Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago from Porto

My reason for taking the Camino de Santiago was simply because I like being in nature and know many people who have enjoyed this spiritual pilgrimage. It’s been on my list for nearly a decade. Having lost my Dad a few months before the walk it turned out to be a journey with him very much by my side. My Dad was with me all the way. The local old men even looked like him. Many people have someone with them on the walk. People who take this pilgrimage are walking to grieve or to find themselves. We became friends with 2 beautiful souls, each with individual stories, who were scattering the ashes of their life partner along the way. Others lighting a candle in every church for someone they love. It really is a strong emotional journey.

Physical

The first 2 days were physically tough for me. To teach online yoga as I travelled, I was carrying my heavy laptop, cables, lights, tripod as well as clothes. My backpack was not great so had all the weight on my shoulders. We were walking into quite a strong wind and the 20-30k per day was a shock to my cycling conditioned legs & hips. At the end of day 2 I didn’t think I was going to make it. The last 500 metres was almost too much. In the evening after sitting for dinner my muscles were so tight when I got up I walked in a seated position, I felt like a 90 year old.

The cure: I discovered I could slide my jeans belt through my backpack so 80% of the weight was on my hips, 10 minutes of yoga 2-3 times a day (yin & gentle stretches usually in bed) and a good healing nights sleep regenerated my aching legs & hips. The next morning was another new day. After a few days my legs & hips accepted the daily abuse. When a hill came I felt like a 4×4 tractor, I would drop a gear, shorten my stride and power up the hill with torque.

You don’t walk the Camino de Santiago you live it

Everyday 1000’s of people take this pilgrimage. Lots of nationalities, abilities and ages, some carrying everything and others with a day pack, putting their big bag in a taxi to save some pain. We even saw a few athletic fathers pushing their children in buggies. Everyone walked different distances and stopped at different locations. We saw familiar faces all the way shuffling through the days like a pack of cards. As the days went on, smiles and good wishes turned into conversations and story sharing. We made some close friends along the way.

Portugal

The Portuguese section of the camino had tiled churches, houses and walls. Usually varying sizes of a traditional blue and white pattern. Much of the journey was on decked walkways along the coast. Some decks were brand new, others rotten / broken and in some places buried by the drifting sand. The walk was quite flat and the decks made a good smooth walking surface. We had the rough deep blue Atlantic sea on the left and much of the time flowering cacti meadows all around. I was in heaven with my favourite fresh pasteis de nata (custard tarts) at every cafe and had to limit myself to one per day.

Spain

Nearing the border of Portugal & Spain the architecture changed to beautiful crafted stone buildings. Some looked like they had been there for centuries. The roads were cobbled which is not so easy on the ankles. We crossed the border by ferry over an estuary, which turned out to be a very fast speedboat. 8 people holding on for dear life as we skipped over the waves at full speed. The Spanish are very friendly and have a slow pace of life. Living in stone houses, lots of sunshine, beautiful villages, beaches, forests and many vineyards. I couldn’t help but wonder if they know they are living the dream? Most of the cafes play 1980’s pop music, leaving you with an annoying mantra of Michael Jackson, Sheena Easton or ELO for the walk. We often had to chant some Sanskrit to stop the 80’s party in our heads.

Mindful meditation

A good meditation to calm a busy mind, or distract you from aches & pains, is to walk with the breath. Walk 5/6 steps on the inhale, another step for the change of breath, then 5/6 steps for the exhale and a step for the change of breath. Others with busy minds preferred to listen to music but it seems a shame to shut out the peaceful sounds of nature.

Suffering leads to wisdom

Don’t carry too much with you, it will weigh you down. This applies to the Camino de Santiago as well as life in general. Owning too much leads to more problems. Suffering also brings on kindness and compassion. Nearing the end of our walk I developed shin splints for the first time in my life. It was incredibly painful especially downhill. After stopping at a cafe, to teach an online class, I was given anti inflammatory gel, pain killers and a compression bandage by a very kind nurse from the US. Later I managed to help a lady with the same condition. Teaching her stretches and tricks to relieve the pain to get a few more kilometres before she could rest. Being on such a long walk you can’t help but face yourself. Getting to know yourself, processing your traumas and releasing demons is very cleansing.

Santiago

The arrival at Santiago was emotional for us. Such an impressive cathedral and square. A city that has clearly not changed in centuries. We managed to fill our camino passport with stamps and got our official certificate of completion. Everyday we got stamps from churches and cafes. There was a strong energy of triumph and achievement all around. Along the path we formed a small likeminded group and finished in style with drinks and a celebratory dinner together.

Be prepared

If you plan to do the Camino de Santiago make sure you get a good backpack that sits on your hips. Pack as light as you can. Good walking shoes and thick socks are essential and maybe walking sandals if it’s sunny. Be prepared, we saw people arrive in Santiago with blisters, bandages, plaster casts, crutches and sticks. Im sure they are much wiser now…

Useful links:
Follow the Camino
Camino ways
Camino adventures

By Paul Selvey

Paul has practised Yoga for over two decades and taught Yoga full time for 8 years. With 1000+ hours of advanced teacher training he shapes a mix of movement, breathing, kriya, sound therapy and meditation techniques to suit his students, from beginner to advanced.

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