João Perre Viana is the mastermind behind the Walking Mentorship program, an innovative one-week experience that helps people face their personal and professional challenges while taking a 120-kilometer (74.5-mile) hike along the Camino de Santiago.
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"The purpose of this methodology is to help gain perspective on what is important (both personally and professionally), update our reality maps, and create an action plan for the future," Viana says.
On Sunday, August 28, Viana embarked on his latest hike. Over the course of the week, he journaled about the journey he and his participants were on. This is the final entry in the series. Read the previous entries here: part 0, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5, and part 6. – Ed. Note.
From Outeiro, we could practically smell Santiago de Compostela. During the first hours of the day, the omnipresent Pico Sacro was our constant companion on the horizon, standing at more than 500 meters above sea level and overlooking the surrounding landscape.
Today, we had a little surprise – like we did every single day during this journey. Any path can be walked in a group, but "The Way" is always an individual process. For that reason, I had each member of the group start the last section of the hike on their own, walking alone until they reached the Cathedral in Santiago. I told them where and when we were to meet, and then I let them go.
It was time to enjoy our last challenge.
Aside from walking the last 16 kilometers of our hike, we also knew that we had to use this final day to consolidate our individual action plans before returning to our homes. That was the only way we'd be able to successfully seize the opportunities we had identified for ourselves this week.
A busy morning! Such ambitious objectives and so few kilometers left.
On my own, I enjoyed the magic first hours of the day in total silence, interrupted only by the breathtaking views of the valley below engulfed by mist and fog. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I covered roughly seven kilometers, which brought me to A Susana, a small village alongside the national road. I made a quick stop for coffee and toast in the restaurant Rosende.
One of the best feelings in the world is the pleasure of reuniting with your friends after you've been away for some time. Even though we had only parted a few hours ago, I was so happy when I found my fellow travelers in the cafe. It was one of those moments in which one clearly understands the intensity of what the group had lived during the preceding week.
I once heard that we actually don't experience seven days on the Walking Mentorship. Instead, we experience something beyond normal time. We spend more than 14 hours a day on average with one another, talking, sharing, paying attention, and giving the best of ourselves. Rarely do we spend so much time with our loved ones! (Which is unfortunate, and probably something to revise in our own lives.)
As we approached Santiago, we had to double our attention on the road ahead of us because the yellow arrows pointing the way became extremely scarce.
I had time to reflect on a few more thoughts and sing a few more songs inside my head before the pinnacles of the cathedral appeared in front of my eyes. I knew then that the city – our final destination – was no more than four kilometers away, but I also knew from my many previous walks that the first and last kilometer of any path are always liars.
After crossing the bridge over the river Sar, we had to make our final push: the steep climb up Rúa do Sar and Rúa do Castro Douro. We passed the arch of the Porta de Mazarelos, the only gate that remains of the old city wall, and a few minutes later, we were walking into the old town.
Our journey reached its destination. I entered the Praza do Obradoiro and took a seat on the ground, where I could face the end of the road – and the beginning of another route in my life.
After more than 120 kilometers, we arrived at Santiago, but the personal work we had been doing along the way was truly just starting.
The next step was to detail the implications of our future strategies in the short and medium terms and how we were going to operationalize them with clear action plans. Even with thousands of people around, it was easy to stay focused on the shining smiles of my traveling friends – a moment sealed in silence and deep happiness.
The afternoon in Santiago gave us a great opportunity to break down our individual initiatives into sets of actionable tasks that we could each follow as we returned to our lives and strove to be better.
After the traditional power nap, each of us walked around, got lost in the different corners and alleys of the magnificent town, and lay down on the grass of many different parks. Some opted to have a quiet talk inside the cathedral.
Our journey was drawing close to an end, and it was time to collect all the pieces of the puzzle we had been gathering along the way.
Many of the thoughts and ideas we end up revisiting are "old friends" in a way, but if we dare to challenge them, we might discover new angles to explore.
Each route is unique and unrepeatable, even when we return again and again, but the signs (remember the yellow arrows!) are always in the same places, indicating the direction we must follow.
Now, on the way back home, I feel a mixture of feelings: happy to return to my family, friends, and work, but also nostalgic for the long walks in silence and the connections I created with the others participants, who are now my new friends.
I hope you enjoyed following our literal and metaphorical journeys, and I thank you for making it even more unique by sharing your comments during the last week.
I hope you end up repeating some of the exercises we did. I hope you discover new paths and goals. I hope you continue to walk into a better you!
Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.*
Keep walking with me,
* Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.
Photos from the final day:
João Perre Viana founded the Walking Mentorship program.