dedicated to the people who impressed me
this story wont have any wheels. and you know i love me those but - when you manage to impress me - I will share it. this will be a story about my friend, former classmate from high school Lenka. i hope her story will impress or inspire you as it did me
“when your dreams are powerful and you have the courage to follow them - your surroundings will bow to your will.”
Lenka is a successful woman, right now starting her own business. mom of two. wife. but there comes a moment in her life when one lingering feeling, calling or a dream has to become reality. daily things had to be changed in order to fulfill this calling
i don’t believe for one second she got tired. or tired ‘of it’. life, work, kids… she is not that kind of person. if she is anything then devoted, focused, strong – not a quitter. that’s how I remember her from high school.
sometimes things in our lives rearrange, we need a change in our routines. when that moment comes, you know nothing will happen if this won't be taken care of.
some people go for ‘normal’ things. little vacation, buy a motorcycle to help with midlife crisis :p but some people - they hear a quiet voice inside. they are courageous enough to listen to that voice and act upon it. majority of population calls those people crazy :) and that’s a compliment, lenka! i’m sure you know that by now. well, at least to me. when I get to hear ‘crazy’ – I know I did something good, worth the effort and it always made for good memories
so what is all this about?
Lenka had a dream to walk one of the famous European pilgrimages – Camino de Santiago.
In english it has the name ‘Way of St. James’. There is a little town in north west of Spain, called Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago de Compostela
town in spain, where are the remains of the St. James, one of the apostels. pilgrims walk to visit the city and it’s cathedral - which is the destination of the journey. there are different routes to get to the cathedral, depending on your starting point. few examples are on the map left but there are many many more, with different starting spots and lengths
Lenka - start at the beginning so they can hear it from you. what makes a woman, business woman, mom of two, wife decide to let it all be for a month+ and choose this unusual way of spending your ‘vacation days’? ‘normal’ person would pick Italy for a week and eat pizzas and pastas every day all day and chill. You knowingly chose discomfort, foot pain and lot of unknown (otherwise known to me as good adventure). WHY
First of all – I’d like to say that I’m honored how you feel about this trip and happy that I can maybe inspire somebody. Thank you for the chance to share this experience, because as I told you already at our meet up – I wish it upon EVERYBODY to experience their Camino
There are many books about Camino. Famous one by Paolo Coelho, plenty of websites on the topic, even some movies. For example the American movie ‘The Way’ , link. That inspired me a bit but if I’m honest - the movie has a good idea, it portraits the Camino only partially, and I don’t mean geographically. There is a german movie ‘I’m off then’ , link . I think that movie is perfect, because it’s funny but it does show the real side of Camino.
But back to me. Years back I read the mentioned book from Paolo Coelho and I felt it. I felt inside the spark. While reading the book I was filled with images and thoughts about what adventure this could be. I could literally imagine the fields, hills, churches along the way. But I don’t think I could imagine that I would ever manage to do this trip. It’s a bit a syndrome of Central-Europeans – don’t trust yourself, don’t fulfill your dreams. Nobody showed us how, nobody supported such ideas, maybe our American friends won’t understand reading this. (note of peter: yes, they won’t understand :) and YES there is central Europe. It’s not just west and east. Europe is large. USA is large… there is not just east and west (coasts). get it? :p there is always ‘middle’ in the middle of something large :p)
And later I saw the movie The Way and the feelings came back. But again without me acting on it. It wasn’t the right time. This was maybe 3-5 years ago. Then the year 2017 came and if I’m looking at it restrospectively – this was the key year for me. And the timing was right as well. But let's not jump ahead. The big ‘issue’ was – I would love to go but when kids will be older, when this, when that…
Mom, wife, friend… Always ready to help somebody, employee who is will to do overtimes anytime asked. That was me. All for others and for myself… little. And that was time when I burned out. I finally started to understand that I cannot live like this anymore in order to be happy. And what can you pass on others around you, if you yourself are not happy?
It was time for a family vacation. I sit in airplane direction Asia with lot of time to kill, so how about a movie. I looked at the selection of awarded European movies. And that was the time I saw that german movie ‘I’m off then’. My heart started to pound. I saw it twice. Flying to Asia.. and 2 more times flying back :) The movie didn’t leave my mind while on the vacation. I felt that I absolutely must do Camino and the sooner the better. But when? How? Are the kids ready for this? Despite all the questions, calling of Camino was very strong.
how did you announce this at home and how did they react?
I started intensively search for anything about Camino on internet. How long does it take to do this, are there any options (and there are many, because camino has many paths). I chose the classic French Way. Or maybe the French way chose me J. I didn’t thik about any other option. Why? maybe I just listened to my heart.
Now back to reality. How to tell everybody at home that I need minimum a month to go away? What to say at work? Nobody will give me one month vacation time at once. But the heart didn’t allow me to waver, it beat intensively and forced me to keep looking for more useful information and plan this quietly so far.
One day husband ‘caught me’ while buried in the internet and looked at me surprised. All I said was ‘I just have to go’. And his answer was even more surprise for me ‘of course, go!’. It wasn’t easy, because he never stayed alone with kinds longer than a weekend.
But when you mean something with every ounce of you, when you are determined and your wish/dream is aligned with your life path – even your surroundings will bow to it and cannot react in any other way but to let you go and support you. I felt it like that even with my kids (then 10 and 12yo). They were bit shocked as well and there was never time without their mom for such a long time. But they tried to look strong, that it’s ok and even when I’m not around, dad is less hard on them and let's them do things mom doesn’t :)
I had the thoughts if I'm not selfish.
At the same time I felt that by doing this
I will show my kids that they have to follow their dreams.
I knew that when I return I will be better mom and better human being. My brain didn’t believe any of this, it still didn’t align with the heart. But I felt it was right to do this.
I quit my job. My colleagues supported me. By other than that I wasn’t sharing much about my plans with other people. Even when my tongue was burning to tell everybody. Even my best friends didn’t know. I knew that it will be a shock when they find out but I imagined it will be positive and inspirational. I didn't want to hear anybody talking back to me that ‘I’m a woman, alone, going to a foreign country, to walk 800km’.
When I went 'public' with the news everybody’s jaws dropped and it was as expected. Some of them calling me crazy but some were astonished, surprised and they supported me.
Camino is a way. Not any normal one. It’s spiritual and religious. For me the trip started way before the day of departure from your country. But It’s always like that.
Things ‘start to happen’ the moment you decide for something and commit to it. Out of the blue you start to see useful articles that you would probably overlook otherwise. “this singer just did Camino”, “that model did the walk her 3rd time”. Then things happen like your friend calls to take you out but you have to answer: "No, I don’t have time this week for a coffee. No, not next week neither. No, even the 3rd week won’t work" :)) You say that you’ll be in Spain for minimum a month and she asked ‘Are you doing Camino?’ When these things happen you just feel that you are doing the right thing.
I’m always interested in the time span between birth-of-an-idea to day-of-leaving. How long did you prepare for this journey after the idea was born
I knew when I return, I will be better mom and better human being. My brain didn’t believe any of this, it still didn’t align with the heart. But I felt that I decided right to do this.
I quit my job. My colleagues supported me. By other than that I wasn’t sharing much about my plans with other people, even when my tongue was burning to tell everybody. Even my best friends didn’t know. I knew that it will be a shock when they find out, but I imagined it will be positive and inspirational. I dindt want to hear anybody talking back to me that ‘I’m a woman, alone, going to a foreign country, to walk 800km’.
When I shared the information, everybody’s jaws dropped and it was as expected – some of them calling me crazy, some were astonished, surprised and they supported me.
Camino is a way. Not any normal one. It’s spiritual and religious. For me the trip started way before the day of departure from your country. But It’s always like that.
Things ‘start to happen’ the moment you decide for something and commit. Out of the blue you start to see useful articles that you would probably overlook otherwise. “this singer just did camino”, “that model did it her 3rd time”. Then things like your friend calls you out, but no you don’t have time this week for a coffee. No, not next week neither. No, even the 3rd week won’t work :)) you say that you’ll be in spain for minimum a month and she asked ‘are you doing camino?’ when these things happen, you just feel that you are doing the right thing.
you got to your starting point. you are in France, in a booked a hotel and tomorrow you will make the first official step in your walking shoes. what went through your head that night before it all started? had a good sleep? any doubts of any kind or pure excitement all the way?
It was in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
This was the moment I stood with my feet at Camino. Behind me was the flight from Bratislava, Slovakia to London to French Biarritzu. From there I had to grab a cab to train station direction Saint Jean PdP. I ended up with 4 other people in the cab but all of us with the same goal. While squeezed in the car I got to find out that my new traveling friends are: from Brazil but living in Spain, it’s his 6th time. Two old but very quirky Spanish ladies doing their route piece by piece, little by little. And I met Rita, my companion for the first part of the pilgrimage.
I didn’t arrange anything for my accommodation that night. That’s not how a true traveler does it :p And I did it in this spirit the whole way. One looks for the accommodation where ever you stop for the day. This time I stayed in the same place as Rita. She had her room booked ahead of time. So tourist-y!
I spent my first and only night in France with such an agonizing migraine.
There was a roaring thunderstorm outside that night. I could not even stand on my feet in the morning. Just the thought of eating breakfast made me want to vomit. So I started my first day of the pilgrimage hungry and in pain. I walk across the beautiful picturesque town that is as beautiful as the whole Camino and I see the hill behind the town. The one I have to conquer and I feel like crying. I actually cried, because the migraine allowed me to walk something like 5 steps in a minute.
First day of the French part is the most difficult. You have to cross Pyrenees with spots with such a strong winds that you can lean into it and not fall. But the views!!! Oh my. Those mountains! The meadows! Flowers, clouds. The cows on the fields! :) but I’m jumping ahead…
About Camino is written ‘Camino will give its pilgrim what ever he/she needs’. Or ‘Miracles happen on Camino’. I was very anxious to find out about these ‘claims’. At the beginning you are not getting it. Especially when you walk slow like a snail, tears are falling down your cheeks by the sheer hopelessness of the task ahead of you. There is no close accommodation on the first part of the pilgrimage. The first possible place to stay at is a cloister 25km away (around 15miles). With my energy I will make it barely on the first Pyrenees hill.
One French woman catches up with me and asks me something. We communicate with arms/legs, I’m trying to explain that I feel very weak and dizzy. She is asking me something, I don’t understand but she whips out a migraine pill. I took it hesitantly because pills don’t work with me much. But I thankfully took it, what else can I do, I wanted to be polite. I walked some more and didn’t even realize that Rita caught up with me after she finished her breakfast, leaving the town hour after me. And – first miracle – by then I felt so much better that I can match the speed of the other pilgrims.
To answer your question then – what I was thinking about the first day of the trip – it was the migraine. All I thought about was pain. And then the relief that allowed me to enjoy those wow views. I had nothing in between on the first day.
now – tell us about the walk. good and bad stories, your feelings, thoughts, was it what you imagined it to be?
I met all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds and stories. With all sorts of motives to be there. People from all corners of the world. One young new Zealandish couple came for the adventure. Colombian lady for fun. German doctor coming back multiple times every year. I had tiny doubts if he was really a doctor, but I played the game and he actually did help me once when I had a physical crisis. I think he ‘lost’ there something long time ago (or in past life?) and he still didn’t find it. Argentinians, Americans, Russians, English, Koreans, Australians, Austrians, Czech group making a documentary ‘Camino on Wheels’ because their friend in wheelchair wanted to make this trip. For him and to inspire others and he did, with his cheerful personality. It kept me speechless, all the countries the people came from to here and I kept asking myself how did they find out about Camino for the first time?
I don't have bad stories. Only the blisters, hurting legs, feet, tiredness… but every pilgrim or walker or hiker has that. They were telling us this along the road: ‘you are no pilgrim without pain and blisters’. And another thing they kept saying was ‘no wine, no pilrgim’ :) but I managed to disprove that one.
There were moments when I kept asking myself why am I doing this. I strained my muscles on my leg by the 4th day. The first 5 days were with pain in my leg. Every step was hurting so I had to slow down the tempo. I did set it for myself too high anyway. Then you get those questions. Questioning yourself. Everybody will go through some crisis – mental or physical. And the walk is about that. When you are committed it wont make you stop. Retrospectively I wont put these low moments and small crises into the ‘bad category’. It might just seem like that in the moment. That’s how life works.
And now about good stories. How much time do you have? How much can I write here? :))
ALL the walk, all my Camino was one big amazing story. I don't even hesitate to call it the best story. It gave me so much much than just fulfilling a dream. Camino is much more and the only way to find out is to live it. For me the stories of other people were so inspirational. It made me happy to hear them talking why they chose the Camino and how it rewards them personally. All the people there, from any country, nationality and religion – we were all friends. We felt that we care about each other. If you slow down or stop, everybody asks you if you are ok or need help. And when they leave you continue your walk, they leave you with a smile. With a smile and a greeting of pilgrims – Buen Camino!
I want to think that if more people would do this pilgrimage, Camino de Santiago, or any other one, there are many others in Europe, in Norway, Italy, USA - if they would just experience the camaraderie and friendliness that I felt there, without any difference where are you from
or what do you believe in – people would really have to ask themselves why are out there all the wars and hatred. Life is about the opposite! Beauty, love, passion, compassion. Do you think it's impossible? Or even funny? Try Camino!
The road was about yourself, sinking in your own mind. I chose to walk alone most of the days. What basically meant – you have to decide if you join other people for lunch or if you eat alone.
Or if you won’t eat :) Till now I remember how amazing it was to walk your own speed, in your own thoughts, do what you feel of doing at that specific moment. Walk or stay bit longer sitting and chilling, enjoying the sun without movement even for hours. Just soak in the country, the view and the sweet doing nothing.
I was waking up early. Around 6am-ish because it was very hot during noon. You walk up hills, down hills, flat fields, in the woods, in small villages or little towns. meeting the people who live in those places and live from large portion from the tourism – they offer accommodation, they have little stores, shops, restaurants and they really appreciate and respect the pilgrims. they were part of our Camino and we were part of their lives.
It's up to you how much you want to walk per day, what tempo is good for you. I started with 25km per day (15 miles). But my pilgrim ‘soul’ was not happy with that. There were days when I did 40-50km per day (25-30miles). This felt more like a fit for me but the average was around 25km. So logically my speed made me leave my group of pilgrim friends. Normally we would meet and leave each other and meet on a different spot again. But more than anything you kept meeting more and more new people. My speed allowed me to focus on my mission, focus on my Camino, myself and stay alone without talking to anybody even a whole day :)
Try to stay quiet all day if you can do it. It was amazing. After Camino when I was in Bali we saw that hinduists have a habit to have one day a silent day. We accepted the challenge, wanted to try this. People in Bali know what is going on when you point at your mouth to 'explain' that you have a silent day. When you buy stuff you just point at things. Same in restaurants etc. People support you, they respect and honor that you decided to do this. When we were doing this all I could think of were my long silent moments during Camino and I felt a deep connection. It’s a truly holy moment when you find the time and have the energy and courage to stay silent. To dive deep inside yourself in times that force you to the exact opposite. I lived some of my Camino miracles and I lived my own life transformations.
One cannot tell all the good stories. It was just too many. But they were mine. You have do and live your stories on Camino. And maybe your Camino won't be the same as mine. That is the beauty of it. You have to experience your own journey.
If I inspired even one person to do this, then I feel very happy. Very honored.
And you know what? I will come back to Camino. Right now I’m contemplating about the Portugal path from Porto to Santiago de Camino (south to north). I will put on my now old trekking shoes and maybe this time I won’t forget the trekking poles :D And I got me a beautiful wooden walking stick on this pilgrimage, it comes really handy on some stretches. I grab the backpack and will go on another pilgrimage. Will you join?