Walking the camino with Laila Knudsen (DK)

Features October 6, 2015

“The thing that astounded me the most on the camino was the great amount of love. There was room for everyone in the group, and everyone took care of each other – it was like a big camino family, and it surprised me how fast you can bond with other people. I have never met so many different people in one place, and it has made me realise that I can be exactly the person I want to be.”

Laila was a camino celebrity, but she just didn’t know it yet. The beautiful young girl from Denmark made the boys walk a little faster each day (she will hate me for writing this, but it’s the god honest truth). I had heard all about her on the first day I bumped into the group of pilgrims at the ruin, but only got to meet her after they all went out to go for a meal. “Laila is with a Dutch lady called Mirjam,” L said. “Excellent,” I replied with a confidents smirk on my face, “I can spot a fellow Dutchy from miles away.” And I did, when the two tall blond ladies walked in, the accent wasn’t too difficult to spot.

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I walked with Laila and Mirjam on my second day. I still had the camino mindset I had shared with S. last summer: get up at the arsecrack of dawn, put your gear on, chuck a banana in your mouth and hit the trail. This is what Laila and Mirjam planned on doing the next morning and after a little chat we decided to head out together. I walked with Laila most of the day, her calm and gentle nature was a welcome change from the chaotic but amazing first day back on the way. Laila walked faster than I did, but I did my best to keep up with her and she slowed down at the appropriate moments to give ‘granny’ some air. We interviewed Laila just before she packed her bags to move from her small hometown to the capital of Copenhagen where she studies music at The Royal Danish Academy of Music.

Dear Laila, how is it going? Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 20 years old, and I grew up on a small island in Denmark, “Bornholm”, in the countryside far away from cities, traffic and noise. I lived with my parents and my little sister until around a month ago, and my brother moved out when I was 10. I am not sure which childhood memory is my favourite, but we have a big garden around our house with lots of fruit, and when my sister and I were younger (and shorter), our dad used to climb up a big ladder to cut off the biggest branch with cherries from the top of the tree. Then my sister and I sat eating the cherries in the garden and pretended to have blood everywhere. During the winters, we had some bad blizzards, and because we lived in the middle of nowhere, my school was sometimes closed. We got up early as always, ate breakfast together and waited in suspense for the radio host to read aloud the list of schools that were closed. Then my sister and I would go outside to play in the snow with our nearest neighbours (500 meters away). My parents have never wanted to travel much (my dad has to take care of the garden, or so he says), so I guess that it has ignited a wanderlust in me.

We met on the camino, what made you decide to walk from Pamplona to Santiago?
After high school, I had half a year of intense practice, concerts and then an audition in January at the music academy in Copenhagen. I knew that I wanted to travel somewhere afterwards to have some no-viola-time, but I had no idea about the destination. In February, I heard about the camino from a friend who wants to walk it someday, and it sounded like an adventure so I booked my flight tickets within a week and then the needed gear shortly after. I am usually not very spontaneous, so when I told my friends that I would walk across Spain for a month, they thought I was joking until shortly before my departure. It is one of the best decisions, I ever made.

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Do you feel like you took anything away from the camino? What would that be?
I have made some amazing friends around the world, and I miss every single one of them! The thing that astounded me the most on the camino was the great amount of love. There was room for everyone in the group, and everyone took care of each other – it was like a big camino family, and it surprised me how fast you can bond with other people. I have never met so many different people in one place, and it has made me realise that I can be exactly the person I want to be (still trying to figure that one out). Especially I was amazed at the “what is mine is yours” concept, and I have gotten better at sharing with other people – but also to receive. A friend and fellow pilgrim from Equador told me that it is selfish not to accept another person’s gift, if he offers you something. I loved this culture of sharing everything (and this resulted in me eating everyone’s chocolate and desserts).

What is your fondest memory on the road?
Every day on the camino was an amazing one (almost anyway), and I have nearly forgotten how badly my feet hurt. I do not have one favourite moment on the road, but I can mention a few. One evening the power went out in the albergue, and we already started making dinner (the other guys were, I was mostly watching trying not to burn anything). One of them had a small gas torch, so we had to cook the pasta sauce in small portions. The meal turned out really well, and we ate in darkness with candles, wine and beer. Another day we walked together in the big group, and my Polish friend and I were in the front walking and talking together. Suddenly the road ended, and we all stood in the middle of a field realising that we walked in the wrong direction. Apparently, a nice Spanish man in a car had seen us walk the wrong way, so he drove down the small path in the field to guide us back to the camino (in Spanish, and none of us understood much). It was definitely not a shortcut, and we arrived in the albergue after sunset (again). It might not sound as a nice experience, but repeatedly the Spanish people just amazed me with their kindness. However, it is difficult to point out my favourite memories, because there are many great moments. We did a tapas tour in Logrono, we had an Octopus night in Melide, lots of breaks from walking in multiple bars every day and just days and evenings with a lot of wine, chocolate, aching feet and wonderful company.

Would you recommend other people to walk to Santiago and why?
Everyone should do the walk to Santiago, because you learn many things about yourself along the way. The camino is different for all pilgrims, but it is absolutely a walk for all kinds of people. You will have the time to think but also the time to share some special moments with lovely people from all around the world.

What is one thing you will never know about the Camino unless you walk it?
I went to Spain to walk, but I quickly realised that the camino is not about walking. It is about the people you meet, the relationships you make and the things you learn about yourself. I would never have guessed that I would bond so much with people in such a short amount of time. I left Santiago de Compostela the 1st of April, and it was the hardest goodbye of my life.

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When we walked together, we talked about your music. You play the Violina (and I still have the clip you recorded for me on my birthday and will cherish it for the rest of my life). Why the violina?
I started playing the violin when I turned eight, and a couple of years later I changed to the viola (a big violin with a deeper sound), simply because I liked the sound better after hearing it in the orchestra, I was playing in. Although I do not want to admit it, it might also have had something to do with the “big girls” who changed from the violin to the viola as well.
I have never had any dreams of becoming a musician, and from 6th grade, I wanted to become a dentist. When I had to choose a direction in high school, I chose biotechnology, because I was completely sure that a dentist was exactly what I wanted to be. Some coincidences lead me to a new viola teacher in Copenhagen when I turned 16, so I travelled 3-4 hours back and forth every other weekend with a ferry to Sweden and then a bus to Copenhagen to have my lessons. Here I discovered a completely new world of creativity, challenges and inspiring people with the same interests as myself. Around a year before I finished high school, I found out that I wanted to follow this path for real (and never do hours of boring homework again).

What is it about music that makes you want to study it?
Music has a special ability to connect people, and I enjoy chamber music with other musicians the most. It is all about creating something together and sharing ideas. It gives me the opportunity to move, both geographically to other parts of the world and for myself through my own development, because music offers me the chance to be creative.

You are about to move to Copenhagen at the time of this interview to study music, are you scared moving to a big city like that by yourself? What are you hoping to find there?
I have always been used to being around the same people; the ones I went to kindergarten with were the same I went to school and later high school with. For the past year, especially after the camino, I have yearned for new surroundings, new people, new adventures and some new challenges. Now that I have finally moved to Copenhagen, I realise how unprepared I am. My dad is too far away to fix my bicycle lamp, and my mum cannot cook food for me, so I eat odd meals all the time. It feels good finally to take care of myself though, even if I have to kill all the spiders in my apartment myself. :)

Any adventures planned for the future?
I have not planned any adventures yet, because now I want to focus on my viola and the music academy, but I want to go explore more sides of the world as soon as possible – both as a musician playing concerts around the world and as an adventurer.

Words by Laila Knudsen
Photos by Rebecca Rijsdijk

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