11 Side Effects I Had as a Pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago
1. I started to worship ear plugs.
After I laid awake that first night in Pamplona trying to ignore the vibrations from Bunkmate Emil that permeated my pillow into my ears from below, I started to appreciate ear plugs. But it wasn’t until after several sleepless nights spent listening to the symphony of snorers in the dorm that I fell in love with them. It took me months to stop wearing them to sleep after the Camino.
2. I became an expert on blister prevention.
And so was every other pilgrim I met on the Camino, but I figured out what worked for me. I now know exactly how to wrap my feet, where I’m prone to blisters and how to treat my feet to prevent them. I still don’t moisturize my feet ‘in case of blisters’.
3. ‘Walking distance’ has taken on a whole new meaning.
If you had suggested walking 20 kilometers pre-Camino, I would have laughed out loud.
4. Bottom bunks are like gold to me.
They’re generally reserved for older pilgrims, so as a 22-year-old girl I was almost always sent to the top bunk. Although I learnt to be okay sleeping just about anywhere, I’ll still do a happy dance when I get a bottom bunk in a hostel.
5. I’ve gained a Camino family.
I’m still in touch with those everyday saints with whom I shared bocadillos con queso y jámon, band-aids, laughs, washing loads, intimate stories, spontaneous singalongs to Drops of Jupiter, bottles of La Rioja wine and dance outbursts to Uptown Funk (Hayden, I’m talking about you). Like Jae, the American who was there for me when I got a sudden fever or Oliver, who helped me when my knee became too painful to walk on. And even those who I don’t have contact with – Karl from Malta who ran all over Santa Domingo looking for honey for my sore throat or the kind Australian lady who said she would be my mother for the night while I was sick – they’re my Camino family too.
6. I’m no longer attached to privacy.
After washing in showers with no curtains and hearing people fart in their sleep for a month, privacy is not a big deal anymore. If anything, it was liberating to shed that embarrassment — especially as someone who’s bowels suffered from severe stage fright pre-Camino.
But the sense of privacy shedding extends beyond the communal bathroom. On the Camino, you see people at their best, but also at their worst. I heard profound stories from people’s lives before I even knew their names and related my own deep-rooted family issues with people I’d only just met. It made me realize that at the end of the day, just like we all have similar bodily functions and needs, we all have issues. And being open and unembarrassed about them makes it possible to skip the superficial bullshit and connect with others.
7. I realized everyone has a story to share.
I remember the first time this sank in; I was on the path in Navarra with spring-green dew-speckled hills on either side and dark grey clouds overhead in the eight a.m. sky. All the pilgrims who passed wore raincoats. I walked with a man from England in his sixties who told me about his son who was killed in a massacre in my hometown. I remember gazing at all the pilgrims in their raincoats and realizing that even though we all looked the same in our ponchos and I couldn’t even see some of their faces, they all had entire lives and stories under their hoods.
Now, whenever I meet new people on my travels, I see each as having a unique treasure chest. And I can’t help but wonder what they’re going to show me.
8. I now get overly excited when I see yellow arrows in the streets or scallop shells on backpacks.
Must. Follow. Yellow. Arrows.
9. I will never sit down for another ‘menu del dia.’
I think the microwaved chicken and lombo de porco every day was part of the reason why I became vegetarian.
10. I no longer compare myself to others.
Comparing myself to others on the Camino only got me sore feet, blisters and injuries. Although it took me a while to learn, I stopped comparing kilometers per day and did only what I could. It turned out to be a valuable life lesson – I’m now 24 and clueless about what to do in life, but I’m carrying on along my own path without contrasting myself to anyone else. Just as everyone’s Camino is different, so is life.
11. I now pack way less on my trips.
I started my Camino with at least 12 kilos and couldn’t even close my 50-litre backpack. By the time I arrived at the coast, it weighed half that amount. It made me realize how much of what I have are just comforts, and showed me how little I really need. I survived most of the Camino with only two changes of clothes, a sleeping bag and a camera. Don’t get me wrong, I still overpack everytime (my boyfriend will be the first to testify to this). But overpacking now and overpacking pre-Camino are two very different stories.