Walking the Camino, a terrifying dream

Update 13 February 2020 – There is an update about how I went walking the Camino at the end of the post. Did I make it or not?

Have you ever had a big dream that gives you nightmares? Ironic a dream that gives you nightmares don’t you think? A dream that terrifies you as much as it excites you.

It’s a contradiction that’s hard to resolve. Go through with it, and you spend a lot of time being scared and doubtful, but also knowing that at the end the rewards are not something you could begin to imagine.

Life has thrown a few of those dreams at me. And each one has seen me grow. So I guess with the benefit of life experience I know that by pushing through the nightmares, the anxiety and self-doubt, I will reap the unknowing rewards at the end.

Or I could fail! That’s an option too.

I don’t even know where the idea to walk the Camino came from. Or why it has. I just know that it arrived, settled into my gut, and doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.

Let me tell you why this is such a strange dream to have.

I don’t like exercise.

I want the benefits and how it makes me feel, but I don’t like doing. Never have, and I thought I never would. There is a café at the end of my street; I don’t even walk there.

I used to drag my partner along on early morning walks, but as much as I loved it when I was out of bed and watching the sunrise, I always took the shorter route, never pushed myself and was talked out of it all too easily.

I even trained with a personal trainer. Three times a week, for a while. I hated it. And then I injured myself and that was the end of that story.

I do like yoga, but lack the willpower or passion to get back into it. No willpower, no commitment and no inclination. Or so it seemed.

So what’s with this dream?

I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. All 800 km from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. An 800 km walk across Northern Spain!!

It's my dream to walk the Camino. A dream that also terrifies me.

When should I walk the Camino

It’s my birthday at the end of the month. Just another birthday when I turn 48. But it has got me thinking that my 50th is not that far away. And what better way to celebrate the big 5 0 than with an 800 km walk? Hahahahahahaha (hear the hysterical laughter?)

Like I said I don’t know where the dream came from or why it has decided to stay, but it has. But I think I will honour it. The most significant lesson I have learnt in this lifetime has been to listen to my gut feeling and to go with the flow.

Am I freaking nuts?!!!

The Camino

For those of you that don’t know what the Camino is, I suggest you watch “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. A good movie and one that a lot of “pilgrims” have watched before their trek across Spain.

The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St James (amongst other names), is a series of pilgrim ways (routes) to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to the shrine of St James, where is it believed that the remains of the saint are buried. For over a thousand years, people have been walking the Camino making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and nowadays more than 200,000 people a year from all over the world make the trek.

People make the “pilgrimage” for religious and non-religious reasons. The Camino finds people from all walks of life and ages walking its paths and the reasons for walking are just as varied.

One of the most common routes begins in France starting at St Jean Pied-de-Port. Which is where I plan to start.

Only 790 km to Santiago de Compostela.

It should only take me around 35 days!  Consisting of paths skirting cities and villages, wide-open, mind-numbing plains, through forests and of course, starting with a hike through the Pyrenees. It should be an adventure!!!!

The Challenge

There are a lot of options for walking the Camino. I could choose the sections I want to walk and catch a train or a bus between other sections. I could ride a bike, or hire one for sections of the trail.

I could carry a day pack and have my luggage transported from village to village. I could stay in albergues (pilgrim hostels), hotels, or B&B’s or any other number of different styles of accommodation.

I could use a tour company and go on a guided walk, or I could just walk from Sarria, a walk just over 100 km to Santiago, the necessary amount of kilometres to be officially deemed a pilgrim and receive your Compostela (certificate).

But no, I want to walk the whole way. I don’t want to catch a train between sections (not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not how I want to make the journey).

As much as I wanted to at the start of this thought process, I probably won’t stay in hotels the majority of the way but in albergues. Maybe a night in a hotel here and there as an occasional treat on a rest day.

The choice of albergues range, from municipal hostels to privately owned ones that typically cost between €10 – €15 per night.

I am told industrial-strength earplugs will be required to gain a decent night sleep. Most albergues offer dorm-style accommodation, and it is frequently mentioned that the snoring of fellow pilgrims can keep whole dorms awake. The number of people the albergues can cater to also range from 10 to hundreds! A lot of new people to meet.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: What you need to know before walking a Winter Camino, Solo

At the end of this journey, I will stride my way (or limp in as the case may be) into the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago, present my pilgrim passport (Credencial),  where all the stamps I have collected along the way will be reviewed. And for my effort, I will be presented with a Compostela (certificate of completion).

Along the way I need to be open to the possibility of wanting, or needing, to give up altogether.

But what’s not to love about a good challenge?

How often do I get to take a month or two out of life and disconnect? Wifi is available along the route and at stops, so maybe not entirely disconnected. But it seems like a good opportunity to try.

To have time on my own, with my thoughts and challenges and dreams and goals. To learn what I am capable of. But with so many walking the same route, I am told the company of other pilgrims can found everywhere. And what a great way to meet other people from all over the world.

It's my dream to walk the Camino. A dream that also terrifies me.

Time to get training

I think I need to establish a training program. Yes I know I have two years, but let’s face it I am not a walker. I have already established the fact that I am not particularly fond of exercise!

The thought of walking an average of 20 – 30 km a day is freaking me out.

So I’m guessing I should start training now. Can anyone suggest a walking group I can join?

I am told I may want to start stockpiling Compeed now. I didn’t even know what Compeed was until I started reading Camino articles.

Apparently, my conversations will revolve around –

  • The state of my feet
  • My poor feet
  • And the state of my feet

And I’ve read I may need something for bed bugs (ugh). Best work out how to deal with those!

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Why I Travelled Solo and How it Changed Me

Can’t ignore that gut feeling

I didn’t set out to find myself a huge challenge. I didn’t even realise I needed one.

To some, I may seem brave, or crazy, and to others, this may just be a walk in the park. It was not so many years ago that I wouldn’t have even gone to a restaurant by myself, or even with my kids, let alone travel in a foreign country without another person with me. Things have changed a lot over the last six years. Thank goodness.

I am a traveller but not a solo traveller. And that is another thing I want to conquer. Solo Travel. I have a beautiful partner who I can travel with. And I have friends who love to travel. (I did conquer solo travel you can read about it here)

But I want to be in that place where if push comes to shove I do not have to rely on someone else to get on a plane and visit the places I am always dreaming about.

There are many of you out there who do this without blinking an eye. I admire you. I want to be like you.

Feeling fear and doing it anyway

Life for me, like for so many, has been a struggle with insecurities, anxieties and perceived inadequacies. I want to be done with them.

For me, the Camino represents a journey both physical and personal. It is a journey that cannot be thoroughly planned and nor do I want it to be.

It has already led me down a path of personal growth without even having stepped one foot on the road to Santiago. If I have already grown so much, simply by thinking about it, imagine the path it will take me on when I am walking it?

Simplifying Life

The last few years I have been streamlining things in my life. Changing life to be more meaningful in everything I do.

Slowly but surely we have been getting rid of excess “stuff”. Cutting down on waste. Making more of our own food. Growing vegetables. Using healthier, natural products. It has been a fantastic transition and a constant work in progress.

The Camino seems to fit into that journey. The ultimate lesson in simplicity.

With a backpack weighing only 7 kg, there will be no room for excess. No “just in case” items to be shoved in at the last minute. Just the basics in clothing (only two changes), toiletries and very little of anything else except a sleeping bag, quick-dry towel and a little bit of technology (phone).

I am usually well prepared, and I can’t tell you how much information I have already read and stored – articles, packing lists, guides, pros and cons.

Starting from Scratch

When I was a child, I loved to bake. I still do. My mother would sometimes buy packet mixes which produced nice cakes or desserts, but for me, “real” baking was about making it from “scratch”.

I am still like that. I don’t like to take the easy way out as I see it. If I am going to do something I want to do it ALL.

I understand the need for flexibility when walking the Camino. The possibility of exhaustion, injury, badly blistered feet, or just not liking it and allowing myself to change my plans on the fly.

For me, the Camino is a chance to “let go” and let the journey unfold.  A trip that I have no way of controlling. And for a self-confessed control freak, that is terrifying me.

It’s hard to be brave, but I have learnt that if I cannot stop thinking about something, I need to do it. At all costs.

I anticipate a lot of tears and tantrums, episodes of anxiety and self-doubt over the next two years.  And I am hoping the nightmares will stop.

A from the movie, The Way

“You don’t choose a life Dad. You live one”.

It's my dream to walk the Camino. A dream that also terrifies me.

And for now

Maybe the next small step will be to start walking regularly. The next one to continue with my reading. The next to join a walking group. Whatever it is, it will be one small step of this big adventure and eventually small step after small step I will achieve something more significant than I ever imagined I was capable of.

If I think of the Camino in its entirety, I freeze. It is such a terrifying thing for me to consider that I cannot even think about all of it. I can only think of small pieces at a time. And as the time approaches, I will tackle each piece individually and hopefully; they will all fit together in the end.

If I think about leaving a warm and cosy hotel early one morning before the sun has even risen with nothing but a pack on my back and a walking stick in my hand and heading out of town on nothing but my own two feet, by myself, to head out on an 800 km trek… Well let’s just say throwing up comes to mind, so best to shove that thought back in the box, for now, to be dealt with another time, if at all.

Maybe it will just get dealt with as I am leaving that hotel and walking up the road. Hopefully, I won’t cry in public, maybe leave that for when I am on the trail on my own and getting acquainted with my own company.

I would love to hear your Camino story. Any advice you may have that will ease some of my terror is welcomed.

Cindy x

UPDATE: So did I walk the Camino. Yes, I did in November/December 2019. A winter Camino no less. You can read about it in – What you need to know before walking a Winter Camino, Solo


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Cindy Reid

Cindy is the founder of Travel Charm and her exclusive Travel Club. She is passionate about travel and planning and loves nothing more than helping travellers plan their best trips and fulfil their travel dreams.

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