How can I keep this short? I could write a book about El Camino de Santiago. I’m in love with this hike, this experience, this journey. Whatever you want to call it! But I’ll try to summarise and share with you the best bits!
What is El Camino de Santiago? It’s an experience unlike any other.
A pilgrimage across northern Spain walking with only the things you need on your back. It’s liberating to only have the things you need for day-to-day in one backpack. It makes you realise how few things we need in life.
My first Camino was in 2015 and my second in 2017; both quite different but each just as amazing. Both times, I started my walk in Spain, in Roncesvalles, and walked the 800 km (ish) to Santiago. Walking it changed my life. It’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing now. It gave me my direction, the direction to follow my heart and my dreams.
My very first day in 2015 started with torrential rain, and when I say torrential, I really mean it! I was absolutely soaked when I ended my walk, that da,y and there were a few hairy moments as I walked down a path that consisted of a small stream in parts and slippery rocks in others. But nothing could put a dampener on my mood. I was smiling from 6:30 am until I stopped walking at 3pm. (Well, I smiled into the evening of course too, but I was out of the rain at this point!)
This was the start of it all and I was just so happy to be there. I started talking to fellow pilgrims, others that were just as happy, and just as anxious! The Camino brings a mix of emotions, from day-to-day, but it allows for a deep connection to yourself and understanding more of who you are. (I also want to note, that 95% of my days were hot and sunny, I just got unlucky on my first day! The weather depends on what month you walk).
From that moment, friendships started to grow with people I’d only just met. Some people you wouldn’t see for a few days, and the others you’d walk with for a few minutes or longer. It’s such a sense of community, and everyone is on this same journey, albeit for different reasons. It was a time for reflection and moments alone. Time for relationships and bonding with complete strangers. I’ve never been more ‘in the moment’ than I was on the Camino. Only each day was important. That very day. Where do I go, how far, what do I eat, do I want to be alone or have company. It’s amazingly freeing to have nothing else to worry about!
Each day I woke up, I felt a purpose. A purpose that felt exciting, gave me encouragement, and a challenge. The Camino showed me my weaknesses and strengths and helped me see another side to myself. Sure, there were days that were difficult, but getting through those days, (and the good ones) were what made the experience so great. Everything! It’s all amazing!
I’d never challenged myself to walk that much, ever! Or to be away from home for that long, or do something, that at first, seemed quite repetitive. In the end, though, the only repetition was putting one foot in front of the other, every day was different; from the people I met, to the food I ate and the scenery that surrounded me. (By the way, the food in Spain is yummy!)
For those that haven’t walked the Camino de Santiago, I encourage you to try it, no matter your age or fitness level. You meet people of all ages, of all backgrounds, and different fitness levels. You do what you can do, each day, one step at a time, and you’ll reach Santiago.
So how did the Camino affect the life I live now?
After walking the Camino, I realised anything in life is possible, you just need to follow your dream, like the Camino, one step at a time. For me, being an artist was my dream, so I quit my job, and now I am an artist full time. I have had to make some sacrifices and adjustments, but I’m doing it, one day at a time.
I paint the Camino and all its glorious energy. My work is bright and colourful and is inspired by my own images from the Camino and others. I often get commissioned to paint a custom piece from their own collection of photos so they can have a unique, one of a kind souvenir of their special journey. My dream now is to walk again and paint at the same time.
I have always been creative and have painted for many years, Since walking, painting the Camino is a way for me to stay connected to and relive my journey with each painting. When I paint for other people, I absolutely love being a part of someone else’s journey and creating a special painting just for them. I get to hear why this photo or memory is important. I am so thankful to be able to continue sharing these moments with fellow pilgrims after walking. It has brought the Camino into my everyday life.
What are your dreams? Take a step… and another one… walk towards it.
(c) Katie Spencer-Millan 2019. All Rights Reserved.