Sunday, February 24, 2008


There are many lessons to be learned on long distance walks, especially historic pilgrimage trails. Here are a few lessons that I have learned on my walks.
You need very little to be happy - and even less to survive!
On my first camino everyone told me - "Don't take too much stuff." I was determined to carry less than 8kg but, oh dear! you just have to have those nice trousers that have zip-off shorts: and a little black jacket for evening: and pajamas: and a sarong (after all, it doesn't weigh much): and a book to read: and ........ the list goes on. After three days of walking in the Pyrenees I thought my tibias were going to push out through the bottom of my feet! And, the shoulders and back! Ouch!! We took everything out of our backpacks, sorted them into essentials and definitely don't want to carry anymore piles and visited the first 'correos' we came to. I posted 3kg to myself in Santiago. I have bought a new backpack for each long walk I've done and think I will stick to this Pro-Lite, 30L that weighs 630gr and weighs 5.8kg fully packed and 6.8kg with a Litre of water.
Homelessness: You have no base, no space to call your own, and you learn what it is to be homeless. You don't mind sitting on a pavement, or on a park bench like a homeless tramp eating yesterday's bread and dried out cheese. Some times shop owners eye you with suspicion, as though you are a homeless Romany gypsy! I now smile at homeless people instead of avoiding make eye contact.
Hunger: You learn what it is to be hungry when there is nowhere to buy food and you have to go to bed and start the next day without having eaten. You are grateful for whatever nature provides - berries on the brambles, a fallen apple, ripe figs on the side of a road, an abandoned vineyard provides a welcome bounty! You talk about food and what you would really like to have at the end of the day. But, you are always grateful for the soup, chips, salad and flan that the menu del peregrino dishes up! Some of the most joyful moments were when I found a menu with vegetables on it!
Small Comforts: A bed with sheets is a luxury and being given a pillow is like winning the lottery! When you do book into a small hotel, you feel like a millionaire sleeping in a bed, with sheets, and a pillow! And little sachets of shampoo are gold nuggets!
Water: You have no kitchen to replenish your water so finding water 'fuentes' with potable water is such a blessing, especially on a hot day. Where there are no 'fuentes' a spring with fresh water is a bonus. And a river where you can paddle your feet is just bliss! You are grateful to the stranger who placed large stepping stones across a stream so that you don't get your feet wet. You are also grateful for the way marks and signs that show you the way. They become your best friends and you feel panicky if you don't see one for a while.
The roof over your head: You walk in the rain, in the sun, in the wind, sometimes in the snow or in hail. You are so grateful for a bed in a refuge. To be able to wash your clothes, have a shower, lie down on a bed. "Little things mean a lot" takes on a whole new meaning!
To be a stranger:You know what its like to be a stranger in a foreign land - sometimes viewed with suspicion, sometimes ignored, but many times treated with kindness and generosity.
Each day is a new beginning:
You learn to enjoy each new day - to put yesterday behind you - not even thinking of tomorrow. Some days you can't remember where you were the day before! Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is too far away to care about. Each day is new and exciting - walking through new landscapes, seeing different places, meeting new people.
Meeting angels on the way:
Many pilgrims say, "The best thing about walking the camino was the people I met and shared with".
"It is an exhilarating paradox. You make your discovery of self in the company of others. Through someone else’s belief that you exist, and have a right to exist in your own way, you begin to find your solid ground within. From that place of inner reality you are able to reach out - perhaps even to forget yourself temporarily - to make contact with others. Being with others allows you to go on learning who you are. Feeling safe about who you are, you can afford to appreciate others’ differences, as well as the ways in which you are alike." (Stephanie Dowrick - an ordained Interfaith Minister)

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