It wasn’t life changing but I can see how it could be. The camaraderie, the simplicity of life carrying everything you need on your back and trusting that anything else will be provided. The monotonous daily routine of waking, eating, walking, eating, sleeping forcing you to focus on the internal noise of your own thoughts rather than on any external influences.
To do something so big and shocking to your system that it forces a reset and a reevaluation of life and what you want it to be can be very therapeutic. I can see how walking the Camino de Santiago / The Way / The Way of Saint James gives people this opportunity. It is known as a pilgrimage and many thousands of people walk it for all sorts of reasons every year looking for their own purpose in life.
But they all walk one way – towards Santiago de Compostela. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact many would argue that it’s the “right” way to walk since the destination is the Cathedral in Santiago but during the middle ages when this pilgrimage was the most popular, Santiago was only the half way point. Once there the pilgrim had to then turn around and walk all the way home again.
These days the walk home seems to have been forgotten about and it is a rare thing to see people walking away from Santiago de Compostela. When I walked the Portuguese Camino with my Mum in October of 2016 we found this out first hand. When we told people at home we were walking the Camino “backwards” they would adopt a puzzled expression and wonder at how we would see where we were walking. Once the confusion on the meaning of “backwards” was straightened out the next question was almost always “Why?”.
Even on the trail, well intentioned do gooders tried to turn us around and give directions back to Santiago whether we asked for them or not. I appreciated them trying to keep us on track but it felt like we were doing something wrong by ignoring them and continuing to walk on. Everyone we met on the Camino inevitably asked the same question “Aren’t you going the wrong way?” or a slight variation of this. Even though “Porto” sounds nothing like “Santiago” people still couldn’t understand us when they asked where we were walking to and we soon grew tired of having to explain ourselves.
Eventually we figured out that a place called Fatima, just south of Porto was a pilgrimage destination in its own right. Once we started saying we were walking to Fatima we found all those well intentioned do gooders wishing us safe travels and leaving us alone to walk in the opposite direction instead of pressing directions to Santiago on us. The ethics of lying while walking a pilgrimage that was traditionally to receive forgiveness of your sins is probably a topic for a seperate post but needless to say the lie of going to Fatima came in handy.
We had told so many people that we were going to Fatima that by the time we arrived in Porto we had convinced ourselves and we were both keen to check it out but unfortunately our travel schedule didn’t allow the opportunity.
Walking the wrong way on The Way wasn’t life changing for me and I am still no clearer on my life purpose after walking it. Maybe because we only walked 250kms of the Portuguese Camino instead of the 800kms of the Frances Camino? Maybe because I was so busy navigating and looking for trail markers I didn’t reach the meditative state like other walkers and quiet my internal voices? Or maybe it’s because we lied while walking the “wrong way” like the purists suggested? Whatever the reason, I know I am in the minority of not having a life changing experience on the Camino. Regardless of which way you chose to walk you will have an amazing time and I can definitely recommend walking the Way to anyone and everyone.
Travel Tips for walking away from Santiago de Compostela –
– Don’t expect the same level of camaraderie as you would get walking the same direction as everyone else.
– If walking the Portuguese Camino as we did, say you are walking to Fatima if you want to be left alone to walk your intended direction.
– Forget about using the guide books to help navigate. They will only be useful for city maps and suggestions for accommodation.
– Get good at looking over your shoulder. You will constantly need to be checking behind you for yellow trail markers pointing the way you have come. This is often your only clue you are still on the right path.
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