Surprisingly, unlike the other posts on the blog, I actually wrote all the Camino posts sometime in March, a couple of weeks after returning. So why wait so long to post them? Well one thing was, I was too lazy to go over 1500 photos and try to find the best ones, secondly I wanted to post in chronological order, so quite a few posts from year(s) before had to be done before. So TLDR, most of the text was written right after returning, when the feelings and memories were most fresh, now (in October) when I updated the posts with photos, I only fixed some grammar mistakes (or made some new) and inserted the photos.
Now (October) it’s more than half a year after we returned from our trip, my world irreversibly turned upside down by now, and I often find myself remembering about the happier times, when the three friends went on an amazing journey both spiritual and physical. It brought us closer together than anyone could imagine, it tested our physical limits and sometimes patience, but in the end it was one of the best experiences of my (our) lives. We still often talk about some peculiar situations that happened to us on the trip with a big smile on our faces. Today, it feels almost like remembering my lovely Luleå.
The question that comes out of this is, why even go on such a journey? Is it really so great walking in bad weather for hours, that one should go and do the pilgrimage? Are there any religious motives behind it? Thinking about it, it’s not that easy to answer. For me, at least at the beginning, it was about the challenge, the ability that I can later say to my grandkids, “When I was young, I walked for 350 km through Portugal and Spain”. However, later I discovered it’s not about the destination, but about the journey. The distance at the end is just a point on paper, but the journey, the memories, the experience is what stays with you forever.
In the beginning, for the first couple of days I was still under the mindset of walking the furthest distance in the shortest amount of time, but at some point on the journey this changed. I started enjoying being in nature, chatting with Jakob and Aljoša and other friends we made on the journey and also about being with my thoughts. It is hard to imagine how calming it is to walk through rural Portugal and Spain, between pastures, past orchards of lemons, oranges and mandarins, over the rivers and through the forests. Being able to disconnect from the digital world, to leave all the worries behind and just do one thing day after day is priceless.
Besides getting to know my friends better, it turned out I learned more about myself. Walking for hours on end, gave me time to think about my life, what I am doing with it, what I am happy about and what I would like to change. The journey gave me new motivation, new goals and ideals to strive for, for when I came home. The trip was truly priceless for me.
In the end each individual has his own goals, desires and expectations of the pilgrimage. I would say that majority of pilgrims don’t go on it because of the religion. But in the end, the journey is about what you make of it. For me, as it turned out, it was about finding myself and spending incredible time with my friends. I am profoundly thankful, that they invited me on this trip, shared their thoughts, food and wine with me. It’s true what they say, you can buy a lot of things but not friendship.
Two weeks ago there was a Christmas market in the old town (Gammelstad). We decided to go there by foot like in the orientation week. The only difference was that now there was snow everywhere and it was around 35 degrees colder (it was -16 to be exact). We decided to start at 10 o’clock since sun rose at that time. In the summer it took us about 2 hours to get there, so timing was perfect, since market was open from 12 to 16 o’clock.
Once we started walking we didn’t feel cold anymore, though exposed long hair froze up, to a nice white shade. Thankfully I don’t have long hair, even so, I put on both a warm hat and a hoodie, from my jacket. Because I thought path was going to be flooded with people, I wore normal pants, since I wasn’t expecting much snow on the road. Later this turned out to be a grave mistake.
First hour went by fast, while were walking through the forest. To my surprise we were first to go there, as there were no other tracks in the snow.
When it’s this cold, snow doesn’t stick together when it falls on the ground (at least I think it’s because of this) instead it’s like light dust and if you kick it a snow cloud goes up into the air. It looks amazing.
When we reached the bird tower we decided to take a “shortcut” over the frozen lake. Shortcut is in quotes because even in theory it isn’t shorter. But the fun part was that we could go over the lake, so we took it anyway.
As we were making our way toward the lake, we found just how hard it is to walk on the marshy land that surrounds lakes and rivers up here. For some reason ground doesn’t freeze and snow builds up, so when you step onto it you go knees deep and there is a lot of swamp vegetation that you have to navigate in order to reach the lake.
After we were on the lake, we were making good progress again. Sun was already (well it’s like this all the time) low on horizon, it was more like dawn/twilight, despite being only 11.30 AM. Fun thing with a sun so low is the length of ones shadow. Our shadows must have been at least 15 meters long, on a flat lake surface.
After crossing the lake, we found out, that there is a highway separating us from the other side, where the old town is. Here we could have turned around, but instead we decided for a more exciting option of continuing down the highway until we would cross path with the “real” trail.
Our progress slowed down dramatically, we weren’t on a lake anymore but were walking through a deeply snowed marshy land. For some reason, despite not wearing waterproof pants, I was leading first through the deep snow. As I later learned (nah I actually knew this before :P), it is much easier to follow someone on such terrain, since he flattens the snow and makes a path in it. After about half an hour of walking we reached a small shaft under the highway connecting lakes on both sides. The shaft was small, maybe around 0.5m in diameter and half of it was filled with frozen water from the lakes. After much deliberation, whether we should go through it or not, we split into two groups, one continued beside highway, mine decided to go down under.
Again I was the first one to go, the tunnel was so small I had to take my backpack from my back, lay down on my belly and push it in front of me. After first few meters of really careful movement and intense listening if ice was cracking I got more courage and continued faster. A friend passed me a flashlight so I could better evaluate depth of ice. When I turned it on I found myself face to face with frozen fish just about 5 cm under the ice (my face). I almost screamed, but there was not much I could do but continue. Even with the flashlight it was hard to tell how deep the ice was, I have a feeling that it was frozen through and through. After about 5 minutes I was on the other side. It took me 5 minutes to crawl through a 50m shaft. Ice was so slippery that it was impossible to push yourself forward, that’s why I had to cling to the ceiling and walls, really weird to see, like a Spiderman.
On the other side we were greeted with another lake and about 0.5km of marshy land in the direction of the town. After about 15 minutes of struggling through the snow I suddenly felt my leg sink deeper than usually. The snow came almost to my waste and as I was trying to pull my leg out when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my leg. It was water. For some reason water wasn’t frozen on that spot, probably because of deep snow cover providing sufficient insulation. As soon as I freed my leg out, pants up to my knees went stone hard as water froze instantly on a -15 degrees cold air. And like if that wouldn’t be enough icy cold water also went into my shoe. Despite them being waterproof they can’t prevent water from going in from the top.
But wait, there is more. Like if that wouldn’t be enough… Just after few steps the other leg followed. So there I was in the middle of nowhere, with freezing cold water in my shoes, frozen pants and with sun already gone. I felt like I was in the middle of Antarctica.
I have never experienced anything like it, the pain didn’t go away as it normally does, when you touch something cold. It was burning like someone spilled boiling water on my legs. The worst part is there was nothing I could do, except continue toward the old town (the closest civilisation). Even after 45 minutes, when we finally reached the market, my legs were still in pain. It was then, when I got really scared, that I would get frostbites from all the cold.
At the market, I got a chance to take the shoes off. Despite expecting water to pour out, everything appeared surprisingly dry. Even socks were only moist at worst. I’m still thankful that I bought the best shoes I could find, they probably saved my feet from a nasty frostbites.
The market was much smaller than I expected. Merchants were selling all sorts of stuff, from trinkets, statues of dwarfs and elves, some kind of sweet Swedish bread, moose meet and many more.
After short trip around the market, we decided to take a bus home, since it was already pitch black, my legs were frozen and we had a farewell dinner to prepare for.
Despite market being disappointingly small, the journey was one of a kind and like usually it’s the about the journey not destination.