People walk El Camino de Santiago for different reasons. Some know exactly what they are looking for, others have no idea. But everybody hopes the pilgrimage will give them answers. They say that, no matter what you are searching for, you will find it on El Camino. My husband and I adventured into this journey to let the Way of Saint James show us ours.
What is El Camino de Santiago?
El Camino used to be one of the most well-known Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, and it still is a famous pilgrims’ way. But nowadays, religion is not the main reason people walk its paths. Whether it is physical health, spiritual growth, or just a way to find themselves, walking El Camino is something many people choose to do, instead of a regular beach vacation.
There are many routes, but the French Way is the most famous, followed by El Camino Portuguese, Camino del Norte, and El Camino Primitivo, which is considered the best for spiritual people who are looking for a quiet walk, with fewer tourists and attractions.
So I wanted to walk El Camino Primitivo, but my husband preferred the French route. We chose to do the Portuguese Way, starting in Lisbon. It was an excellent choice.
What I Learned About Marriage While Hiking the Camino de Santiago
We’ve been married for ten years when we decided we needed to change something to keep our marriage alive and ourselves happy and sane. We were a regular couple, living in a nice house, raising good kids, and enjoying two weeks of holiday every year. Besides that, all we did was work, and work, and work. Our vacations were spent in 5-star hotels, with a pool and a mesmerising sea view. But we almost never went swimming in the sea or the ocean. We were always sitting by the pool, reading, and sipping cocktails while the kids were running around with other children.
It took us a few years to understand our good life was actually monotonous, and it was ruining our marriage. We took one month off work, left the kids with their grandparents, packed our bags, and flew to Lisbon, to begin El Camino, a pilgrimage that promised a change.
Money Helps, But It Doesn’t Bring Happiness
We always worked hard to afford nice things. But nothing was ever enough, and we wanted more and more. The first days walking El Camino were awful, especially for me. My husband couldn’t stop thinking and talking about his business, but I was continuously complaining about everything: the sunny days, cold nights, tiredness, pain, lack of comfort. But one day, I woke up, and the landscape stopped me from thinking about anything else.
We had our morning coffee staring at the endless fields of green, enjoying the sun caressing our skin, and talking about how agitated our daily life usually was. I realised I had no worries; I wasn’t longing for my comfy bed, my morning routine, or my car. I didn’t even feel the pain in my feet. He was not thinking about work. We were just enjoying each other and everything around us. It was the first time in a very long time, and it felt incredible.
Patience is More Than a Virtue, It is a Necessity
Like many couples, we had fights because of little things, such as socks being out of place, dirty dishes, kids running barefoot, or laundry. These things matter, but none of it should be the reason for a real fight. Walking for days taught us how much we lack patience. In the beginning, we were only talking about the moment we would arrive at the next hotel or albergue. This made walking harder than it was. Just like our fights made our life so difficult that we were never aware of its beauty, and of all the amazing things we had.
When walking the long, tiring El Camino, patience is a necessity. It helps you calm down, see the beauty of the pilgrimage, and enjoy every moment spent together. Just like in marriage, and in life.
Little Things Do Matter, a Lot
A big house, a great career, and a beautiful family are most people’s dreams. Achieving them is fantastic, but sometimes this comes with forgetting to enjoy the little things in life. A kiss on the forehead, a smile, a hug, a stranger saying “Buen Camino”, a delicious local meal, and a cheap but delightful glass of wine sipped while admiring the sunset. Life is monotonous without all these small things, no matter how well it’s built.
Walking the Way of Saint James without “stopping to smell the flowers” is like being married without indulging in the fun of it. El Camino showed us how much we had, but also how much we missed, while trying to get more. I can honestly say that, for my husband and me, El Camino was a clear mirror of marriage and life.
Rebecca is a translator by day, and a traveler mostly at night. She is an expert on living with jet lag – and packing in tiny suitcases. You can read more of her exploits at RoughDraft