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11 things that made me go “Wow!” on the Camino Francés-French Way:
1. Fellow pilgrims.
Without a doubt the main attraction for me on the Camino were my fellow pilgrims and I was so lucky to meet simply incredible human beings who showed me that there is hope for humanity if only we could all meet on the Camino and share our human ability for understanding, compassion, encouragement, and mutual respect. I met pilgrims from all age groups, different countries, and from different backgrounds. On the Camino I only found wonderful people who were open to listen and open to being listened to.
2. Physical fitness.
Towards the end of my Camino I often ran for short periods because I had so much adrenalin pumping through my system and I felt SO fit and healthy. In the mornings I always woke up with tired feet and legs, but after 5 minutes or so of walking the aches went and my legs, feet, and body automatically assumed the same walking routine as the previous day. I lost weight and I felt awesome both physically and mentally.
3. Everyday watching the sunrise and sunset.
My first evening on the Camino I decided to walk from St.Jean Pied de Port for about 10km to the start of the Pyrenees upward walk and I camped out in my sleeping bag and watched the sun set over the mountain tops. In the morning I woke up to make my first coffee of the day and to see the sunrise. I don’t think I went 1 day without either seeing the sunrise or sunset.
4. Tapas Bars.
I no longer drink alcohol (because I don’t particularly enjoy it anymore), but on my summer Camino I partook occasionally – red or white wine from the region – and for me Leon was a particularly memorable Tapas Bar experience with my fellow pilgrim Gera. We did a sort of Tapas Bar pub crawl. For those of you who are not familiar with Tapas Bars, they are places where you order a glass of wine – costing only 1 Euro on average – and with the drink you are given a choice of a selection of small nibbles to eat. My favorite was the Polpo (octopus). My most memorable Tapas bar is in the village “Reliegos” run by the “Elvis of the Camino”.
5. Spiritual awakening.
When I left for my Camino I was in a spiritual trough, and although I didn’t attain spiritual enlightenment by the time I reached Finisterre, I did feel as though the seed had been planted within me and that under the right conditions this seed will grow and perhaps my Camino this winter will be the right conditions for a timely germination.
6. Philosophical outlook / a sense of purpose.
The Camino has a start and a finish and due to this one gets the sense that one isn’t simple wandering. There is a point A and a point B and everything which happens between these points is along the predetermined path of the Camino. So from this point of view the Camino gives the walker a sense of purpose – but of course the goal isn’t about the destination, but rather the way.
Also, because you are walking all day along a path and because you meet wonderful people and have deep conversations along the way, after a while you tend to begin to think more in terms of signs and symbols and you more easily accept the notions of for example karma and divinity. As an example, one night in Leon I had a dream which woke me screaming in my sleep (a normal occurrence I’m afraid) and the dream was that I had had my rucksack stolen. That morning the lady who ran the apartment made breakfast and accidentally dropped an egg on the floor. I made my coffee and it fell from the stove and created a mess. The previous night a black cat had crossed my path. Usually I wouldn’t look deeper into these occurrences, but on the Camino I tried to read the signs and symbols to see if there was a connection with real life. A few week’s later I had my rucksack stolen from me. Had I had a premonition? Were the eggs, the coffee and the cat a warning? On the Camino I believed they were.
7. Bridging the generation and social divides.
The photograph which is linked with this post describes it without the need for words I think 🙂
8. The scenery.
Northern Spain is beautiful. The Meseta – the flat land which plateaus out between Burgos and Leon – in particular is breathtaking. Galicia is also an area of outstanding beauty. Often I would be walking either alone or with a pilgrim or pilgrims and I or we would just stop and look around in awe at the landscape stretching out in all directions from the path like a beautiful mirage dreamscape.
9. Swimming in the sea at Finisterre.
It was a hot, dry day. The sea was freezing. I hadn’t had a wash for a couple of days. I’d been living in Prague – a land-locked country – and hadn’t seen the sea for a while. I rammed my walking stick into the sand, strolled over to the shore, and dived in head first into the Atlantic Ocean. Heaven.
10. Sleeping outside.
Sometimes it was great to sleep in an albergue (pilgrim’s hostel). Often though it felt many times better sleeping outside. Of course, I threw away my sleeping bag after Granyon so when my money was completely out I had a fight on every night to secure shelter and to avoid freezing in the night time extremely low temperatures of Galicia. There is something quintessentially heart-warming about sleeping outside and of course you avoid the snoring which comes hand-in-hand with sleeping in an albergue with out 20 other pilgrims (and the other pilgrims avoid listening for my screams of help from my bed at around 3am every morning as I slowly come out of a bad dream).
Granyon is a bit of a mystery. It is a simple village situated somewhere after Puente La Reina and it doesn’t have any notable physical characteristics really. A typical village on the way with a couple of bars and a church, but on the night I was there I felt a tremendous sense of mysticism and speaking with other pilgrims I found out that I wasn’t the only person who felt the same sort of magic in this small village. The evening I arrived there was a mass held for pilgrims and this definitely contributed to the general feeling of awe which I have labelled this village with ever since and I am looking forward to returning to Granyon this winter/early spring when I walk the path again. I wonder if it is situated on a ley line for example?
What things made you go “Wow!” on your Camino?
Please feel free to leave a comment below.