Five years ago, I began a new path, working as a guide in the Camino de Santiago. Life with its wild sense of humour was showing me its most ironic side!
I started walking and hiking around 15 years ago, yet I had always held a passionate prejudice against the Camino de Santiago, Spain’s most famous path. I am from Bilbao so Spain is my home.
I could not understand why so many people, from all over the world, chose to walk the Camino instead of wandering in the mountains or more quiet places. Like many other backpackers, when I go out to explore the world, I seek a more exotic destination. I was looking for more freedom and adventure, which I always felt was in a faraway place!
My desire to explore has taken me to astonishing places like the Annapurnas in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina, volcanoes in Hawaii, mountains and glaciers in the US and South America, and islands in Africa.
Travel has always been my way of life, as I continually move around. I studied International Affairs and I started working for NGO’s and for UN in human rights projects in Bolivia and Ecuador. Later, I studied tourism and life took me to Ibiza, where I managed a Rock & Roll Hotel for four years. These were amazing years, full of living, and I was able to hike in the winters.
In 2015, I took a sabbatical year to travel around the world to learn yoga. One year turned into two, yet I couldn’t settle with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher. I was in Mexico, volunteering in a Silent Retreat project, and I was about to accept a yoga teacher position in California when, by chance, a friend from Spain offered me a job as a guide on the Camino de Santiago.
I had obtained my mountain guide license many years ago, but I had never really used it to work as a guide.
In a very wild change of plans, I responded to the Camino call. I felt strongly that I was not meant to be a studio yoga teacher. The yoga I felt that I should share was pilgrim yoga. So, I became a Camino guide who teaches yoga and I also arrange musical festivals on the Camino.
During my first assignment as a guide on the Camino, I was happily surprised that my clients were a group of yogis from California. I found it fascinating that yoga teachers from other countries were coming to practice on the Camino!
I was asked to become part of a project to walk the Camino to research how many people/organisations offered yoga, as in asana or meditation sessions, on the ancient path to Santiago. The results of the search were beyond any expectations. I found so many places that offered yoga on the Camino, that the original plan of walking for one month became a three-month journey in winter on the Camino!
I realised that the Camino is yoga. Looking at the origins of the Camino and yoga, both spiritual paths arose from similar universal needs in the Eastern and Western worlds, and they have shared parallel evolutions through history until today.
At the present time, both the Camino and yoga are experiencing a moment of expansion, after decades of fast-growing interest from explorers around the world. The future? It is already happening now. Both paths share similar principles. It all starts by making the body move, which has a certain effect on our mind and slowly leads us to new ways of seeing ourselves and life.
According to the dictionary, a pilgrim is a traveller or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.” A pilgrimage involves a physical effort to get somewhere and includes a renunciation on many levels, especially in terms of comfort level!
Walking the Camino involves becoming a stranger in the lands where a pilgrim wanders, especially as a pilgrim is always on the move. A pilgrim faces the uncertainty of a path that they walk on their own. No matter if they travel with others or not, they face the soreness of the legs, the blisters, and the struggles with the mind when they are tired! A pilgrim has to use a lot of effort, as they experience discomfort and tiredness, yet the one thing that still strikes me the most when I see pilgrims is how much they laugh!
So, why are pilgrims so happy? Movement of the body and breathing expansion encourages endorphin production which brings a sense of well-being and happiness. There is also contact with nature and sharing the path with people from all over the world, from all ages range, and from all social status. This helps to make the Camino experience fun and enjoyable as a pilgrim learns new things, and expands their world, for sure.
Yet there is something else about the Camino. Something that makes it different from any other trekking trail I have ever walked. To this day, despite walking the Camino many times, I can’t tell you exactly what this is. To me, it is another of the many mysteries and legends that surround the Camino.
If I had to guess what drives people from all religions, races, and cultures to come to Spain and walk, I would say the Camino talks a universal language of walking with a higher purpose. Everything starts with the movement of the body, which has a softening effect on the mind, giving a pilgrim silence and space to breathe.
If we mix that with the conversations with other pilgrims from any part of the world, slowly a pilgrim loses many prejudices, fears, and fabricated limitations, as they slowly discover new perceptions of themselves, the world, and life. Just like yoga.
You can find pretty much any spiritual path on the Camino. In the past year, while walking as a guide and as a pilgrim, I have shared the path with many different people such as yoga teachers and practitioners from America, Europe and Asia, a shaman that has walked to Santiago several times, Muslim women from Dubai walking for empowerment, Hinduists, Buddhists, Tibetan bowl players, cabala students, Rastafarians, Catholic priests that talked about chakras, and renouncers that have been walking the Camino for years without money. All sorts of wanderers! I believe this is the beginning of the future for the Camino: a path that embraces all spiritual journeys and offers them a physical space to expand.
Lastly, and I have saved the best for last, the Camino has in its nature something essential in any spiritual search. The Camino believes strongly in a sense of humour! I am smiling as I write this, as I recall how much I have laughed with other pilgrims and the people in the towns I have walked through on my pilgrimages.
If you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago, check out my book, A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago. I share everything you need to know before you begin your Camino. Read at A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino De Santiago or click the link below.