A shell on my back

I started the journey alone. It was my first solo backpacking trip, and even if hundreds of pilgrims have been following the yellow arrow and walking the Camino every day for centuries, it was my big adventure. It would be only the Spanish countryside, my backpack and me. My way to Santiago de Compostela was all but defined.

I started planning everything a couple of months before my departure, reading travel blogs and meeting people who had walked the way before. I found different tips on how to deal with blisters – whether to leave a thread inside or to just let them heal – and what kind of hiking boots to choose, but something everybody seemed to agree on was how to pack your backpack.

They said it should not exceed one tenth of your body weight, which meant carefully selecting what to bring. A sleeping bag, three t-shirts, two pairs of trousers, three pairs of socks, three pieces of underwear and two bras, a bikini and a hat; the list doesn’t go much further. Hiking through vineyards in La Rioja, wheat fields in Castilla y León and the green hills of Galicia, I realized that all we need can fit in a 40 liter backpack.

During my lonely days under the burning sun, I would often think about my other life – yes, because now it seemed just so far away. I used to think about how much money I spent on clothes, and about how much time I spent every day with my wardrobe wide open, looking for the perfect outfit. Wedges, high heels, ballerinas, sandals, trainers, boots, flip flops, and each of them in different shapes and colors.

What for? Do we really need everything we own? I was truly free on the Camino, and it was that kind of freedom that we travelers are always running after. Free from all the social needs, we go back to basics.

Our priorities go back to being walking, eating and sleeping. We forget about wearing make-up and straightening our hair; pedicure is not about applying nail polish any more, but sewing blisters (and here you can understand which tip I followed) and regularly changing our socks.

Like a snail carries its shell, we carry our backpacks and cherish them for they are all we have and they have all we need. As a shell provides the snail with protection from predators, damage, dehydration and calcium storage, the backpack provided me will all the necessary supplies and equipment in order to face my journey.

34 days and 840 km later, it didn’t even feel like an external skeleton. It was my little home, my shell. It was all I needed.

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2 Responses

  1. Knut Geisler says:

    El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, The Sacred Way of Saint James is not a backpacker hike, it’s a pilgrimage route… Well, depends what you put into it and where you come from. But I’m glad you got something out of it…
    And I think you could have written something longer and better on this topic.
    Buen Camino! 😉

  2. Elena says:

    Thank you for your comment Knut. You are right, the Camino is a pilgrimage route, but its meaning is different for each of us. I am not a religious person and I didn’t start the pilgrimage for spiritual reasons. Still, it did become a spiritual experience to me. It taught me a lot, and among the things I learnt, is the fact that we need much less than we think we do. This is what I write about in this post.
    I am slowly posting part of my Camino journal, so if you’re looking for “something longer”, you might want to have a look. It is MY Camino, and I am writing about my feelings, that are different from yours or anybody else’s. Not better nor worse, just different.
    I hope the Camino taught you well, Ultreya 🙂

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