How Not To Walk The Camino

Written February 28, 2024 By Peter Nathaniel Lee

‘’…In India, they say only Atman can meet God on the road…’’

So you want to walk the Camino de Santiago? Are your reasons for sport, for health, or for your spirit?

If it’s for the first two reasons, scroll to Practicalities below — you’ll find a list of advice to aid you. But if it is for your soul’s journey that you wish to walk the ‘strange road’, then it is to India that we must first go…

In 2002, I was in a hostel situated amidst the warren of back-alleys in the slums of New Delhi. A man sat before me, his face wrinkled like leather, wearing faded fisherman pants that might once have been red but were now the colour of shrimp. He had long, mattered blond hair and startling blue eyes. He told me, ‘You should throw away that book.’

In my hands was the India edition of The Lonely Planet. In the days before smartphones and laptops, when the internet was something you paid for by the hour in a cafe and the screen refreshed at painful speed, the LP was the essential backpacker’s companion.

“Back when I began travelling,’’ he said, “we didn’t have those books. You’d meet a fellow traveller and spend several days hanging out and learning where to go through their experiences. Now, everyone follows the guidebook. Everyone ends up in the same places. There’s no need to talk, no exploration. It’s just a long list of places to tick off someone else’s list.”

Eight years later, I stood before the pilgrim’s passport office in St. Jean Pied De Port, France, ready to start my Camino. I glanced across the road to a tourist shop, where pilgrims queued to buy guidebooks, maps and engaged travel agencies offering to carry their bags.

Uncertain of my direction, I considered buying a map and guidebook when I remembered his words and what he told me next.

“In India, they say that within each of us are two parts. The ‘me’, that which we think others perceive us as, and the ‘I’, the Atman, that which observes, witnesses. Only the Atman, can meet God on the road.”

What has this to do with walking the Camino, you might wonder? Let me explain.

The ‘me’ part of us, or the ego, has a specific role in our lives. To ‘Keep ‘me’ safe.’ It has become fashionable to denigrate the ego in recent times, but I believe we should value anything that has our best interest at heart.

Certainty, assurance, safety, control, familiarity. It is along these tracks our everyday lives run. And yet mental health issues are growing across the modern world, and for all our efforts, uncertainty, unknown, fear, lurk behind our illusion of control.

So what might be possible for us if we lived by the Atman rather than the ‘me’?

It is with this question in mind that I suggest you walk the Camino, and to do so, you must remove the tools by which our ego seeks to control life. Surrender control, and give space and time for something far greater to govern the flow of your days. In so doing, your daily life, the grind, will be replaced by something integral to our human soul, now forgotten, adventure.

As you walk, the Camino will unfold before you. Like the turning of pages in a book you’re reading for the first time, life will reveal itself to you. What knowledge you gain will be in the exchange of greeting with fellow pilgrims — an antidote to the suffocating aloneness and alienation we all experience — sitting in a crowded cafe, everyone staring at their phones. Ears plugged into their own music.

Turn off your phone, and put it into the bottom of your bag. Throw away your guidebook and open up the inner guidance of your heart. Do not take a camera. Instead, trust that your eyes and heart will store precious memories in greater detail than you could ever snap with an iPhone. Unplug from your phone, map, guidebook, and therefore plugin to the universe. Who knows what it will have in store for you?

On the aloneness of the track, or in the company of strangers, become the observer, make space to witness, and discover who you truly are.

And in the words of the brilliant writer of Dune, Frank Herbert, “A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

How will you find your way, you might ask?

That’s easy. Start in St. Jean Pied De Port, get a pilgrim’s passport, and follow the yellow arrows 900km to the Ocean. If you get lost, listen to your heart — it knows the way.

Bon Camino

Practicalities — What to take (Spring/Summer)

– Small rucksack –

– Clothes pegs

– three pairs of socks and underwear. Wear one. Dry one on the outside of your bag (use the pegs) One clean pair in your bag.

– Poncho — Easy and light to carry. Folds small. It can fit on the outside of your bag so you can wipe it out, then shake it off and restore it without breaking a stride in the event of rain.

– Sunhat

– Sun cream

– blister + first aid kit

– Stanley knife with a tin opener

– Refillable bottle of water

– hiking trousers that unzip into shorts

– vest tops/t-shirts — one or two

– jeans and shirt rolled up, should you wish to venture out in the Burgos or Leon for a night out

– hiking boots

– hiking sandals

– hiking canes

– warm fleece

– Journal and pen

– sleeping bag

– ear plugs (Snore proof)

– eye mask

– Pilgrim passport — collect in St.Jean Pied De Port

– Clamshell and red string — buy in St Jean or Pamplona

That’s it. Anything else is non-essential, and you won’t regret not taking it.

The Camino follows an ancient pilgrimage route through France and Spain. As such, you’ll meet many pilgrims. There is a saying, ‘you’re never alone on the Camino unless you wish to be.’ So you’ll always have company or alone time as you require. You’ll pass through villages and towns daily, so shops, food, and water are always a matter of hours away.

Those of you who had read ‘Walk With Me.’ My novel about my walk on the Camino de Santiago in 2010 will be familiar with the spiritual awakening process and how it unfolds as part of the Camino itself.

The birth of the pilgrim — arriving at St. Jean, climbing the Pyrenees on the first day. The life of the Pilgrim, meeting new people, discovering the historical and natural wonders of the trail. The death of the Pilgrim, walking through the Meseta. And finally, the rebirth of the pilgrim, entering the green fields of Galicia and walking to the sea.

If you want to discover more, you can get your copy of Walk With Me, my novel about healing from the loss of a family member to suicide, depression, whilst walking the Camino De Santiago —

Should you choose to ignore the above here are some helpful links

St. Jean Pied De Port Offical Tourist Office Website

Official Camino Tourist Website

Camino Guide Webpage

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