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Hiking the Camino

As ignorant as it may sound, I had no idea what the Camino de Santiago represented when I stepped foot onto that dusty, coastal Portuguese trail in July. A colourful map from a Porto credential office informed me that I was heading in the direction of a catholic cathedral, but the truth is - I hadn’t stepped foot in a church for a reason other than a wedding or funeral in years. For me, the intention was merely the walk.

The silence.

The reconnection with nature.  

And, in meeting some un-ignorable challenges earlier this year, life seemingly made the decision for me to set off on that open-ended journey through Europe by foot.

No timeline.

No agenda.

Just a 10kg backpack and complete trust in my own body to carry me through.  

 

It took one inspiring travel partner. 

23 days.

320km for me to finally arrive - not only to the edge of the world, but home to myself.

Contained somewhere within those thousands of steps from Porto to northwest Spain were the most unforgettable lessons in life, love, and healing that I’d ever received. And, as I have come to understand that the most valuable teachings in life tend to, they didn’t always arrive in the ways in which I’d expected. 

As though every hill held a practice in meeting resistance with kindness.

Every sunrise the promise of new start.

And every other pilgrim on the trail delivered, in seemingly perfect timing, the message I required to swallow the medicine of shadow and allow it to propel me forward in the direction of something better.

Something lighter. 

 

The ‘old’ Natasha - the girl who paid thousands of dollars to sip strong cocktails on a five-star beach resort, wouldn’t have understood this as a rational choice in holidaying. But the truth is, that girl wouldn’t have understood a lot of things about the world back then. 

I suppose it takes years.

A bit of adversity.

Some irreparable damage to the things that matter most to mature a naive soul. 

I can imagine her now, politely smiling and wondering, Why?

Why would you ever agree to do such a long walk? Why would you stay in hostels and sacrifice your sleep because of the man snoring beside you? Why would you overwork your legs by walking all day when a taxi could deliver you so much faster? Why would you move day in and day out when staying in one place is so much more comfortable?

It’s funny how much can change. 

It’s even funnier how life gives us exactly what we need practice in.

 

Life on the camino wasn’t always easy but it was always worth it. Each morning, at the crack of dawn, I arose to the shuffling of beds and bags and set off un-caffeinated, bleary-eyed in the direction of something I knew nothing about. 

Little yellow arrows guiding my way through cobble stone alleys.

Along sandy beach boardwalks.

Amidst picturesque vineyard valleys.

 

In the beginning, I counted every single kilometre; wishing away the present for the glamourous illusion of all that was coming.

Lunch.

Spanish wine.

A hostel bed to signify the end of an exhausting day of walking.

And yet somewhere along the journey, without even noticing its happening, I began to settle into the present.

I stopped dwelling on painful memories past.

I stopped wishing for the future.

And I just was where I was without force or trying; the ultimate moving meditation. 

 

Evenings were spent in common areas of communal albergues alongside dozens of other pilgrims, every age and ethnicity, sharing stories over bottles of bubbly green wine of lives that seemed a million kilometres away from that in which we were currently existing. I suppose that, for me, is the most beautiful recollection of the experience itself - how it all became so absorbing. 

All-consuming.

Like nothing else could possibly matter more.

And, that walk is now a bookmark which inevitably divides the events of my life into two parts - that in which happened before and after it’s transpiring. As though the camino unknowingly attached itself to my Salomon treads and resurfaces in the moments I least expect it to.

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s in the completion of challenging things that tends to deliver the most profound gifts. And, in my experience, there’s simply nothing like struggle in uniting people together. 

Forget about the five-star hotels. 

Forget about plush white duvets.

Or ice cold mojitos on the beach.  

Go for a never-ending walk on a dirty path.

Get rained on.

Drop your phone and shatter the screen in a puddle of muddy misery one morning in the middle-of-nowhere-Europe. It’s our limits which expose our truth. And, going somewhere quickly and together will form a bond faster than slow and comfortable ever will.

 

If you ask me, we are here to do hard things. 

We are here to take up space and hug and say what we mean even if it makes our palms sweaty. 

We are here to have fun and cultivate connection and test our limits while discovering a life we love. 

Since the moment I arrived at kilometre 0 in Finnestre, Spain on that sun-filled August afternoon, I knew I would be setting off to walk the camino again. Only this time, I’m not doing it solo - I’m doing it with 10 heartbeats beside me. Want to join the adventure?