The idea of culture shock is not alien to me. I have arrived in so many new countries in my life, and experienced culture shock personally over and over again. I have also observed other newcomers suffering, and for a while I even conducted a culture shock workshop for new colleagues, because recognising the symptoms is half the remedy for culture shock. 'Reverse culture shock' is what happens when, after a few years, sometimes many years, you return to your country of origin, and have to get used again to a regular life, without all the fun and dance and interesting cultural experiences. Many people struggle to settle in again, miss the 'expat' lifestyle a lot, and find it hard to re-connect with old friends, whose lives are so vastly different.
But knowing about something does not mean you can totally avoid getting it. I haven't been away for years, my Camino was only about 6 weeks, but there you are. Was it me who said I couldn't understand people who did the same Camino twice? That for me it was ticking the box and I would never do it again? Now I can understand those who return again and again or even decide to live on the Camino. I miss it every day very sorely, and am longing to be back on the Camino, or a Camino de Santiago! I am in love with my old hiking boots, and wore them today on a 24 km walk and felt so happy in them, even though they have holes in them now.
I miss the simplicity of life. Don't mistake this for an easy life. But the daily Camino routines opened up time and headspace to connect with others. I wish I could hold on to that! Get up at 6.30am, wash my face and brush teeth, no make-up, just some sunscreen and who cares what my hair looks like. Roll up the sleeping bag liner, pack towel. The ease of not having to choose what I am going to wear! I am already wearing the t-shirt for the day, and the choice of trousers is the clean pair. Fill the water bottle. Boots waiting on a rack by the door, I step outside, breathe in crisp, clean air, rucksack snugly wrapped around me: Buen Camino! Enjoying sunrise after sunrise, every morning a few minutes later, always amazing, as the stars fade and the sky turns every shade of pink and red, in the East and the West, before the sun turns it that typical deep blue of Southern Europe. Looking for that most essential thing on the camino, a bar. I never thought I'd be longing for a dry croissant or tortilla sandwich to go with my café americano in the morning. (After trying to live like a vegetarian for 3 days on the Camino I had to let go of that, as I was overdosing on eggs.) And then walk again, follow the yellow arrows. Make sure feet are ok. Enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful land. So simple. I made friends quickly, sometimes within minutes, sharing our deepest thoughts about ourselves and life. With hours every day to talk, laugh, joke, and cry, one step at a time, just keep walking. Arriving, find a bed (and a socket for the phone charger!), spread my sleeping bag liner, and have that well earned hot shower. Then wash clothes, write diary (I sometimes had trouble remembering where I had started my walk that morning, let alone where I had been yesterday!), meet more people over a glass of vino tinto, or a cerveza con limon, enjoy a communal meal at the albergue, or tapas and another glass of wine, and then lights out at 10pm, sleep. The last night I spent in a pilgrims' albergue, I woke up in the middle of the night, and sat up in my bunkbed (I always slept in the top bed), listening to the other pilgrims around me breathing, feeling their warmth, and I knew already then I would miss this, the togetherness, day and night.
All this makes me a bit melancholy, back in Luxembourg.... which results in sometimes slightly odd behaviour. I drink only Spanish wine now, use Spanish olive oil, eat pan con tomate for breakfast, while breaking records on my Duolingo Learn Spanish app, and I am totally on top of all the news on the Catalunya independence issue. There are worse things than craving Spanish food and knowing about current affairs, but what about the fact that I am spending hours and hours on my online Camino photo album? That Messenger is mostly used to talk to Camino friends, who are all posting Camino pictures on Facebook, that we then all LIKE or even LOVE. That I find it hard to talk to others about the Camino, because I don't know where to start when asked how it was. How can I explain the power, the magic, the connection? I need to work on my reverse culture shock, also known as Post Camino Blues.
There are some things that make me feel better. I was shocked on coming home about the amount of 'stuff' in my house. I have already thrown away bin liners of clothes and shoes and other stuff. This feels good. It creates space, in my wardrobe and cupboards, and in my head. I am also eternally grateful to my Camino soulmates (yes you two, you know who you are) for sharing their own feelings post-Camino, and being there for me, when I am deep down, or too much up! Without them my culture shock would have been a lot lonelier. Seeing other Camino friends on Facebook made me realise we are all going through this same process and that helps me too. I go for walks. I walked in the north of Luxembourg today. It was not the Camino, but the autumn colours were beautiful, and I noticed I had got out of practice, my legs were hurting and tired after 24 km, and that would have been a normal day on the Camino! Walking brings back the peace and calm of the Camino inside me, and helps to think clearly and positively about where I want to go now. I have given myself until the end of this year to have fun! In the next few months I am planning to hang out with lots of friends in Europe. I call it my Ryanair Camino! :) After that I have promised myself to move on, be present, make this place a better world, make other people happy. And of course there are serious plans to walk another Camino and even to go live and work on the Camino. I think it is important to dream, and who knows, sometimes dreams can be realised. The time to do things is NOW.
(with thanks to Nadine from nadinewalks.com)