“I first heard about the Camino because Jason, my best friend growing up, had hiked it in 2006. When he first told me about it, it barely registered. Years later, I became interested in distance hiking. I hiked Hadrian’s Wall in England and some other trails in the Middle East, but I still never thought that the Camino would be for me – ‘a MONTH on the road? no way.’
By mid-2014, I realized that I was in a rut. I had spent the past 5 years living and working in Amman, Jordan. I went there for work. My first few years there were truly an adventure as I immersed myself in a place far different than the USA, made new friends, and kept making strong career moves, ultimately winding up with the Iraq office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I built a great life there, but in the latter years I struggled to stay motivated and to stay healthy. Also, my field, international development, has a way of transforming optimists into jaded cynics, and I was well on my way. The main project my team was working on hit a dead end and was slowly dying out. Enthusiasm gave way to evenings complaining about corrupt politicians, pointless paperwork, and pencil-pushing bureaucrats. I had to get out. I felt that I was strung out, overstressed, and I wanted space and time to re-evaluate life, my choices, and my purpose. I wasn’t sure I had done the right things. I wasn’t really sure about my purpose. I began to question a lot of the things I had done in life! I quit my job, packed, moved out of Jordan, and turned to the Camino.
I’ve always been open with my doubts and insecurities, but the challenge is finding open ears. Who besides a shrink wants to listen to someone wax poetic about their problems? Well, my fellow peregrinos tended to be on similar journeys of discovery and healing. They were not only easy to talk to, but eager to listen and quick to share. Thanks to this warm, welcoming, and open atmosphere, I developed lasting friendships with many fellow walkers. I was able to get a lot off my chest. And, a few blissful days of walking can work wonders – the simplicity of just putting one foot in front of another, the lack of stress about everything else, majestic vistas for miles around, it set me at ease. My companions’ stories made me laugh and smile. The intriguing, ancient history of the Way, and all the little local legends in each village really captivated me. My self-doubts melted away as I dove fully into this journey, forgot about the weight I had been carrying, and just walked happily onward.
I got over myself after a few days and had a blast the rest of The Way. I truly loved Santiago, Finisterre, and Muxía, but they did not themselves complete my journey. No, what I cherished most were the running gags I had with my walking buddies David and Greg; the big meal productions at any albergue with a proper kitchen; the card games and movie references at the end of a long day; copious, delicious Spanish wine (hence my Camino nickname, ‘Señor Vino’); a two-day, back-and-forth game of one-upsmanship with a group of Korean peregrinos in who could give each other the best snack food (they won – they gave me wine); opening up about life’s many vagaries on full-day walks with Ace; the bizarre tales told by ‘Peter the Camino Veteran;’ the to-go pizza I got during lunch in Sarría and carried 5 miles to the next town so I could have pizza for dinner too; this could be an endless list.
These things, these daily adventures, these constant little joys, helped me realize again that ‘life’ is much more than our work lives. I love that this understanding came not in some office building, but out in the world that I share with everyone else. This new sense of peace helped me realize a few things – that I had always been on the right track. That I hadn’t gone down a big dead end and I did choose the right career path for me. That it’s OK to be frustrated once in a while. That my body and mind are really resilient. That I am a good person. That I’m not defined just by my job. I had just lost sight of all that for a bit.
The Camino did not help change my life – it helped me find myself again.”
Nilanj Desai / “Señor Vino,” USA