Written by Gustavo Araújo!
Exciting, rainy, stupid, and epic (in these order) are the adjectives I heard and experienced about the learning trip of the 3E internship.
I'm not sure if you are going to read this whole article, so I will spoil my point in writing about it: The Camino de Santiago is a fantastic trip that breaks everyone - the strong and weak ones. Whether facing physical challenges, testing mental resilience, or confronting emotional fears, it is a heck of a trip that pushes us to the extreme and yes, has a last impact that flavours victory and accomplishment, and as the days go by after it something profound starts shifting our minds and hearts.
The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes leading to the Cathedral of the apostle Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Pilgrims and tourists from various backgrounds embark on this spiritual journey, walking or cycling through scenic landscapes and ancient paths.
So, eight of us departed from Canada for this adventure with Tui in Spain as our initial destination. We would have seven stages, covering between 19 to 26 km per day in each, ultimately leading us to Santiago de Compostela.
Our initial struggle was to draw a line between being pilgrims and tourists. Given that all of us were in Spain for the first time, everything was exciting new. We agreed to appreciate everything with our eyes and savour it with our natural senses before capturing any pictures, although this wasn't always easy.
Before the trip, we researched everything we could - routes, stages, accommodations, transport, luggage, flights, stops, and food. Some of the hostels are great, infused with history, like a 300-year-old stone house, or a hostel with a thermal swimming pool (that we couldn’t use) while other places were less comfortable. We intentionally chose very different places to make us experience things from different perspectives.
In total we covered the last 120km of the Camino, crossing many small towns, cities, countryside, forests, industrial areas, beautiful historical sites, and farms with vineyards, kiwis, oranges, and lemon trees.
Observing the interns and reflecting on my own experiences I easily found parallels between the Camino journey and our life journey. We encountered uphills and downhills stretches, walked on mud, asphalt, highways, through creeks and stone roads and we also had beautiful landscaping. We battle the most with the rain, oh Lord, we had rain! Most of the days were warm but the rain was often there, in the mornings and evenings. On the very last day, the longest of all, we battled wind, cold, and relentless rain.
The uncertainty of the Camino, especially for us as newbies, was something intriguing. Some stages presented split routes, requiring us to make decisions – sounds like life itself, doesn’t it? Some days, yes, we chose wrong, leading us on zigzag routes that seemed endless.
Initially, of course, we wanted to experience the most we could, and it didn’t matter if we were taking a longer route, that last little, not soon we were looking for shortcuts that would get us to our destination easily and the fastest possible.
The physical pain is real - shoulders, back, legs, and feet all felt the strain. We were dealing with muscles that we never noticed before. At the end of the day we just want to rest, but you know, we got impressed by how suddenly we still had the energy and curiosity to go out and explore, which often happened, even with the blisters and aches.
Breakdowns, cries, and regrets punctuated our journey, leading us to question the stupidity and senselessness of the trip. It was the breaking point, and everyone experienced the same at a certain level, - expressed or repressed. Some realized how unprepared we were, mentally and also with resources, we needed better rain gear, more warm clothes, more pairs of socks, and probably two pairs of shoes that we could switch around and not have to use the same wet shoe every day. Be prepared - another big lesson for life!
Some of us ended up with double backpacks, carrying the burden with our friends so they could keep going. We glad shared the weight - act that we also can take as a lesson applicable to life.
Along the route, we met captivating figures and stories - an Australian hiking couple with a baby using the Camino to strengthen their relationship; four university students making a documentary whose equipment was ruined by rain; a Chinese woman and a Spanish man forming an impromptu team; four women in their 50s joining forces to cut accommodation costs and of course, we 8 pilgrims from Saskatchewan added some fun to the story.
The low season meant fewer pilgrims, eliminating competition for sleeping spots but also leading to closures, which wasn’t always fun.
We also noticed the pride that elderly people have about the Camino. Many times, they stopped us and emphasized the correct route to take.
Upon reaching Santiago of Compostela, nothing special happened, indeed we were so tired, soaked, and cold that we just wanted to go to the hotel and have a good hot shower, eat, and rest. The exhaustion overshadowed any sense of celebration. We couldn’t get our certificate of pilgrimage, our group got lost and divided. Only two of us reached the office, a minute before closing. We decided not to get the certificate as the majority of the group wouldn’t be able to. When we sat down at the Cathedral of Santiago I felt my legs would give up and I’m pretty sure most of us felt the same - the weight of our bodies.
Now, back home, as I reflect and write about it the taste of the experience gets better and better and grows richer. Often we seek instant gratification but this journey definitely unfolds a reward that comes later on!
In conclusion, the learning trip was marked by excitement, rain, moments of perceived stupidity, and epic encounters, that mirrored the challenges and rewards. The physical and mental strains, unexpected twists, and shared burdens taught all of us valuable lessons. Despite breakdowns and regrets, the profound impact of the journey becomes clearer with reflection, emphasizing the delayed but enduring rewards that unfold over time. The Camino, like life, presents choices, struggles, and unexpected alliances, and brings a transformative experience that surpasses the exhaustion felt upon reaching Santiago de Compostela.