When I was travelling through Ireland, I met a beautiful soul from Germany named Alea. We connected instantly, sharing our emotions, thoughts and feelings so candidly from the minute we met. I knew she was a gem right away and thinking about it now, I couldn’t feel more grateful that we crossed paths. The funny part about this story is I originally met Alea in Killarney, Ireland. We had gone out to a pub with a group of new friends but didn’t have a huge chance to get to know each other one on one. A week or so later, we ended up running into one another again in Galway and were staying at the same hostel, typing on computers next to each other. The Universe really, really wanted us to be friends. I know it.
I love exchanging emails and hearing about her newest adventures. Recently, Alea asked me if I would like to do an interview with her about my experience walking The Camino de Santiago. She is in charge of a magazine back at home called Liaisons. This issue focuses on creating relations between and within cultures. I was honoured to be a featured article and it was a pleasure to see my photos displayed so beautifully on those pages. Thank you, my darling Alea for such an amazing tribute to one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. This is only a small portion of what I could say about The Camino but I am so happy to share the English translation with you all!
Sei kühner! (Be bolder!)
Ein Interview mit der kanadischen Fotografin Samantha Polzin über ihre Reise
auf dem Jakobsweg
What was your motivation to walk the Camino?
The year before walking the Camino, I had been studying at University in a program that I wasn’t happy with and in a city that was far from inspiring. I knew very quickly that something in my life needed to change. It took a lot of strength and courage to discover that there was no one else in charge of my life but myself. I remember the minute I realized that I could choose which way my path was headed and it was such a liberating moment for me. I immediately made the decision to leave after the semester was finished and embark on a travel journey around the world. I discovered The Camino through a dear friend’s Pastor. He himself had walked the 800km journey and couldn’t say enough incredible things about it. We talked about the fascinating people it held, the sights you would see and the lessons you would learn. There was no doubt in my mind that The Camino was made for someone like me. My motivation was walking to re-discover the pieces of myself that I had lost confidence in and to discover the pieces of myself that I hadn’t yet found.
How did the experience of walking the Camino change your view on things?
The Camino is a beautiful and strange little world. It taught me more lessons than I can count. I learned a lot about the true goodness of people, manifestation and necessity. Walking for just over a month has you meeting so many different people each day. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many caring and genuine people I encountered. The beauty of manifestation showed itself in a mantra that we spoke aloud over and over again, “The Camino will provide.” In regards to necessity, it goes without saying that living out of a backpack truly shows you what you need to survive. In fact, a lot of us ended up leaving things along the trail that we didn’t need each day. When it all boils down to it, you need a clean pair of underwear, an outfit, good shoes, a toothbrush and enough water to keep you going. I would wear the same clothes for days and didn’t care one bit! Think about that next time you’re focused on materialistic items. It’s not worth letting them rule you! Oh, and I learned to find the beauty in everything. Every little thing. That might be the most important realization of all.
Did you have moments where you wanted to give up?
Absolutely! Giving up is an exaggeration though because I never truly thought about getting off the trail. I don’t think I ever let my mind go that far! There were certainly moments where I felt like I would never reach the end. They say there are 3 stages to The Camino. There’s the physical stage first which definitely challenged me the most. I felt like the soles of my feet were going to cave in a lot of the time. Then there’s the mental stage. Majority of this happens along a 100km stretch called The Meseta where there are zero trees and a completely open road. That part is challenging in an entirely different way. It brings up a lot of difficult realizations and forces you to face things you might usually suppress. Then, finally, there’s the Spiritual portion which is a lot more enlightening and is sort of that final discovery of what you’ve learned as a whole. I was put to the test physically and mentally many, many times. I have fond memories of just sitting down in the middle of the dirt path refusing to move but in truth, they only pushed me harder and showed me exactly what I was capable of achieving.
How did it influence your photography?
My photography is definitely focused on people a lot of the time but I think the experience taught me how to see landscapes in a different light. So often I am used to having body language or a conversation spark my inspiration. It gives me something to connect to. With landscape, I don’t have that same connection so I was forced to find it through focusing on things that spoke to me silently in the setting. I think I grew a lot in that area of my photography. Looking back on those photographs, I can feel all the emotions I felt while taking them. Even still, I did have the privilege to photograph plenty of faces as well and I was able to connect with these people directly which caused my photos to take on an entirely different energy. I saw things in people that I normally wouldn’t see right away and I’ve worked very hard to transfer this into my future portrait work.
To whom would you recommend the walk, is it something for everyone?
I always say, even if you aren’t an active person, you should walk The Camino. Absolutely everybody could learn something from this experience. There will come a time in everyone’s life when you’re needing to learn something new, needing a change or looking to let go of a burden. This isn’t just a walking trail, it’s a method of self-discovery and it will redefine who you are as a person for the absolute best. I often asked the question, “why are you walking this trail?” and my favourite answer was someone who said, “I’ll find out when I reach the end.”
Even though you had a lot of fellow travelers, there must have been times when you were completely alone. Did you feel lonely or did you enjoy those times? Did you learn new things about yourself?
I managed to stick with a group of about 5 people for most of the trail and that was often quite comforting for me. The alone days were some of my favourites though. As much as I tried to keep my mind silent and focus on the present, I couldn’t help but create these intricate daydreams, sometimes continuing the story on and on for days at a time. I would have these inner conversations with myself and learn so much about my personal beliefs and outlooks on the world. I remember specifically this one moment on the Meseta where something inside me clicked. I made a decision about the kind of person I wanted to be when I got home. I wrote this down in my journal and I look at it quite often now that I’m back in my everyday life. It reads, “Remember first the person you decided you wanted to be on the Meseta. Remember to be honest and kind but speak your mind and don’t take crap from anyone anymore. Be bolder.” I carry that with me all the time.