Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step
Learning to deal with the pain is probably one of the hardest lessons I had to learn whilst walking the Camino. As I sit down to type this chapter I find myself taking a deep breath as is to say “brace yourself, Julia, as you are about to get rather emotional”.
When you are walking 10-20 miles a day, inevitably, your body will start to give you signs to say that it needs you to slow down and take things easy. If you do not listen to those signals then the problems will escalate and before you know it you are hobbling with terrible blisters, have sore body parts from chafing, or, like me, you end up with shin splints which are just excruciating.
The Camino is probably one of the rare places in the world where it is acceptable to pop blisters in a cafe or to take your socks and shoes off to wash your feet using the village drinking fountain!
The Camino is very similar to real life. If you live your life at a very fast pace then you constantly live in a bubble of survival mode. Life is always “go, go, go” and you don't really have time to think before you are moving on to the next project or working on the next big deal. It is possible to live in that bubble for a while, but eventually, it catches up with you. You either head towards burn-out or, like me, if you take regular holidays then you may find yourself being poorly as your body and mind are taking a well-earned rest. Being poorly whilst on holiday happens to me constantly. Each Christmas or family holiday I end up with a big cold sore on my nose, or I find myself with the dreaded flu bug. I suffer from sinus problems and this always flares up when I finally take a break.
Physical pain on the Camino
There are two types of pain that you experience on the Camino. There is physical pain and also the emotional pain. Let's start with physical pain.
Many people are simply prone to blisters (like my daughter). No matter what socks she wears, what shoes she has on or what daily care she gives to her feet, she will always end up with blisters. I walk a lot and I very rarely suffer from blisters. I have built up callus on my feet and therefore it is unusual for me to suffer from any form of a blister, but in July of 2018, I suffered. I suffered bad! I had not changed my routine. I was wearing the same socks, the same trail runners and kept to the same foot care routine as previous trips but on day three of my Camino in the last section from Carrion De Los Condes to Santiago, a hot-spot turned into multiple blisters and boy was it painful. The one blister spread into three or four and it was so painful that I didn't really know what do do with myself. Life was miserable for quite a while.
Shin splints are worse than blisters!
On the same trip where I suffered from painful blisters, I also experienced shin splints. Shin splints are usually experienced by runners who constantly pound the hard ground for long periods of time which causes lots of little tears in the muscles either side of your shins. I had shin splints when I walked the Meseta region of the Camino where there was an awful lot of road walking. There is no cure for shin splints apart from rest, which is easier said than done when you are on a walking holiday! (Holiday? I am not sure if the Camino can be described as a holiday? anyway…) If you can imagine excruciating pain jolting up the front of your leg every time you take a step, then you will have an idea of what my world was like for a while on the Camino. Yep, it was not fun! But, you need to deal with it, rest as much as you can and then move on. By the way, athletics support tape and compression socks helped a lot with my shin splints.
Emotional pain on the Camino
If you have emotional issues to deal with, then the Camino creates the perfect environment to process those thoughts and feelings. People often find themselves walking the Camino as they have reached a crossroads in their life. It may be a divorce or separation, retirement or perhaps a loss of a loved one that they are struggling to process or even empty nest syndrome. There are too many stories to share with you for just one blog, but I would like to share a few so that you have an understanding of how the Camino can help you process choices that you have to make in your life and move on to the next chapter.
Sun Yin – Breast Cancer
Sun was the happiest person I have ever met. I got chatting to her one morning whilst I was making coffee and having breakfast. Sun was boiling eggs as a surprise lunch for another pilgrim who was walking with his three dogs, which was just the type of person she was. Her story was amazing. She had suffered from different forms of cancer over the last ten years or so. Five years previously she had been told that her cancer was incurable, so she stopped all treatment and decided to walk the Camino. She fell in love with a fellow pilgrim on that trip and they were married not long after her return to real life. Her cancer had vanished by the time she got home and she lived the next five years in pure joy. As she stood before me, she explained that her cancer had returned, this time it was breast cancer. It was incurable, and she lived every day in excruciating pain. It was her husband who convinced her to walk the Camino for one last time, and this is what she was doing. She was making the most of every single moment that she had left on this planet.
Peter from Germany
I met Peter from Germany in a very plush Albergue in Acebo (this is hostel with the built on spa, luxury swimming pool and magnesium pool – it was lush!) As we sat down for a pilgrim breakfast I asked Peter if I could take his photo and add it to my little book of Pilgrims. We had spent the previous evening in deep conversation so I didn't think he would mind. He smiled and posed for my photo. I printed it out using my little Polaroid Zip printer and placed it into my book. I then asked him the question that I ask everyone that goes into my book “what is your luxury item?”. “What have you got with you that you wanted to bring that is special for you, but you don't really need?” He looked thoughtful for a few moments and then explained that he left his special item on the Le Cruz De Fero the previous day. Le Cruz De Fero is a place where you leave an item that you brought with you from home. It is often a symbol of forgiveness or leaving your sins behind. Many people leave an item for a loved one at the foot of the cross which is the highest point on the Camino. I asked Peter “what was the item that you left on the cross?” – he replied, “I will show you”. And with that, he picked up his mobile phone and went to the photos section. He then showed me a photo of a lady in an open coffin with her arms placed in a cross over her chest. “This is my wife”.
What do you say to someone who shares something so personal with you? I was overcome with emotion and I tapped him on the shoulder and told him I needed some fresh air. Silent tears escaped from my eyes and in all honesty, I don't know why? I didn't know this woman, and I had only just met Peter, but it was like a floodgate had opened and I could not control how I was feeling? I am not usually an emotional person and I often find myself giggling at other peoples misfortunes. My best friend often tells me that I missed out on the empathy gene when I was born, so I was surprised by my own reaction.
I was outside taking a few moments and absorbing the fabulous views that lay before me when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Peter. He sat next to me and rolled a cigarette. “These things will kill you,” he said with a boyish smile. He then went on to finish his story. His wife had passed away a few years ago of cancer (I can't remember what cancer it was). Peter then told me, through smiley eyes, that he himself has terminal throat cancer. It won't be long before he will be with his wife again and for this he was grateful. This was the reason that he was walking the Camino as he needed to put a few demons to rest before he parted company with this world.
This chapter is all about moving on with your life. If people like Sun-Yin and Peter can move on with the issues that they were dealing with then I knew that there was hope for me. When I returned from the Camino, the very next weekend, I flew out to Ireland with my daughter and my brother to visit my father. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that I have now moved on and I can let certain of my own demons lay to rest. I now have the courage to follow my heart and do what is right for me, rather than what is right for other people. This does not make me less of a human being, in fact, I now live life with a constant smile on my face in the same way that Sun-Yin and Peter do. I get it. Life is there for living and we need to process stuff before we can move on. Burying emotion does not help as the bad stuff has a way of finding it's way out when you are least expecting it!
Thank you for reading this blog.