Whereas the first part of my journey had been surprisingly free of worries, the third night brought a wire of emotions. Perhaps it were the icy winds and grey clouds that gathered above Almaden de la Plata, my tired muscles or my cold feet… but I was feeling far from joyful.
All my fellow pilgrims would continue on to Monesterio (35km) the next day, while I planned to walk only 15km. There was a sense of goodbye in the air, as I very well realized I’d never see these lovely people again (at least not on the Camino). And as much as I like travelling alone, I hated to see them go.
Then, out of nowhere, came a young guy. He wasn’t really a pilgrim, but he stayed in the albergue anyway. Most of the time he sat in silence, however when he did talk, his words hit straight home. “I have given up everything to come here,” he explained to my fellow walkers while I eavesdropped from a distance, “because I had become so disconnected from myself. I had lost touch with my soul and who I was and it made me feel very lonely and unhappy. Society has a way of doing that, you know: driving us away from who we truly are. Trying to model us into something we’re not. Trying to tell us our dreams and wishes are stupid, dangerous or not worth pursuing.”
For the first time on the Camino I remembered my struggles: the everlasting sense of loneliness and confusion, existential crisis, the feeling of being disconnected, the burnout, my crazy dream of travelling the world,… The emotions caught me off guard and hit like a truck. I did the best I could to fight back the tears.
Than the guy’s girlfriend, who I didn’t particularly like because she talked a lot, dug up a book on Celtic wisdom. She invited everyone to open it on a random page and read the text they were presented with. I think she believed that the book had a magical way to present you with the exact wisdom they needed. Or maybe that our unconsciousness has a magical way to pick the right page. Anyway, I’m a sucker for games like this and I wasn’t going to pass on the chance. I didn’t expect to be impressed, but yet… This is what the book showed me:
By the time I said goodbye to the boy and girl I was in tears, apologizing for my sudden moment of weakness and rushing to the dormitory to hide. Luckily my mind was soon distracted as all of us set out for dinner in a local bar.
I had never mentioned any of my struggles to my fellow pilgrims (as I had come to Spain to forget about them, not ponder) so none of them knew about my burn-out, nor my plans of travelling the world. At most I had told them I considered changing jobs in the future.
However male J and I started talking about travel and so I mentioned the upcoming trip to Scotland I’d make with my father. J was very enthusiastic about it. I explained to him that my dad has always been talking about Scotland but never went. He’s not the type to travel alone, and my mom doesn’t want to go to the UK due to bad past experiences, unfavourable exchange rates and the fact that it lacks blue skies and sunny weather. So, I told J, I decided my dad and I should go together. I don’t want him to grow old and not see Scotland because, after all, you can’t want something for so long and not do it. That just ain’t right.
“You seem to really mean that when you say it,” J replied. And I nodded that, of course I do. If you wholeheartedly dream of something, fear or inconvenience really shouldn’t be a reason to hold you back. I wasn’t sure if Scotland was that big a dream of my father, but I knew he wanted to go and that was about the same thing to me.
J looked me straight in the eye and after a second of silence he said: “You do realise it’s not just about your father, right? Remember it goes for you as well.” I blinked, surprised. So J repeated: “What you just said, don’t forget it applies to you as well.”
And that’s how, for the first time, I ended up discussing the idea of my world trip with someone who was genuinely enthusiastic about it. Someone who didn’t instantly come up with but how’s and why’s and you can’t’s. Someone who took the idea seriously and was simply interested. Dutch M, and other pilgrims, joined in. They were equally encouraging. It felt very strange because it was such a new thing for me; I had gotten quite used to defending the idea instead of just sharing it.
Surely, the people you meet on a Camino are generally outdoorsy types who like to embrace life, each in their own way. Pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes, but this is something they tend to have in common. They all, at some point, made the decision to travel to mainland Spain and go hike in the middle of nowhere, surely they understand the longing for freedom and/or peace of mind. They can relate.
Yet despite that, or perhaps because of that, their feedback meant a lot to me. These were pilgrims of all ages. People who had learned a lot from the world, knew the value of life and advocated it. Men and women who were far from naive, far from worry free, and travelled quite a bit themselves. They had such a big love for the world, had loved and lost and hoped and wished more than I could possibly imagine. And because of that, all these people seemed to agree that dreams are not to be postponed.
Hearing their stories made me realize just how much I wanted to embark on a journey and how much I’d been craving for someone to understand and support that undefinable longing.
For many years I had wondered if my plan of world travel was merely a way of escaping my life at home. Perhaps it was no more than a silly thought, meant to be fantasized, not executed? What made this dinner on the Camino so special is that it challenged me take my dreams more seriously. There and then I realised that the desire to quit my job and the desire to travel were two different things. Two very important things in their own right, but initially not connected. I looked myself in the eye and seriously realised that yes: I did want to leave everything and travel. And I decided that no: the idea isn’t as crazy as some people make it sound.
Perhaps even more important was J’s way of saying “It goes for you as well.” I don’t think he realized how important that sentence was, but it reminded me of the morning I burned out. It reminded me of the little girl inside my head, who looked me dead in the eye and asked “Why don’t you ever think about me? Who cares for me?”
Both J and that girl basically said the same thing. They reminded me that I am worthy of care. Worthy of pursuing my own dreams. Worthy of happiness. And that no matter how much I care about the opinions of others, I should care at least as much about my own.
We spent the evening in that Spanish bar, and as the most delicious cake was brought to the table, I remembered the poem the Celtic book had chosen for me. So I tasted the words of it’s blessing, indulged in the cake, savoured the Camino’s friendships, and smiled.