Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step

If I had any regrets in life it is probably that I let so many opportunities pass me by.  Don't get me wrong, I love my life and I know that I have probably experienced lots of things that many people will never do, but on reflection, I now wish that I had said yes, more than I said no.  Why is it that we automatically say no to situations that have the opportunity to become a wonderful memory?

I now know that it is the simple things in life that give you true pleasure and I wish I had realised that many years ago.  I have lived in the big house with the ride-on lawn mower.  I have owned the land-rover and experienced expensive holidays, but does that really bring you true pleasure?  Perhaps, but it is a short term fix, and it never lasts.  I now know that it is the small micro-moments that really gives me true pleasure in life.  It is those moments that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  The moments when your child gives you a hug and tells you they love you.  The moments where you have a sense of accomplishment by doing something that you would never have thought possible.

What happened on the Camino to make me realise that you need to seize the day?

Fred and Walter from Stuttgart in Germany.

My mind goes back to my first solo trip and an experience that I would usually have said no to.  German brothers, Walter & Fred had walked with me through the Pyrenees.  We had sung songs loudly as we navigated our way down the mountain and embraced the rain and wind that had soaked us through to the bone.  All I wanted to do when I arrived at the hostel was to have a hot shower, grab a sandwich and have an early night.  When Fred asked me to accompany him to the church I really couldn't be bothered.  I was exhausted, drained and the last thing I felt like doing was to be sociable.  It was as if someone else had taken over my vocal cords as I found the words “of course I'll come to the church with you” topple out of my mouth.

A truly magical moment

It was 5.30pm and we walked into the 13th century Gothic Church I was surprised to see how dark it was (we didn't realise that you needed to put a €1 coin in the box to turn the lights on!).  There was not a soul around which was another surprise as the village was buzzing with pilgrims.  Fred turned to me and gestured for me to take a pew.  Obediently and gratefully I sat down to rest my aching bones and his brother Walter sat next to me.

Fred grabbed something small from his jacket pocket and then walked up to the altar and turned to face us.   He lifted a harmonica to his lips and played the most beautiful tune that I have ever heard.  I am not sure if it was the acoustics of the church or just the situation that I was in, but a wave of emotion washed over me.  I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths and simply breathed in the atmosphere.  When he finished he approached me and I stood up to embrace him.  He told me that it was his gift to me as I had lifted his spirits yesterday by getting everyone to sing songs on the descent of the mountain.  He only ever plays his harmonica in a church and he was grateful for the opportunity.   I nodded in acknowledgement as I was barely able to speak.  That was the last time I saw Fred & Walter.  They left for Germany the next day.  They were my first Camino Angels of my solo hike.  (below is a quick video that I took of our wet crossing in the Pyrenees!).

Wine by the river

If you speak to anyone who has walked the Camino then you will hear them talking about their Camino Family.  I have numerous Camino families now, and the word “family” is not said lightly.  Pilgrims understand when you need solitude, but they are also incredible listeners.  One aspect of the Camino is the social side and I found it too easy to bail out of these opportunities as most people will understand if you say “I would like to read my book, or I just need to rest my bones and have some quiet time”.  There is never any pressure to be sociable, however, the opportunity is always there should you decide to take the plunge.

One evening, a group of us decided to buy some wine at the local corner shop and have an impromptu wine picnic by the river.  We shared wine and stories whilst wading in the cold river and revitalising our feet and legs.  I am so pleased that I said yes to that evening rather than no (which would have been a normal reaction for me).  I had left my daughter in the hostel watching YouTube whilst I indulged in some social time with my Camino family.  I felt a bit guilty for leaving her, but when I look back, I realise that she probably had just as much fun on YouTube and chatting with her friends online.

Another time, in Villafranca we all went swimming in the river.  It was freezing, but the sun soon warmed our bones.  Normally I would have refused to go swimming without my swimming costume, but hey, I had a bra and underwear on, so why not?  This is NOT a normal reaction for me, but boy was it worth it! We had a ball!

Solo Salsa Dancing

If I am honest, I was a little bit jealous of my best friend Julie who had the opportunity to take this whole “embrace opportunities that come your way” to a whole new level during our Camino in July 2018.  I was walking with my daughter at the time, therefore I had her feelings and considerations to think about. Julie was as free as a bird and she took her time, stroked every stray animal she saw, stopped at nearly every cafe, chatted to people, drank from wineskins and just enjoyed life.  I have no regrets walking with my daughter, but you certainly find out more about yourself if you walk alone.

A day by the river in Villafranca

One day, in Galacia, Rachel and I heard some music being played in the distance.  As the melodies got louder we turned the corner to see Julie dancing with a cafe owner to some Salsa music. Julie was oozing enjoyment from every pore of her body as she salsaed her way around the little courtyard. Have you heard the phrase “dance like no one is watching”?  Well, Julie was having the time of her life, as was the cafe owner.  I gave her a hug and we left her to it.  She stayed at that cafe for a good few hours and just loved every minute of it.   Sometimes you just need to take advantage of the opportunities that are laid in front of you.  Julie spent the rest of the evening telling us about her adventure and about the amazing day she had.  Small things like this happen to us every day, but we just don't see them.  It was time for me to open my eyes as I didn't dance that day and I really wish I had!

Wake up and smell the coffee

There is a famous saying “wake up and smell the coffee”.  There are many examples of how I pushed myself to do things that I would not normally do whilst on the Camino and now I am much more open-minded to new experiences in everyday life.  I now plan micro-adventures and find myself saying yes, much more than I say no.   I finally feel that I have woken up and I am smelling the coffee every day.

Thank you for reading this blog.