I would walk 500 Miles: An Anecdotal Transition back to the 'Real World' after Completing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage in Spain

The Camino seems like a far-away dream at this point. A dream that I wish I hadn't woken up from. To think that just two years ago, I was a pilgrim; walking an average of 10 miles a day from pueblo-to-pueblo or city-to-city.  Although it's been a little while since I stepped foot in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the celebrated finish line of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Camino Frances route) Pilgrimage, I vividly remember that very moment and everything I had worked for up until then… the blood (literally… the unearthly blisters!), the sweat and tears that went into walking those 500 miles (800 km) from St. Jean-Pied-Du-Port (eastern side of the Pyrenees mountain range), France to the Galician City of Santiago de Compostela (northwestern Spain). All worth it, along with a picture in front of the famous cathedral and a Compostela (certificate) to document this feat I completed.

Being on the Camino is like no other feeling. You will hear most pilgrims say, “the Camino changes you." I believe this is because you feel completely liberated.  Your only concerns include walking, stopping in the towns, pueblos and cities in-between to nourish yourself and take breaks, and finding shelter at the end of the day. There is virtually no worrying about day-to-day errands or tasks, or rushing to work, or taking care of specific responsibilities. It is just 'you' and whatever you define as the finish line, along with the space to focus on yourself in-between. No white noise (minus the snoring in the albuerges); just you and the Camino.

Now imagine transitioning from that feeling, which lasted (me) an entire six weeks, and abruptly returning back to the real world of an 9-5 schedule with the same prior responsibilities, if not more. It felt like I went 0 MPH to 100 MPH, overnight. It was complete counter culture shock. A few pilgrims I spoke with appeared to have a decent post-Camino honeymoon period, as they reconnected with friends and family to share their Camino experiences. I didn’t feel this way. Personally, I didn’t want to talk about my experience, other than to say it was ‘amazing’ and you should watch ‘The Way’ or ‘Six Ways to Santiago’ if you are truly interested in finding out more.  I didn’t want to keep reminiscing, because when I did, part of me felt this grief or loss over the fleeting feeling of the sacred space I had for those six weeks.

Life on the Camino is so simple, so easy. Yes, you have to sometimes deal with blisters, joint pain, lack of sleep, and maybe some bland food.  But you are carrying a backpack of 10-20 pounds of all of your belongings, and realize that’s all you really need. Living in the USA, and in this day and age, I definitely feel pressured to buy, and sometimes confuse my wants and needs. In addition, while on the Camino, you aren’t generally inundated with technology, social media, instant gratification, full-time jobs, information overload. You are off the grid, you are a minimalist, you are present and in the moment with what you are doing.

The life changing experience and realizations I had, were paired with the frustration of not having the changes I wanted to see in my life come to fruition quickly enough.  The thing I was trying to get away from and change was all still here, in the real world. For the longest time, all I could think about was returning to the Camino, the same Camino I cursed day after day for the physical and sometimes emotional struggle it gave me. The peace and serenity I found within it. I went into a post-Camino depression.

The depression was hard to discuss, because no one around me had been on the Camino. It felt alienating at times. I then started reaching out to other peregrinos (pilgrims) who I met along the way, and felt better knowing that my misery had some company, or that my feelings were ate least validated. In preparing for the Camino, there are plenty of articles you can read on what to bring, how to create an ideal itinerary, etc. I even wrote a couple of articles on how to survive the Camino being gluten and dairy free, and the 15 things people won’t tell you to bring on the Camino. However, there isn’t much out there to prepare you for what life will be like upon returning, and how to handle the changes you envisioned on the Camino.

Without much content related to Post-Camino depression or blues, I decided to write about this difficult subject, because it is something that needs to be discussed. If you completed the Camino, and aren’t feeling quite right, know that you aren’t alone. I sent out a survey to as many peregrinos I met along the way to hear what their own transition was like, and how they handled and overcame their own blues. And to learn what brought them to the Camino in the first place. Just know, as with most things, this transitions gets better with time. 

 

Reason for going on the Camino in the first place…

…I knew the time was right for me to walk because I wanted to have a definite "end" to my work life and a new beginning to the rest of my life. -Pilar A., USA

When I first heard about the Camino about ten years ago I immediately decided I would do it one day. It was as though I was called to do it. I’d never done anything remotely like this before, and yet I felt compelled to go. The second time I went was because at the end of my first Camino, I decided I would go back. It seemed to me that I needed to return, that I had unfinished business there. –Joanne K., Canada

Was going through a rough time in my life. Had just come out of a really shitty breakup and needed sometime to figure myself out. -Eduardo P., Canada

First, I thought it was because I need it time for myself and to have an idea on how to change my career that I wasn't happy about, as soon as I got there I realized it was much deeper and I actually had to change the whole thing, lifestyle, relationship, most of all MYSELF! –Anonymous

I wanted to figure out how to make money (which at the time was very important to me) and what to do professionally as I thought everything else in my life was sorted. I had a lovely boyfriend that supported me no matter what, a house, we used to travel all the time! But, there was always something missing, I was never happy, never satisfied. As soon as I got to the Camino I realized I had to dig way deeper than I ever thought, that wasn't only my professional life, but I had to change my whole life in order to move forward. -Ana C., UK

Mostly, I was inspired by what I saw in the film, “The Way.” It stirred a longing in me for many things: a sabbatical from normal life, simplicity, being out in nature every day seeing beautiful things and places, an extended time to pray and reflect and hopefully hear from God, adventure, a new start of some kind, meeting new friends who share some of these longings. I can’t fully explain it – to a large degree it was a mysterious sense of calling to walk the Camino. -Lane A., USA

I have known about the Camino for years. I have family in St Jean pied de Port. So, when I would visit, I would see pilgrims. My mom and I had talked about walking it together, but she became ill and was unable to go, so I went for her.     -Kim A., USA

I went to the Camino to get to know myself again and to find out what I want from life. After 4 exhausting years in university I was ready for a break and to be just with myself. I felt like I kind of lost myself and I wanted to connect with ME again... -Katrin A., Holland

Pilgrimage was an intriguing concept to me. For my senior thesis in college, as a Religious Studies major, I chose to focus on one particular pilgrimage to examine and explore. I chose the Camino after some research, with no prior knowledge of it. Some years later, after losing my job, and having a fair amount of money saved, I figured then would be the best time to actually walk the Camino. Within two weeks, I booked a trip and was off, hoping to find some clarity with my life.    -Cody S., USA

…I vaguely remember hearing the author Paulo Coelho had been inspired to write the Alchemist after completing some pilgrimage called the “Camino De Santiago”, and something about it just really resonated with my being. I read his book called “The Pilgrimage”, which documented Paulo’s journey on the Camino, and I came to realize this was apparently a spiritually powerful trip. Upon further study, I found that many people have walked the Camino with the intent on resolving something major about their life. This of course sounded perfect to me because I had my own questions I wanted answered (wtf am I supposed to do with my life, amirite haha) … -Noah C., USA

 

Personal growth, epiphanies, and strong emotions that came up on the Camino…

On the American Pilgrims on the Camino FB page, one woman who was preparing for her Camino said she "wanted to walk until she had nothing left to think about."  That sums up what happened to me one day while walking alone on the meseta. I realized I had not really been thinking of anything in particular for several kilometers, and that I had really learned what it means to be present in the moment. I try to remember that feeling when I find myself worrying or becoming preoccupied with things that don't really matter. -Pilar A, USA

All of these things, sometimes daily. About myself, how I felt about myself, how I was experiencing myself differently, seeing how others perceived me. I learned the true meaning of gratitude on my first Camino. I felt I got to know my true self, undefined by my roles at home. On my second Camino, I went with more intention—to walk alone, to dedicate each day to someone–mostly family members— to spend the day (as much as possible) contemplating that person, imagining them from their birth to the present. I learned more about my own strength and determination… I learned from you to stop and enjoy the unexpected pleasures of the Camino. That watermelon juice place was unique—I saw no other such place on the Camino. I can still picture you leaning out and calling to Monty and me as we were about to walk by, telling us to come and have some of the wonderful watermelon juice. Such moments, and even the difficult times, are all part of the wonderful memories and the lessons of the Camino. -Joanne K., USA

Yes definitely, I think it's impossible to finish the Camino and not come away with something. I think for me the most important thing I learned was that everyone in this world is suffering in one way or another. We all feel the same things at one point in time in our life but the problem is that nobody really talks about things that bother them because it's seen as a sign of weakness. What I really liked about the Camino was that it broke down those societal barriers that often inhibit our ability to be authentic with the people that surround us on a daily basis. In addition, I also found that the Camino was very much a reflection of life itself. At the beginning, you're very eager to start and are greeted by some of the most beautiful scenery. As you progress past the Pyrenees and into the Meseta things become very difficult and just like in life there are sometimes long stretches where you feel like you might not be able to get to the next beacon of light. During this time of the Camino is where I learned that it was okay to reach out to others when I was in pain. I think that's another lesson that I really came away with. That is okay to reach out to others because more often than not you'll be welcomed with open arms. -Eduardo P., Canada

Yes, many! as much obvious as it was, I came to realization that I run my life and I define the person I am, I knew that before but I just started taking action! Yes. so many, from the moment I started I felt that nothing would be ever the same again! And it's true! The strongest emotion to me I think was facing myself everyday, when I was walking alone, my thoughts, the person I really wanted to be, that I kind of lost on my life pre-Camino! Being able to listen to myself was so confusing at times, really hard, but it changed my whole life after the Camino! -Ana C., UK

Yes, a lot of strong emotions came up for me. It was the longest time I had ever been away from home, friends, and family and at that time (2001) it was very difficult to communicate. We were there at the time of 9-11 and that brought up emotions. Wearing boots that were too tight and caused emotions caused pain and tears. As time went on and my fears that we wouldn't have a place to sleep, etc., diminished and I realized that things would be ok--we could do it. After the Camino, it gradually came to me what we had really accomplished and that led to a greater confidence that we could tackle other trail and adventure challenges. (It leads to completing the Pacific Crest Trail, trekking in Patagonia, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.) -Susan A., USA

It was a very stretching experience to be in a country I’ve never been to (first trip out of North America also), where I did not speak the language, and by myself for six weeks! Of course, myself wasn’t really surrounding me surrounded by fellow pilgrims, but they were all new and we only had time to begin getting to know each other. It was a daily discipline of trusting God to help me deal with whatever was ahead that day. And there were many instances of getting just what I needed at just the right time, almost always in unexpected ways and places. One big spiritual lesson was learning to live with more acceptance that good and bad coexist in life, and I need to give the good its due. I tend to assess things in a slanted way as all good or all bad (or almost all). And, honestly, I’m more prone to the negative. It is a deeply ingrained pattern of thought that is not easily changed. And not healthy. Although, intellectually, I get that good and bad are always present and in tension in life, the daily simplicity of the Camino brought some things into greater clarity for me. Being more present in the moment of each day’s simple task of walking brought into focus some of my “uneven” thought patterns. For example, from about Day 5 (when I met you in Puente La Reina!) to Day 12 or 13 I had a really hard time with blisters. So, the pain of the blisters would occupy my thoughts a lot as I walked. At the same time, I was experiencing wonderful things, like the morning filled with vivid rainbows across the entire sky. My tendency is to focus on the hardships, the negatives. But I have undeniable photographic evidence of the beautiful scenery I was drinking in at the very same time my blisters were screaming. My tendency to focus on the negative is a distortion of reality, and it has consequences. So, being forced to see the actual balance of good and bad in a new way has been a good influence. I say “influence” because old habits die-hard. It is definitely small, incremental progress. I’ve reflected on this a lot since the Camino – making a list of the Goods and the Bads of my experience on the Camino. The Good list is much longer. And yet, my brain still wants to ruminate on the Bad. Ugh. But, hey, habits of thinking don’t develop overnight, and they don’t change overnight either. So, the Camino has given me many good things to chew on. -Lane A., USA

Even though I have a service dog, Nigel, he came too. This was tough. Service dogs are not typically recognized in Spain so many times I was sleeping either outside in a tent, or church steps. As for emotions etc, I did find that no matter what, you will always find shelter of one kind or another.  I did find that there are kind people along the way and one needs to be open and not have expectations for the Camino. In speaking to others who have walked, and or volunteered they have said the same. If one walks expecting one type of outcome, they will be disappointed. I did learn as many Americans learn, that it is best to take your time. Why we always feel we must race to the next place...It took about a week of walking for me to slow down. And yes, the blisters were bad! I also found a lot of help on the Camino forum when the blisters became too bad, and an expat let me stay at her home in Moratinos for a few days to rest. I did better at taking care of Nigel's feet, than mine. I learned. As for what I learned...breathing is important. Just taking my time not only to walk, but also to take breaks. I have to remember to do that now that I'm home. I have always had the tendency to work through lunch. I don't anymore.  -Kim A., USA

I had a lot of strong emotions. From positive to negative... a wide range. looking back, it feels like enough emotions for a lifetime. It does actually feel like I lived a whole life on the Camino. All the problems I had back home I kind of had to go through them on the Camino as well. I met so many people that reflected the things going on in my life. and there was always the right person just there at the right time. I found out great things about myself and life and that only because of the great people I met. I learned that I am stronger than I thought. Physically but also emotionally. And at the same time, I realized how sensitive I am. -Katrin A., Holland

I spent the first third of the Camino listening to music as I walked. An older Dutch man stopped me one day and told me that I can’t hear myself think if I listen to music. It really stuck with me. I didn’t listen to music while walking for the rest of the journey. I spent so much time alone, and it really liberated my mind. I didn’t even really feel lonely. I’m an introvert by nature, so it was easy, for me at least. I definitely left the Camino feeling energized to pursue my passions and do something different. Today, I wish I had even a fraction of that introspective time that I had on the Camino. And I can’t pretend like I didn’t feel like an absolute badass towards the end, and after, the journey. Who does something like that? The whole thing was a confidence boost for sure. -Cody Stalker, USA

Though I won't talk about the particular issues (that's REALLY not my style) both of us experienced some emotional moments. I think the Camino is, significantly, a type of extended meditation, which many find useful with personal problems. While the meditation effect was certainly present, neither of use expected or experienced any particular epiphanies. -Denis A., USA

Many. Tons, so much it completely changed my life. Here are just a few of the big ones that I felt meant something to me. After completely the Camino, I learned something very important. The solution to enjoy life, or pursuing a path, is to remember that you just make small, incremental improvements, just little steps forward, every day, and eventually you get to where you want to be. In addition, once you complete whatever large task you set out to do, you are able to enjoy all of the moments along the way, as opposed to just over exerting yourself just to get to the end, and missing all the good stuff. I also decided what the next step of my life was going to be. After walking with Ana and Jessie for a few days, I had opened up to them about what my passions and interests in life were. Jessie left shortly afterwards, but Ana and I continued to walk together. After about two weeks of walking, Ana had heard me talk about my interest in the mind so much that she told me I had to pursue it (go into research), or else I’d regret it, and that’s where I suddenly had the epiphany that I had to do it. I’d say that last big thing that happened was when I spent about 2 days on each of the 8-10 hours walks playing back every memory and experience I could recall. The intent was to see if I could extract any direction from my life by looking at my past. Once I completed this review, I realized that I should move in the direction where I had always felt happiest, and that was in school. This added to my decision to pursue researching the brain. –Noah C.

It is to me a very strange way. I keep the feeling that everything there happened on purpose, I came to run my thoughts about me, but by the meetings I made. It brought me to understand that even if I am still not perfect and totally happy, I was able to bring some help to people around me. It showed me the way to give my hand, as I can to others. Elise was a message with her story, to not let myself be struggled by my relatives, Martin to not forget the kid inside of my life. Both also by themselves brought me tons of happiness, kindness and love. You and your mother, by the way, we were meeting everything amplifies the feeling I started to have that everything is already written and since then I accept my faith. Even though I will never call anything God and that every moment is a lesson if you just open your eyes. It also brought me some humility and amplified my empathy, when I was may more selfish upon my arrival. My tattoo also became a total part of me now and a message to try to apply everyday that helps me enjoying things coming on my way. The feeling, anchored me since then that I am not alone, none of us are. I am convinced that we are all ‘God’ and the same person in different bodies, just too limited to understand and accept it but empathy is for me the biggest proof, our world I just dying to cut off this feeling. But if is true that it’s hard to be able to trust, to show, to love convinced that life and others will bring this back one hundred more times to you and you and your mother are part of the people that brought me to this understanding. - Alban D., France

 

Expectations of the Camino….

I tried my best not to expect or anticipate too much before I left because I didn't want to be disappointed. As a result, I think I got what I needed from it. I was happy with the primary lesson I mentioned above as well as the practical lessons about traveling light and adapting to whatever situation you encounter. It certainly made this year's six-week trip to Norway much easier. -Pilar A., USA

On my first Camino I went with the idea and the ideal, as I put it then, of “the luxury of walking all day long.” That quickly became laughable, with the pain of walking all day long (I developed really painful feet which I later learned was plantar fasciitis). On the other hand, I hadn’t expected to meet in the first couple of days the people that I walked with most of the Camino, and came to love dearly. The experience was far different and better than I had imagined. When I returned home I told people that it was the hardest thing and the best thing I had ever done. On my second Camino, some of the things I expected and planned for didn’t work out, firstly with a flight delay from Canada causing me to miss a connecting flight, requiring a train ride that was then delayed by a suicide on the tracks and an unplanned overnight in Bordeaux, missing reservations in SJPdP and Orisson causing me to take the Valcarlos route, where I was bitten by bedbugs etc. etc. At first, I was devastated by these early changes in plans, but then took them to mean I was meant to be travelling a day later. So, everyone I met then became a "meant to be" experience. This culminated on the second to last day between Santa Irena and O Pedrouzo. I was walking with three people I'd met the day before. It was raining heavily and very dark. We hadn’t found an albergue, though there was a small hotel out in the middle of nowhere. I suggested we stay there, but the others wanted to carry on so I agreed. Within minutes we approached a highway. Two of my companions were a few feet ahead of me and started across the highway. They misjudged the traffic and didn’t see around a curve around which a dark car was approaching very fast. I could see that they would never make it across, yet they didn’t notice the oncoming car. I screamed, louder than I’ve ever screamed in my life, “Oh, my God, you guys, RUN!” The man, who was slightly ahead, fell backwards out of the way as the car went flying past. At first, I thought he’d been hit. He would surely have died if he had been. But he had thrown himself backwards. The woman was a few steps behind him and so was okay as she’d stopped in her tracks. Months later I was telling this story to a friend who has walked the Camino twice. She looked right in my eyes and said, “That’s why you were there. You saved him.” So, being a day late on my Camino has taken on a great significance for me. -Joanne K., Canada

The Camino exceeded my expectations. When I first started I was petrified that I was going to spend an entire month on my own not speaking to a soul but that wasn't even close to the case. Over the course of that month I met some of the most incredible people that to this day am proud to call family. The Camino taught me to be more confident in myself and has allowed me to do many more solo trips to Peru and Colombia. Places that I would have never had the courage to venture to on my own if it hadn't of been for the Camino. To put it quite bluntly the Camino saved me and has helped me become the best version of myself. Every time I feel fearful of stepping outside of my comfort zone now I always reflect back on the experiences I had that month and then realize that I am actually capable of anything. -Eduardo P., Canada

It went over my expectations by far, it was nothing that I was expecting. I didn't get to make friends and I wasn't even thinking about making friends and I made friends for life, e.g. YOU and YOUR MOM! Plus, walking gave the time to make crucial life decisions that completely changed me! Went above and beyond my expectations! My expectation was: you're going to walk for 30 days, maybe meet few people, (but you're not here not make friends, I repeated that to myself at the beginning few times, can u believe it? Lol) you're going to figure out how to make money and what to do professionally, because that's was my idea of happiness! I've literally changed my life upside down, met the most amazing people ever (you, your mom are one of the people I want forever in my life. I made friends for life and had a blast everyday! Yes, it went over my expectations for sure!-Ana C., UK

I really tried to go into the Camino with as few expectations as possible. I wanted to be open to whatever God intended for me on this pilgrimage. And, I was pretty open, especially compared to my normal mode of loving what is familiar and comfortable. I did not want to miss anything good because of having ideas about how it “should be.” And, I think I succeeded in being open because of going into it with the expectation that the Camino is full of unexpected things and surprises, mostly good, and it is best to just go with the flow. It was great to be able to go into the Camino with “permission” to not have an agenda, and that is something I really enjoyed. Still, I did have some expectations. I expected to run into more people doing the Camino as a Christian spiritual pilgrimage. To my surprise, very few people mentioned having spiritual reasons for doing the Camino. I knew lots of people do it for other reasons, but I still thought the spiritual aspect would be prevalent. This was a bit disappointing, as I had hoped to run into more people that would want to talk about this, and it would be a point of connection. There were a few, though. And it was good to connect with people in other ways too.     -Lane A., USA

I did not really know what to expect but it was way better than what I could have ever imagined. Definitely the best experience and best time in my life so far. And I am not just saying it because it sounds nice. I really mean it :) -Katrin A., Holland

It exceeded my expectations. I arrived in France with eager, blissful ignorance. I left Spain feeling like I just lived a life, with hardships and friendships and accomplishments. It was harder than I expected, I’ll admit. I thought I was tough enough, but I really had to prove myself. I certainly didn’t expect to form such an attachment to the act of walking. -Cody S., USA

It’s difficult to say it met my expectations, because I intentionally did not create them. The only expectation I had on the trip was that somehow in about 30 days, I was going to start in one country, and end at the ocean of another country. By my only expectation being “finishing the Camino”, it definitely met my expectations, and exceeded them. –Noah C., USA

 

Sentiments upon returning from the Camino, and feelings towards the Camino after finishing…

…We miss the simple daily routine and the shared experience. We still do. We are looking forward to returning to the Camino through Portugal next year. -Paul and Claire P., USA

It took me several weeks to adapt to life at home again. I found myself texting my walking buddy several times a week to commiserate. I found a few So Cal Pilgrim events to attend, and there's another peregrina who lives near me who came along so we had a chance to talk during our drives back and forth. It helped to meet other pilgrims even if we didn't walk together because our experiences are so similar. One advantage I had during re-entry is that I spent a semester in the UK during college. I remember friends telling me they wanted to hear all about my experience, but would get a glazed look in their eyes after just a minute or two. It helped to prepare myself by remembering that most people just want to hear you say, "it was great!" When I came back from the Camino, I said it was great, then let them ask more if they really were interested. That saved me quite a lot of disappointment. There are people who really do want to know more and others just don't get the point. I've been able to integrate some of what I learned on the Camino into daily life, like the "don't worry and be present" part. I look back on it with fondness, but I'm not feeling called to do it again just yet. Although, I want to do the Camino Norte one day, and there are other long walks and pilgrimages I would like to do as well. -Pilar A., USA

The first time I returned I dreamt every night of the Camino. I longed for the lifestyle of walking every day, of every moment being new, of all the laughter and deep conversations with the people I met and the ones I walked with. I got through it with thinking about my experiences and reliving them, and imagining my next Camino. The second time, I was sick for a couple of weeks afterwards so barely thought about my Camino. The only person I missed was a young man I’d met a few days before Burgos. We spent a wonderful evening together, talking about all kinds of things. We never walked together, but saw each other in a few towns in the evenings. He ended his Camino in Leon due to severe blisters. We are still in touch. Right now, I still long for the Camino. I think of it often, every day in fact, I still learn lessons from it, and see life through my "Camino eyes." I plan to go back for the third time in September 2018. -Joanne K., Canada  

To be honest it was really difficult to adjust to everyday life when I got back and to be honest it still is. During my time on the Camino I realized that I really didn't need much to be happy just good company, great food and a pack on my back. Coming back to what everyone else categorizes as "reality" to me is just a complete joke. The 9-5 grind is not living ... it's a societal prison that squanders talent and individual potential. It's almost like when I came back from the Camino the illusion of what life "should be" according to everyone else's expectations was completely abolished. I don't believe conventional societal standards on what life should be are correct and right now it's just about finding the courage to leave what I know isn't right for me even though everyone around me thinks I’m insane for believing what I do. Eduardo P., Canada

It took me months to emerge out of the Camino, I couldn’t stop talking about it to people and I missed walking a lot! I still do miss that routine of picking up your backpack and getting ready, I miss even the tiredness! Right now, as the time goes on I love the Camino even more and I think there is no place like it, even though it got so popular which always makes a bit bluh, it will always a be a special place for me! It took me a while to emerge out the Camino when I got back! I missed the Camino a lot when I returned, specially as I made drastic decisions in my life so It was a very difficult moment of my life. Now, I love it, I miss it! I have nothing but amazing memories, even the difficult times! :) -Ana C., UK

We have returned to do various Camino trips and routes: LePuy and Arles routes of Frances; from Porto; from Geneva to LePuy; a bit of the Mozarabe from Granada; and all of Norte and Primitivo (about which I am writing a new book!). We have made 13 return trips, which I guess indicates our interest :-) We much prefer trying new-to-us routes than repeating. -Susan A., USA

I was happy and relieved to get home! I was thrilled to have done the Camino, but also eager to be back where I could speak the language, see friends, eat Thai food, sleep in my own bed (instead of 33 different beds in 35 days!), and not have to walk 17.5 miles every day. I could not relate to my fellow pilgrims who lamented that they “never wanted the Camino to end.” 35 days was enough for me. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but I was ready to be comfortable again. One can handle only so much stretching and personal growth! After a few months of being back, I did start to miss the Camino. And, I started thinking I’d like to do it again, or some similar long walk or pilgrimage. I am very glad I did the Camino, and I am thankful to have many good memories and photos on my wall reminding me. -Lane A., USA

When I got back home I felt really bad. I actually felt some sort of homesickness and frustration because I realized that I could not do all the things I found out that I want, right away. So, I was back to reality and it was shocking. I broke up with my boyfriend on the Camino because I realized it was not what I wanted. So, I was single again. I was also homeless because we were living together so I had to move in with my mum again. I didn’t not have a job because I just finished school. So, I was jobless, single and living in my mum’s house. Really not in a good mood :) So the only thing I could think of was the Camino. I wanted to go back so badly. The discrepancy between me on the Camino and me back home was huge. I guess that was the worst of all... I was struggling with really strong emotions... I got my life back together and everything is alright again. Still even today, if I think of the Camino time I get this warm feeling Inside and some sort of craving. Kind of similar as craving for a cigarette or been excited to drink a good glass of wine. (I hope I don’t sound alcoholic) I just miss it a lot. Sometimes I see e.g. a tree that reminds me somehow have the Camino and I get such strong emotions. I want to go back so bad :) -Katrin A., Holland

After it was over, I felt a little lost. I had so much confidence and experience, but nowhere to apply it. Coming home really snapped me back into reality, and it was a bit disheartening. I had, what I called, “walking withdrawals” for months. I didn’t necessarily feel depressed or sad, but rather a sense of lacking purpose. My physical goal on the Camino was clear. At home, I didn’t know what to do next, even after reflecting on it for a whole month. I knew what I wanted in life, but not how to get there. I fell back into routines and daily monotony. That feeling faded over time. And even though it wasn’t a pleasant feeling, I missed it. That feeling meant that I hungered for more in life. When it faded, my hunger faded, and I adapted to what I had. -Cody S., USA

I have many activities I enjoy and I was content to return to them -- My wife was a bit more at loose ends, but didn't have any great problems. As far as how we feel about the Camino, we loved it and after the French Route, we did the Le Puy route, and will be doing another one this year, although we haven't decided for sure which one. -Denis A., USA

Honestly, I actually felt extremely scared and depressed haha. All I knew was I needed to get my ass in school, and do my best to man the ship during the stormy seas, hoping that this new direction was the right one. Now I feel amazing. Honestly, if I’m being TRULY honest, I can’t help but think it may be actually magical. Maybe this is just my own subjective opinion, but I’ve become aware of how much my life has changed in the last few years and it’s exhilarating, and a little scary haha. –Noah C.

I was sad and disgusted not to be able to finish it, and I would go more than a week, felt like I didn’t deserve to. It was one of the most beautiful and fulfilling experiences of my life. - Alban D., France

 

Coping with any depression or blues that have come up since completing the Camino…

We review our photos and talk to others about the experience. -Paul and Claire P., USA

…I cope by reliving special moments, usually absolutely serendipitous ones. I am in contact with a number of people from both of my walks. Since my first walk, I’ve met up with that special group of people a number of times, once in Paris, once in Saarbrucken, twice in Ireland. I imagine these people will always be a part of my life. The young man I met this last time I plan to visit summer when I attend a conference in his city. We all stay in touch by email or Facebook.            -Joanne King, Canada

I met Ken in Los Arcos - he was walking the CF for the fourth time! I told his story many times as it became ONE of my favorite "Camino stories." Ken explained the before and after of his first Camino as we shared a cold pint in the village square on a beautiful summer evening. He told how he had gone from depression and boredom to joy and purpose after returning to Scotland having walked from SJPdP to Santiago. His well-stamped "Credencial del Peregrino" was his passport to a fresh start in his retirement years. But, something must have happened over the months to dampen his newly found enthusiasm because, as he told it, "my wife came up to me one day and said, Ken, you need another Camino!" He was now on his fourth CF and I wondered if his wife wanted to kill him!? When I met him at day's end in Los Arcos, I had walked six days and nearly 100 miles and heard for the first time from a repeat 'offender.' I was trying to keep focused on one completion of the CF and was hearing of his fourth walk across northern Spain. Fast forward to the Galician village of Fonfria. I met an Irishman there that evening over a wonderful meal. The next day, I happened upon him as he was taking a rest. Like me, he had decided to take the "detour route" along the Oribia River leading you to Samos when we reached Triacastela, but I did not know that until coming upon him. And I was grateful to see another peregrino as I truly believed I was the only person who had decided to take the longer route and the sense of "aloneness" was palpable as I walked along this beautiful wooded pathway through abandoned villages. I took my leave from Roger and walked on to the village of Samos. I snapped one of my favorite pictures there - the bridge rail with wrought iron scallop shells with the renowned Benedictine monastery in the background. I got a cold pint (good things happen over a cold pint or a glass of wine on the Camino) and sat outside on a beautiful sunny day reveling in the day and along came Roger. It was only then that I learned he was walking his second CF - having walked it just the previous year. And the year before, he had taken the other route from Triacastela, the San Zil, so we discussed the differences and the rationale for his return to walk the Camino Frances. In short, the first CF was a desire to see if he could simply do it - knowing that he could do the long trek across Spain freed him up to let the second Camino touch him differently, as it was! -Thomas H., USA

To be honest I coped with post depression by going on more trips. My trip to Peru and Colombia were both escapes from reality. Longing to temporarily return to a place where life was simple and where I felt free. I don't think these are effective coping mechanisms though. Temporarily running away from your life isn't helping my indecision or my depression. I think the real way to move forward in your life is to make sure that you're being true to yourself. What do you have to offer the world? What are your gifts? Are you using them? I think another thing that I realized on the Camino is that we all have limitless potential but if you don't actualize your gift you'll spend the rest of your life in silent desperation longing to return to a place where you felt free to think and be yourself. Eduardo P., USA

I generally go through a sad/down time after our Camino and other long-distance trips, but I also usually come home to a packed schedule of activities that hardly allows me little time to spend feeling down. After the early trips, it was hardest because those feelings were unexpected, but now I can at least tell myself that this is just a normal state of affairs. We in the S.F. Bay Area are lucky enough to have an active pilgrim group that has frequent activities (gatherings and hikes). -Susan Alcorn, USA

At first, I was enjoying being home and telling people about my Camino experience. I did not feel any sadness about the Camino for a while. But, after a few months I did begin to feel a bit depressed that my life seemed to go back to normal surprisingly quickly after the Camino was over. I had a submerged expectation, I think, that the Camino was going to precipitate some significant transition in my life – a new beginning, new perspective on things, maybe even a new career. I did not have anything specific I was hoping for, but just a general sense that this would-be life changing. I was trying to be open to whatever God wanted to do in my life through the Camino, so I intentionally tried to avoid cultivating specific hopes about what would come next.  And, it was life changing, but so far, not in big, visible ways. The Camino was a major life experience and adventure that will surely affect me for years in ways that I don’t fully know. I can see small impacts now, like the insights noted above, but I suspect more will come with time. It has also been a bit of a letdown that all of my friends and family, who were so interested and engaged before and during the Camino, have now seemingly forgotten all about it. I feel alone in processing and integrating the experience of the Camino into my life. It would be nice to talk to other pilgrims about it. -Lane Ayo, USA

The post Camino depression is real. I was lucky that after walking I went to the American Friends of the Camino conference. There, we did a weekend long retreat discussing this. It was a help to talk to others with similar experiences. And even now, there are times I miss the walk, and am planning to do it again, but this time, Canterbury to Rome. -Kim A., USA

so, I definitely had the blues. I have it still I think... :) I think coping was for me to realize and tell myself over and over again that I am able to bring some of the Camino-me into my everyday life. I did a lot of meditation and work outside to keep the connection I found within myself. I talked to friends and family about it. And what was best was talking to Camino friends about it, who were going through the same :) -Katrin A., Holland

From time to time, I’ll think about my experience, but it’s a fond memory. I don’t feel sad for it being over. I just know that I need to do something like it again. I even would like to do the Camino again. It just doesn’t eat at me the way it once did, so I don’t think about it as much. It helps to go hiking, trying to replicate that “free” feeling. Nothing can replace the real thing though. -Cody S., USA

I’ve dealt with any depression by convincing myself that it’s for a reason/purpose. There is this great poem by a man named Khalil Gibran that I kind of always point back to https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/on-pain/ –Noah C., USA

Since I left the Camino, it is like I am shining, people are attracted by me more than ever before. A lot are so kind to me and the ones I am trying to help are just by being myself, enjoying my life and only keeping in mind to not disturb or become a nuisance to others by being so. They thank me so much, or maybe not too much but it touches me a lot when someone thanks me for being me or something I did for something because I wanted to do that I can’t be depressed anymore. Even I life is stiff hard and some days are awful, I will always come back to joy. - Alban D., France

 

On completing the Camino again…

Definitely because it is such a great lifestyle. The daily achievement of walking and meeting fantastic people is really invigorating. We regularly think about our Camino buddies. -Paul and Claire P., USA

I will return one day, but most likely to do the Norte or Portuguese. I'm not sure I'll do the Francés again. I also want to do other pilgrimages like the ones in Japan, as well as the Via Francigena to Rome. -Pilar A., USA

I would return and I plan to go back in September 2018. I still feel I have things to do there. On my first walk, whenever l was unable to do or see something because of time limitations, I’d say to myself, “next time.” One of those things was the Gaudi Palace in Astorga. On that day, my friend and I walked on to Rabanal so had no time to stop. But on my second Camino, the palace was closed for several hours at the time I walked through. And I somehow couldn’t bear to stay in Astorga. So, I said again, “next time.” I have many such instances of “next time” to go back for. -Joanne King, Canada

It wasn't until I returned home to New Hampshire, that a slow urge to do "it" again began to emerge. And, quite honestly, I thought the idea of walking the CF again was somewhat crazy! "Do the CF a second time, I don't think so!?" "Not for me," was my opinion when meeting people who were returnees! Well, that thinking has changed. I will return, but must decide which Camino to do!!! (I am leaning towards the Camino Portugues). I have spent countless hours looking at my photos and reflecting on the day-to-day experiences of my journey and am filled with a joy I know I would experience again walking another Camino. I had no "rock" to leave at "Cruz de Ferro." I set out to walk the Camino de Santiago for the sheer challenge of it and hoped to complete this long journey in one progression. I started from St Jean on September 23 and walked into Santiago October 25. I read, and agree, that the Camino is about "people and places." The people I met and the places I saw are like the stamps in my Credencial - richly varied and sometimes beautiful. And I want another Credencial, hopefully filled with the joy of remembrances that I have for you and the few others who made my Camino a great and lasting memory. And you will always be the only person I met the first day walking from St Jean and left with from Santiago as we waited for the bus to Portugal! How cool is that, as they say!!! -Thomas H., USA

I would do the Camino again in a heartbeat more than anything because of the people that I met. Never in my life have I met such authentic individuals and I think what I miss most is being in a place where people like that are so accessible. -Eduardo P., Canada

I will definitely return one day! not yet sure why, but I would love to return! Yes, I will with you! The Portuguese one as soon as we can get a week together!  And the French one, count down is on, 8 years until Noah and I, Jess and Mikey to do the French one again! I will convince u and Magda to join us. -Ana C., USA

Yes, because I am a hiker and traveler. I love the amazing regions and countries that we explore and meeting the people that live there and who make up the Camino/trail community. I like the challenges--physical, mental and emotional. I like traveling with all I need on my back (or in the town ahead). I like sharing the Camino experience with my husband--the trail is where he is most comfortable.   -Susan A., USA

Maybe. I would want to go with one or more friends next time, and take more time so that I could have more rest days and time to enjoy places I’d like to explore more. I’d also want to learn Spanish – not speaking it turned out to be much more of a handicap than I ever expected, and it limited my interactions with people significantly. I would definitely enjoy the walking, reflection time, and simplicity of the journey a second time. It would be nice to go again, having knowledge to build on from the first time. -Lane Ayo

…I always want to go back. Being able to just step out of the known world and just walk, find shelter and food. Things are simpler. -Kim A.

The thought of returning is exciting. I almost can’t imagine having that experience again. How could I top it? It was fucking amazing and eye opening! But I know that if I went back, I wouldn’t actually need to top it. Being there would be enough. On why I’d go back, I’d say it’s to feel free again. It was an immensely liberating experience. I lived so simply: washing my clothes by hand, eating plain bread and tuna, all my possessions on my back, never sleeping in the same spot, meeting new people every day, not shaving… I wish that path went on for thousands of miles. That’s how it is to LIVE. I took nothing for granted. Every penny was precious, every scrap of food was fit to eat, every bed was luxurious, and every step was an accomplishment. -Cody S., USA

…I feel the reason why is because at some point, I need to pay my respects to what the Camino taught me, it was such a magical experience.  –Noah C.

 

Need more resources? Be sure to check out my article on 10 Ways to Survive Camino Depression, also inspired by this same survey…

 

As Always,

Buen Camino!