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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Moving mountains

4 days after taking a bus from Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia (which was on Sunday) and I find myself in the library of Caceres, the capital of the state of Extremadura.

In only such a short space of time, the Camino Way seems to have opened up. I feel I´m lightening my load and the walking is becoming a breeze.

Monday I had the most liberating feeling; it was when I realized I was able to WALK, even with my blisters, from Torremejia to Merida. It was 17km, and god, I felt on top of the world as I arrived in Merida, simply because my feet and blisters weren´t aching. Fantastic!! The amount of energy I had, even AFTER the walk, blew me away. I never knew it could be so draining if we´re trying to break through certain pain barriers alongside putting the body through some endurance so as to keep putting one step in front of the other, for hours on end (which is how I experienced the 3 or 4 days before Sunday). From Monday onwards, however, something switched and EASE was found!

Tuesday was a massive leap forward. I went from Merida to Alcuescar; 37km. I´ve never walked this kind of distance before in my whole life, not in one day. What made it more of a challenge was the heat. It was hitting high 20s that afternoon. But it wasn´t too much. It was actually amazing; the heat-haze, the dusty red roads and the farming smells reminded me of my time in the Australian desert. Quite a freaky coincidence that I met the lady from Australia, who I´d walked with on the very first day, just as I arrived at the roadside hostel (which also we very ozzie). 

Wednesday was another big day, 27 km, from Alcuescar to Valdesalor. The temperature was just as high, but that didn´t take away the pleasure. Arriving at the hostel, after 5 hours of pacing, I was welcomed with open arms, by the Irish lady Mary, and her Spanish ´gang´of walkers. It´s so relieving to find familiar faces... and they always pop-up at the perfect times.

The warmer days, that seem to have come out of nowhere, make an early start all the more important. I can´t say though that I´m the first walker to be out on the road. Some walkers are out by 06.30. I thought, before starting this Camino, that I´d be one of them. But most mornings I leave at around 7.30, some times even 8... I guess I need my time in the morning before I´m fully awake to appreciate what I´m doing :)

Today (Thursday) was the easiest day by far. I chose to only go 11 km from Valdesalor to Caceres. I did such a short distance so I could give myself some space from the groups I´ve been meeting along the way. Don´t get me wrong, I LOVE the people I´ve been spending time with. But sometimes I feel myself getting a little lost in the social scene and unable to find time to reflect (even if I DO walk by myself most days).

This actually brings up the following: contrary to what most people say, I feel the Camino a more social way of living than it´s ´labelled´ as being. This is something I´ve been reflecting on, during the many many hours of walking along the sometimes dusty, sometimes rocky, sometimes hilly walkways. I´ve been contemplating how every person who walks a Camino will experience it in a different way (this of course goes for every experience a person has in life; the perception of what comes to pass is often determined by the experiences that are already in the past).

An individual experience is shaped according to what life-experiences a walker has had BEFORE they start pacing themselves along these ancient roman roads.

Before starting this Camino, I´d read so much about how solitary an experience it is and how calming it can be. I´ve heard of how people have come to learn things about themselves that they never dared dreaming. I´ve heard of people having found themselves, in the wilderness of the Spanish countryside. I can understand how it can be experienced as such - if a person usually lives a life that´s fast, full and never with a moment of peace in order to reflect or to stand still and contemplate their direction in life, their flaws, their strengths, their dreams, their accomplishments... I can totally understand how the surrounding environment will bring those living a fast-paced life, more into themselves again.

However, for me, on a more personal note, I can´t (yet) say that this is the case. I don´t feel this experience is a solitary thing at all. Even if I do most of the walking alone, I feel more surrounded by people and more open to life, than I´ve felt for quite some months. So far, the Camino hasn´t brought HUGE revelations to the surface. Life-altering questions haven´t been answered. Instead walking this stretch of nearly 300kms up to this point, has brought me to grow in understanding for how isolated my life was. I never could really see how much time I spent by myself. It´s only by NOW choosing to share more of my time (in the evenings with other walkers) that I´m seeing how little I shared my time before.

The Camino has opened me up to the world instead of bringing me deeper into myself. It´s taught me how much I can learn, by being in the company of other people. By having a constant flux of different individuals, with different perceptions, flowing though my days, I´ve learned (and still AM learning) so much about myself. This walk has also brought me to take help from other more experienced individuals, to be honest and accepting of my vulnerabilities and to not feel weakened simply because I´ve got flaws. I´ve learned to say ´yes´ to help that´s being offered and NOT to feel as if I´m a burden on others. I´m learning to feel worthy of other peoples time, just as they are worthy of mine. The Camino has helped me to feel how special it is to share my experiences, especially with people who were total strangers up until only 2 weeks ago.

Needless to say, this walk has got me moving in the physical sense, but on top of that, I´m able put a contemplative life into practise, instead of only putting the theory down on paper. It´s brought me to open my eyes to the world around me and the people within it, instead of having my eyes closed, sitting in silence, moving mountains within.

The Camino has pushed for me to start moving THROUGH the physical mountains outside of myself... as I become stronger on a physical level and more fluid on a mental level.  It´s pushed me to awaken energy inside and release blockages at the same time. It´s willed for me to love my body even more; for the way it´s healing, for how it´s responding. So far, it´s brought me to feel hustle and bustle, on every level, yet this has challenged me to find peace within the ´chaos´ I sometimes feel it the Camino and ´walkers lifestyle´ to be.

I know I´m only 300kms into the journey, and getting past the physical drawbacks has been only so recent. So my perception and experience will still alter, flow and change, little by little, step by step. But by taking what I´ve so far come to see, into account, the perception can only be heading in a direction that will always be taking me forward. And for now, this is my personal take on the Camino.

I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive and so privileged to have come so far.


  1. Hallo Niamh, I enjoy reading your blog and wish you to hold on, to hold fast and to hold out.I walked on the Camino a few years ago from Pamplona to Burgos and because my feet were very sore I took a bus from there to Santiago (also to Finistere. I am glad your feet are coming on and hope you will reach Salamanca in time. My Irish friend Eamonn Broderick set out from Seville this morning. All of the best for all the pilgrims! Gerrit de Beer from South Africa.

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