When starting off on a journey that included walking hundreds of miles there were a few things that even I, as a very inexperienced hiker, knew to expect. I knew things like blisters, soreness, and a couple beers every now and then were destined to be in my future. Most of all, I knew there would be many surprises. But it was the things I didn’t see coming at all that resonated with me more than anything.
The first unexpected was the ringing of bells. They were everywhere and their chimes soon became an anticipated pleasure. Whether it was the church bells that seemed to never end or the bells tied to the cattle, sheep and horses in the fields, they were all beautiful. They caressed me as I walked.
Another unexpected was the age diversity of the pilgrims walking the Camino. I was constantly amazed at the older demographic of the pilgrims. The vast majority were older than me. I was 54 when I walked my first Camino. I was inspired by their sprit, strong will and genuine joy for life. Age was truly just an objective number to them with no real bearing on what they could do or who they were. It was inspiring but also a little humbling every time a 60 year old or older would easily pass me by on a trail I was struggling with.
There was Peter, the 66-year old German guy whose favorite sayings were “why not?” and “do it now or never.” There was also Jane, who over the course of 70 years had acquired some interesting health remedies: coke a day for digestion, sunscreen for bug bites, and my favorite, squeeze your butt when you walk to prevent knee and hip problems. The people you meet!
Another unexpected was how remarkable the body really is. Every night, without fail, every part of my body ached. There were nights when I went to sleep thinking there is no way I was going to walk the next day. But after I rested and took care of what I needed to, I woke up the next morning feeling better and ready to go.
One of the true blessings of the Camino is the albergues that are there to help you do just that. They take care of pilgrims and help pilgrims take care of themselves so they can continue on the next day.
Above all, the most unexpected thing from the Camino was reconnecting to the belief that all things have a way of working out and that all people have a basic goodness in them. The Camino taught me to believe in those again and I found security in having that belief. The Camino encouraged me to open my heart and mind. By doing so, it gave me the faith that I will always find the inherent goodness in people. The journey of the Camino actually required me to have that faith, and I was never disappointed.
The Camino has a saying, “The Camino Provides” and it does. Time and time again I was reminded of this. It starts with those little yellow arrows that point the way. Every time I thought I had gone the wrong way, I just looked a little bit harder and I found one, the one sign telling me the way to go. And off I went. These signs were the first and consistent reassurance just when I needed it. But there were so many others that I experienced as well, over and over.
One instance was the donativo stand that happened to pop up after a night of camping when I forgot to check my water for the night. With no water over night and a 12-mile hike ahead of me and no signs of water along the way, I started to worry about not having any water. But still, there was nothing to do but walk. I rounded the first bend and there it was – the first donativo stand I had seen in 2 weeks just when I needed it the most. Donativo stands are set up by locals and they provide water and food. You take what you need and give what you can. Donativo (donate).
This one was run by Carlos (right), and he had an amazing life story he shared with me. Maybe I will share it with you in a later blog.
I could go on and on but in the end the Camino reminded me that things will work out. They may not work out exactly how you planned, but they will work out exactly how they were supposed to. I learned to accept this and to move on in the contentedness and calmness that comes with this belief.
I started my first Camino hoping to find something. I didn’t know exactly what it was I was looking for, but I knew in my heart something was missing in my life. A connection was gone. It’s strange to feel something is missing and not know what it is. It can make you feel lost. For me it was finding that hope again, to renew my faith in fellow man and know that things will work out. People are good, they want good in their life and are able to bring good to your life as well if you let them. I wasn’t expecting to have such a strong epiphany on my Camino.
I was hoping to find myself on this journey but what was really unexpected was how the Camino helped me find myself again through the constant reminder of the goodness in people and that things do work out.