“How you want to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela? Do you even know what that means?” Three times I read to my children (13+8) the stele from the travelogue about the Camino Primitivo: “The Camino Primitivo is considered exotic among the Camino de Santiago. If there is a path that stands for originality and does not run the risk of being commercially overrun, then it is probably this one. Because the Camino Primitivo is far too demanding and challenging for that. Its path profile takes the pilgrim up some high mountains and back down again, and with a high regularity…..It goes steadily uphill and downhill for several hundred meters of altitude per day.”
Okay, they really want it! Lukas and I have to take this opportunity , since it’s usually us who urge our kids to hike -or even just go for a walk. Often, even going upstairs in our house seems to be a burden for them.
Since we are already in Spain, the children talk and fantasize about pilgrimage and I can hardly imagine anything better than three weeks out in nature to move my body, a packing list is written, various things procured (in my new plastic T-shirt I walk 18 days with only two or three times wash in between :-), provisions packed (we are low-budget and can not afford restaurants), the bus parked at a campsite – and off we go. I would say, quick decision: From the idea to run the Camino de Santiago to the implementation we need just two days.
To Oviedo, the starting point of our pilgrimage, we take the public bus. Until we arrive at the pilgrimage office to get our pilgrim passports – in which we get a stamp in all churches and hostels, so that the Catholic Church knows that we have actually walked to Santiago – we are already walked 5 km.
Then it really starts. Before the church “San Salvador” I put on my backpack and : The hip belt buckle breaks off. Crap! Petur thinks of Armageddon and not to spoil the mood I knot due belts simply on the belly. This is done for 18 days, which leads to the fact that my belly has a dent every evening, which then expands again during the night – until the morning is tied again.
Actually, I thought I was the fittest hiker among us. I try to keep up with my fast friend Lara during the frequent extended walking-sprints. Okay, I don’t really have any more training worth mentioning either. What had I read again in the source mentioned above: “….is the Camino Primitivo not recommended for everyone. For pilgrims with an affinity for mountains and people in good shape, however, it is all the more appealing…So if you have a high level of fitness or are an experienced pilgrim, you might want to try the Camino Primitivo…”
After 13 kilometers I’m the last to arrive at the hostel and full of aches. Ouch! My shoulders! The rather stuffy hostel with 6 bunk beds in one room, we have to ourselves until late in the evening still two hikers arrive. In contrast to me, my son is thrilled to share the accommodation with others- by the way, amazingly well trained men.
I don’t sleep a wink. Outside it is raining cats and dogs, it is thundering. Instead of being in direct contact with what is (on a road several days later that leads steeply uphill we read in yellow camino writing : “The presence is a gift!”) I am worried about how we will hike in such weather. Finally it is early enough to wake the others. Before we leave in the dark, we hear from our new pilgrim friends, who have arrived from Ukraine, that last year they participated in “Iron-Man” (a triathlon competition where you have to have an unusual endurance)… Should that tell me anything about how trained you have to be for the Camino Primitivo? “No” I decide and let go of the thought. Quietly it comes again through the silence of the mind, when the two Ukrainians point incredulously at the children and our large luggage and take a photo of us to prove our existence. This is not the first time that we meet unbelieving pilgrims who want to have a photo of us…
This morning is as beautiful as most that will follow. Just not quite as foggy. We find into a brisk running flow and walk silently through the Asturian countryside. Still the children feel the “shell and yellow arrow search” as a kind of scavenger hunt, which will change in the course of the day. While we take a breakfast break after two hours, the two pilgrim friends overtake us, looking at their cell phones. Directly in front of a shell (= signpost of the Camino) they stop and ask us with a look into their cell phones for the way,
My family’s breakfast breaks are a blessing for me. Since I don’t eat anything in the morning (and that’s not just his Interval Fasting trend) I have time for yoga. And for the first time in a really long time, my body feels really hungry for some very classic stretching and shoulder exercises. Ahhhh! What a relief! Everything hurts, everything comes only gaaaanz slowly into flow, the fascia takes a felt eternity to release my body in her beloved home feeling. Secretly I think that yoga would also do the others good, after all, I’m not the only one here who moans from her body, but pilgrimage is already the utmost what the children are ready for – and that’s a lot!
At some point Lea, a French pilgrim who has been on the road for three months, also overtakes us and Jyoti decides that pilgrimage alone is much cooler and anyway we actually walk a bit too slow for her and alone she would be much faster.
So every day we start at dawn, sometimes with flashlights. Why so early? It’s the time when we have the most energy, so we already manage a good bit of distance – before 3 ps phases come with quite a few pee, picnic and pavement breaks. There is also sitting strike.
In the morning it is quiet. We are silent. The magic of the night, the silence permeates everything. We see the sun rise over a breathtaking mountain panorama – I love these mornings and the others are also under its spell.
Do the children know what pilgrimage is? Yes. They do. In fact, you only get the pilgrimage certificate in Santiago when the pilgrim’s passport has been stamped and the meaning of a pilgrimage can be understood. A recurring topic of conversation among us. Is the certificate but hotly sought after and drive for it between 13 and 24 kilometers of sweating and backpack dragging a day. Mind you: in the mountains!
And what is pilgrimage for me? Silence, stillness, listening within. To be close to that which cannot be described. To be close to God – or however you want to name the huge mystery. Most of my hikes so far I have done alone. Silently. With enough time for formal meditation. And now? Often in the mornings it is too cold to get up to sit on my pillow – wedged, mind you, between my mattress and the loft bed above me – which is often not possible at all (even though I am short). Often the kids are already awake in the morning, too, or we have a long stretch ahead of us and have to leave even earlier…Plus: I don’t have to worry about my practice. There are so many opportunities to practice mindfulness in our family group: Really listening to the children. Noticing that we have lots of time and taking it, which means slowing down! Practicing metta, loving kindness, friendliness and benevolence. My family helps me a lot with this. To expand my heart more and more. Until it embraces not only all my being, and especially the one I don’t like and would rather hide, but also that of my husband and children. Especially when things get tight, when we argue, when we blame each other. So many opportunities to give space to the heart. To feel my love for Leela, which seems to grow with each passing day, even though the child is more than 2000 kilometers away from us. We think of her often, in our hearts she wanders along. And then this endless possibility to notice the breath, to feel the feet on the earth, to align with the beautiful. To explore again and again: Where can I become even more loving and wider? To feel the connectedness with everything, the give and take in the cycle of nature around us. Gifts and more gifts. And our great happiness: to be a family, to be able to be with each other!!!
The Camino changes us. Where in our complex patchwork network there is often little relaxation in everyday life and we tend to live past each other, a space of boundless joy and love now opens up. A space that is often filled with laughter, closeness and intimacy, as previously unknown in our family system.
And as it is when something is beautiful: we want to hold on to it. One day, after 4 hours of hiking without meeting anyone, we pass a house with a panoramic view of the stunning mountains and forests, and it’s for sale, so the kids want to move in and really go for it. And so the desire grows in all of us for “our place”, for a place where our son can take care of animals, we can grow our vegetables and be surrounded by wilderness. For now, we have this place in our hearts….
We meet few people. I have time to face my loneliness. So far away from everyone and everything I feel there in the big wide world. In which there seems to be nothing but us. There are no more questions: getting up, getting dressed (again, no question of “what?”), walking step by step, arriving, eating, going to bed, sleeping. Pure simplicity.
Sometimes, after hours of being alone, we meet a Spanish peasant woman walking with a mouth guard through her village, consisting of three to five houses. Most pilgrims walk 10 or 20 kilometers more than we do in a day. And many seem to be in a hurry, having only a few days or weeks off. We come into contact with some of them. Especially in the hostels, of course. Until the end I didn’t understand exactly why my son wants to choose the hostels with the most bunk beds and is happy when the rooms are as full as possible – then not only with people whose languages we unfortunately often don’t understand, but also their shoes and socks….Two times we don’t manage our stages – and maybe don’t really want to – then sleep outside, which we find wonderful. However, I am again very much looking forward to a warm shower and especially warm food.
This pilgrimage is also a path of renunciation, Often there is only the same food, especially for us as vegans and vegetarians it is challenging, Sometimes we have only found apples and walnuts in our luggage (very tasty! Thank you dear earth!) On other days we drag bread, tomatoes, carrots, nuts and cucumbers with us. Or food we want to cook for ourselves (several times we pick mushrooms) only to find out at the hostel that the kitchen is closed. Oh yes, and then there is the Schleckerclub, to which I do not belong. They carry cookies with them… We are already known to other hikers as “the ones with the big backpack”, which leads to some laughter. Yes, it would be nice to carry less food around and also eat in the hostels and: we are usually very happy! Only less clothes we would take with us next time. We encounter a lot of things on this trip that you don’t need.
And then after 18 days and 310 kilometers, which our son also found boring again and again and often passes the time with the big 1×1 and corn cob collecting, a woe in the heart that this time is already over and a wealth of love and security we reach Santiago de Compostela! A very touching feeling to arrive in the square in front of the cathedral and to know that we are united with all the pilgrims who are lying or sitting there on the ground.
Now as I write this I see below me my son standing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean looking into the sea. Yesterday we drove back from Santiago de Compostela 6 hours by bus through the countryside through which we walked for 18 days. Now we are on the road again with the campervan to new adventures. And are already thinking about where we could walk next, and whether with or without donkey….