Hi my name is Georgia, I am the newest contributor to The Macadames and am very excited to be on board! I’m a Canberra girl born and bred, but have since lived in Kent (England), Bathurst, Sydney and after a couple of years back in the Nation’s Capital am now residing in Melbourne…and let me just say – I love this city!
When I was faced with the prospect of writing my first post I reflected on the year of 2014…I had a great year. I returned to crazy, beautiful India to complete my yoga teacher training, walked 800km across Spain and moved to Melbourne. So here’s my first post about Spain and a few things that I learn “along the way”. I hope you enjoy and can’t wait to share more with you as we well and truly enter 2015!
On the 25 March 2014 I set out on an 800km journey from St Jean Pied de Port in the South of France, my destination? Santiago de Compostela in the North West of Spain. The Camino de Santiago also known as The Way of St James is one of the most significant Christian pilgrimages. For over 1,000 years Christians have been making the journey to Santiago, where legend has it St. James himself is buried. If the tales are true St James’ remains were carried all the way from Jerusalem to be buried in Santiago.
Day 2 – Roncesvalles
The traditional starting point for pilgrims was your own home, but the modern day pilgrim tends to stick to one of the more well-known routes, with the most popular route being the Camino Frances.
Upon arriving in Santiago, Pilgrims are presented with a document or ‘Compostela’ which apparently washes you clean of all your sins (you beauty!).
Now, I am not a religious person and in fact the majority of the 200,000 plus pilgrims that set out on the Camino each year do so for a range of purposes – the physical challenge, the enjoyment of travel, or perhaps even a personal or spiritual quest.
I undertook the journey for a number of reasons. Whilst at University in 2007 I first discovered this thing called the Camino after reading The Year we Seized the Day by Elizabeth Best & Colin Boules. It stirred something inside me, and left me with wanting to one day complete this very special pilgrimage myself.
In 2011 I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and got a taste for travelling by foot. The simplicity of experiencing a country on foot was completely enchanting. I returned home with a desire to undertake another long journey and so set out on the Camino early last year.
I have called this post “8 things I learnt from walking 800km” but I suppose it’s more along the lines of 8 things I was reminded of. I believe there are two ways we learn life’s lessons. The first of these is through gaining knowledge – reading, listening, and watching. For example, you may read a book on gratitude and its direct connection to happiness. So you’ve gained the knowledge, you understand that being more grateful for what you have will in turn help you to feel happier in life. The second way we learn is through lived experience. For example, you may be going through a tough time in your life and as a result your family and friends gather around you, therefore you experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the support network you have. There are many things we learn through gaining knowledge that we understand. However, I find that I often need little reminders through lived experience.
Here are 8 important things the Camino reminded me of:
Relationships are not all about compromise – I quit my job and left my boyfriend at home for four months to go travelling. I was met with quite a lot of judgement from people about this decision. However, I felt very strongly about embarking on a solo journey. Don’t get me wrong, compromise is a big part of being in a relationship but putting your personal dreams on hold simply because you’re in a relationship is not what a healthy relationship looks like. I learnt that it’s important to define (for yourself) what you’re willing to compromise on and what are your non-negotiables. If your partner loves you they will be there, encouraging you every step of the way.
The world really is a small place – The night I arrived in St Jean Pied de Port I met a lovely couple from my hometown Canberra, and it turned out we had mutual friends! They had completed the Camino before and I walked with them for the first few days.
Age (and for that matter language) is not a barrier to friendship – Did I mention the Canberra couple were in their 60’s? I have kept in touch with them and since caught up for a coffee. One of the things I love about travelling is the opportunity to forge friendships with people you otherwise wouldn’t. I was also met a lovely 64 year old man named Seppe (Giueseppe) from Switzerland. Seppe and I walked various legs of the Camino together and shared many a meal and glass of vino tinto together. I learnt all about his wife and three daughters and their life living all over the world. I also befriended the lovely Jean-Pierre from France who did not speak a word of English yet we were able to carry on conversations for hours. We didn’t understand each other at all but we became great mates!
People are kind, generous and goodhearted – it’s often easy to forget when we are constantly confronted with war and terrorism through daily media reporting. Even encountering aggressive drivers or rude people in the supermarket can leave me feeling sour – sometimes it seems everyone is a giant arsehole. The Camino reminded me that humankind, is in fact, very kind. I had volunteers at the Albergues (hostels) tend to my disgustingly beat up feet and dress my blisters. I was fed by countless other pilgrims, whether it was the offering of a banana or muesli bar as a snack along the way or a giant bowl of pasta and glass of wine at dinner. The Camino reminded me that there is lots of good in this world.
Stop and smell the roses – During the first week of walking I set a cracking pace. Up before sunrise, on the road in the dark and charging ahead like a bullet a gate. Whilst I did have to be in Santiago by a certain date to get my flight back to London I was not fully enjoying the beauty of the Spanish landscape or embracing the laid back culture of the Spanish people. Once I slowed down I started to notice more things – the birdlife, the brilliant wildflowers, I enjoyed sitting and having my coffee and piece of tortilla (omelette) in the local bars each morning. I felt so much joy from the smallest things.
Consistency is key – This is an obvious one. We all know that if we want to achieve results we need to be consistent. But nothing taught me this lesson more than having terrible blisters. If I didn’t drain and dress my blisters each night, I was in a world of hurt the next day. While it pained me (literally) to sit there with my needle and thread, betadine and gauze tending to my pilgrim’s feet, I had to be consistent to ensure that I would make it to my final destination – Santiago de Compostela.
You can exercise all you like, if you eat poorly, you put on weight – While lots of people tend to lose weight on the Camino, I somehow managed to get heavier. Even though I was walking around 25km per day with an 8kg backpack on I still put on the weight. Why? Because any dietary concerns I had went out the window. I thought that I could eat whatever I want because I was doing sooo much walking. Well, my daily chocolate croissant, ice-cream and vino tinto intake caught up with me, and I came back slightly chubbier than I left.
Having less makes you richer – This will resonate with anyone who has backpacked for extensive periods of time. It’s why I LOVE to backpack. When all of your worldly possessions can be carried in a small bag on your back you somehow feel lighter, freer and richer. What is important to you is experience rather than things. And when you return home to look at your 18 pairs of shoes and a wardrobe full of clothes your heart gets a little heavier. Don’t get me wrong, I am no Buddhist, I have just as much stuff as the next person, it’s just that travelling makes me realise how boring and unimportant ‘stuff’ is.
If you are considering walking the Camino de Santiago I highly recommend it! It is an incredible journey.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino De Santiago: St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago by John Brierly
The Year We Seized the Day by Elizabeth Best & Colin Boules