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

For those of you who don’t know, I have owned a social media and digital marketing agency for the last ten years.  Not only does this mean that I am a business owner and need to keep an eye on emails, Slack (our business communication tool) and be available for clients, but it also means that I need to be a thought leader within the social media industry.  In my opinion, you wouldn’t engage a  Financial Advisor to give you advice about money if they are running around in a beaten up Mini, neither would you engage a social media company if they never posted online.  I had got into the habit of living my life through the little screen on my phone and, similar to alcohol or drugs, my daily dose of Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin intake was highly addictive.

We got lost before we had even started!

After a very scenic train journey from Bayonne, Rachel, Julie and I arrived in St Jean Pied De Port full of high spirits.  We eventually found our way to the Pilgrims Passport Office which was a short walk from the train station.  There were backpackers everywhere and you could feel the excitement in the air.  The pilgrim’s office is where you register for the Camino Frances route, collect your passport (also known as your credential), buy a shell for your backpack (a symbol of the Camino) and with a hearty farewell from the volunteers you are on your way.  We were ready to do this, but which way do we go?  Julie started walking up the hill, knowing that we had to go into the mountains on our first day.  We hadn’t gone far when a young man called Lucas stopped us and informed us that the Camino was this way (as he pointed down the hill).  This was a good start!  We couldn’t even navigate our way out of the small town.  Lucas also told us of the storms that were about to hit the area.  He was going to delay his start date for a few days to let the storm pass.  That was the first time that doubt about this trip had entered my head.  I instinctively grabbed my phone to check the weather app, no signal.  That was annoying! Perhaps there will be a better signal in the mountains?

This is the map of the first day. We only walked to Refuge Orison but boy was it steep!

The best social media posts evoke emotion

All good social media managers know that the best type of post is a good story that involves emotion.  Pulling on the heartstrings, telling people of unfortunate circumstances, and celebrating those wins.  We had just got lost and we had not even started on the trail yet!  I pulled out my phone to do a quick live stream on Facebook to tell the story forgetting that there was no service!  Oh well, I am sure it will kick in shortly, I will just check again when we get to our first cafe.  I had heard that there are many cafes on the Camino and all cafes have wifi don’t they?

We headed down the hill, grabbed some food from the small supermarket on the corner and took our first steps over the quaint little bridge.  As we turned the corner the route instantly made a steep incline.  OMG!  They said it was steep but not this steep.  I was not expecting it to be this bad straight away.  We had walked less than half a mile and my calf muscles were burning.  The heat from the Spanish sun was beating down and I had already drunk quite a lot of water from my hydration bladder.   I hope I don’t run out of water before we get to the first cafe!  In the back of my mind I was a bit concerned about the storms that Lucas had mentioned, but so far the sky was a clear blue and there was not a cloud in sight.  Let’s hope it remains that way!

You in Pyrenees, No wiff fee!

We reached the first little cafe which was a few miles in at Hunto.  We removed our packs, refilled our water bottles and hydration packs at the free water fountain and stopped for a well-deserved rest.  A gorgeous heinz 57 dog came out of no-where and rolled over onto it’s back in front of Rachel and Julie as if to say “I want my belly rubbed please”.  They both obliged and the scene was so cute!  I instinctively grabbed my phone to take some photos and a short video of the scene.  Whilst the other two were distracted I asked the hospitaliara for the wifi code.  She frowned at me and shook her head. She replied in her strong Spanish accent “No wiff feee” , “You in Mountain” “You in Pyrenees”, “No wiff feee”.

The cute dog at the first stop in Hunto.

Julie also took some photo’s of the views and the cute dog.  As she was drinking her coffee she posted her update on Facebook to say how amazing this place was.  How can she post on Facebook and I can’t?  (that sounds so childish when I put it in writing!).  I was annoyed that Julie had service and I didn’t.  It had now been a good 2-3 hours since I had communicated online and tensions were rising.  I was not going to let this spoil my experience though….

We looked at the guidebook and realised that we still had a way to go before we reached the hostel where we would be staying the night.  The Refuge Orison.  We had best get a move on before all the beds are gone.  I had emailed the Orison many weeks before, and although I had chased for confirmation of our booking, I had never received a reply.  Not knowing if you were going to have a bed or not for you and your 13-year-old daughter was playing on my mind and causing me quite a lot of anxiety.  Julie and Rachel did not seem that bothered and they just took their time.

We met our first Camino Angel

With only two miles to go the heat was crazy hot!  I had never experienced anything like it.  We had trained for this trip, but walking in this heat was something that I was not prepared for, mentally or physically.  We soldiered on until we spotted a little Mexican man called Abel who was sitting under a tree contemplating life and shading himself from the sun.  I reached him first as Julie and Rachel were dragging their feet and moaning about the gruelling trek.  Abel had a very calming effect and he told me that he was 79 years old and that this was not his first Camino.  As Julie and Rachel approached he shared with us some wise words that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  “You need to take this trail and life, slow and steady.  This is probably going to be the hardest and most challenging day of your whole Camino”.  As he pointed into the distance, we could see that the trail continued to rise into the mountains. “You walk ten paces, then stop, take a deep breath, and then walk another ten paces.  As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will get to your destination.  Take your time, enjoy the views and just keep moving forward.  Rest often, under a tree or behind a rock and embrace the shade.  I will see you at the Orison”. (and he did)

Rachel and Julie taking lessons from Abel on how to take life slow and steady.

We waved goodbye as we took ten paces, stopped, breathed, and took another ten paces.  This was working.  This is how we were going to get through today.  We had met our first Camino Angel.  I instinctively grabbed my phone to tell the world of this wonderful man that we had met, but once again, there was no service.  Rachel looked at me and raised her eyebrows as if to say “put that phone away mum and look around you”.

We made it to the Orison!

If you have ever walked that very first section of the Camino Frances route from St Jean Pied De Port to the Refuge Orison, you will understand when I say “it must be round this next bend”.  The very steep climbs had now evened out into a long and winding road (I am also singing the Paul McCartney song in my head!).  I have not thought about my phone or the internet for a little while now as Abel was right, the views were spectacular.  We stopped on the corner of one bend in the road as we glanced down into the deep valley below us.  We saw what we thought were Eagles flying below us (I later found out they were vultures), but wow!  Just wow!  To witness these magnificent gigantic birds flying free in their home territory was not something that you can really put into words.  My eyes were beginning to open up to what was around me and my heart was beginning to soften to the calling of the mountains.  Even though I was physically shattered, I felt alive.

We sat watching the vultures for quite a while whilst discussing how much further we had to go.  On this particular trip, I had not downloaded the app called Beun Camino.  If I had then I would have known that the Orison was literally around the corner.  Yes, we were sitting on the last bend!  We could have watched the same vultures from the terrace of the Orison, with a glass of Sangria in our hands and that’s exactly what we did about 20 minutes later!

You can borrow my phone said, Julie,

I had slept in hostels in the UK before, but I had never slept in a mixed gender dorm with people I didn’t know.  This was going to be an experience.  I chose the bed next to the bathroom, just in case I needed the loo in the night (this was another lesson I learned from the Camino, never sleep in a bed that is near to the bathroom!).   Let’s just say that I am not the only one who gets up for a wee in the night, and German men who are suffering from diarrhoea is not a pleasant sound to listen to when you are trying to get to sleep!

Anyway, when you check-in at the Orison they hand you a token for the shower.  I can’t remember how long you get, but I am guessing it was about five mins or so.  It was the quickest shower I have ever had, but it felt good to wash off the sweat and grime of the day and put some fresh clothes on.

I was lying on the bottom bunk completing my journal entry for the day when I heard a kerfuffle outside, and then the roar of an almighty storm (Lucas was right!).  Rachel and Julie urged me to come out onto the veranda and I witnessed the most amazing electric storm over the valley beneath us.  The rain came down as if the mountains life depended on it and I was in awe of the spectacle that was happening right in front of my eyes.    The storm was short lived and what followed next was breathtaking.  A wonderful band of colour appeared before us in the form of a double rainbow.  OMG!  I need to tell the world what I am seeing right now! I rush inside to grab my phone.  I took some photos, but I was unable to post them online as I still had no internet and there was no wifi at the hostel.

To my annoyance, Julie had managed to secure a 3g signal and had posted a round-up of the day on her Facebook Page accompanied by photos and videos of the journey so far.  If I am completely honest, I think I was probably more frustrated that I was unable to check my emails or Slack messages, and I was also unable to communicate with my husband to tell him that we were ok and that life on the Camino was rather amazing.  Matt (my hubby) had commented on Julie’s post, so he knew that we were safe.  Julie did offer her phone to me, but I made out that it didn’t really bother me that much.  If this lack of wifi and mobile phone service was going to be an issue, then I needed to get over my addiction rather quickly, otherwise I was in for a miserable time and that is not fair to my best friend, my daughter or my new Camino family that we had adopted on the route to the Orison (Fernando, Ale and Brad).


By day three of our first Camino trip, I still had no mobile phone signal.  I was able to hop onto wifi when we reached Zubiri and I instantly logged in to check my emails.  All that anguish, all that anxiety and nothing!  No-one needed me, there was nothing that needed my attention that my staff could not deal with. Why on earth was this a problem?  I had managed to speak with my husband over Facetime who told me that there was an issue with O2 and this was the reason why Julie had a signal and I didn’t.  He was working on a solution, but it would take a few days to kick in.  I made the decision there and then that I would only look at emails, post online and speak with my hubby once a day.  The rest of the time my phone would be used for videos and photos only. I had survived three days without contact with the outside world, so I can do this.  I can survive without wifi!

Thank you for reading this blog.

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