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  • Sydney Bergen


What is the Camino de Santiago? It is an ancient 500 mile pilgrimage across the Northern region of Spain. There are many Caminos throughout Europe, and they all lead to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It is historically a Christian religious passage, but has become modernized to be a spiritual journey and now tens of thousands of people from all around the world do this pilgrimage each year. I opted to do the most popular route, the French Way, starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France and on day one you cross the Pyrenees mountains into Northern Spain.

I’ve planned to do my trip in 35 days or less, aiming to end in Compostela on the death-aversary of my mom, but I’m not attaching too much to the day as my intention for this trip is to be in a state of peaceful acceptance. Here you can see the route and the many stops along the way. I am going to be staying in Albergues, hostels specifically for Pilgrims, but treating myself to a hotel here and there when I need some alone time.

And so I’ve started my journey! The Pyrenees crossing was challenging, as I’m used to having my mountain goat (Finn) carrying the pack. Mine is a good 10lbs overweight with snacks, the sacrifice I was willing to take to have my luxuries in the tough times of the trip. The weather was perfect and the trail was crowded with lots of pilgrims. I’ve noticed that everyone is in a mode of forging forward, so I haven’t had much interaction on the trail - it must be the hyper excitement of the first stage of the Camino for people. I realized today that the last international trip that I had taken with my mom was to Spain ten years ago. I feel the full circle connection of being back in the country we had our last overseas adventure to.

I already have a mosaic of blisters on my feet, despite taking on the advice of fellow trekkers and many prevention measures. Every step is like stepping on sharp glass, my nose is burned, my knees are tender, my shin splints are screaming, and my shoulders are aching from my pack, yet I’m maintaining that sense of peace I set my intention for.

On my second day I left the 300 person Albergue at 6:30 am to try and get ahead of the noise of clicking hiking poles and crowd of eager trekkers. It was still dark out and I was walking through a pitch black forested trail. I didn’t want to have to take my pack off to get my headlamp (I know this sounds petty, but I had just loaded it on and the thought of having to hoist it off and on again was unappealing) so I continued on, trusting in the path and my instincts. All of the natural fears came up, tripping on a crack and going down with my pack, encountering the rare wolf of the Pyrenees, being the one case of Camino mugging that happens every ten years, I let these fears arise but then gave them little attention. Instead focusing on the yellow arrows that were barely visible on the tree trunks along the way. And then I had my epiphany, if I can physically sit through the discomfort and fears that arise on this dark path, then I can definitely do it whenever the dark path of my emotions shows up.

My next profound moment happened as the sun was rising and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for not losing my way on the first stretch of the morning. I was seeing the Camino signs left and right and my ego started telling me that there was no possible way you could get lost on this route, everything had been so clearly marked thus far, even in the forested part of the mountain. And next thing you know, I was lost. I had followed the Camino bike path into the village instead of staying on the walking path, I then humbly swallowed my earlier egoic thought. It was a good lesson to learn early on, as it's the towns that are actually the most confusing part of the Camino.

Last night was my first ‘Pilgrim’s dinner’ - one that you can pay for at the Albergue you are staying and that comes with a set menu of Spanish cuisine and free flowing wine. At my table there was a woman from Hong Kong, a woman from France, a younger woman from New Zealand and a couple from Catalonia (Northeast region of Spain). The New Zealander was the only other English speaker, and we had an entire dinner conversation getting to know each other in other ways. I somehow translated that the Catalonian couple loves ecstatic and trance dance (you would have not guessed on appearance!) and they gave me a lovely compliment that they could see my open heart in my eyes - my very limited Spanish has allowed me some rewarding connections. As humans all we want is to feel worthy, seen and loved and this dinner showed how this can happen even without a common language.


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