Today in the United States, it’s Independence Day, a.k.a. the 4th of July. On this national holiday, we celebrate “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This well-known phrase comes from the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776. We all have different ways of celebrating this day; many gather together with their families, have picnics, and watch fireworks. It’s summertime fun American style.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about independent traveling, specifically about walking Camino de Santiago alone as a female. When my family first heard about my wanting to walk the Camino on my own, they thought I was nuts; my mom in particular was afraid for my safety.
As you may know, before venturing on my short Camino, I was on a tour of Portugal with her and had a wonderful time (see “My Pre-Camino Tour of Portugal“). Throughout the trip, we made a lot of friends, and almost every night a group of American women gathered around a table to swap stories and drink wine. We became the sisterhood of the traveling bus. When they heard about my plan to walk the Camino after touring Portugal, one of the sweet ladies from Texas asked, “Are you bringing a can of Mace with you?” I laughed at first, thinking she was joking. When I saw that she was serious, I explained to her and the other women who were leaning in to hear my answer, “The Camino is probably the safest place for a woman to travel alone.” I told them all the reassuring things that I had learned over the previous year to prepare for this journey. One of the best pieces on the topic is the post entitled “The Joy of Walking Alone,” written by a blogger who had walked Camino Francés in 2013.
Just to clear the air, I never felt unsafe on the Camino Portugués. What’s more, there was something liberating about walking alone—I didn’t need anyone’s permission to take a break or felt forced to stay at an albergue recommended by so-and-so. And because I walked alone, I could meet and speak to other people more easily. But the thing is, I rarely walked truly alone. On most days, there was a constant stream of pilgrims, everyone walking at a different pace. Many walked solo, like me, and some had broken away from their groups to be able to walk on their own.
As I walked by, I noticed that the typical Camino greetings—”Buen Camino” and “Hola” (hello)—garnered different responses from different people. I could also easily see whether someone wanted to walk and chat, or whether they preferred to be left alone. I was lucky to have come across a number of those chattier pilgrims, thus meeting some of the most interesting people: a Polish anesthesiologist, a Brazilian artist, a German atheist, a woman from Australia traveling with her dad, and a Peruvian-American spiritual dude. Oh, and I also met my German doppelgänger. But more on this later.
When I think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I feel extremely grateful for being able to take the time I needed to walk the Camino. Here’s my take on the phrase.
Life: I am thankful to be alive and to have a body that propels me forward, up and down mountains, through city streets, and, ultimately, to a bed at the end of the day. No matter how sore I became after a day’s walk, my body would invariably spring back into action the next morning. The Camino breaks it down into life’s bare necessities: sleep, walk, eat, and repeat.
Liberty: I used to take this blessing for granted. Now I realize that it is not easy for people to take time to follow their passion. I certainly couldn’t have done this at an earlier stage in life. But the Camino calling was strong, and the time I heard it was right for me. I appreciate all the support from my family, friends, and workplace, because I couldn’t have done it without them.
The Pursuit of Happiness: It all started a few years ago when I decided to do something I enjoy every day. And so I ended up practicing yoga and walking, two activities that have helped me cope with challenges and stay out of trouble. 🙂 This Camino was an experiment in heavy doses of walking: What will happen if I do something that makes me happy for longer than usual periods of time and for several consecutive days? Will I still enjoy it? It turned out that I did. In fact, I thrived. The whites of my eyes were clear after walking all day, and I slept great, even in the ricketiest bunk beds in rooms shared with snoring men.
I will share more on all this later. Right now I sincerely wish that everyone can appreciate these universal blessings and embody them for their own journey through life.
I wish everyone peace, love and joy.
PS It wouldn’t be a Mindful Monday post without a little bit of yoga, so here’s an awesome sixteen-minute practice that I found on YouTube. Let freedom flow!
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