The walk of life

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I have heard about people who have done the Camino twice, three times, sometimes even going the whole 800 kilometers on the Camino Frances and upon reaching Santiago, going back to the origin, which is St. Jean du Port. And some like me who, as beginners, take the shortest route from Sarria to Santiago. Believe me, all these names of towns were all the same to me until it was time to prepare for the walk. And preparations are key if you are to enjoy and get the best out of this experience of a lifetime.

First, plan ahead, way ahead. For our group it took us six months or more to gather everyone in a group, plan for the trip and choose a guide or travel company. Prices will depend on your size of group or if you will be traveling solo. Read about the different routes and get familiar with length of the walk and time of the year.

Second, after choosing the time of year, choose your outfits or gear up for weather changes and road surfaces – is it mostly pavement, rocks, forest mulch or brooks and streams? Join a Facebook group to ask questions from seasoned travelers of that route. There are at least six routes that vary in distance, places to pass and climate.

Next, book what you can reserve ahead of time or go the shoestring way of leaving your housing to fate. I know of a group who traveled on a budget yet were able to book two-star hotels and get their luggage transported from Point A to Point B. And another group who chose four-star hotels and had what is called a Van Assist throughout the Camino. Your choice, your Camino, your budget.

When you have decided the target time of travel, like for spring or fall, do check weather patterns for the upcoming weeks. Prepare ahead and wear your shoes, socks, outfits and jackets. Yes, practice in them and walk at least a few kilometers with a backpack weighing as much as only 10 percent of your weight. Believe me, a backpack can make the difference in how many kilometers you can walk. There are backpacks with their own protective rain covers, bottle holders and waist as well as chest straps. Use both straps as they were put there for a purpose.

You will realize that your backpack must only contain essentials, because you will also carry what will prove to be of no use and you remove a little each day to lighten your load.

It’s a lot like life, because you must carry in your heart what matters, nothing extra.

I had the thought that everyone would wax poetic after this walk. A lot of what happens to you each day can be related to real life. Like, you would realize, you only need bread and water. Everything else is a bonus. You need not bring much clothes. Just what you need each day and be able to wash, dry and reuse the clothes the next day.

Even with practice, however, the Camino is a walk of life. You can never train enough to think it will be a walk in the park. You just have to go with the flow and just walk. Carry your intentions with you, or simply walk to have time to reflect. It is not about speed or getting to the finish line ahead of everyone. It is a walk where your focus turns to Nature and just finishing the walk for the day.

You should plot your distance for each day so you can budget time, time of the year (sun may set late in spring and early fall) and your projected endurance (will I walk 15 or 20 kilometers?). Some walk 20-25 kilometers a day to finish 100 kilometers in 4-5 days. The 100 kilometers is required for you to get a certificate or a Compostela.

At the beginning of the walk, a passport called a Credencial is issued by a church or a municipality (or gotten by a travel agent) to every caminero or peregrino (pilgrim). It has 45 spaces for stamps or sellos to have stamped all throughout your journey. You can have it stamped at cafés, churches, special places like a guy who uses a hot wax to give you his sello and people line up for that, we hear. The start and finish of these stamps (with places and dates) gives the officer of the “credencial office” an idea if you have indeed traveled “the way” and then prints out a Compostela with your name in Latin (mine was Pachum Juan).

After our daily walks, the group relives the challenges of the day and boosts each others’ spirits for the next day. Like I mentioned earlier, you can travel solo, too. But I find that a group is one of the reasons to carry on. The other reasons are self-esteem and, of course, for some it is pure sacrifice for a personal reason.

People also write down names of people they pray for and drop these pieces of paper in churches, or some are left on milestones covered with a rock or stone.

All along the way, people greet you with “Hola!” to which you return “Hola” or “Buen Camino” – to every stranger, every group who are walking and may walk past you or just walk behind you. Those on bicycles have to do double the distance to get the Compostela as well as those on horseback. Your Camino, your choice.

There is no right or wrong way because like life, everything is personal. It is yours to savor, suffer, enjoy or just take in stride (pun intended).

I recommend you to do a Camino while those legs are still fine and strong. It can be life-changing as you discover a new you…after the Camino. No one can walk it for you.

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