Walking the Camino de Santiago trail – the wrong way, at 4am…
Katy Georgiou has just returned from a 6-week 500-mile walk across Spain from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago trail, an arduous pilgrimage also known in English as the Way of St James. Pilgrims carry scallop shells and the ancient route now takes in some rather large motorways – meaning those brave enough have to dodge cars going at speed limit. Here, we join Katy on the final leg of her adventure…
The alarm went off at 4am. Bleary-eyed, I rustled together my stuff, packed and got out the door with three of my travelling buddies.
We’d hoped to beat the scorching heat and crowds by leaving in the dark… only, we took the wrong route.
Lost in the pitch black on a pathway nowhere near anywhere, a line of bright pink streak lightening shot down in the distance. “Shit” I muttered. “We’re walking right towards it.”
Soon it was pouring. Panic set in, but there was no time to wobble. We put on our waterproofs, gathered our wits about us, and with three apps between us, found our way towards a motorway.
We marched on, two by two, trying to make sure we were safe from cars intermittently approaching fast behind us.
Water dripping down our faces, the glare of our mobile phones got us to an inlay. Amid the splattering sound of rain, a distant sound of cowbells caught our attention.
“What the..?” There, in front of us, dairy cows were facing us like something out of Thriller, invisible in the dark save for their bright red eyes staring ominously in our direction.
“If I take anything from Camino then, it is in the idea that the need to move forward and onwards is an intrinsic part of the human psyche,”
There we were, the four of us in total darkness, pouring rain, a colourful storm brewing with only cows for company, the sound of bells ringing eerily in the wind – yet somehow, motivated by safety in numbers, faith in the process and singing Bohemian Rhapsody, we kept going.
Eventually we merged back onto the Camino path: as we turned a corner, we spotted the Camino sign and jumped with joy.
Out of nowhere, the sun rose, the rain and storms stopped and we were, as if by magic, totally safe.
That’s the thing about the Camino: magic things just happen.
It’s as if it is charmed, some benevolent entity shrouding you like a cloud, playing tricks on you one moment, then sending help the next.
Throughout, yellow arrows point the way; cafes and accommodation abound, things crop up when you need them.
What it all boils down to is simplicity: wake up, walk with nature. Listen to your body. Stop when you need to. Let the Camino provide.
Should a day be worse than you thought it would be, the next day will always be different, better.
Aside from some vague idea you have of which town to walk to, you never know what will happen or who (or what) you will meet.
Should you have a crap day, the feeling is only fleeting. Come the morning, you are off again somewhere new, like Sam Beckett in Quantam Leap, hurling yourself into the unknown.
It makes us consider the malaise of our modern world: back home, when we’re sad with our lives there’s a sense of being stuck.
When things are bad at work, the feeling is made worse by the knowledge that the next day could bring the same. And the next, and the next.
It is in this repetition that despair can so easily kick in. I’ve just completed a counsellor training course, so it made me think a lot about the rise of mental health issues in the UK.
If I take anything from Camino then, it is in the idea that the need to move forward and onwards is an intrinsic part of the human psyche and can hold some key into how we maintain emotional wellbeing.
If we can find ways on any level to shake up our worlds so that tomorrow morning brings us something different to the night before, then we’ll be ok.