El Camino de Santiago

One cold January morning, my friend Louisa and I took a day trip to Alcalá de Henares, which is a smaller city on the outskirts of Madrid. There are some interesting things to see and visit in the city, so we ended doing a major stroll around the center, grabbing coffee and food when we needed, but mostly just walking and talking together. During that conversation, we were talking about trips we had done and trips we wanted to do in the future. These topics progressed and began to combine, creating a new idea that we both got pretty excited about: what if we did a route of the Camino de Santiago during the week-long holiday of Semana Santa?

It seemed so abstract that day as we smiled and eagerly promised ourselves to make it happen, but after four months of texting, calculating, planning, and packing, it became a reality. Louisa, Ashley, and I found ourselves at the bus station, groggy in the early hours of the morning, waiting for a bus to take us north to Ferrol, Spain. There we would begin the Camino Inglés – a six-day hike through the green hills of Galicia, where we would walk 125 kilometers along coastlines, through forests, cities, rural farmland, and under highways.

We were so lucky. The forecast had predicted it to rain the whole entire week of the trip – but it rained only one day. Life on the Camino was incredibly simple – physically and figuratively, it was a breath of fresh air that I had needed. Being out of the polluted city, able to breathe in fresh, clean air as I hiked made me feel very much alive. I also did a sort of digital detox for myself – keeping my phone on airplane mode all day, and allowing myself an hour per evening to check messages and let my loved ones know I was alive and kicking.

This simple Camino life made time move so slow. Each day, we would rise before the sun, pack our bags as best we could in our crowded alburgue (hostel), and set out on the road. We would usually finish the hike around lunchtime, and that was a perfect system – we would go claim a spot in the alburgue, find a 10€ lunch menu to gorge our tired bodies on carbohydrates and protein, and then return to the alburgue to take a spectacular nap.

In the afternoons, I would spend my time reading and journaling outside in the sunlight. (During the Camino, I read a great book called Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett… 10/10. It was a great book to process through and add to the spiritual element of the Camino). This time of day was my favorite, and the part I would look forward to each day. It was an easy tranquility that offered hours of physical and mental decompression in nature.

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Instead of balancing multiple responsibilities like I am used to in my day-to-day life, my only responsibility on the Camino was to my own mind and body. If I was hungry, I went and found food. If I was tired, I took a nap. If I wanted to read, I did it without hesitation. I made time for free-writing and self reflection each day to renew my mind. The afternoons became a refreshing practice of listening to my body and what it needed, then caring for myself. Each day, I would feel a connection to my body and felt so grateful and proud for how it had carried me – through aching muscles, blisters, and exhaustion.

Another one of my favorite parts of the Camino was the people. Of course, having two amazing gals to hike with was golden. We got along well – always keeping up the positivity and fostering an environment of love and encouragement. We shared some hilarious moments, mid-hike dance parties, and tons of life stories along the road. The people that were hiking the same route as us also became familiar faces as the days passed. We would all end up in the same alburgue each night, even if we wouldn’t see each other hiking during the day. I remember one night there was a big group of us sitting in the kitchen area, having a conversation with 4 languages flying around. One woman (who understood all 4) was acting as an emcee of sorts as she cooked her dinner, and we shared laughter and stories over food. When we got to Santiago de Compostela, the final city where all the routes and pilgrims meet, Louisa, Ashley, and I were lucky to run into most of our new friends who had reached the end as well. We celebrated together with hugs and “congratulations!” and the widest of exhausted smiles – we had made it. (The pictures below show our excitement for finishing the route, as well as the official pilgrim certificate we received).

I remember my freshman year of college, I learned the Latin phrase solvitur ambulando in a humanities class, which translates to “it is solved by walking.” I kept this phrase in my head the whole trip and found it to have a lot of significance on our journey. All these thoughts that swirled inside my head – daily anxieties and responsibilities, personal and relationship issues/insecurities, the pressure and stress of trying to plan for a very uncertain next year in Spain – were given this vast space to be processed. I felt like I was able to step back from everything, slow down, and really dig into what was happening in my headspace. I am thankful for the ample time that the Camino offered to reflect, reset, and reenergize.

I would love to do another route of the Camino in the next couple of years – preferably a longer one. (I started mulling over the idea during the third day on the road). The first night we met an old woman named Agnes, who told us that this trip was her fourth Camino experience. I made the comment that she must be a Camino expert, to which she responded “Expert? No. I’m just an addict.” And at the end of my own Camino experience, I think I know exactly what she meant by that.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in seeing a short video I made with footage from the trip, click here. If you want to connect with me to discuss your own Camino stories or if you have any questions you think I could help with – I’d love to chat with you. Find me over at my contact page or tweet me.

One thought on “El Camino de Santiago”

  1. This is a beautiful post Haley. I’m so thankful that God blessed the three of you with friendship and safety on your journey. The experience sounds amazing and I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and pictures with us! (And thanks for letting me know you were alive and kicking every night) I love you!
    Mom

    Liked by 1 person

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