Only a few months ago, I returned home after walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. One learns a great many things about themselves and others when hiking day after day for a month spanning a total of 500 miles. The song “I’m Gonna Be” or “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers comes to mind, though I would not “walk 500 more”. Not right now anyway, but that is another story.
One of my favorite aspects of the Camino is that it is incredibly raw and authentic. It is impossible to care about true “cleanliness,” as your clean clothes are merely the ones you hand washed yesterday in cold water, or maybe you were too tired to wash them at all, and your backpack, your only meaningful companion has been placed on the ground all across Spain’s farmland and desert, as you can not practically carry your backpack ceaselessly when hiking twenty miles a day. Quite simply. The Camino is very real, in the truest sense of the word. It exposes each traveler for who they really are. And yet, in the midst of all this dirt and sweat, I watched a great many relationships blossom. One might rightly ask how anyone walking the Camino would ever find anyone else attractive enough to start a relationship, nonetheless, they did. What attracted them? I promise you that the men were not pursuing the women because their hair was done beautifully and their make-up perfection. And the women were most certainly not attracted to the men because of their nice cars and gym memberships. So, what then?
The radiance of true masculinity and femininity. A man laying down his life for others, offering to carry another’s backpack even when his own was quite heavy enough or at the end of a long day’s walk making dinner for a group of pilgrims though he himself felt ill and a woman who’s love for others and their well being emanated from her very core.
Upon returning home, I must admit that I was grateful to return to a world of curling irons and mascara. However, the experience of the Camino will have forever enriched my understanding of genuine femininity and masculinity as something much more than physical beauty and outward strength, but rather as something innate, a treasure buried deep within one’s very essence.