“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Over dinner one night in Cappadocia, a travel writer I’d met mentioned he’d like to do the Camino de Santiago.
“If you go,” I told him, “go as yourself, not as a writer.”
“If you go as a writer, you’ll miss the best part.”
In the fall of 2014, I spent five weeks walking the 800 km pilgrimage from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, along the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. I went for personal reasons, wanting to step off the merry-go-round I’d been riding, take a moment, and just breathe.
The idea of writing about Camino never occurred to me then and I’m glad for that.
Had I gone with the intention of pitching a story or writing a blog, the experience would have been completely different. I would have spent more time in churches and less in cafés, busy chasing that different angle or unique shot worth a thousand words. I would have been writing first impressions in my notebook during the day and fleshing them out at night. I would have been on the computer, writing content, answering emails, responding to comments. I would have been on the job. I would have missed the best part.
Instead, the camera stayed stowed in my pack. The notebook only came out for a few moments before bed. Family and friends got an email every few days letting them know I was still alive.
The rest of the time, I just walked, present in the moment and open to whatever happened next.
The best part of Camino isn’t the history or the churches or the food, all the things we would write about. It’s the conversations that follow when you sit down with a group of strangers in a café. It’s the friendships that form over a communal meal and a bottle of wine. It’s the offer of a motherly hug when you’ve had a bad day. It’s the pleasure of soaking your tired feet in a cold river. It’s dancing with the locals at a street party in a small town. It’s the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, always moving forward, regardless the challenges faced along the way.
The best part of camino is the journey itself. Had I been chasing the story, I would have missed it.
There are stories on Camino, as many stories as there are people walking. There are stories of love and loss, of pain and hardship, of hope and faith. Stories that will break your heart. Stories that will inspire.
There is my own story, the one I’ve resisted writing, the emotions still too raw to be expressed. It will come. One day. Soon.
I hope my friend decides to walk Camino. I hope he leaves the laptop at home and puts the camera in his pack. I hope he walks as himself and embraces every moment. At the end, there will be stories to write. On Camino, there will always be stories.
Have you walked Camino? Are you thinking about it? Leave a comment about your reasons for walking and experiences along the way. I would love to hear your stories!