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

Patience has never been on my radar.  I see something and I just go for it and rarely consider the consequences.  I have navigated my way through life this way and my lack of patience has not just landed me in a few awkward situations, but it has also cost me a fortune as I buy things without really taking my time to do the proper research.  Little did I know that I was about to learn a big lesson on the Camino about being patient.

It was day two of my first solo Camino trip in October 2017.  I have, and always will be, an early bird.  As my eyes opened at 4.30am I was instantly wide awake.  I had stayed the night at the Monastery Albergue in Roncesvalles.  This is a lovely old building, but internally it has had a refurbishment, and the bunks are set out in little cubicles of 4 beds.  Each bunk has its own allocated locker, electric point and light.  If you are intending to stay at this particular hostel then be warned that they flood the monastery with classical music to wake up the pilgrims around 6 am (or it could be 6.30am?).

Anyway, my eyes were open but it was too early to start packing up and getting ready for my day of walking.  I tiptoed to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and got dressed and then tiptoed back.  That killed 10 minutes!  I then grabbed my journal and by the light of my iPhone, I managed to get my thoughts down on paper about how I was feeling.  I was ready and raring to go.  I needed to walk.  OK, mission “Squirrel” needed to be executed immediately.

What on earth is mission squirrel?

There is a well-known Camion tactic called “squirrelling” amongst us pilgrims.  This basically consists of numerous trips from your bunk bed to a common area whilst taking bits of gear from one room to another and being as quiet as you can. The last thing you want to do is to disturb other people’s sleep and be known as “that pilgrim who wakes everyone up”.  It was now 5 am and still too early to start packing up in the dormitory, so I started the squirrelling technique.  I hurriedly rolled up my sleep sheet/pillow, jim jams and wash bag then tiptoed out into the common room.  OMG, there was a guy sleeping on the floor in the common room.  He must have had trouble with snorers last night.  Now, what do I do?  I continued tiptoeing through the common room, negotiating around the sleeping lump on the floor and found a nice wide space at the top of the stairs.  That will do!  I dump my first little package on the floor and head back for round two (for clarity, I meant my sleep sheet etc, and not a No2!).  Round two was also quite easy.  I unplugged my gadgets from the wall, took my charger, grabbed the micro towel that was hanging on my bed (makes your bunk into a cool den!) and tiptoed back out to my little stash of goodies.

Round three of squirrelling did not go so well.  Have you ever tried to get a rucksack out of a locker quietly?  Yep, it doesn’t work.  You are better off just pulling the damn thing out, making a racket and then apologising to your fellow pilgrims.  I didn’t do that.  My rucksack had pins all over the top which were screeching against the side of the locker.  My walking poles were attached to my pack and they wouldn’t come out easily either! Yep, I became THAT pilgrim that woke everyone up!  I need a better squirrelling technique if I was going to survive this trip without having enemies!

I had good light on the stairwell, so it was easy to pack everything away.  I kept my Starbucks cup and a Nescafe Latte sachet out and I headed downstairs towards the kitchen.  It was now about 5.30am.  I was the only person awake.  I hastily boiled the kettle and made myself a coffee and contemplated the guide book.  It was only a few miles to the next village and having walked this part of the Camino before I knew that I could grab some breakfast at one of the many cafes there.  My plan for the day was formulating in my mind and I couldn’t wait to get going.

It is very dark at 5.45am in Spain!

As you leave the small town of Roncesvalles there is a signpost showing “790 KM to Santiago”. (see above).  Nearly everyone takes a photo of themselves at this point, but you will notice that most pictures are taken in the daylight.  Yep, sensible people, enjoy a good hearty breakfast, wait for their friends to get ready and then head off as soon as it is light.  Not me.  I was so impatient and just wanted to get going that my photo was taken in the dark!

About two minutes after taking the photo the trail took a right turn and headed straight into the woods.  I was about 20 meters into the woods and it seemed much darker.  Stupidly, I didn’t have a torch or a headlight with me either (I know!).  I am not really sure why I didn’t bring a torch this time, but with no-one in front of me, and no-one behind me and no light to guide my way through these woods I knew the best decision was to turn back and wait for a few others to turn up.  That would be the sensible thing to do.  But, I am impatient so the conversation in my head went a bit like this:

Julia (sensible): This is crazy.  Anything could happen to you in these woods.  You could fall over an exposed root, get lost in the woods, or get raped by a mad man who is hiding in the woods!  Please turn back and wait for someone else!

Julia (the adventurer): You read somewhere that your eyes get used to the dark, so it can’t be that bad.  It is less than a mile through these woods and then you will be rewarded with hot coffee and a fresh chocolate croissant.  Go for it!

Julia (sensible): Animals!  You are scared of animals in the wild Julia, what happens if you see something that you really don’t like?

Julia (the adventurer): Let’s do this.  Face your fear and do it anyway.  If something goes wrong then another pilgrim will be along shortly.

Decision made.  I was going to do this!

As I took another tentative step deeper into the woods, I turned on my iPhone torch.  Yey, I can see where I am going.  I just hope the battery lasts! Ten minutes into the trail and I started to relax.  I was listening to the birds waking up and there was something very peaceful about walking through the woods on my own at this time of day.  There was nothing scary about doing this at all…. hey, what’s that?

I heard a noise to my left!

It felt that someone was following me.  My pace quickened and then I heard it again.  I instinctively shone my torch into the woods and the light caught the eyes of something. Something big!  Two huge eyes were staring right at me.  I screamed and started running (which is quite difficult when you have a rucksack on your back).  I took the wrong trail and walked right into a fence post.  Ouch!  The animal had gone and I was on my own again but my mind was racing with all sorts of scenarios.  The main thought that kept popping into my head was zombies.  I know this sounds ludicrous, but I kept visualising zombies from The Walking Dead appearing out of no-where and grabbing my ankle.  Each time I brushed against a bush or a twig snapped up and caught my shin I would scream!


A glimmer of hope!

I continued on and eventually, I saw the lights of a cafe which was just on the outskirts of the woods.  I needed to sit down, in the warm and drink a very large Cafe Con Leche!

This is Taha my knight is shining armour!

It was now 6.30am and was still dark outside.  I took off my pack and walked up to the bar.  There was a row of workmen at the counter all drinking coffee and eating their breakfast.  As I waiting to be served I scanned the room to see who else was there.  A friendly face met my eyes as a fellow pilgrim smiled at me.  I smiled back and he came over to ask if I was ok?  Taha was from Lebanon and he had also left early from Roncesvalles this morning.  He had a nice big head torch and sensible clothing.  He was my new best friend! We drank coffee together and he asked me if I would like to walk with him until the sun came up… yes, please!



I actually learned a few lessons during this particular experience.

  • The biggest lesson is patience.  If I had waited another 30 mins then lots of pilgrims would have been walking the trail and I would not have been on my own.
  • Always take some kind of torch on the Camino.  I now use shoe lights which are lightweight and very handy.
  • Things are not always as bad as they seem.  I am now convinced that those “eyes” were perhaps a deer, and not a zombie!

Thank you for reading this blog.

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