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500 Miles

by Tracey Ristow

After quitting my job, I began walking the traditional route of the Camino de Santiago across France and Spain.  I chose this journey as I was unhappy with my inability to balance my work and personal life and I was burnt out from working crazy hours for years. I needed a way to disconnect from technology, spend some quality time with my own thoughts and simplify my life. My journey would last 34 days, cover 500 miles and include trudging through snow storms and nursing many, many blisters on my tired, aching feet. I brought with me a 36L backpack containing my belongings and a pair of walking sticks nicknamed Frick and Frack. My journey would end up being more than I could have ever imagined.

A typical day on The Camino involves getting up around 6:00 AM and heading out almost immediately for a 11-16 mile walk. Breakfast usually consisted of toast and a grande cafe con leche around 8:00 AM. I walked most mornings alone so I could spend time with my own thoughts. Mid-day I would find a bar for a quick lunch of red-labelled Coca-Cola, bocadillo of tortilla espanola (egg and potato quiche stuffed inside crusty bread!) and an entire chocolate bar, the big sized one. What’s not to love about that meal!! In the afternoon, The Camino provided a fluid opportunity for me to walk and connect with others for a few minutes, a few miles or sometimes a few hours. I walked many miles with other pilgrims where we did not speak a common language but nevertheless connected. By 3:30 PM, I was arriving at the albergue where I would spend the night. An albergue is an establishment only for pilgrims on The Camino and provides rustic accommodations ranging from huge group bunk-bed style dorms to more "luxurious" rooms with only 4-6 beds. Upon arrival, I would claim my bed, shower, hand wash my clothes for the next day and take a quick nap. Spain is not the most vegetarian-friendly country, so many nights I would find other pilgrims and we would all contribute ingredients we had purchased during the day and cook a rustic feast together. By 9:30 PM, I was in bed with my earplugs in place as sleeping in large dormitory style accommodations means there are loud (louder than I could have ever imagined) snorers. 

I met people from all over the world, young and old, male and female, different faiths and at different points in their lives. I met people grieving the loss of a loved one and people celebrating a life milestone. I sat around tables where 8 different languages were being spoken. I listened to others stories and reasons for doing The Camino. I had complete strangers shower me with kindness and compassion. I laughed and smiled a lot. I cried. I hugged. People tended to my blistered feet and I did the same for others. I gave massages to people with hurting and aching bodies. People carried my backpack for me when my blisters were at their worst. People purchased my meals for me and I did the same for others. I felt free inside this simple routine. I was filled with joy and happiness for 34 days. I came back a different person.

What I learned on The Camino:

  • Sometimes the loudest snorers are tiny framed women
  • KISS - Keep it simple, sweetie.
  • Less really is more
  • There is usually a “camino angel” around when you need one and if you are open to it
  • Ending a career which no longer excited and fulfilled me was the right decision
  • People are generally good and kind
  • Nobody but me was going to make my dreams come true
  • I liked myself just as I was, flaws and all.

It has been a number of years since I have returned from my journey and The Camino spirit has continued to stay a part of me. The Camino provided a space for me to be present with my thoughts in a deep and meaningful way, to reminisce about the good  ol’ days and to dream BIG about my future. I am grateful The Camino called me to this journey and I will return again one day to walk another camino as I know my journey is not over. Buen camino!