Apologies for taking a while to get around to writing some reflection on The Camino but my feet haven’t touched the floor since my return from Santiago nearly 4 weeks ago.
I have certainly missed the daily routine of the Camino and it has take me a while to adjust back to my normal life , a great deal of which is spent sitting in front of a computer screen. For me the Camino experience was a joy and I returned from Spain as fit in body and mind as I ever have been. I cannot tell you how much of pleasure it was to know that all I had to do for 5 weeks was to get up every day , go for a walk and only have think about where you might eat and sleep during the course of each day
For me the best thing of all was the Pilgrim camaraderie en route. I wrote in the blog that I couldn’t think of any other experience that would allow you to meet so many people from all corners of the globe and spend so much time walking , talking and eating together. The communal living thing certainly wouldn’t suit everyone and , reading back through the blog , I did a fair bit of moaning about the snoring but that is all part and parcel of the Refugio experience .Some Pilgrims stayed exclusively in B&Bs or hotels but If you can accept the lack of privacy and the odd bout of snoring-induced insomnia then staying in the Refugios/Albergues is certainly worthwhile. Aside from the fact that you meet many more Pilgrims , there were some really great Refugios run by volunteer ” Hospitaleros ” who were wonderfully welcoming and went out of their way to make sure the Pilgrims had a special experience. For me the best example was ” Refugio Gaucelmo ” in Rabanal del Camino. This place is owned and run by the London based ” Confraternity of St James ” and was my favourite Refugio of the Camino. It helps that Rabanal is a beautiful little village up in the mountains and the modernised , stone-built Refugio itself is lovely but the welcome and friendliness provided by the two English volunteers , Brendan and Dave , was something else. It inspired me so much that I have resolved to volunteer as a Hospitalero for Rabanal myself when our youngest has left the nest. In order to do this you have to be a member of the Confraternity , have walked the Camino and to have a working knowledge of Spanish. I can speak only very basic Spanish phrases and will have to take a language course at some point. The fact I had very little Spanish was a regret as many of the local people I met en route couldn’t speak English and being able to hold a basic conversation would certainly have enhanced the experience.
As someone who had never visited mainland Spain before the discovery of Northern Spain was a revelation. I completely fell in love with the place. A great part of the pleasure I had from the whole experience was due to the fact I learned so much about the culture and the history of this part of Spain. I particularly liked the Basque Country and Galicia.
Luckily I only had one physical problem during the whole journey , the peroneal tendonitis that affected my right leg , and that cleared up fairly quickly with anti-inflammatories and some loosening of my bootlace. I think the tendonitis was brought on by walking over 30km on three consecutive days on The Meseta. It seemed a more common complaint amongst the men , who were more inclined than the women to push themselves to walk those extra 5 or 10 kilometres in a day. I had broken in a pair of these German made boots over a few Saturdays before leaving and wore them with two pairs of socks. I had only one very small blister on the whole walk and can only put that down to the quality and fit of the boots.
As GPs in training we were told to look at the physical , social and psychological impacts on health and some of my fellow walkers , like the Austrian guy who was suffering bereavement , were certainly seeking some therapeutic benefits from the Camino. There’s no doubt it ticked all the physical , social and psychological boxes , assuming you could avoid injuries. It’s well recognised that walking has beneficial effects on brain chemistry and research is revealing that if can create new brain cells , so called “neurogenesis” in areas of the brain that control memory . An interesting TED talk here refers to this.
The other brain effect for me has been to create an addiction : ) I will be back …….