I survived because they were there on my path ” Paulo Coelho