I recently reached out to a friend I had not spoken to in a long time. Almost four years ago we called it quits as friends over a misunderstanding and harsh words. Since then, I have taken the time to do some thinking. One of those thinkin’ times was on a long walk from Leon to Santiago, Spain. It’s called the Camino de Santiago. I’ll not bore you with all the details, that’s what wikipedia is for.
Because I haven’t taken the time to really write down what I have parsed these past seven months since my pilgrim walk I did so this morning. When we had done forgiving one another she wrote:
So, that’s enough about me anyway. Tell me about Spain.
I wrote back:
It could be the lack of caffeine (really, 1/2 cup is not enough) or just the final stages of menopause or just my own sentimentality but that last line choked me up. Didn’t realize how deep the hole was that you’d left until I read that.
So, let me get myself the rest of this coffee and tell you about my Camino. *sip*
Last year before my fiftieth birthday, Thom (my husband) asked me, “What do you want to do for your birthday” to which I replied as I always do, that I want to go to Istanbul. But since that hadn’t happened I gave him an offhand, “Oh, we should do that Camino de Santiago! I want adventure!”. I wrote a blog post about it on our shared blog which really does capture the kismet involved in our starting this journey.
Now, I said this before I had seen Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, which is about a father getting to know and understand his son through the walk. It made the Camino a vacation walk idea for many. The Camino is not a vacation. It is a pilgrimage and akin to a walkabout. It isn’t the physical journey. The Way is long and it breaks your body and mind and then builds you back up again.
The Camino is a reset button.
The blog I linked you to above mostly is Thom’s rumination, it also has links to Thom’s photos. I took about 800.I bought an iPod5 to be my camera and companion which helped me on many a day get to that last 2k and a meal at the albuergue (the hostels for pilgrims along the route).
The Way is long. I walked from Leon while Thom walked from Roncesvalles. I have to hand it to Thom, he cheerfully dragged me kicking and screaming through the process. Some days I walked over 25k. Some days we walked under 20k. And one day I just said, “No.” and Thom had to stop with me while I recuperated for half a day. My feet ached but more than that, I had hit the point where everything stopped. I had to parse what had gone on for the previous ten days or so. I had no more to give. My heart hurt. That was a turning point in my Camino. They say on the Way in any number of ways, “everyone walks their own Camino” which basically means, go your own way and don’t criticize how anyone does theirs.
It’s also one of those experiences you find hard to quantify. “I saw stuff. I walked a lot. I met lots of people. I drank a lot of wine.” Is really what it boils down to for folks that don’t have a comparable experience.
The change comes slowly and not all on the Way itself. The post-Camino experience is part of the package. For one thing, when you are done you realize that it was hard but you did it. You made your way and you walked Xkm in Xdays when you didn’t think anyone could do such a thing. You realize that you are made of stronger stuff. I realized that each person has their own Camino whether on the Way or in my life. Respecting that and not taking those things personally, or trying to change others is a big factor. The Camino made me realize that in the long run, what matters is not if someone agrees with you but that you met them and that you got something from the encounter. Everyone has their own Camino.
The Camino provides.
That’s another phrase you hear on the Way. I’m still parsing that in my day-to-day. My translation of that into life is currently that the Camino has made me stronger. It has made me realize that I can do anything I set my mind to like learning an instrument which I have always thought I did not have the ability to do. Now, I play my ukulele and love making music! The Camino provided me with the confidence to get over my own predetermined hurdles. I am learning to stop derailing myself.
To get to the finish.
It has provided me with humility. With compassion. With understanding. With empathy. And each day I learn a bit more of what that means and how to implement it.
The other thing the Camino has done has made me healthier in body as well as spirit. I gave up my gym membership and did a lot of hiking to train for the walk, instead. After all, I was meeting the husband half way (yet another metaphor, right?) and he was already conditioned by that point. I had to level up fast. Now, I run three times a week and hike as much as I can with my husband.
What the Camino is not… is a long hike. It is a day hike, one day after another. The schedule went something like this:
- Each day you start with a cup of cafe con leche and some tostada with butter and jam (or for me it was nut butter and no jam).
- Then you walk a few km, then stop for breakfast.
- Another few km brings you to second breakfast.
- In a bit, you go on and then stop for lunch, usually a bocadillo with lovely Spanish cured ham. Keep the calories coming!
- Then you walk a bit more, have another coffee or your at your destination and you prepare for dinner.
- Rest and then go walking to see the town you’re in (crazy right? more walking?)
When you get to the albuergue, the first thing you do put your rucksack on the floor and take out your sleep sack. Ours were treated on the outside with premethin which was to keep the bedbugs and lice and other extra passengers away. So were the outside of our packs. You get your stuff in order on the sleepsack and take your valuables with you to the bathroom or, if you’ve meet someone that day (or have a walking partner) you take turns taking your shower and such. I usually took second shift to the shower because I needed to put my feet up. They were swollen by the end of the day and then got worse as the night wore on if I didn’t take half an hour or more to heal them. Every night I put arnica on my feet before I went to sleep. Every morning I put a special lubricant on my feet before I put on my socks. I got one blister. I was lucky.
At dinner, usually a special pilgrim’s meal, you got two plates, primo and secondo, dessert and half a bottle of wine per person. The pilgrim’s meal was usually loaded with carbs and you needed it! The first plate was usually a nice hot soup or a salad. The second was meat and fries or pasta or fish or something of the like. It was plentiful, filling and perfect. The wine was necessary for sleeping. I had wine every night in Spain and never had an allergic reaction to it. Never. I even had cheese there and didn’t get stomach cramps or other unpleasantness.
My favorite night on the Camino was after we had climbed O Ceibreiro. The day was insane. The climb was hard. There was one point where I was climbing with my hands up a hill to get to some crazy rest spot. When I crested the hill I turned and flipped a bird at the damned thing to the applause of my fellow pilgrims who were sitting around having some ice cream or beer or tonic or whatever. They were resting. It was rough and we weren’t yet finished. There were half a dozen of us who had come together during the day’s worth of walking. But O Cebreio has a great privately run Albuergue there. The food was amazing but the company was even moreso. Among us was a German woman I had met (Anya), a Scotsman who serenaded us (Iain), a Korean girl (who will forever be known as Bob), two Japanese boys who were biking the Camino, my husband and me. The food was so good. They brought it out family style with communal serving bowls.. Huge bowls of soup to draw from. Huge plates of pasta. Huge platters of meat (I don’t recall what kind of meat other than gimme gimme) and more fries. WINE! Then we had Santiago cake and coffee. All for ten euro. You think you can’t beat that?
Then we sang. Ian from Scotland picked up the guitar there (every bar or alburergue seems to have one) and began to play for us. We all sang together. Then… one of the Japanese boys was good-naturedly brow beaten by his friend to play. Neither spoke English past the necessities. It didn’t matter. When he opened up his mouth to sing… it was an angel’s voice. He blew us all away.
Afterwards, when we were all sated and happy we headed to bed. The beds were comfy, the facilities were top-notch and Thom and I enjoyed every moment of it. When we woke up in the morning we were refreshed and ready to rock through the misty morning to go down the hill we had just climbed the day before.
I think O’Ceibreiro was an encapsulation of my entire Camino. Not every day was filled with singing but every day had a new memory to savor and a new lesson to be learned. Every now and then I remember one of them and smile. Many of the people I met on the walk are my friends on Facebook now. We keep in touch through a private Facebook group, too. Letting others know how we are and connecting via one another’s recollections.
And we are going back.
I’m still learning from my Camino. Every day adds more meaning to it. I wish I could say something more profound here to end this but I can’t find the words.