Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben & Mikayla Journee
We finished walking the Camino de Santiago at around 3pm on Sunday 8 October. 37 days after we left Saint Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrennes. 799km, or so our certificates say. We were exhausted. That is an understatement. It had been a very hard day for me, and the final push into town was a long and hot one. We were done. And though the feeling of relief was real, as we came around the corner into Praza do Obradoiro, the sadness was real too. Could it really be over? Were we ready for it to be over? Had we learnt enough?
Because for us it truly was an almost always slow and painful journey. Like really damn hard. Physically hard. Every day. I cannot overstate that enough. My feet still get a deep and sharp ache if I’m on them for a few hours. Ben’s hip gets sore and grindy every now and then. If I wear my backpack for too long the bump on my collarbone flares up. Let’s be honest, it’s a really nice thing not having to walk 25km each day.
I am also missing the walking.
Because regardless of the immense pain and injury, our Camino was punctuated by incredible people who we formed powerful bonds with in very short spaces of time. And we found these people when we needed them most. These people were our Camino miracles. We walked around feeling inspired and connected to the universe and connected to each other and connected to ourselves all the time. It was a time of self determination, self (re)discovery, and above all else, a time of love. I’m going to speak for Ben, as well as make a big conjecture, when I say it absolutely is going to be one of the most important experiences of our lives. Sure, we’d do things a little differently next time. But we absolutely wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m finding myself missing the Camino – whenever I crave some inner peace and quiet, whenever I crave clarity. I miss having one thing to do each day, and feeling proud at the end of each day for making it. What a glorious thing a really long walk is.
Why did we do the Camino?
Because we (especially I) needed to fight for what we wanted and create some space in our lives. I wanted to be a bit selfish. In trying to live up to various expectations (mostly my own), I had been feeling a bit damaged. I also felt like I was too young to let life slip me by. I needed to pretend to be free – even though I knew that it would only be make believe for a while. I needed to be done with playing a role. I needed to get my balance back, and at the same time, we both wanted to give time and balance back to us. We’ve been together nearly 10 years, married for nearly 5, and we felt like life had been happening to us for at least 4. It was time to recalibrate. It was way past time to give attention to our bodies. It was way past time to give attention to our minds and souls.
So, after what had been the hardest year of our lives so far, we decided that going and doing something really hard would be a good idea. So of course, we did no training whatsoever (big mistake by the way!). And we bought flights before I could change my mind. Then came the figuring out how to make it happen. It was the most selfish decision of my life.
One day, during our last week, feeling very close to the end, and determined to make sense of the experience, we walked up behind three people. They were all walking separately, but we realized that we’d met them all before. One of them, we’d been running into regularly but hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. Another, we hadn’t seen since Pampalona, our third day, which was 30 or so days ago. Another, we hadn’t seen since Saint Jean Pied de Port. She left the day before us and we had breakfast with her before she set off. It was truly bizarre. We were all within a few metres from each other, 700 odd kilometres later. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our Camino. We had all been thinking about each other, and we were all sure that each other would have been in Santiago by then – each of us always feeling like the slowest. But we’d been walking along at the same pace the whole way, only a handful of kilometres ahead or behind. We were never ever alone.
I believe that the Camino will happen to you, in your own way, and in the way that’s right for you. You can and you will experience the Camino that you’re supposed to experience. Your Camino is inside you. The walking just brings it out. Unlocks your truth and sets it free.
You will find your people, and every person will reflect back to you more you need to understand about yourself - Your fears, your truth, your curiosities, your self
We learnt so much from our Camino people. We think about you all a lot. We are always sending our love to you from afar. We have faith that we will meet many of you again. You gave us so much, and our biggest fear now is that we never gave enough back to all of you, and that we didn’t give enough back to the Camino.
Magnus - you opened our minds and inspired some of the most connected conversations we’ve ever had
Kia – you humbled us and brought us back down to earth and reminded us to not be too proud
You both impacted our lives in such a huge way. We will never ever ever forget our time spent with you and all the things we explored during that time. You made us feel inspired and brough about clarity, and helped us find courage within ourselves for our lives to come.
Stephen – I wish we had a way to contact you. Your love defines the Camino and I miss your smile. Your presence helped save us on our worst day.
Rachel - you were the first person to help us fight the urge to judge ourselves when we thought we weren't good enough.
Ernst – for making us really clear on what pilgrimage is for us
Roland, Dongyun, Haru – a beautiful reminder of how far we had all come, and to be proud of what we had achieved, and to be proud of walking a humble Camino, and allowing us to smile and laugh through the pain
Nadine – strength and acceptance and hope
Joseph – I wish we had met your earlier on the Camino. You seemed to be a quiet listener and a deep thinker and you had a sparkle in your eyes when you were excited by an idea. You seemed to live with clarity and travel with confidence. You reminded me to try and be all of these things more too.
Ian – you ooze love, and you’re the kindest of souls. May love always be with you
For us the Camino was an entirely spiritual experience. There was an undeniable energy on the trail – one that bound you to it, bound you to your self, bound you to others, and for us, bound us intensely together. We had a lot of fun being together every day, and had real joy enjoying the small pleasures. Tortilla for second breakfast and the little booty boost it gave us, and rest stops with offerings of coffee and fruit and music that sweet angels set up for pilgrims to enjoy by donation only.
Here are some lessons, things to think about, advice we tried to give ourselves and usually ignored… (P.S. these don’t really apply if you’re just walking the 100km from Sarria, sorry not sorry)
- If it hurts, do something about it. The Camino is too long to play a martyr for too long and risk losing it all. We did this and we shouldn’t have.
- On the other hand, if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not getting stronger. It’s meant to hurt. I just hope it doesn’t hurt you as much as it hurt us. We hurt too much.
- This is a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages should be long.
- This is a pilgrimage. Why are you here?
- You are privileged to be doing this. And others will reflect this back to you all the time. Practice gratitude.
- The Camino is a gift. What are you gifting it?
- Your Camino people are a gift. What are you gifting them?
- If you’ve got a big pack, why do you have a big pack? Your pack is your fears. What are they, it’s time to face them, it’s time to get honest.
- Ice, Ibuprofen, Eye masks, Earplugs – use them all. They don’t fix your problems, but they do help, and you’re allowed to show yourself some love.
- The Camino will always provide you with good drinking water, and a clear yellow arrow, right in the moment when you’re worried it won’t.
- The Camino will not always provide you with a toilet. Never pass one up. If there’s a spot that looks good for a wee, you will not have been the first pilgrim to use it. Watch your step.
- Rest more.
- Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright.
- As soon as you start walking someone else’s Camino, it’s gonna get real shit for you. Don’t do it. Be true to yo’ damn self.
May you have strength in the facing of your fears. Go with the love of the world. We wish you well on your Way.
P.S. if you’re interested in walking the Camino and have specific questions, hit us up! We made it and we are more than happy to share more of our learnings.