When I was younger I was so in love with the idea of Spain. I wanted to learn the language, travel to the country, immerse myself in the culture – even since my teenage years. I wasn’t sure why, not then or as I got older, but I was strongly drawn to the country. I must admit at the time I really didn’t know too much about Spain, only that I wanted to be a part of it. In fact, when I was a very late teen, I was so desperately in love with Spain (or the idea of Spain) that I went ahead and got engaged to a Spaniard whose name was Antonio. Such was my desire for Spain….
Needless to say, that didn’t work out (possibly becoming engaged to someone because you love the country they were born in could work out, but for me, well, no). But what did work out, after many years, was my desire to travel to Spain. After years of keeping that dream alive, I left on a jet plane to spend the best part of three months in the country I’d dreamt of since I can remember.
I travelled first to France to start walking the Camino de Santiago Frances Route from St Jean Pied de Port all the way across the country to Santiago de Compostella. That’s a trek of about 800km. After that I extended the hiking on to an extended route out to the ocean, the Camino Muxia and Camino Finisterre.
I spent my first 40 days and 40 nights in Spain as a pilgrim, with all of my possessions in my backpack.
Of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago each year on the various Caminos, only about 5% walk on to the coastline with most of these going from Santiago to Finisterre (a 90km extension). Finisterre was known as the end of the world and for me, it was more important a destination, or completion point, than Santiago was. However I also wanted to walk to Muxia, a town further north on the Atlantic coastline, and even less than 5% walk here first, and then on toFinisterre, a 120km extension from Santiago.
Following the Camino my travels took me to Ourense, Salamanca, Madrid, a week long stint in Portugal, Seville and the Andalucían area, and to end the trip, some time in Barcelona.
So did my dream to travel in Spain, walk the Camino and experience the culture and language of this country come true?
Sure. You can see it did by the previous paragraphs.
But what did it look like, what did it feel like and what did it taste like? Was it all I dreamt it would be?
What did this dream coming true look like?
It looked like fear sometimes. It looked like love sometimes. It looked like Groundhog Day sometimes.
It looked like me with my backpack on, walking 30km a day in the searing heat. Swearing a lot, sometimes. Other times, just walking and taking every step as it came.
It looked like beauty. It looked like poverty and despair.
It looked simple, and significant at the same time.
It looked like my comfort zone, and then it didn’t, and then it did again.
Heaven and Hell. Wonder.
It looked like I thought it might.
It didn’t look anything like I thought it might.
What did this dream coming true feel like?
It felt like love.
Sometimes it felt like fear.
It felt like loneliness and then it felt like connection and belonging.
It felt frustrating, and it felt freeing. It felt right, and sometimes it felt wrong.
It felt painful. A lot of the time. Blisters, muscle soreness.
It felt joyous.
I felt grateful. Emotional. Emotional a lot of the time.
I felt shattered, and also full of energy.
I felt at home, when I wasn’t feeling homesick.
I felt strong, except when I was feeling weak.
Torn. I felt torn.
I felt done – physically, mentally and emotionally. Then I’d have a beer and a chat to new friends, a meal and a sleep. And I didn’t feel done anymore.
It felt so right. Walking day in day out. Only a few decisions to make each day – where will I sleep, what will I eat?
It felt easy. It felt hard.
Sometimes I would feel like quitting.
Sometimes I would feel like I could walk forever.
I felt disgust – when watching a bull fight.
I felt overwhelmed. In awe.
I felt brave and full of fear. Sometimes at the same time.
I felt guided.
I felt that the universe was consipiring to provide me with what I needed. Not necessarily what I wanted.
What did this dream coming true taste like?
For me, it tasted like Tarte de Santiago.
In keeping my dream alive to walk the camino, for many years I’ve been making Tarte de Santiago for my family and friends. A traditional cake based on almond meal originally fed to pilgrims walking. The first time on the Camino that I had a slice of Tarte de Santiago was …well a little surreal for me. I was alone and in a small village as I took my first taste. It was at that moment that I understood what a dream that comes true tastes like.
It also tasted like pilgrims meals day in and day out. And then it tasted like tapas and octopus (not something I would try again) and tortilla and red wine.
It tasted like shared meals with friends. New friends from all over the world.
So what now?
So I am settling in to return to work and back to my life in Australia after fulfilling this lifelong dream which in the end, was exactly everything I expected and dreamt it could be, and at the same time, completely different to anything I expected and dreamt it would be.
It also provided me with more personal growth every day than I could have ever imagined. I was graced with beautiful new friends, some who I know will be in my life for a long time to come and others who were in my life just for the moments they were meant to be.
My belief in the goodness of people was tested and at the same time, confirmed, over and over again.
My belief in myself was tested, and at the same time, reaffirmed time and time again.
Not everyone will understand my journey. That’s ok because it isn’t their journey to understand. It’s mine. And even if I don’t fully understand it, that’s ok too.
Buy the ticket, take the ride. See what happens.
I know my journey gave me so much. There is a saying on the camino that “the camino provides”. I agree and I experienced this day after day. I have a new saying for the camino to add to that one. “The camino also takes away”, and that is just as important.
Don’t confuse your path, with your destination. Enjoy your journey. Thanks for the memories Spain!
“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.