Why Protecting This Global Icon is Important for Pilgrims

The Cruz de Ferro is in the spotlight these days, and not for the reasons you might think. The Authorities in the municipalities in which this unassuming cross stands, want to remodel and “upgrade” the area around it.

The pilgrims who know and love the Camino de Santiago have banded together, and there is a public outcry to leave this global icon and the surrounds, as is.

We wait with bated breathe on this issue.

The Cruz de Ferro or Iron Cross is humble in its stature. It is a simple wooden post around five meters in height, with an iron cross at its summit. It is situated on the highest point on the Camino Frances, one of the routes making up the popular Camino de Santiago.

Historical Relevance

It is well known in the region that the Romans built roads while they territorialised the Spanish countryside. The remnants of some of those roads can still be seen along the route today. It is believed that the Romans used the cross to demarcate the border between territories, which given the history of the Romans could have been one of the practical purposes of this landmark.

So true for the medieval pilgrim, who on his journey to Santiago de Compostela, this would have been a useful wayfinder, especially during heavy snow. Undoubtedly, for the modern pilgrim despite the routes being well marked, this Iron Cross remains a well-established and arguably the most sought after wayfinder.

The Spiritual Legend

This legend gives this cross it’s relevance today.

It is believed that St James himself placed the cross. On his spiritual journeys throughout Spain, it is said that he encountered pagan priests who were performing a human sacrificial ceremony.

Engulfed with rage St James took a stone from his pocket and threw it at the pagan altar. With the power of God, the altar is said to have disintegrated as the stone struck it. To honour this almighty power, St James then placed the cross where the altar had stood.

The Modern Pilgrim

Many pilgrims from all walks of life go on pilgrimage on the popular Camino Frances. It is a tradition for all to take up a stone, which is usually carried from home, and when reaching the Cruz de Ferro, this stone is placed at the foot of the monument.

The full journey is from St Jean Pier de Port, on the border between France and Spain to the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela. Its distance is around 800km’s.

The accomplishment of reaching the Cruz de Ferro is more than half of the way and a milestone for all who undertake this pilgrimage. It is a sought after monument and beloved by all, and when new pilgrims are doing planning, it is a visit to this place that is included in the day’s walking routine

For those who undertake this journey for religious reasons, a prayer is said at this point:

“Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage, that I lay at the foot of the cross, weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds someday when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so.”

Nevertheless, whether a pilgrim is religious or not, the tradition of placing this stone at this point is poignant for reasons that are personal to every one of them. The stone might represent healing or discarding of a bad habit or even in memory of something or someone that is sentimental to every pilgrim.

Its the place where you figuratively leave your burdens behind you.

There are particular sites across the Camino Frances which offer the walker or the rider a sense of peacefulness, and a place of reflection. So too for the pilgrim to be part of a historical tradition, the Cruz de Ferro is indeed these things.

It is for these reasons, that the remodelling proposal is being vehemently opposed.

The Proposal For Upgrade

It is proposed to install a cement walkway, with parking lots and curio shops. Aside from removing the natural trail that leads to the monument, which is currently a bug-bear for walkers all across the routes, all of the other proposals are there to boost tourism.

While this is necessary for the whole region, to boost tourism after the two years that we have experienced globally, this does not lend to the natural beauty that is the Camino. In that natural beauty, tourists and pilgrims alike should be enticed to the Camino de Santiago.

In a normal year, and when I refer to normal I mean without a pandemic, over 347 000 pilgrims walk the Camino routes. This bodes the question of whether this monument and monuments like it along the routes need to be upgraded to the extent being proposed.

I would suggest not.

If it is a question of accessibility to non-pilgrims, the Cruz de Ferro is situated alongside a road, and it can be easily accessed by vehicles. On the route between Sarria and Santiago de Compostela on my lasts day of my pilgrimages, I saw buses along roads that can be described as even more rural as the road that passes the Cruz.

When Joni Michell sang of paving paradise to put up a parking lot, she didn’t mean it as a good thing.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

I say “NO” to the proposed upgrade!

Pilgrimages Self Development

My damaged hips helped me rediscover my faith

In our Pilgrim Discussion Group this past weekend, an interesting comment was made by the author, John Brierly.

The comment was to create some thought around the difference between a “pilgrimage”, and “just taking a long walk”.

For those who have not yet walked a pilgrimage, Mr Brierly has authored several collections of maps and guides all relating to the famous Camino de Santiago.

Camino de Santiago Guide Books by John Brierly

Mr Brierly is not only an author, but he is also a proponent of the pilgrimage as a way to re-evaluate life’s purpose. He recommends that this “long walk” can have a massive impact on your life.

I was reminded of the scene in the movie The Way, when Tom’s character played by Martin Sheen says to Sarah, that “we are all just taking a very long walk”.

This comment is, of course, made very early on in Tom’s journey.

Tom has just discovered that his son died in a storm in the Pyrenees, which is the route you would take if you were walking the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied De Port.

We find out that Tom doesn’t really understand his son’s penchant for the wanderlust. So when Tom is called to identify his son’s body, it sets in motion Tom’s own journey of self-discovery.

The Way

What is the difference?

I agree with Mr Brierly’s sentiment that at its core, the fundamental difference between a pilgrimage and a long walk is, faith.

When you purchase a Brierly guide book, as part of the introduction, he asks you to do a short exercise to discover your true purpose of why you are going to make this pilgrimage.

Setting off on my first pilgrimage and in preparation, I did that exercise. Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand the importance of it until I reached Santiago de Compostela on my second attempt.

When I got home, I took the time to consider the changes that had happened to me. It was then that the massive impact made sense.

Getting back to the difference between a pilgrimage and a long walk, I understand that it is faith that sets you in motion. It is from that same faith that brings you to your final destination.


I want to write a little bit on faith because I am now only just getting to grips with it myself. Very deep down inside of me, I have always had a sense of faith. It does not essentially stem from a religious connection, but more a physical and mental belief in myself, and also an understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses.

It is quite a paradox. Since I am not formally religious in any sense, I am more spiritual than I am religious, I do have a very profound level of love and respect for the traditions of religion. I feel this every time I walk into a cathedral or a church.

When I first walked into St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, I felt the embrace of the column’s around me. Those particular columns designed so long ago in the shape of welcoming arms.

I was filled with complete reverence when I walked in St Peter’s Cathedral. The same feeling of veneration engulfed me when I walked into the square in Santiago de Compostela. Entering the Cathedral was complete overwhelm.

It was a culmination of achievement and gratitude, which was deepened because of the pilgrimage I had taken. It was the realisation that every step I had taken was one made in complete faith.

My first attempt was unsuccessful.

When I first walked the Camino de Santiago, I injured myself some six days into my journey. It was this unsuccessful attempt that had me questioning everything about my faith.

Up to that point, I had lived every day with faith. At least I thought I had. Faith got me up to go to work. It was what drove me through the traffic. Faith had me manoeuvring through the day, regardless of what challenges lay before me.

I am a problem solver, and I have always thought that it was my faith rather than my skills that got me to the point of completion of my daily tasks.

Having to come home after my unsuccessful Camino and then deciding to go back, was the first real test of my faith. I was honest with myself; I really didn’t have the skills to make such a long walk. So I was returning on complete and utter blind faith, and this is fundamentally what a pilgrimage is all about.

My injuries are with me always.

In my early twenties, I had a triple osteotomy on both of my hips. I was blessed with shallow hip sockets which is what is known as developmental dysplasia. It was always with during my childhood and was probably the cause of the most excruciating pain in my legs as I grew older.

The nature of this type of operation has your entire pelvis being realigned to create better coverage and support of the femoral head in the hip socket. I was in the hospital for eleven days, and on crutches for six months after both operations.

I was blessed, though. Blessed because my hips are part of my journey of life. They have made the strong person that I am today, and in the same instance, have made me far more aware of where my limitations lie.

Knowing where our limitations lie is such a great opportunity to understand where development is required. It is my fundamental belief that we are only really limited in our minds, as long as we take committed steps to acknowledge our fragilities.

My faith showed me that on my second time back to Spain.

My faith got me to Santiago De Compostela.

I arrived in Sarria, opting to do the shorter version of the Camino with an inflamed pelvis and a pulled calf muscle, which was settling down into some comfort.

My osteotomy’s had not fully resolved my issues with my hips. In my late thirties and early forties, I had had both hips replaced. So, I was now really the bionic pilgrim!

This nagging issue in my pelvis is a result of the previous operations and the skilled surgeon’s efforts to make do with what my bone in my pelvic area has to offer. It will always be with me. This weird feeling, not always a pain — in the nether regions.

Equipped with the lightest load that I could muster, my trusty walking poles, which support my penguin-like gait, and well-worn pair of trusty old boots, I set off.

I walked every day, sometimes splitting the stages in half only walking 10km’s on some days. As I progressed, I felt stronger, more comfortable, more aware of my surroundings. I felt joyful, and a complete sense of happiness was with me every day that I walked.

It was then that I realised how much faith was driving me. I had booked the return ticket to Spain on complete faith. My calf had not quite healed, but I booked the trip nevertheless, knowing that I would be ok. Faith.

I arrived in Sarria having complete faith that the next day when I started on the final 100km’s that I would ok. I never booked an Albergue and had faith that I would be alright and find a bed for the evening. I was never let down.

I was never let down having the support from fellow pilgrims, sharing a meal, finding a bed, passing around sweet treats while walking in a group. Being alone on the trail, and revelling in the beauty of the Spanish countryside and the silence that allowed me to acknowledge how my renewed faith was my driving force.

A long walk is just that — a long walk.

On Sunday, I was walking. A practice walk in one of the local nature reserve’s around Johannesburg. I am preparing for another pilgrimage next September.

I will walk from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago De Compostela and then onto Finisterre. On my first Camino, I started in Pamplona and reached Los Arcos before I had to surrender.

My long walk yesterday was just that. It allowed me to enjoy some quiet time outside of the city. I was amazed at how nature had restored itself after what looked like quite a big fire — the little green spruces of grass where all pushing through the black cinders with great gusto. There were a few animals about grazing on the lush parts of the plants that had grown from the past weeks’ rain.

It allowed me the time to consider what a pilgrimage means to me. It gave me context about where my faith had faltered and at which point it had rebirthed itself for me.

The truth for me is that my renewed faith doesn’t just get me to a place where my thoughts are on pilgrimage. It is with me every day now, as I progress through my newfound career. Not in the way it was there previously, but now a real and active point of reference upon which I base my purpose, and upon which I anchor my values of freedom and adventure.

When I set off in September next year, in 2021, when the world is again open to all of us, I will set off only in faith.


Camino del Norte

The magnificent Northern Route of the Camino de Santiago stretches some 825km from the Basque Country of Irun to the ancient city of Santiago de Compostela. It hugs the northern coastline of Spain boasting spectacular views and meanders inland until it meets the Camino Frances in Arzua. In comparison to the Camino Frances, this route is less traveled by the pilgrim and offers a more challenging hike.

For the history buffs and those who appreciate Roman history, in particular, the Norte follows the Via Agrippa in some parts. The Via Agrippa is any stretch of the network of Roman roads that were built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, in his reorganisation of the Gauls. The routes of the Camino de Santiago never fail to produce some of the most beautiful scenery and a trip back in history all rolled into one incredible journey.

The best way to demonstrate this routes beauty is in Efren Gonzalez’s vlog series, currently available on YouTube.


Making it to Santiago de Compostela

I was reminded this morning, of the feeling I had walking into Santiago de Compostela, after a very eventful pilgrimage. Walking over the hill and seeing the cathedral in the distance, I was initially filled with relief. Relief at having just made it. I wasn’t concerned with anything else at that point, but to just have made it to the finish line.

It was a challenging time for me. I struggled with a hip injury and when I considered that I might have been underprepared, I settled on the fact that I had prepared as best as I could have, under the circumstances. It is all you can do really. Try your best, prepare for the worst, and go walk.

In any event, I walked into the square feeling relief as I said. I stood for a long while staring at what I thought I would never see, and watched while other pilgrims completed their pilgrimages. Some were overjoyed, some were overcome with emotion and some like myself, I assume, were quietly contemplative. I then did what I do always, and assessed my internal “thermometer” for the actual feelings that should have been there. Those feelings that I had expected to be there. At that point, there was nothing. I left the square feeling as though my backpack (which was very specifically so light that I could pick it up with two fingers) weighed a ton. Heading to my hotel, which I had booked as treat for myself, I had this overwhelming feeling of “underwhelmed”

My stay in Santiago de Compostela was planned for five days, after which I would be flying home. After a hot shower, unpacking every single item in my backpack and getting into clean clothes I headed into the old city to join some pilgrims for an early supper. I was glad it was early, since I was planning on an early night to head to the Pilgrim Office the next morning to collect my Compostela. I would then go to a pilgrim mass hosted in a nearby cathedral since the main cathedral was still under repair. For me, it was a quiet meal, since I was still trying to mill through what felt like a massive hole that I had inside.

As planned, the next morning I was up early and headed back to the square, and there I sat for the next few hours, watching the going-on and being witness to other pilgrims’ joy at finally reaching their respective goals. A lady approached me, to ask that I take a photo of her, she was walking alone and I happily obliged. We exchanged a few words, and what she said to me will stay with me forever. It is not anything new, or anything none of us doesn’t know, but she said how wonderful it was for her to have finished, she said she felt accomplished, but that she was also slightly blasé at entering the city! I told her how I had felt the day before. As she walked of thanking me, she said…”well it’s not really the destination, but the journey that we make to that destination that is important” As she walked off on what were obviously tender feet, my tears were real and if I remember correctly, I might have been sobbing just slightly.

It was most certainly a journey for me. I had planned a Camino for years, postponing one for a hip replacement, holding another off to be home for a parent who I thought needed me, this time wasn’t right, that time wasn’t right until eventually, it all culminated into a pilgrimage that I would again have to delay because I had picked up an injury! So many delays, and my relief, joy, happiness, accomplishment, and all those good feelings had too delayed themselves until a very wise lady put things into perspective for me. It was never about making it to Santiago de Compostela, it was about that journey that took me to the ancient city, and I felt grateful and blessed to have persisted in fulfilling this dream. I never went to the Pilgrims Office that day, I went to Pilgrim mass and cried a little more, and those tears were happy tears, were tears for my old self, because this new person is strong beyond measure. I am not finished walking the Camino de Santiago. I will walk as long as my body allows, and when it doesn’t, on that last pilgrimage I will go to the Pilgrims Office for my Compostela.

The effect on my life of walking the pilgrimage continues to fill my thoughts, and while we have all been restricted to our countries over the past months, there are pilgrims waiting to commence this incredible journey. I wonder if some, like myself, are underestimating the impact it will have on their lives? It’s changed mine in ways I have no words to explain. Simply speaking, it brought to the surface a boldness, a strength that I never knew I had inside of me but most importantly, it brought a sense of urgency. I am urgent to live my life to it’s fullest. I am urgent to live with purpose and with an authenticity that only I can understand.


Slowly but surely, Europe is reopening to Pilgrims

The Via Francigena, like the Camino de Santiago, is an ancient pilgrimage starting in Canterbury in England, with the route ending in Vatican City. Like its Spanish counterpart, it has been closed to pilgrims over the last months. Wonderful news for all pilgrims is that both the Via Francigena and Camino routes are slowly opening to pilgrims and if you are one of those pilgrims in countries where you are able to travel there are some regulations and safety precautions that you need to be aware before you hit the trail.

Camino de Santiago

As an example, the Santander Central Hostel has posted an informative video on their Facebook page, which outlines a few extra steps that albergues have been required to take, prior to opening their doors to pilgrims. Notably, their new policy is that there is twice the space with half occupancy. I have no opinion of what that might mean for pilgrims en route since at the time of writing, there is no indication of the numbers of pilgrims currently on the trail, but it is good to take note of this new stance, by hospitelero’s.

In addition, you will not find albergues providing towels to pilgrims. While I never encountered this luxury, and I carried my own on my pilgrimage, please take note to ensure that you are carrying a quick-dry lightweight towel. My recommendation is to also take a sleeping bag or inner (weather depending) since you might find that blankets will not be available.

For more information check out their website at:

Via Francigena

For the remainder of this year, and until further notice, it is mandatory to book your accommodations in advance of traveling and heading onto the route. This particular route is not as well supported as the Camino de Santiago routes, so this is probably not a big issue. My plan would have been to do exactly that, pandemic or not.

Backpacks, boots and hiking accessories will have designated areas to be within the hostel. While this practice is normal for your boots, backpacks were almost allowed into the sleeping area, so be prepared for changes in this regard.

Masks, gloves and hand sanitiser must be carried by all pilgrims. You will be asked to use these items within the confines of the hostel or albergue. A sleeping bag and a towel is a must have.

The manager can test your temperature and if found to be beyond the 37.5-degree mark, could forbid entry to the accommodation. Please ensure that you are healthy and that you have no pre-existing conditions that might leave you unaccommodated. I am sure that all who read this, are fully aware of the impact that travelers will have on the countries being visited, and so be very cautious. For yourself and for the people of the country you are visiting. Pilgrims are generally a very kind and thoughtful bunch of people, so this goes without saying!

Since the Via Francigena traverses three countries, France, Switzerland and Italy and starting in England be sure to check in with all authorities on any additional items.

For more information for your planning please check in to the official website of the Via Francigena at :

Buen Camino, Bon Voyage, Buon Viaggio and Good Journey to one an all!



I was drawn to the Camino. I had not had any information on this pilgrimage prior to reading about it in a magazine, despite my many travels into Europe. The more I read up on this historic trail, I learned that the Camino de Santiago, does not consist of just one trail, but of many. In Spain, there are currently 15 different routes, in Portugal, and in France, 7 routes. Upon learning this, I realized that I didn’t have enough years in my life left to explore them all, and so I have set about changing my lifestyle in order to achieve this dream.

My pilgrimage is mostly a religious one. I feel the spirit and warmth of faith every day while I am walking, and while I try very hard to bring this feeling into my normal life, that is life not on the Camino I often fail miserably. I love this feeling of peace and tranquillity that I experience on Camino, and I am aware that for me, it comes from a higher place. I have often thought of joining the church, and while I am on Camino, this thought almost becomes a reality for me.

In historical context, for those who don’t know, the remains of St James the Great are said to be interned at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route, traditionally starting in St Jean Pied Du Port on the French Pyrenees is also known as the Camino Frances. The Way of St James, which is any of the many routes currently sign-posted through Europe, represents one of the most important pilgrimages still today, and during the Middle Ages most certainly a primary route upon which on completion, the pilgrim would earn plenary indulgence for one’s sins.

Traditionally the route begins at one’s home, and so pilgrims from all over Europe during the Middle Ages would have walked the route from their front door. Today, there is controversy as to the starting point of the pilgrimage. In order to receive a Compostela, which is your certificate of distance covered and issued by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago De Compostela one needs to walk at least the final 100km’s. This fixes the starting point for this minimum requirement in Sarria, which is around 112km outside of Santiago De Compostela. There is lively discussion around this aspect of the Camino and that a true pilgrim should have started in St Jean. Outside of Sarria, there is a popular milestone upon which the words saying that Jesus didn’t start in Sarria. While it doesn’t have any historical foundation, many pilgrims talk of this and believe that a true pilgrim walks any of the routes from start to finish. My position on it is based on history. It seems quite unimaginable for a pilgrim in the Middle Ages, who might have had his home in the area surrounding Sarria, to walk all the way back to St Jean Pied Du Port to then start his pilgrimage back to Santiago de Compostela. It is based on this practicality, that I base my own pilgrimage on the idea that medieval pilgrims did – it starts when I leave my door. That door is in Johannesburg South Africa, and it really is a pilgrimage since it takes me generally two or three flights, a train, and a bus to the starting point, which was on the first occasion in Pamplona and the second, Sarria. On my way, my mind is fixed (probably more fixated) on the task at hand and is preparing for the way ahead. I practice gratitude every day these days, and when I leave for a pilgrimage I am filled with so much gratitude that it is difficult to contain and even harder to explain the feelings that overwhelm me.


Just follow the yellow arrows

There is a little town just before Puenta La Reina. I wish I had my guidebook with me so that I could remember its name. As I progressed on the trail, I ripped out the stages, so as to lessen the additional weight that I might have been carrying. In retrospect, I am not really sure that I saved any weight, but what I did do, is deface a perfectly good book. In any event, I was passing through this little town and I became quite mesmerized with the lovely church square in the centre of the sleepy town. It was Sunday. It had lovely benches and play areas for worshippers, and visiting families, and I enjoyed the tranquillity of the surroundings. I walked on, and left town.

A few km’s out of town, I realized that I had not seen a yellow arrow for some time. There are a few rules while you are on Camino and being a responsible pilgrim, I generally take note of them. I stopped and contemplated that I might have taken the wrong road out of town. I had been walking on the main road, and this should really have been a sign earlier on for me to turn around.

Despite the tar road, there were many farms alongside it, and perhaps this was why I had not been alerted to my error earlier. Watching an elderly couple work their farm, I noticed the woman was beckoning to me. I crossed the road, and when I arrived within earshot of her, she spoke quickly in Spanish, and again I was so disappointed that I had not learnt the language prior to arriving on my Camino. It is amazing though that even when a language separates people, you understand the importance of what is being said through the gestures and concern on the messenger’s face. She looked very concerned and so I stood and waited for something to make sense to me.

I gestured to her and using my fingers to demonstrate what I was saying, I asked her whether I should be walking back in the direction of town. I know the word for “town” in Spanish is “pueblo” so I asked used this word in between my English words, hoping for the best. She seemed relieved when I finished my finger demonstration and she clapped and waved my along, pointing to town and also using her fingers to tell me to walk back. So off I went.

Arriving back in town, I quickly saw where I had gone wrong, and really if I had been watching, there was no way that I would have taken the wrong road in the first place. There were my trusty yellow markers, boldly displayed and telling me to walk in the opposite direction than I had originally to leave town, and so I was back on track.

It’s not hard really. The guidebook I had used for information on the towns and to learn the history of the particular area that I might be in. It was also a very useful telephone book for the local albergues in the area. But a pilgrim doesn’t really need this guidebook to tell them where they are going, or which direction to walk. You just need to follow the yellow arrows.


It had been a particularly long day on the Camino

I had set off early and had missed breakfast leaving Arzua. It was nearing the end of my days on the trail and I was feeling a little emotional about the whole thing. When I had started, I hadn’t really grasped the whole experience, but now I was entrenched in the simplicity of it all. I loved the people, loved the environment, I just loved it all. Despite the ache that had developed in my pelvis, I had headed out of town, while emotional, happy that I was about to achieve my goal.

Heading into a forest, the hill that was ahead of me, looked like it could have been walked quite easily. After some of the earlier hills, this one looked like a walk in the park. Forgive the pun. I headed into it, and halfway up, my pelvis was feeling like it had the weight of the world suspended on it. My legs ached, my lungs hurt and I just felt defeated. I stood for a long time, just looking down at my boots, looking at them and the dust that I had collected over the km’s I had already covered. I didn’t want to go on. It was just too much for me.

I looked back thinking that that was the way. I looked ahead thinking that the path forward was just too long, and too hard. Either way, I suppose I was right. I remembered a book I had read on your thought process and recalled how what you think you believe. My mind was totally giving up on me!

From behind me, a soft voice spoke. I couldn’t hear the words initially but the closer she came to me I realised that she was speaking in broken English and recognised a Spanish accent. I felt like a fraud being on this path since my Spanish was just so weak. Here I was, feeling sorry for myself, in this lady’s country and she was speaking to me in my home language. Very well too!

All she said was: the hill levels out just past that tree over there. It’s not far, and then you are on flat ground. She smiled at me and walked on past. She was wearing a backpack, so I assumed that she was a regular on the trail. I think I assumed correctly. I waited a while and watched her trudge up the hill. Even if I had tried my best, she looked like a walker who would outpace me on a flat trail. She reached the tree ahead, turned to look at me and waved, and then disappeared over the rise. Smiling, knowing that she was right about her assessment of the hill ahead, I gathered myself and started up the hill. Arriving at the tree, there ahead of me was nothing but flat road.

My Camino angel had disappeared from my sight, perhaps she was a figment of my imagination, perhaps she just walked really fast?  Either way, I was looking at the rest of the trail with a renewed vision, and I was taking another step closer to living life with gratitude and purposefully.


An introvert on the Camino

What! You are going to walk across Spain, on your own, and then spend your evenings in a populated albergue – with other people! Other people who are highly likely to talk to you! Ask you questions! Want to share their wine with you! Do you remember that you are an introvert?!

Since I am an introvert, this was a conversation that I had with myself. It really did play on my nerves leading up to my departure. How was I going to make it through this ordeal? This ordeal that had the potential to always present itself with social occasions. Social occasions, networking, talking to other people have traditionally always sent me into yellow alert, and have always triggered my self -preservation mechanism to hide out in a bathroom or find a safe spot in a corner somewhere, where I could simply watch people, which is a favourite past-time of mine. But I had to go. So I went.

On my very first night, although the albergue was quiet, the restaurant in the albergue was quite full. I placed myself strategically in a spot where I could see everyone walking through the door and had a good view of the general layout of the space. The hospitalera was wonderful! I suppose she sees many pilgrims on their own, which is common on the Camino, and so she treated me with the care that her years of experience knew how to. Into the second course, a young man and his mother asked if they could share my table. This is normal practice on the Camino, especially in albergues where a meal is prepared for the pilgrims on the trail. That feeling that I had experienced in Madrid on my second time out hit me right in the gut! It happened so quickly, but there was a sense of peace, and I welcomed the offer of company. Strangely enough!

We shared a bottle of wine (I had around a quarter glass, since I can’t hold my liquor anymore) and introduced ourselves and spoke briefly of our plans for the next day, and what brought us to this journey. I listened with such awe as to how this young man spoke of his mother, who was in her 60’s I would think, and the blessing it was for him to spend this time with her. We shared a few laughs and then fell into silence while finishing the remainder of our meal. We watched the going-on’s and then meandered up the stairs to sleep, greeting each other with respect and a good night that we knew we would all have, having walked up Alto del Perdon earlier in the day.

There I was enjoying time with like-minded people, enjoying the time in sharing a meal, and just being who I am, with other people and not feeling like I needed to run away. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of belonging, and all I wanted to do was stay. Stay there, on the trail, with those like-minded people, who held space for me and held it with such care and love. I fell in love on that night. I have been in love before, but this was a different feeling of love. It was love for me! Love for this life, and love for what life held for me.

I am an introvert. On the Camino I am an introvert, but I am ok being with pilgrims. Ok, I am not just ok, I flourish on the Camino.


A day in the life of a Pilgrim

It really is simplicity in its purest form. To summarise a day: you wake up, put your boots on (since you are generally already dressed in your walking clothes, to save weight in your backpack you are not carrying pajamas and those luxuries) and you walk, stopping along the trail to eat, have a coffee (in Spain I order a café con leche – it really is very energising) fill your water bottle, find an Albergue to sleep at, eat a simple meal, take a welcoming shower and then back to bed. For as many days as you need or plan your walk – it is a repeat of that simple cycle.

While the day is purely simplistic, the process is engaging, invigorating and life-changing. Along the route, you might discover some very interesting aspects of your personality that you never understood. I am not a psychologist, and would never assume to provide guidance on this point, but for me, I learned to accept things that I couldn’t change, to accept things as they are, and to live with gratitude – gratitude for what was the past and gratitude for what is the future.  My future had never seemed clearer.

It was clear to me when I really started to experience the Camino, that I didn’t have the need to restore a broken life. I was not filled with grief for loss; I wasn’t trying to get over a bad spell nor was I trying to right a wrong. While I miss my mother especially, I don’t feel trauma by her physical loss. In fact, when I think of all the people that are physically not present for me anymore, I don’t experience a wave of emotion for their absence. They are ever-present, and I always feel that they are by my side with every step that I take in my life, and on the Camino, it was the strongest presence of them that I had ever felt.

Undoubtedly, my mother would understand why I have gone on this journey. She would probably be able to articulate the reason why I am here at this point in my life, far better than I can. She would say that it is the draw of the adventure of the Camino; the simplicity of it all; and the spiritual upliftment that I experience when I am walking from place to place, and being very far from the noisy world that we all belong to.

We should really all experience this type of day – the simple day, where faith takes you on your journey and delivers you to your destination.