Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional

At last I'm done with the most strenuous part of my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago; preparing my photos from my journey so that there's a chance you will enjoy browsing through them.

And I really mean that. Walking hundreds of kilometres may sound demanding, but when all the facilities are as super great and the trail is as easy to follow as the Way of Saint James is, it's a trivial thing. You want some proof? Try the many pilgrims in their 70's and 80's you're bound to meet on your way from France to Santiago de Compostela.

Have a look at these photos, and see if maybe they'll make you want to discover the wandering bug living inside you!

You probably walk faster than this guy, at least.True, during the first few days I hurt in many places:
* A sunburn on my left side, which is the one that gets hit all the time when you walk towards the west.
* Sore corners of my mouth, a result of eating way too many crisp baguettes.
* As my toe nails kept falling off, the nerves from my feet complained a bit.
* A sore throat resulted from the sudden changes from chilly mornings to hot mid-days.

The good thing about having numerous issues with your body is that you can't be annoyed by the same problem for long at a time. And even better; all your pain will gradually decrease, until suddenly one day after a long walk you'll discover that nothing hurts anymore. The only thing stopping you from continuing the walk is that it's getting dark. By then your body will be a walking machine, and you will feel slightly super-human. It took me about a week to get there, and it was worth it.

Anyway, you don't have to walk the entire 800 kilometres in order to be a qualified pilgrim. A hundred kilometres by foot is the minimum requirement, and then your time and ability decides how much more you will add to that.

If you for some reason can't walk all the way, I think that you should at least not just walk the last 100 kilometres to Santiago. That part is more frustrating than suitable for getting you onto the VIP list for entrance to the Night club in the Sky. Unless you enjoy walking in a flock like a sheep, that is.

Baa, ram, eweThe scenically most rewarding day, to me, was the first one. It's a walk across the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Roncesvalles in Spain. While the experience is highly dependent on the weather you get, there's nothing like this landscape and natural drama anywhere else than what you find here.

Following that there's a really nice hike through forests and along rivers all the way to Pamplona. The next 500 kilometres, though, to Ponferrada, can easily blur into a long, grey memory consisting of fields, villages and churches that may be hard for you to tell apart. I mean, it's certainly all nice enough, but it soon gets old, which is also what it all happens to be.

If you're lucky and socially able, you may find company and conversations that will carry you through this part. If not, you had better have lots of sins and problems at home to think about, or at least an MP3 player loaded to the brim with goodies.

I can recommend the roughly hundred kilometres between Ponferrada and Sarria, but after that you may want to check out Spain's public transportation, or find routes to walk that strays off from the official short and overcrowded pilgrim trail.

It's a long way to goDon't get me wrong. I'm not dissatisfied with the final bit of El Camino de Santiago. All in all I was delighted by walking it. I met people along the way who I enjoyed getting to know. I saw varied and breath-taking landscapes as well as intriguing villages and churches. My Spanish was improved and I understand much more of the way Spain works than I did previously.

Still, to me, the by far best part of walking the Way was mastering the long days of walking, and the fact that they made me feel stronger than I have felt in years. For the better part of a decade I've had a problem with my knees. During this walk I must have rebuilt some supporting muscles, so that now I can again easily walk uphill for a whole day and not feel any pain in my knees at all. That result alone is worth twenty-three days of walking, I think.

Do not let the light get you!Although it's not at all my favourite long walk, I'll happily recommend the Camino de Santiago if you want to try it for yourself. Let me know it if you need more information to get going.

Buen camino! #8D)