By Glenyce Johnson, Founder of Wandering the World
A treasured memory from the first night, of my very first Camino on the well-recognized and unforgettable French Way. The 890 km ancient pilgrimage beginning in St Jean Pied de Port at the base of the Pyrenees in France.
Having never undertaken anything like that before I was not sure what to expect. Obviously, it is a physical challenge, and I prepared as much as I could with lots of training, plenty of research and all the gear. It all paid off, and my body thrived, growing stronger and fitter every day. But what nothing could ever prepare me for was the emotional aspect of this walk. The flood of raw emotions that pulse through the mind and body, provoked by the meeting of new people from all walks of life. Walking next to them or sharing a meal, talking together, and hearing their story. Little did I know, this Camino would change my life forever.
The first night of our Camino we stayed on the side of the Pyrenees mountains, the modest accommodation was ambient and comfortable, where we could hear the sheep bells chiming in the breeze as we sat down with a group of people, to enjoy our first home cooked, pilgrims meal. After dinner, our local host invited everyone to share their motivation for walking the Camino. I was excited to learn there were over ten different nationalities in the room, something I’d hoped for when thinking about the journey. From their brief stories it was clear they were all worth spending time with.
Angela from Hong Kong was carrying her mother’s ashes to Santiago, emulating the movie “The Way”. There were some travellers at a cross roads in life, perhaps changing or finishing their career, making their way through a challenging stage of life, grief, loss or relationship issues, all using the Camino as a time to think and reflect. There were friends wanting to spend time together, others relishing in the time alone. Religious or not at all, fit, or not at all. Many were there for the physical challenge, and the goal of reaching the ultimate…Santiago de Compostela. The youngest amongst us had heard wine was included with the pilgrims’ meal and that was enough to entice her. The oldest walker in the room was repeating the journey for the third time. I remember thinking, she must be mad, surely once is enough! I clearly did not understand the pull of the Camino or possibly dream I would walk it again. Unimaginable that I would walk it another 23 times and counting.
The very last person to share their story was an elderly Korean man. As his turn came, he stood quietly, and while the group waited in anticipation, he began to quietly sing. The room was silent, his voice grew louder and stronger, it was pure and operatic. He sang in his native language to an audience totally immersed in this stirring moment. We did not understand a word but that didn’t matter. The flood of emotion was strong and incredibly moving, gripping us all, as the resulting endorphins pulsed through our weary muscles. It was deeply moving. We all know the potential of song, its inspiring and therapeutic values, and there was not a dry eye in the room. It was right then, I realised the power, the presence and the energy of the Camino. I felt engulfed with happiness, a small amount of fear and a huge amount of adrenaline. I had well and truly made up my mind that I would rather die on the Camino than not finish it! This splendid Korean voice gave me the mental strength I needed to complete this very long walk.
It is a Camino moment I will never forget.