We like this account of the Camino de Santiago experience, written by Personal Trainer Paul O’Brien for the Mayo News:
By Paul O’Brien
Recently, I fulfilled a long-held ambition by walking the famous Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. ‘El Camino’, as it is known, stretches 800km from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and over the mountains into the Basque region and beyond.
The journey thought to be the route taken by the apostle St James when bringing Christianity to the Iberian peninsula, finishes in the city that bears his name – Santiago de Compostela – where the apostle is said to be entombed.
On May 27, I started out with my brother from St Jean Pied de Port. We had both packed light. My rucksack weighed a little over 8kg, including a kilo of water. I had decided not to wear hiking boots and was undertaking the walk wearing a pair of minimalist running shoes. I planned to travel lightly and avoid beating my feet up too much.
I had no expectations of what the journey would provide; I wanted to ‘unplug’ from day-to-day life and reconnect with nature and, perhaps, others. Our first day out took us over the Pyrenees, offering spectacular views and challenging trekking. We met plenty of fellow pilgrims, got soaked a couple of times and administered first aid to a pilgrim who had dislocated his finger after a fall. It’s an interesting start!
The first week of the Camino throws up some challenging trekking, with a few steep climbs and somewhat treacherous descents, especially in wet weather. Without a base level of aerobic fitness, I would suggest the first week may be a struggle. However, by the end of the first week, most people are in their stride, and their bodies have adapted to the stresses of repetitive walking.
Wet, wet, wet
We experienced a lot of wet weather in the first 7 to 10 days of our walk, and I began to question the wisdom of not bringing waterproof boots. However, my feet were blister-free, which spared me from a great part of the conversation on this subject at each day’s stopping point!
Physically, I was beginning to feel the strain in my hips and began to include some hip mobility and stretching exercises in my daily post-walk routine. Stretching and mobility exercises are recommended at the end of each day.
Over the next couple of weeks, as the weather improved, El Camino offered us a unique experience very different from anything I have experienced while travelling. Though everyone has their own reasons for doing it, there is an unmistakable bond between pilgrims. People openly discuss their lives, sharing and learning from each other. The Albergues (hostels), where most pilgrims stay each night, are abuzz with conversation over communal meals and sometimes music and song.
A sense of connection
Then there is the walking. I awoke every morning with excitement as I anticipated the day’s walking. The terrain and environment were constantly changing. One day, you are walking in the mountains, awed by the views and exhilarated by the struggle. The next day, you are immersed in the forest or ambling through vineyards, accompanied by a colourful tapestry of wildflowers and shades of green to compare with Ireland’s forty.
The real joy is that you are completely immersed in the experience. With no emails to check or calls to take, you are occupied solely by walking and enjoying the natural world. I felt a deep connection with nature and others that is hard to grasp in a society driven by distraction and the need to succeed.
As I walked, I reflected upon that word – success – and coined my own definition – the ability to live in each moment with no mental burden of past or future, only what is. That is a success. The Camino is calling.
Paul O’Brien is a personal trainer and life coach based in Westport.
*Original Article published by Mayo News