Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. -Anais Nin
Honest. Kind. Brave.
Day 17: León to Hospital de Órbigo, 23.2 miles, & Day 16: Reliegos to León, 18 miles
I’m done with the walking part of my Camino, but I’m still not ready to digest everything. I keep opening my journal to write, but nothing has come out yet. Maybe I’ll write while I sit in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid this afternoon with a carafe of red wine.
In the meantime, here are some bits and pieces from Days 15 & 16. Day 17 still to come.
In the beginning, I thought this trip was about me and about walking. In the end, it was so much less about the walk and maybe not about me at all. It was so much more about the people. And The Universe. But let’s just chat about people for now.
My Camino was about sharing food and feelings and laughter. Cooking with each other. Helping with the laundry. Splitting groceries. Sharing beers. Pushing each other. Waiting for each other. Walking beside one another, sometimes even in silence. Resting together. Sharing songs and smiles and dreams. Sometimes sharing sadness and struggle and tears. Going to mass, exchanging peace, holding hands. Giving hugs. Sleeping and waking together.
I had a handful of amazing people that I spent nearly my whole Way with. But there were so many others who touched me. One of the beautiful parts of walking the same path is that you run into people you know everywhere. Maybe you crossed paths two or three days ago or maybe it was two weeks ago. There’s something so heartwarming about sitting in a village in the middle of nowhere in Spain and recognizing someone. Or bumping into someone in a city cathedral. Or walking through the town plaza with an ice cream and waving to someone drinking coffee at the cafe. Many of the familiar faces spoke a different language and there are so many of them whose names I never learned, but everyone speaks with a wave, a smile, and a Buen Camino.
We are all the same on The Way.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
I didn’t write yesterday because I didn’t have cell service in Sahagún. Normally I catch up in the morning when I walk, but it’s been so cold that I can’t take my hands out of my pockets. I’ve heard we are incredibly lucky. Usually the meseta is ungodly hot, but… I don’t know… My pants and long sleeves needed a wash, so I’m currently sleeping in two pairs of shorts, a tee, Jose’s pants, and my rain jacket. Go figure!
And now I’m so tired! But there are things to say!
I met a woman named Rachel who is walking the Camino Frances for her sixth time. I have been struggling with leaving my Camino and leaving my Camino family. I’ve struggled with the physical pain and the emotional earthquakes. So much of what Rachel has said resonates with me. She talks about the Camino “calling” her. She spoke of the tears she cried on her first Camino giving way to a floodgate of emotions. She talked about how the Camino will crack you wide open if you let it. She’s touched on her relationships with people around the world and her continued friendships with them. She reminded me of the millions of people who have walked this pilgrimage over the past 1,000+ years and how we walk where they walked and we rest where they rested and we cry where they cried.
She said she first heard of the Camino from a book in which the author wrote something like, “I slept in room with people from all over the world and yet there was a common language between us.” And I was reminded of the showers yesterday. Four shower stalls, three toilet stalls, three laundry sinks all in the same room. It started with the boys whistling in the shower again and then some humming, add someone singing, and before you knew it the entire albergue was vibrating with the sound of 10 or 15 strangers in the bathroom singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Strangers from Spain, Italy, Hungary, the U.K., the U.S., the Ivory Coast, Colombia, Canada, Portugal, and probably others.
There is more, so much more. So many “best parts of the day,” as Nico says about every moment because they are all so good.
But I am once again so tired.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Today was a great day. Here is what made me happy in the past 24 hours:
- Dancing in the middle of streets in the middle of towns with Janet with or without music, just because.
- I had a lovely ice cream with a white chocolate shell. A huge piece of the shell fell off when I turned to wave hello to someone and when I turned around, Nico and Janet we’re eating it! Nico explained, “It fell, Janet and I looked at each other and she said with her eyes, ‘I get half and you get half,’ without even saying words, and so here we are!”
- Last night, we played a game in Italian (well, half Italian/half English really). So now I can count to 20 (but please don’t quiz me)!
- At breakfast this morning, Janet and I sat at our own table. The boys were like, What’s this? We have a boy’s table and a girl’s table now? Janet said, How can we meet other boys if we are always sitting with you two? And with absolute perfect timing, Jacob, and Italian guys, walked up and ask if he could sit with us.
- The vastness. It cannot be captured in a photo. At some points, you can see for miles in every direction. Maybe so far that you see the curvature of the earth. As Janet said, You can look out your window and see who will be arriving at your house tomorrow.
- Everyone says Hello or Buen Camino in passing. I laughed at our group this morning as we all shouted to some passing cyclists, Buongiorno! Buenas! Hola! Hello! Buenos Días! Bonjour! And probably none of us were speaking our own language.
- For most of the day, the boys walked with the boys and the girls walked with the girls. Not sure what the boys did, but the girls stopped at a playground. And played.
- FYI, the official symbol of the Camino is a seashell and the path is always marked by seashells, whether on concrete posts or set in brass on sidewalks or painted onto walls. Emily today: What are we doing. I can’t believe we’ve been following a seashell for two weeks. …Me neither, girl! But glad we are crazy together!
- Walking into town discussing dinner… Emily: Not pasta and not a sandwich, for God’s sake! Janet: And no more tortillas!
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Day 13: Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de Los Carres, 18 miles
I’ve definitely turned the corner. Actually, I think we all have. Personally, my Compeed bandages are down from 11 to only a half stuck to one toe. I don’t cringe at the thought of putting on socks and boots and I’m no longer limping.
I also think we’re past the initial excitement of it all. It seems like our walks are becoming more thoughtful and contemplative. At least it feels this way for me as I near the end of my Camino.
I asked Nico yesterday, WHAT ARE WE DOING? We wake up at five every morning to walk. For hours and hours. Just walking. And sometimes in immense pain. Why?! WHO DOES THIS?
To build character? To understand our insignificance? To touch and be touched by the compassion of others? Or because we’re all crazy?
(We did decide that the latter is at least true.)
I do like this quote from my Camino guidebook, which maybe helps to describe why we keep walking day in and day out: Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us. -Rumi. …Be it God or The Universe or one another.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Truth be told, my day into Hornillos was not a good one. I was annoyed with everyone. I was hot. I was tired. I was in pain. I called my Mom and cried, “This is hard. So much harder than I thought.”
I was in a poor mood and I had trouble hiding it. The debate at the dinner table was 23k or 40 tomorrow, there were no stops in between. I interjected, “For once, I would like to stop in a village before I reach my breaking point and be able to enjoy the afternoon not in miserable pain.”
I got up and left dinner, but I hung everyone’s wet laundry as a peace offering. For the record, I think I voiced the majority opinion and Janet left dinner with me. Five minutes later, the others were back at the albergue saying, “Okay, 20k tomorrow.”
And a glorious 20 (or 25) kilometers it was. We picked up two Portuguese students, then met a group of three Germans, one American, one Canadian, and one Austrian. We found an oasis of an albergue with a pool and soft, green grass, sun and shade, cheap beer and wine, a ukelele player. It felt like we were cheating. Is this allowed on the Camino?
We threw each other in the pool and swam in our underwear, sunbathed, sang, ate, drank, journaled, sent postcards, swapped massages, laughed, taught each other about Rice Krispie treats and German slang and Italian pick up lines.
Day 10: Burgos to Hornillos, 20.7 miles
The Camino de Santiago has three stages: Life, Death, and Resurrection.
We officially reached the meseta today and I will hike through the Death for the next seven days before traveling home.
I won the contest today for having the lightest pack (by five or six kilos!). I have not needed to purchase anything, although I’ve been gifted a few items, and I’ve needed every thing I brought. Special thanks to the following people, without whom this trip would not be possible (or would at least be more expensive):
- A backpack from Chuck
- A Camino guide from Julia (and so much more)
- A CamelBak from Matt
- Un capello (a hat) from Sergio
- Lavender oil from Judy
- Two stones from Diversey Harbor
- A North Carolina ring from Emily
- A bracelet from a Buddhist monk in Thailand
- A seashell given to me by a shop owner when I apologized -in Spanish- for being rude (us Americans, sheesh)
And shoutout to Julia for the EOD G&T on her, via Venmo. <3
Day 9 Villafranca to Burgos, 24.7 miles
I’m writing this a day late because I was SO TIRED last night. We got to Burgos, which may be my last city for sightseeing as we hit the meseta (desert). After the cathedral, we had tapas and at 8:00 p.m., I asked if I could skip dinner and go to bed. There was a resounding “No” from the family.
Here are the highlights from yesterday:
- I left Villafranca about 5:30 a.m. The sky was inky black and every constellation seemed to be sitting on top of our albergue. Until now, the mornings have been too misty to see stars.
- This message as the sun came up:
- Passing El Oasis de Camino, which had two paintbrushes and some acrylics. Can you spot mine?
- Teaching everyone the 50 states. Teaching Janet the difference between the words “tease” and “torture.” Showing everyone what my hair looked like at age 10.
- Around 3 p.m. as we are starting to lose our minds in the desert: “These bushes look quite biblical dont they?” “Yes, actually, perhaps that’s the burning bush in the middle of this f***ing desert.”
- The Socks Incident: When we check in, the “house mom” at our albergue asks, “Does it look clean to you? Yes, good, so keep it that way.” Emily whispers, “She’s quite a dictator, isn’t she? It makes me want to go against the rules.” Ten minutes later, I’m desperately trying to nap and I hear the house mom shout, “Whose socks are those in the middle of the floor?” I know whose socks they are and I can feel Emily rolling her eyes from the top bunk. To laugh would be to forgo my nap, but I can only hold it in for five seconds before I break out into hysterics.
- Nico and Jose whistling in harmony while showering.
- Being told my “frinkles” are cute.
- As we walk at roughly 1 mile per hour, Janet: “Hey guys, don’t run, please!”
- Planning out our days, “Hey, that looks nice! Three days from now we walk alongside a river!”
Ohhh. The day wasn’t easy and the desert is just beginning. We walk a lot, but we laugh a lot and we learn a lot.
Day 8: Grañón to Villafranca, 18.3 miles
We get one complaint each morning around the time the sun comes up and then none for the rest of the day. We forgot about our ritual today. At first, it seemed like a win… we had nothing to complain about! But as the road wore on, I started to understand that our complaints are just a given.
Our blisters are healing, but in their places we have foot pain, ankle pain, knee pain, sunburn, bug bites, hunger, …the list goes on.
I had this idea that walking was easy! Easy enough to do all day, every day! It turns out, when your foot hits the ground beneath the weight of your body and your pack 40,000 or 50,000 times per day, walking becomes not so easy.
When each footfall began to make me nauseous, I dropped back on my own to cry. I began to cry for my feet, but then out tumbled a whole slew of emotion. How can I say goodbye to my Camino family in 10 days? It will be like breaking up with four people at once. And who will I be when I get back? Right now, I feel a world away from the girl with the high heels and the dress, the makeup and the corporate job. How do I bring The Camino back with me?
Despite it all, the simple pleasures of the day were not lost on me:
- Rounding a mountain and seeing your destination in view
- The coolness when the sun disappears behind a cloud
- The feeling of dirt beneath your feet when you’ve been walking on rocks for hours
- Sighting a cool water source and soaking your hat in it
- Turning around to look at how far you’ve come
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Day 6: Vianna to Najera, 24.2 miles
A Day in Photos
A tough, hot walk with Jose, Miguel (Italy), Sergio, (Italy), Emily, and Nico. Afternoon stops in the shade. Beside vineyards. We taught each other Italian and Spanish and English. We shared our favorite recipes. We sang songs together, in our first languages and simultaneously. Don’t get me wrong… we were in miserable pain for at least the last six miles and I don’t think anyone said a word to each other in the last hour.
We split evening duties. Jose and Emily bought groceries. Miguel bought the wine. Sergio went to the hospital (for his blisters!). I did all the laundry. Nico cooked pasta carbonara (with whole wheat noodles because they all have asked for nutrition advice, of course!) Buonissimo!
- My feet feel better-ish.
- I walked alone and I walked with Emily. When we got hot or when our feet started to hurt, we lay in the shade and dust for a rest.
- We caught back up with Jose and also with Nico (Italy), who I met on Day 1, and with Janet (Hungary), who I met on Day 3.
- Jose and I went to the municipal pool, which was like a small water park. The water was COLD and perfect for some “poor pilgrim’s cryotherapy.” I did front flips and Jose sat in the jet pool. We went down the slides and took naps in the grass.
- Back at our albergue, I showered behind a curtain while I chatted with Janet who was washing her laundry beside me in the sink.
- Our “house mom,” if you will, prepared dinner for the albergue. Emily and I were the only pilgrims whose native language is English, but we all enjoyed the food and enjoyed each other’s company anyway. And we met a woman who has been walking since Cologne, Germany!
- After dinner, we sang a hymn and split up dish duty.
- Also, we are sleeping on pads on the floor and on tables and this feels very much like a very fun sleepover.
Today was my first learning day on The Camino. Today was tough.
Someone told me on Day 0, “There is no pride on The Way, there is only weakness. In fact, The Way will celebrate your weaknesses.” The last 24 hours have been a lesson in pride for many of us.
My lesson: I walked alone today because I needed to move slowly and with every step I took, I felt any shred of pride I had disappear. The pain of my feet, induced by competitiveness and 28 miles on Day 2, was my weakness celebrated.
But I also had a lesson in camaraderie. I caught the eye of a Swedish man I met as I waddled out of the cafe with my breakfast. In jest, he began waddling and smiling at me and the handful of people sitting outside threw up their arms, “This is The Way, man! Join the club!” I sat next to a guy who was tending to his rugged looking feet and when the girl next to him took her socks off, he leaned over and said, “Wow! I thought I had it bad!” This is The Way. We mend our feet and take up our bags each morning and we do it together.
There were more lessons learned today — about life’s simple pleasures, about the power of human kindness, and something about “the long game” that I haven’t quite worked out. But those are stories for another day.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Day 3: Pamplona to Puenta la Reina, 17 miles
There are not words that can describe the beauty of The Way.
Day 3 has been my favorite so far. Even though my feet feel AND look like “a swollen pregnant woman with leprosy,” according to my friend John (from Scotland).
And for that fact, Jose and I took our towels down to “the beach” in Puenta la Reina to soak our sore legs. The beach turned out to be a swamp, but we pulled out our picnic of bread and meat and cheese without complaint. The grass was soft and the shade was perfect for napping. There are peaceful, quiet moments on The Way, but I just as much savor these peaceful, quiet late afternoons.
Spain is beautiful – the people, the language, the culture, the architecture, the land. I’m frustrated that I can’t describe it. I can’t even capture it in photos!
I ate dinner with my foursome this evening and we talked about our journeys thus far and what we hope to gain in the end. I don’t know why I’m here. But I think that’s the best way to come. My first night, someone told me, “If you came looking for money or love or answers or your purpose, you will not find it here. But… The Way will teach you to be happy with What Is. If you let it.”
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
More tomorrow, but I am honestly too tired to think.
I’m happy. Buen Camino.
Day 1: Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to Roncesvalles, Spain – 17.2 miles + 4,560 ft ascent
And now, five stories from the past 24 hours:
- My first adventure began before the Camino. I arrived at my hostel last night and was told, in what I think was a melting pot of languages, that I needed to pick up my pilgrim passport. It was 10:35 p.m. and the office closed at 10, but there I was with two Italian guys and one French girl, wandering the nighttime streets of a foreign French vilkage. It was like the blind leading the blind. Thank God for hand gestures.
- My first “I caught you” smile today: At 6:45 a.m., I started to think about my cerveza at the end of my walk (yes, already!), which made me think of Armando (my former colleague and work right-hand-man) who I always talk to about getting together for cervezas and tequilas, which made me smile. (Do you know what an “I caught you” smile is? I made it up. It’s when you’re lost in your thoughts and suddenly realize you are cheesing very, VERY hard.)
- I ate cake for breakfast because I stopped at a cafe along the way and I didn’t know if I was still in France or in Spain already and I didn’t know what language to order in and I froze. So I just said “cafe and…” then I pointed to the only item in the pastry case.
- I met Jose from Pamplona and Emily from London around mile 10 or 12 and we finished the day together. Jose is pronounced “zshō-száy” (Update: I think this is wrong. Oy vey. I can’t even pronounce ‘Jose!’) and he is teaching me how to properly say Spanish words in my Southern American accent and being an all-around excellent Spanish historian. Emily has already developed a crush on a German guy who is here with his Mom. And this was all discussed over our Roncesvalles cervezas and papas fritas.
- Also, I had to Google, “How to use a CamelBak” this morning. Pleased to announce that I am hydrated because of it.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino.
Day 0: Chicago to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, France
I filled six pages in my travel journal today. (The first two paragraphs are about French food, of course.) It feels good to write! I’m a writer and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve put actual pen to paper. These daily travelog entries are just short extensions of what I’ve written down.
I’m currently on a train from Bordeaux to Bayonne and my final leg will bring me to Pied-de-Port where I will walk through the St. James Gate in the morning to begin my pilgrimage. It seems very surreal right now, but I have a feeling that my 16 mile mountain trek tomorrow will wake me up.
Leading up to today, I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions. Excitement, obviously, but also dead nervous and something I can’t quite articulate… A hesitation/fear/longing of some sort. Something that’s pulling me back to Chicago. Maybe something as basic as FOMO. It’s hard to leave your home and friends behind for a whole month, even to do something this awesome.
Thankfully, somewhere on the journey from Paris to Bordeaux, the nerves and fear gave way to wonder and contentment. As I people-watched outside a train station in the middle of sunny France, I realized that I already feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be at this moment in time.
Until tomorrow, Buen Camino!