The Journey That Changed Everything

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Captured during one of my short breaks (on an unbearably hot Spanish summer day) with one of my Italian pilgrim friends whom I’ve met on the way. All those who walk the Camino are referred to as ‘Pilgrims’. A bunch of funny and cheerful South Koreans joined us for some much-needed R&R. That’s how it is on the Camino. You meet like-minded people everyday from different parts of the world, and some even become life-long friends. Camino Frances, Spain, 2015

The Camino de Santiago has many walking routes or what they call ‘Ways’. You can start anywhere on the Camino and by anywhere I mean anywhere if your number one goal is to WALK. That was my goal. But if you want to be a certified Camino Pilgrim you’ve got to complete at least 100 kilometres and reach Santiago de Compostela. Have you watched Emelio Estevez’s movie The Way? Watch it. It’s a great movie. The Camino route Martin Sheen took is the same route I chose to take that year. It also happens to be the same route that Paulo Coelho took at the age of 38 – the route that brought on a spiritual awakening and inspired him to write his first novel The Pilgrimage

I walked from St Jean Pied de Port, France (via the Pyrenees, a range of mountains) to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I trekked through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León in Spain. I covered approximately 800 kilometres in 35 days. 3 days rest.

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A map of Spain and my journey’s route from St. Jean Pied of Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I walked through the scorching summer heat of Spain; through unexpected rain; through the sunniest of all suns; green raw mountains; wide roads and small winding ones too; through silent dark woods with the occasional rustle of falling leaves; tiny villages with no one in sight but grumpy dogs and a few curious-serious old people who seem to be waiting for something to happen; through the endless, dry, flat and intimidating Meseta – which many of my Pilgrim friends opted to skip; through rocky climbs; small stones that danced under my feet and huge ones that refused to budge; through small hidden rivers and streams; beautiful cities and less beautiful ones; through cold temperatures when the climb got even higher and the sun was shadowed by humungous clouds; through fields of happy sunflowers; fields and fields of hay and empty spaces; and through never-ending horizons or big old trees that cover the sun’s rays and create an eerie-scary atmosphere even for the bravest of all solo travellers. I walked with the knowledge that there’s an American woman missing somewhere on the same Camino route I was taking, whom more or less shared a similar story to mine. I walked through the fear of knowing there might be a kidnapper somewhere or a lurking murderer hiding behind one of the many bushy bushes I passed.  I walked through sleepless nights thinking about that missing woman; and through a Queen Bee attack on my very first day in the Pyrenees – a funny story (in retrospect) yet not-so-funny (in reality). I walked on despite all of that. And that single act of perseverance with a ‘no matter what’ attitude changed my whole outlook on life. It confirmed to me that we as human beings are capable of great things when we have a purpose in life, and all that is required of us is to keep going no matter what, and never give in to fear and pain. No greatness without suffering. And no suffering ends in suffering, only in greatness.    

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Enjoying a beautiful view of greenery that I came across during a challenging trek. Camino Frances, Spain, 2015

Recently I came across this wonderful travel passage written by Bill Bryson – a best-selling author and travel writer. It cleverly describes some of the thoughts and sentiments I had while walking. It describes what really matters to you when you walk tough walks and long challenging distances. When you’re totally alone in the woods with not a soul in sight for hours on end. When your tired legs and blistered feet cannot carry you anymore and your back is broken in two. When hovering insects are suddenly your best friends and the trail never seems to end. When all you think about is ‘how much water do I have left?’ or ‘how many kilometres do I have left?’ or ‘should I have my trail nuts and dried fruits now or keep some for later just in case? or ‘should I trust him?’ or ‘how am I ever going to get there in one piece?’.  Ultimately though it describes happiness. Because happiness is when you have a purpose, and you journey with it.   

Bryson wrote: “Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret. Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really. You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudgeThere is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter. At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already. But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.”

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On the last day and final destination of my epical journey. That’s when I also became an officially certified Camino Pilgrim. I walked on, and I made it! Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 2015

On Loving

 

Icelandic Love
I captured this beautiful image of two gentle Icelandic horses at a horse field / stable in Iceland, 2017

There is nothing in the world that I want

but you and your love,

all other things seem small in comparison.

 

I want to keep your heart my own,

so much that I would rather love you first

and live incidentally.

 

My happiness is now in your hands,

because loving you means you can carry me.

 

Wherever and whenever you please,

in whatever shape or form you choose.

 

I have never felt my mind breathe with undistracted enjoyment,

as it does when I am with you.

 

You occupy all my senses.

 

What if you love me less one day?

It is done now and I have to admit this dependence,

I admit it willingly, wholeheartedly,

since I love you so much.

 

Since there’s no other way.

 

By Razan Abdul Majeed