“My reasons for walking the Camino were not as weighty or profound as others you’ll read. I didn’t experience a major life event, and my life at home was tolerable. Yet, I still chose to go. I needed to break up the monotonous routine I was in. It was sapping my creativity which I value more than anything. I needed something, anything, to bring me back to life. The Camino seemed like the perfect place to go, so I dropped myself off in France and began. I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be one of the most memorable times of my life.
The first day after it was all said and done, when I had traveled out of Santiago for the final time, it felt like I was punched in the gut. Suddenly my routine for the last forty days was broken. The walking was gone, the random encounters were gone, and my friends were gone. I was really shell-shocked by the change. Slowly that terrible feeling faded but it is clear the Camino had an effect on me. I still find myself thinking about it a few times daily and it is certainly something that I will never forget.
I’ve asked myself, what is it about the Camino that makes it such a captivating and fulfilling experience for me and so many others?
My answer: every single day is absolutely incredible. Literally, each one in its own way was utterly amazing. Sure, there were painful days, and others where merely waking up was a struggle, but pushing through things like that helped shape the experience. Each day was filled with countless touching memories from the most unexpected of encounters.
The Camino is unique in its structure, history and popularity. It is not the same as backpacking abroad and not even close to a prepackaged resort vacation. At the heart of the experience is the fact that everyone is going in the same direction. This gives an instant sense of security because there is nothing to plan for and everyone around you shares a common goal. That means that the people you meet along will be around you for over a month. For me and many others, it is the people that make the Camino, not necessarily the views or the walking. They existed as the grand stage which punctuated the experience.
I may have showed up alone, but I came away with life-long friends. The nature of Camino makes quality friendships come easily. It was the people that kept me going day in, day out. That is what differentiates the Camino from other travel experiences. There is perhaps no better experience in life than traveling with good friends, and the Camino allows you to do that, even if you arrive alone.
I think the reasons it bonds people so quickly and strongly are many. It’s the sense of camaraderie that naturally comes from a group of people taking on a seemingly incomprehensible challenge. It’s waking up and not having a clue what is going to happen that day or where you’ll end up. It’s that the physical struggle itself lowers people’s barriers and allows for some really interesting conversations. It’s that people from all walks of life are brought together – rich, poor, old, young, nationalities, religions and philosophies. It’s the little stuff like the inside jokes that develop with your walking buddies. It’s eating 12 magdalenas(muffins) for breakfast every day. It’s the selfless generosity that you witness. It’s looking down at your feet and not knowing how they are still moving at the end of day. It’s not knowing if the next person you meet will be become a life-long friend. It’s about the pains, joys, sadness, laughter, friendship, amazement, and experiencing it all together.
If I had to sum up why I think the Camino has such an effect on people it would be this: what people lack in their normal daily lives, they find on the Camino. Things like having a clear purpose and goal, forming spontaneous meaningful relationships, having thought-provoking conversations, seeing new horizons daily, the unexpected events, and the physical struggle – all of those are part of it. Contrast that to most people’s regular lives and it is easy to see why it is such an invigorating experience. It’s not that those things cannot be found in your daily life; it’s that the Camino makes them the focal point for thirty-plus days. Your only real worries are what you’re going to eat for lunch and whether you will get a snorer in your room. On the Camino you truly have a chance to live in the moment, because that’s all there is.
For me, I was lucky enough to walk with a group of people that instantly had great chemistry. Our personalities complimented and played off one another perfectly. I’ve heard it is rare, but I walked with the same people from beginning to end, and I’m glad I did. Having Nilanj and Greg around daily really made the experience a fellowship and completing the journey together meant that we could fully appreciate what we had accomplished. Although there were days where we walked alone, it was always comforting to know that I could count on them being there at the end of the day.
They say that when you travel, you never come home the same person as before you left. The Camino was certainly a growing experience for me. I came home as a more open and more confident person. I learned to trust myself more. I have traveled since the Camino and I’m not sure anything will ever compare it to. I will always carry the Camino with me.”
-David Franz / “The Muffin Man”, USA