Maxim Behar: The journey is the embodiment of the Camino itself

PR expert Maxim Behar talks about his experience on the Camino de Santiago and his new book "The Camino Way. Quick, Easy and for Fun" on the radio show "The Person in Focus", on Radio Focus.

Host (Zhivko Krastev): Journey of the soul  -  that's what they call the Camino de Santiago, a route thousands of people walk every year in search of themselves or the limits of their capabilities. This path can also be easily walked for pleasure. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Maxim Behar, who is well-known in the PR field. He is the co-creator of the book "The Camino Way. Quick, Easy and for Fun," alongside his wife Veneta.

Maxim Behar: Good day to the listeners of Focus Radio! Congratulations on the fantastic job you are doing on the radio!

Host: I'm always happy when we can speak with an erudite person like you, because we can discuss exciting experiences. What is walking the Camino actually like, from your perspective?

Maxim: Before going to the Camino, I heard all sorts of descriptions  -  from the extremely religious saying that one must walk this pilgrimage route to the purely psychological changes every person experiences, the introspection, the fatigue, the blisters, and difficulties along the way. And in the end, when my wife Veneta and I completed the path together, I realized there was a little bit of each. It's not just the physical exertion, as I initially thought. For years, we would sit some evenings on a glass of wine, and Veneta would suggest we walk the Camino. I would always reject this idea, saying walking such a long path would be tiring. At some point, she presented me with a more understandable and easier-to-implement program: the route from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, about 145–150 kilometers. We completed it in a single week. It seemed very easily achievable, given that we didn't have much time to spare. On the fourth or fifth day, you've overcome the initial obstacles or worries, like the thought of getting tired of walking another 25 kilometers, for example, and you understand that continuing for another 25–30 days would be the same in terms of physical effort. When you go somewhere abroad, like to London or Paris, you ultimately cover those 20 kilometers - when you check your phone and watch and note to yourself you've walked 20 kilometers. However, walking around a city is different because there you would sit for a coffee, visit shops and bookstores, wander around, and take a break. Of course, you can also rest and enjoy yourself on the Camino. The greatest pleasure you can have is someone with you whom you can talk to, and time passes unnoticed. Meanwhile, you see exciting things and meet interesting people. On the third, fourth, or fifth day, at one point, I thought that for me, the Camino is the most interesting social network in the world. This is a "Caminobook" because you meet people from all over the world. Firstly, you may never meet them in your life on social media, and secondly, they are interesting people who don't ask you where you're from, what you're like, if you're famous, what's your job, what you've finished - such questions are completely absent. Rather, you discuss the weather, you may find you have common acquaintances, or if it turns out that you're from a country where they have friends, or you have friends in their country. But mostly, you discuss the Camino, what's interesting about it, where you will sleep tonight, where you were last night, what you will have for dinner or admire the food. And somehow, time passes unnoticed. At the same time, you can see the many pilgrims, Catholic travelers, who walk the Camino for religious reasons because this is mainly a Catholic path. With all that, you find yourself in an environment you've never been in. Especially in Sofia, life is so fast-paced. In the evening, we would watch the news, showing our politicians practicing rhetoric or people who pretend to know everything, or you go to work, and there you have your concerns and problems. And suddenly, you find yourself in a place where these things are not present - there are no news, no politicians, no worries, no problems, no clients, no radio listeners, no television viewers. It's a completely different world where you have the time to think about so much that you otherwise don't have time to think about in your everyday life. And that's why I find it extremely valuable, not so much in introspection; perhaps different people experience it differently. For both Veneta and I, it was the first time travelling after the COVID pandemic. We were all closed for about two years, and when suddenly the world opened up, we had to do something that would open our eyes completely after that closure. We could go to the Maldives, the Seychelles, or wherever, but it's different. The Camino was the best place for us to go to.

Host: Is there magic in this journey? Many mystical stories about journeys have unlocked people's consciousness in various ways.

Maxim: There is magic. I believe that everyone creates the magic for themselves. For me, it's one thing; for my wife, Veneta, it's probably different, as it will be for many other people. It depends on your expectations and mood when you embark on this journey. For me, the magic was that we talked for 18–20 hours a day with Veneta and shared things we had never had the chance to tell or get to know each other in certain aspects. Also, we passed through many religious places that have their radiance, energy, and magnetism. At every such place, you must stamp your passport to certify that you have been there. Usually, these places are the local Catholic churches, and we always go there and pay our respects. Especially on the route from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, you can feel the magic when you walk about 35–40 kilometers through an eucalyptus forest. In the middle of it, there is an extremely strong smell of eucalyptus and silence  -  things that are not part of anyone's everyday life. All of that is enveloped in mysticism. You also walk on a holy land, where the relics of St. James were transported centuries ago from France to Santiago de Compostela, where he is buried. The peak of the experience was when we arrived at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, which happened for us in a heavy downpour. It was amazing - we had raincoats, backpacks, hoods, sticks to walk more easily. And suddenly, we found ourselves in front of the cathedral, and it was pouring rain - it was unforgettable.

Host: What is more important-the journey or the destination? Could we philosophically delve into this question a bit?

Maxim: The journey, because in life, you often have goals that you want to achieve, but along the way, you may change them. And sometimes, you can even achieve better results than those you initially set as the target. And during the journey, you learn  -  you fall, get up, get blisters. I'm speaking metaphorically because that happens in life  -  without physically falling and getting up, we may experience success or failure every day and on different levels. In my opinion, the journey is indeed the essence; it is the embodiment of the Camino itself. "Camino" translated from Spanish means path, and two to three thousand times a day on this path, you say, "Buen Camino!". There's no way you will meet someone on the way and don't say "Buen Camino!" which means "good journey" or "have a nice journey." Think about it - two to three thousand times a day, you say "Buen Camino!" and smile at those people - that alone is life-changing. How many people do you say "good morning" to in Sofia? Even if you walk on "Vitosha" Boulevard or any busy street and boulevard in a city, how often do you say "good morning" to strangers? You don't say "good morning" to strangers. Yes, on Vitosha mountain, or generally in the mountains, you say, "good day" upon meeting people; the "Buen Camino" itself is different because you say it with an accent and enthusiasm  -  you take in the air and say "Buen Camino!".

Host: That's what you've called the book I hold in my hands, and I thank you very much for this gift. I am looking through its pages at the moment and immersing myself in this experience, which is always individual, depending on the person who has walked this path. And indeed, it sends you to the Camino and perhaps gives cause for reflection on the fact that, when we talk about the journey being more important, we should find time to smile at life to smile broadly and say, "Buen Camino!"

Maxim: Everyone should do it - every morning when they wake up to wake up with a smile. Veneta and I have been doing that for so many years. Every morning, I wake up with a smile, even if I have had the toughest day before that or the most absurd dream, because those things happen, or I may be sleep-deprived because I wake up early in the morning and I don't always sleep well. If you wake up in a bad mood and start thinking negative thoughts, it's like throwing away your whole day. And this whole "Buen Camino!" experience was the idea behind writing the book. On the last day, even before we entered Santiago de Compostela, I turned to Veneta and suggested we write a book, and she noted that if writing books is easy for me, she has never done it before. And I said, alright, let's write it together. Before we left for the Camino, I hadn't watched any movies and didn't read any books about it, although there were several of them. But when I returned, I read several books about the Camino by Bulgarians, which were very philosophical. There was this person who wrote a book and throughout it, he talked about how his wife changed during the Camino, and it was a bit psychological and very personal. I wanted to tell our story, and that's why we called it "Quick, Easy and for Fun". Then, in Santiago de Compostela, the title came to my mind because the experience was quick and easy, and we enjoyed it. And when you mention the Camino to anyone, usually, and I was like that some time ago, they say you're crazy. Whenever we told people we were going on the Camino, they would dismiss it because it would be way too much walking. Even our close friends couldn't accept the idea of us going there. And I would respond that we should at least see what the Camino is. When we returned after 2–3 mornings, I suggested to Veneta that we climb the Black Peak in Vitosha mountain, and she agreed. We climbed it as if going for a walk to "Vitosha" Boulevard and back. The physical effort is important, but by no means the most important, as it comes naturally. When I finished writing the book, I gave it to my friend George Milkov, a wonderful journalist and traveler, to read it. He did, and his words are written on the back of the book - he called me and told me it's like a textbook on the Camino, and that's exactly what I wanted it to be. "The Camino Textbook" is also what we titled George Milkov's note because before you go on the Camino, you don't need to read so many stories or legends. You only need two things. First, you need to know where you may make a mistake, for example, what belongings you need or don't need. And secondly, what are the different routes so that you can choose the most suitable for you. That's exactly what we did in the book - in my part, I described how we walked the Camino, while Veneta described the different routes, their history, and their significance. And it was a good mix of useful things. I wanted this book to benefit those who wish to walk the Camino. Last week, we presented the book together with our publishers from the "Vacon" publishing house. Several people came to the presentation, and some of them, who had returned from the Camino two weeks earlier and had read the book, said the book was great because they read about things they hadn't seen.

Host: Did you have clarity from the very beginning about where you were starting, where you would sleep, the places you would pass through, how much time it would take you to reach each destination, or in other words, what was the plan? Did you have a clear plan from the beginning?

Maxim: I didn't know, but Veneta had planned everything, and I trusted her completely. The plan itself was made by a Spanish tour operator specializing in Camino trips, and my request was for it not to be more than ten days because I couldn't spare more time. We had an idea of the hotel we would sleep in, and on the one hand, it was good because it disciplined us. We had arranged for a small pickup truck to come every morning, take our big luggage, and carry it to the next hotel. And we continued with our backpacks, with everything we needed in them. Next year, we would like to take the Portuguese route through Porto, and we plan not to carry any luggage other than our backpacks. The first big mistake we made was taking too much luggage. Generally, we travel with a lot of luggage, so when I was packing for the Camino, I did as if I were going to a business meeting -  I took 6 pairs of trousers and 9 shirts, one for each day. And when we landed in Santiago de Compostela, our luggage was lost. It actually arrived 3 days later, but when we arrived, we had two options - either wait for our luggage for those 3 days and drink wine or beer and do nothing, or start on the route. I told Veneta we should just go ahead, and as I was dressed in my suit and urban shoes, we started walking the path. And so, we did for 2 days, and on the third day our luggage arrived. But before that, we bought a small toiletry bag from a supermarket, which contained 2 toothbrushes, one toothpaste, and one soap. And I must note that when we travel, usually we bring huge suitcases full of all sorts of things. But somehow, we managed with this little toiletry bag throughout the whole journey. We also bought T-shirts with "Buen Camino!" written on them, and it turned out neither suits nor shirts, nothing was necessary except for some shorts and comfortable shoes. It was a mistake to take too much luggage, but we didn't know. And the other mistake was that we had ordered prepaid dinner and breakfast in the hotels, but we didn't need them at all. We neither had breakfast nor dinner. We just sat in the evening and ordered a bottle of Rioja, the local Galician fine wine, a little cheese, a little Jamón, and that was our dinner. In the morning, we had a coffee and set off again. These are minor mistakes that are dismissible and were not really of great importance, but next time we go, we'll only take what we need, and in the backpacks. There's no need for a pre-booked hotel there  -  you can sleep in an Albergue, which is sort of a hostel or a guesthouse. Most often, people we met slept in the monasteries or churches, and sleeping in a monastery costs around 5 euros per night with a small breakfast. Yes, you do sleep in a large room with many people, and in sleeping bags, but that's part of the romance and part of the whole mystery of the journey.

Host: Indeed, that's true. What does a person actually need?

Maxim: On the Camino, you absolutely don't need anything else, and that's described in the book, except for a good spare battery for your phone  -  to take pictures, as there's not always a place to plug the charge, and the battery will run out. The vast majority of people we met had two pairs of shoes  -  sandals or flip-flops, so that the toes are exposed, and the other shoes they would wear were cut on the front, to allow more air in there. A large part of the people had hung underwear and socks, which they had washed in the morning, to dry on their backpacks and walked like that. These are such simple things, and no one pays attention to the shirt or shoes you're wearing, as long as you're comfortable and, most importantly  -  feeling free.

Host: Let's finish this conversation with this, and I'll be happy to continue in the future. Thank you very much to Maxim Behar for taking us on this journey along the Camino. Thank you!

Maxim: With great pleasure, and see you soon!

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