“I was called to the Camino.”
This is something you hear a lot, when talking to people about the Camino.
Something else I’ve heard is this: “Once you’re called to the Camino, you can never un-hear it. That call will sit with you- maybe for years- and not go away until you answer it.”
Was I called to do the Camino? Maybe. I’m not sure. I suppose I was, because the Camino wasn’t some random trip that I happened to show up on; it was purposeful and planned and I was really, really excited for it. But my purpose for walking the first Camino wasn’t necessarily about the Camino, not exactly. It was more about doing something big to move myself forward and out of the sad place I’d been in.
But when it comes to feeling called, I can say with certainty that I felt called back to the Camino. And not just once, but twice. Well, three times now, if you count my upcoming plans to spend a few weeks on a Camino route in France this summer.
What’s this all about, the call to return again, and again? Why do I love the Camino so much?
Longtime readers of the blog will have already caught onto the answer- maybe never explicitly stated- but the one that has come through all of my writings and ramblings and notes from the road. And that answer is… I love to walk.
And more than that: I love the people on the Camino. I love the community. I love the coffee and the wine. I love spending all day outside, moving.
This stuff all seems fairly simple and straightforward but there’s something important in here. The combination of all of this- the walking and the community and the coffee and the wine and the wind and the sunshine and the movement- it all comes together and when I’m on the Camino I feel like I’m the best version of myself.
I didn’t realize this would happen when I took my first steps out of St Jean Pied de Port, and it wasn’t the goal of my walk. My goal was simply (or, maybe, not so simply) to get to Santiago, and- more loosely- to begin to rewrite the future I had envisioned for myself at that time. To do this, I thought it would be good to have a direction to move in, and the Camino provided over 800 kilometers of just that: a clear direction.
But as I walked, I discovered something, and it happened quickly. Within only a few days I became so comfortable on the Camino that I felt almost at home there. I was sleeping in a different village or town every night so it surprised me how strong this feeling of belonging was, but it was undeniable. I felt like I belonged there, walking straight through Spain under a hot and heavy sun. I felt like I belonged.
Who knew I would love to walk so much? There have been hints throughout my life: hours spent riding my bike as a kid, all alone, pedaling in loops through my neighborhood, daydreaming and staring up at the trees. Later, long walks through my neighborhood, long walks on the beach, a curiosity about hiking.
But still, I’m not exactly an outdoorsy sort of person, and I’m absolutely not a risk-taker. Now, there’s a small amount of risk associated with the idea of walking 500-miles across a country, but the Camino isn’t exactly for thrill-seekers. We’re on a pilgrimage and it’s amazing and soul-searching and spiritual and inspiring and energizing and sometimes very difficult but, at the end of the day, we’re walking.
We’re walking. All day, every day. Sometimes a section of the path or a day’s route could be described as hiking, and when I’m of mind to try to impress someone I might call it ‘trekking’ but honestly, what we’re doing is walking.
And I’m good at it. I laugh because I’ve discovered that one of my strongest skills is something I mastered shortly after turning 1. Sometimes I wish what I were doing was a little more exciting, like: I run marathons! I go rock-climbing! White water rafting! I surf! I sing in front of rooms full of people! I do stand-up comedy!
But no, I walk. And it’s exactly, perfectly, the thing that I want to be doing. I learned on my first Camino that I didn’t tire easily, that I could just keep going and going. I’ve had bad days, days that were a struggle, but on the majority of my days on the Camino, I was in love with the simple act of walking.
So I return to the Camino because I feel alive being outside all day, moving my body. But it’s not just the movement and the walking, because I can do that easily enough at home, can’t I?
It’s the community of the Camino.
This is important for me, because in order to be the best version of myself, I need to be around people. And not just any people, but people who light me up and inspire me, people I connect with. I have a lot of these people in my life but they’re not in my day-to-day life, and I crave that. So maybe that’s another reason I keep returning to the Camino- to meet these people, day in and day out. To find that connection of the soul. To find my people, my community. It’s an ever shifting and changing community but it’s there: I’m walking alone one minute and then the next I find myself sharing ideas and hopes and dreams over a glass of wine with a fellow pilgrim. It’s kind of neat how that works.
And the thing is, in my real life, I’m kind of shy and very much an introvert. I’m this way on the Camino, too, but I get my introvert time by walking mostly alone, and the shyness? It gets snuffed out after several days of meeting new people and having conversations and being out of my comfort zone. At my core, I’m a really friendly person who loves knowing people- it’s just that the trick is, I have to go through the process of getting to know someone. The befriending. And right now, in my life, that feels like such a long and daunting process for a shy introvert. But on the Camino, it all happens so fast and maybe it’s because of the nature of the walk, or maybe because I’m feeling like I’m one of the best versions of ‘Nadine’ I can be but whatever it is, it all comes together. I make friends, I meet people whose souls connect with my own. (To this point, I sometimes wonder if the best shot I have at meeting a man I might think to marry would be to find him on a Camino. But that’s another post for another time).
So this combination- the walking and the connection (not to mention being able to sleep on a bed at the end of the day, all of the great coffee and wine and fresh fruit, the experience of another culture and a different place, plus the spiritual aspect of the walk)- this combination keeps me coming back for more. It calls to me, again and again. It tells me that I belong out there, I belong there in ways that I haven’t fully belonged in many of the other places of my life. Something keeps pulling me back- it’s happiness and discovery and love and life and feeling so fully alive.
I know that a lot of pilgrims have felt this after their Camino, and I know a lot struggle with this upon coming back home. How to keep these feelings alive? How to continue to live your Camino even after the Camino ends? But that, too, is another post for another time. Right now, I just want to think about the reasons I love that dusty path through Spain, all of those paths that lead to Santiago, all of those people walking those paths, everyone moving in the same direction and me, right in the fold of it all. Maybe I still have a lifetime to keep returning to the Camino. Maybe I’ll just never stop walking.