is that curious moment in time when our expectation is crushed by the overwhelming force of an unbelievable reality that stands immediately before us. A moment, I am convinced, that occurs for many a pilgrim walking to Santiago de Compostela. And, often this moment of dread delivers its shocking awakening within the first twenty minutes of starting the five hundred mile pilgrimage journey. It happens just after leaving the quiet, pretty French town of St Jean Pied-de-Port with the beginning of the walk up and over the Pyrenees mountains.
The Route Napoleon is the name of the path; 16 miles/25 kilometres in length, it takes you to Spain and the hamlet of Roncesvalles. The difficulty: an ascent of 1,200 metres, the stamina for 8 hours of walking with, if you’ve packed well, just an 8 kg/18 lbs load on your back.
The Pyrenees is the great human leveller; it delivers its messages without regard to status, background, nationality, age, health, wealth, occupation. They are of no importance. It is here, on that first day, where excessive egos are woken up, irrational beliefs challenged, comfy expectations destroyed and assumptions proven wildly wrong.
The messages you receive, both positive and negative, are simple in design. They repeat endlessly until you choose to listen:
‘ You are stronger than you think you are’.
‘ Lighten the load’.
‘ Walk your own pace’.
‘ Listen to what your body is saying’.
Begin to listen the moment you decide to go on Camino. Every journey begins at home. This means taking self-responsibility and committing to preparing as much as you can for the journey ahead. Of course, you can defer and procrastinate the preparation until the last minute but remember, you may well pay a price. Two extracts from my pdf book, ‘The Book Of Camino Wisdom’, amply demonstrate this:
Consider Cause And Effect – Day 1
As I climb, I resemble a plodding mule. Pilgrim after pilgrim overtakes me including super-fit and confident Mark, an Englishman living in Norway with a passion for mountain biking. We talk only briefly as he has a mountain to attack, even though it’s been here for millennia and will not be going anywhere. Others pass me who are obviously over-burdened. I wonder if they will pay the price for their enthusiasm. I continue in the slow lane in my own mulish way. And my strategy pays dividends: I get to meet and greet many other pilgrims.
Help Whenever Possible – Day 9
I head towards Navarette, and a voice calls out from my Camino past. I meet Mark whom I had last seen on day one, just outside of St Jean Pied de Port. Chatting with me takes his mind off the excruciating pain of terrible blisters.
As I said, the Camino begins at home through the decisions you choose to either take or not take; as a result, ‘suffering is optional’. To learn more about this click here to download a free pdf copy of ‘The Book Of Camino Wisdom‘