El Camino de Santiago- The Way of St. James–

The day after the last final exams I’d ever take in college, I was on a bus early in the morning to a little village in France called St. Jean Pied de Port.  I was about to begin the journey of a lifetime.

The Way of St. James is a famous pilgrimage to a cathedral in the northwestern corner of Spain.  Santiago de Compostela houses the cathedral where allegedly the remains of St. James are buried.  There is a lot of history in this pilgrimage- pilgrims have been coming from every corner in Europe to Santiago for hundreds of years.  My high school teacher in Spain walked the Camino and talked about it all the time in our Spanish class.  Another friend of mine walked a large portion of it last summer and told me I had to do it.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Walking 25-30 km every day in hilly terrain with a 15 kg backpack meant I’d be physically challenged.  I’d be walking solo and didn’t know how many people or who I’d be meeting, so emotionally I knew I’d be challenged.  And though I’m not very spiritual myself, I figured walking in some of the most beautiful parts of Spain would help to clear my head, particularly with the onset of the big transition into post-grad life.

I decided I’d go on a whim, followed by some solo travel through Spain, Portugal, and London.  The time I spent adventuring on my on were the most formative of my entire time abroad.

For the Camino, I’ve decided to share some excerpts from my personal journal.  A few things to note:

  1. I came with the intention of not using internet, not with wifi or with data on my phone.  No listening to music, no emails, no make-up.  Just a few change of athletic clothes, tennis shoes, all-purpose soap, a towel, water bottle, a sleeping bag, and a book my friend had lent me called the Celestine Prophecy.
  2. I did NOT prepare properly.  I didn’t have the right walking shoes.  It rained the first 4 days, and 3 ponchos I bought broke.  I didn’t have the right backpack or even a raincoat!  This caused a host of issues that affected my mood, attitude, and general physical well-being, delightfully recorded for posterity in my journal.  If you are interested in doing the Camino and have questions about gear, please do not hesitate to ask!  One of the biggest reasons why my Nikes didn’t work was because of it rained the first 5 days non-stop and so the muddy, rocky terrain was terrible for my feet.  But then for the next 3-4 weeks of the Camino, it is mostly flat and running shoes work perfectly….  Timing, am I right?!
  3. I went on the Camino Frances, the most traditional and well-travelled of route.  The road was well way-marked with signature yellow arrows and shells and I also had a trusty English guidebook with me.  Not to mention the many new friends I met along the Way.
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How do I know where I’m going?? There are signs everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes peeled for em!

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Day 1

A poem from the guidebook

to laugh is to risk appearing a fool

to weep is to risk being called sentimental

to reach out to another is to risk involvement

to expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self

to place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss

to love is to risk not being loved in return

to live is to risk dying

to try is to risk failure

but risks must be taken

because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing

the people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow

but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or really live

chained by their servitude

they are slaves who have forfeited all freedom

only a person who risks is truly free

— William Ward

I really am nervous for this journey.  IDK if my baby north face backpack is ready for the challenge.  I’m at the bus station in Pamplona about to go to St. Jean and holy cow everyone looks a lot more prepared than me- i.e. they have huge backpacks and hiking shoes.  I have almost no room for a lunch if I want to pack one.  I’m gonna have to improvise.  I think this is going to be a lot harder than Reed made it out to be.  I know I’m going to want to give up and I’ll be kicking myself for forgetting something I definitely should have brought.  The important thing is  I can’t give up.   It will be 12 hard days and I need all 12 of them.  And even if it is shitty I will make it.

I’m in St. Jean Pied de Port now, a charming little (very little) French town at the base of the Pyrenees.  I met Sorren (california, 26, about to go to medical school), Hazel (vancouver, 28, going to get a science education license) and My (qubec, 27, owned her own furniture making business with her brother).  We walked around for a bit but the weather was shitty.  These girls are all planning on taking their time on the camino.  Tomorrow we have about 8 hours of walking, but My is planning on stopping after two hours.  They’re all going to Santiago, whereas I’m stopping before the midway point….

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The map showing the whole Camino Frances in the pilgrim’s office. This is where we also got our credencial (passport) and shell to keep on our backpacks. The shell is used as a symbol to mark the way and also is a sign to identify pilgrims.
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Who all goes on the Camino?

I don’t know if by the end I’ll be ready for it to be over or if I’ll keep wanting to walk.  My mantra is going to be what Hazel said tonight– just one foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.

The albergue (hostels for pilgrims) I’m staying is so interesting.  Christiane is a 57 year old French divorcee who lives with like 7 cats, a little kitty, 2 dogs, and I’m pretty sure some roosters out back.  We’re staying in her home– we’re all upstairs in creaky bunk beds and she has the whole bottom floor to herself.  It’s cluttered and remarkably decorated with French kitcsh and family photos.  It looks like what the inside of the Weasly’s home would have looked like.

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We sat in her living room as she stamped our credentials.  (Every pilgrim has a credential, which is like a passport.  It needs to get stamped at every albergue or hostel you stay at.  You can also get it stamped at restaurants, bars, and other stores along the way.  It’s a fantastic souvenir at the end).  In Christiane’s home, there are pictures of her and her son everywhere.  I like her life.  She seems happy, meeting people from all over the world and enforcing her rules (no shoes! don’t wake up before 7!)  I like that I’m staying in places with character.  And only 10 euro!!

Tomorrow I climb over the Pyrenees and into Spain!  Tally ho and to bed I go!!

The Real Day 1

FUCK. Day 1 and it was hard as shit. (I’m sorry, the swearing just gets worse and worse!)  I’m soaking wet because my poncho ripped.  It was muddy, dirty.  25 km all up hill.  Oh some of it was a descent, but it was at a 90 degree angle basically and that destroyed my knees.  My shoulders hurt because my backpack doesn’t have a waist strap.  It was just really a long fucking day.

It was beautiful though.  I mean really, breathtaking, I thought I was walking through a movie.  One of my favorite stories growing up was of Heidi, and I felt like this is the sort of place where Heidi must have lived and drank her delicious goat’s milk.  Watching the shadows of the clouds move over green rolling pastures or flocks of sheep just chilling.

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A sunny day crossing the Pyrenees

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We went up steep rocky hills and then down steep muddy nature paths.  I’m scared I signed up for way more than I can take. I literally could not think about anything except one foot in front of the other.  There are so many people too.  Many solo people, many in groups.  It’s hard to meet people while walking,everyone’s trying to hustle to get to Roncesvalles, the town with the albergue.  And the place is literally just a castle.  I’m staying in a castle tonight.  Technically this “town” has only 25 inhabitants, all devoted to serving pilgrims.

My god I’m exhausted.  And I think I’m gonna get sick– it’s so cold and it has not stopped raining for the past 5 hours.  My legs are so sore, they feel like just shredded.  We have 27.1 km tomorrow.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it with my knees.  There’s no time tonight for life contemplation.  I’m worried about my body and my shitty knees and my freaking poncho.  FUCK.

Day 2

My knees were killing me this morning.  At 5:45 AM because that’s when everyone starts getting up.  I hobbled around trying to get my shit together with my eyes still half asleep and my knees were just screaming up at me so the pain seared through up my quads.  I was ready to take a bus.  I even asked if there was a bus!  The guy looked at me with these sad pitiful eyes and he said no, no bus.  So I bought two knee pads and a poncho from their makeshift pharmacy closet and was ready to go.

The morning was hard.  My feet in my little nike running shoes were sopping wet in the first 5 minutes, no joke, as on the muddy pathway there is no choice but to go ankle deep in puddles.  Knees hurting, right hamstring tight as a rubber band about to snap, shoulders sore, cold, rain, and hustling pilgrims who prepared a lot better than my sorry ass.  I was NOT happy.  Then Sorren, dear, sweet, Sorren, offered to give me her shoes. (She had two pairs, a pair of proper hiking boots and these really nice supportive sandals with all these weird straps on them.  The kind of shoes my mother bought me years ago because of their practicality but I shunned because they were hideous. Oh, the irony).  Sweet Lord.  Made a world of a difference.  My body wasn’t killing me anymore!  I mean it was like magic.  Those damn Nikes.

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Rain, rain go away…

That’s the thing with the Camino, is I’ve really been relying on the kindness of others because I’m so unbelievably unprepared.  And it’s humbling how people are willing to share everything from shoes to gear to food.  Roxie offered to take me to dinner tonight… She paid for dinner and a beer and she’s awesome.  She’s a 40-year old single mom of a girl my age.  We talked about study abroad, religion, her work, friends, boys.  She gave me all sorts of nuggets of wisdom.  I wish I could just box up today and keep it in my pocket forever.  Even though every inch of my body hurts like it never has before, I really enjoyed today, especially after the new shoes.  Sorren is weird like how she says stuff like, “have you eaten my dear?” or “that’s the story morning glory!”  But my GOD she’s helped me out so much.  She stopped and spent 10 minutes helping me fix my broken poncho with safety pins!!!  She is the epitome of preparedness.  And I think she finds genuine happiness in seeing people benefit from her help.  Which is such an awesome quality to have.  I’m so blessed to have met Roxie too.  We have similar personalities and opinions, we look alike, and are both first generation Americans (her parents are Mexican).  And so it’s like woahhh is this who I’m gonna be in 20-some years?  I don’t know but I’ve enjoyed walking with her and talking to her.  She’s a very honest mom.  And she’s so young at heart.

I’m happy today.  Post-new shoes, I could walk alone and by happy and content.  I hope tomorrow is easy (LESS RAIN PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD).  My second poncho ripped again today.  Okay good night.

Day 3

So much has happened today.  It’s funny how Roxie told me she came to do the Camino because she wanted to learn how to embrace being alone and that’s part of the reason why I did it as well, and yet we’ve found a real friend in each other.  Right now I’m sitting in a hotel room in Pamplona.  She paid for lunch and dinner.  I mean, it’s been unreal.  I obviously wasn’t planning on getting drinks and pinchos on the way, like ever,  just grocery stores and community meals.  But this has been such a blessing.    More than a blessing.  I have only been surviving, quite literally, because of the kindness of others.  Sorren’s shoes, shared food when I couldn’t pack any in my backpack, strangers asking me how my whole injury situation was going, Roxie and this hotel.  (Clean sheets! A comforter! A television!  A shower that requires no shower shoes!!! And HOT WATER!!!)  It has made me realize maybe we should give to others selflessly, as often as you can, and expect nothing in return, because that’s the type of person I want to be.  And karma man.

I can’t believe Roxie’s 47.  We talk about everything under the sun from health, mothers, boys, friends, working hard. She’s so smart.  SShe’s a great mom and has pushed her daughter to be smart in school and with boys, friends, and partying.  It’s been so good to just have a mother-figure on the camino, maybe because I feel like I’m dying and I miss my own mom.  Roxie’s kindness extended to stopping for 15 minutes to help stretch out my knees (she’s an ex-chriopracter).  I seriously can’t believe this luck/if there’s a god, thank you for sending Roxie to me right when I needed her.  She has also made me realize- when I have money, spend it on people I love and care about.  Another crazy thing that happened.  My shoes are shit.  So I went to a pilgrim store here and everything was hella expensive.  So I was about to buy a shitty pair of 40 euro sandals when the girl was like, wait! there’s a pair of hiking shoes, maybe a little big for you, but someone left them and you can have them for free!  2 pairs of socks and I’m golden.

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Hazel, Sorren, Roxie, and I take a quick break on a pretty bridge– notice my (ripped) poncho has converted nicely into protecting my backpacks contents

I’ve learned how to be resourceful with broken ponchos (it became my backpack’s little raincoat so my things don’t get wet) and my backpack now has a waiststrap– it’s just my jacket tied around my waist and through the backpack’s straps to redistribute weight.

Today Roxie told me I look beautiful without makeup (this is after I showered, so I think I just looked clean and it was probably shocking, I’m sure).  But really, it feels good to just worry about walking.  Not even worry.  Just walk.  Not have to be consumed by my life or problems or people.  Just walking. I now have good shoes, a new poncho (please 3rd times a charm), and all-purpose soap.  My knees are still a huge concern but I’m going to keep putting on medicine and pray haha.  Pamplona was great and I’m glad I stayed here instead of moving on to where the guidebook said we should have gone.  I keep meeting new people and taking advantage of opportunities.  It’s funny how you walk and in different places you see the same people– ted, soren, hazel, anthony hopkins.  I love it, it makes the camino feel smaller, like a family.

Day 4

After a great nights sleep in the hotel, we left but my left knee was awful.  With every step it was like a knife stabbing from the inside.  I knew it was going to be a steep climb today and descent, so I knew I was just not going to make it.  I decided to hang back and take a bus.  Sometimes you just have to listen to yourself and know when to call it quits.  I ate at a cafe and then slowlyyyy limped to the bus station, the one in Pamplona I had been to before St. Jean!  Ah that feels like so long ago.  Easily got a bus to the next town.  But my knee was making me so SLOW holy cow.  It was fine though, because I had nowhere to be, no deadline, I could just take me time and do me. I sat in the sun in this giant medieval town and read the Celestine Prophecy.  Which is interesting, it talks abut our energy and the world’s energy in nature, how our expectation can alter the events in our life. Yay! Positivity!  So thinking positively that eventually my body will pull its shit together and get me to my final stop, Burgos.

Day 5

Started with a pretty bad limp, but in a town along the way, saw the god-sent green cross meaning pharmacy.  Bought a 30 euro knee brace and at least I wasn’t limping like a nut.  Things were better.  Going uphill is a lot better than going down hill.

It rained for the last 3 hours.  It was muddy, slippery, and miserable.  I was sniffly and every part of me wanted to lie down but I had to keep going until an albergue showed up.  I honestly could have just plopped down on the road and just fallen asleep.  It was a real physical and mental challenge.  When we got here, I just took a 30 minute hot shower.  Now, I’m sitting up against the radiator in the kitchen and I don’t think I’ll leave ever.  I love sitting down here and saying hi to all my camino friends and familiar faces.  I just talked to DILF Ted.  He grows cattle.  He wears a Canadian tuxedo non-ironically.  I like him.

NO I HAVE FREAKING BLISTERS.

But I’m feeling happy because tomorrow I get to get up and walk, not take a bus, go to the wine fountain, and I don’t have any rain to deal with.  The korean girls who were so nice to me yesterday, giving me biofreeze for my knees and offering me advil– I saw them again here and they’re always so cheery and nice.  They’re going to friend me on Fbook and I love them.  I hope I see them again soon.

This really is such a communal experience with a bunch of strangers.  Right now I’m in a cubby of bunk beds with three men… It’s odd but lovely.

Day 6

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All smiles at the wine fountain with all-you-can-drink wine for the pilgrims. As it was 8:30 AM, I just had a few ceremonial sips from my shell. My Korean girlfriends did it right though- I spotted them giggling while filling up two-liter bottles, saving them for the evening.
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However my favorite sorts of fountains are the water fountains. You can find them along the way, re-fill your bottle, take a breather. This was one of my favorite fountains along the way.

Long story short- I started walking today, feeling fine. After about 2.5 hours, I was delirious with pain, couldn’t see straight, limping, and so incredibly slow.  Now my foot feels like a nail has been hammered through it.  I have to lug it and place it in the right way so as not to wake the sleeping beast in my foot.  My right side of my body is fine but now with my left knee and my left foot, I walk like flat stanley and the pain is just so bad I don’t even know how to put it in words.  After about 12 km, I decided to take a bus.  I felt so defeated and alone. Like wtf was I thinking going into this without proper shoes.  I had to wait about 3 hours for the bus so I literally slept on the ground in the sun outside of a bar in a little pueblo.  I looked like a homeless drunk.  I even turned on my data and messaged some people because I thought I was going to die in front of that bar and so might as well tell some people I love them.

A miracle in the shape of a bus got me to Los Arcos in about 10 minutes.  The albuerge I’m at is one of my favorites so far.  Lively moments from people, worldly staff, lots of books, donativo massages.  Conrad, he just had to put his warm hands on my knee and foot and I almost started crying, I felt safer.  He told me he thinks I have the beginning of tendonitis in my knee and he thinks I should get an x-ray of my foot…………. Which is not happening because I don’t have insurance.  He reminded me of the Spanish way- tranquila, tranquila, tranquila.  AKA calm my shit down.  It’s rough because I see all these oldies passing me and giving ME looks of pity.  It has been so humbling.  And also has made me realize that exercise isn’t just a miserable past time to work off all the pizza I eat– it’s going to be what keeps me healthy enough to come back and do the camino when I’m 70.

Tomorrow I’m going to take a bus from here to Logroño, a 30 km walk that I just can’t do.  I’m going to go to Decathlon (Spanish version of Dick’s) and buy new walking shoes, and take another rest day.  I hope it’s the last bus I take for the rest of the Camino.  Conrad recommended for recovery in Logroño tapas bars and lots of cañas, little glasses of beer 🙂

A combo of reading the CP and walking has made me realize when I’m walking and take in nature’s energy, when I move my focus away from my aches and pains to my stunning surroundings, I feel buoyant, content, really full.  Like I’m not very hungry ever.  Even though I feel like a complete dunce for wanting to buy walking shoes, I’m committing myself to walking outside every day.  It does wonders for my mood.  I wanted so badly to call mom and cry about everything.  I’m exhausted and feeling very defeated.  She would have told me why didn’t you buy the walking shoes in the first place?  No, she would have said, why didn’t you take the walking shoes I bought you years ago?  I didn’t call her because I need to deal with this shit on my own.  But I am the first to recognize how damn lucky I am to have my parents fund my idiotic mistakes.  What would I have done without the money to buy my new shoes?  Or money for the bus today??? I would be rotting in front of that bar….  I owe my parents everything.  I also can’t wait to be making my own money, my god.

Today I seriously I thought about going back to Madrid early.  But no, I think walking is so good for me when it’s not wrecking my body.  I want so badly to hang tough and push through this and also be okay for my traveling after.  Even though it’s been such a relief to have turned my data off, today I really needed to connect with some people at home.  Even though no one has responded yet, it feels good to tell them what’s going on because this is hard for me.  At the same time, what can they do from there?  Freak out?  Tell me to stop?  I think right now all I want is to feel loved and present.

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Day 7

Today I left Los Arcos in a lot of pain in my foot.  Conrad looked at it again and said it’s not inflamed, but there’s definitely stress.  “You don’t seem like the type of person who likes to slow down, but you must relax and listen to your body.”  Sometimes wisdom can come at you out of nowhere.

I got on a bus and knowing I couldn’t walk the 3-4 km to Decathlon for new shoes.  I asked an old lady next to me for help.  She was so kind and cracked jokes on our very bumpy bus ride to Logroño.  She got off and helped me at the info desk, walked me to the bus stop, and helped me get on.  She gave me a hug and two kisses before I left.  And her number if I needed anything else.  ** Never be too busy to help someone in need!  I went to an albergue to wait for it to open post-shoes purchase and a really nice Madrileño couple made conversation with me.  They asked me about my host of injuries and the husband gave me his miracle medicine gel, saying it was his last stop and wouldn’t be needing it anymore.  I’m telling you, being able to speak Spanish and having $$ have been the keys to my survival.  Without one or the other, my experience wouldn’t have been as rich.

I had a depressing and really bad 2 hour lunch alone– bad processed food and a beer.  ATMs and stores were closed during the siesta hours so I couldn’t get an electrical converter.  I felt so lonely so I came back to the albergue and charged my phone.  Talked to Mom.  Thank God she didn’t make me feel guilty about money.  Instead she basically asked if I was enjoying it and if at any point I stop enjoying it, to bus back to Madrid!  After everything I’ve been through, I hope I make it to Burgos.  And I hope in my stop tomorrow I find Roxie and company!  I can’t believe I haven’t given her my full name or number.  I also hope I can walk the entire 30 km, the longest stretch I’ve had to face.  I hope that I meet people on the way.

5 more days.  I can do this.  I’m looking forward to getting over my slump, gaining energy from loving nature, and feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

Man, I could go for a full body massage.

Day 8

Today was a good day!  I walked 30 km!!!  I’m HELLA sore now, but stretching out really helped.  I take medicine, put medicream and massage my foot and knees every 4 hours, on the dot or else the pain seeps back.  I can’t believe I did it.

Today I talked to a life coach from Colombia in the morning.  She told me I was really beautiful and that I tell good stories.  She made me realize that I do have a pretty interesting life.  Later, my Korean girlfriends invited me to eat dinner they made.  They told me they felt bad for me because I’m alone all the time….. Even this other Korean couple made this huge barbecue and shared their food of me!  I never really tried to get to know the international students at Miami, and these girls are so nice to me, so willing to share what they have with me.  The 3 of them ate the food off one plate and insisted I have a plate to myself.  Then I talked for a while with Ted aka Dennis Quaid from the Parent Trap.  He’s gluten free so he complained about the food here… I don’t know how he’s doing it.

I’m glad I sat outside in the teeny tiny community kitchen/dining area in this donativo albergue.  I’m glad I ate a homemade meal from the kitchen because the food is better and everyone is so nice!  I talked to my Italian friend Eleonora for a while.  She told me how frustrated she is because she can’t remember why she started the camino and she’s just over it.  So she’s decided her goal will be to practice her English with me 🙂 She told me about how in Italy, she watches Super American Idiot which is just America’s Funniest Home Videos.  We talked about silly American phrases.  And how Italian food in the US isn’t really Italian food. Like Spaghetti and meatballs and alfredo are American designs, not Italian.  We talked about how IDing is so weird in the US and just the drinking culture in general.  How Italians have babies much later in life but she’s single and doesn’t want to be.

Right now, the dining room is lively with someone playing the guitar and people singing along “Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera…”  I love that it’s always a mix of languages, people talking over each other, finding unique ways to communicate and bond even if there isn’t a shared language.  This albergue we’re staying in, it fits over 90 people and the room is maybe the length of my house.  Bunk beds are stacked right next to each other so I’m essentially sleeping with some Norwegian woman tonight… I also talked to Tommy tonight, an ex-cop from Miami but a self-proclaimed good guy who wants to expose the corruption in the police system.  I love the Camino and I love meeting all of these kind souls who have these intriguing stories.

I know that I can’t study and travel forever.  But I’d like to be able to preserve this feeling of adventure, happiness, new people, open conversations, opportunities to grow and learn about myself as I transition into a new phase in my life.  I also am addicted to this physical activity everyday.  My colombian friend and I talked a lot about spirituality, how when we see coincidences in our lives, and gain meaning from it, that’s how we see God.  If she hadn’t stopped to tear out half off her guidebook to ease up some weight and I hadn’t stopped to fix my brace, we wouldn’t have met.  We ended up walking and talking for four hours!  She gave me her info an doffered to talk to me as a friend when I go to MKE.  I followed her into a church in Navarette and it simply took my breath away.  A church in the middle of nowhere in Spain has been one of my favorites I’ve seen so far.  I still don’t know if I believe in much, but I do like this feeling of being connected to something bigger than myself.

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What an inspiring woman

All right, meanwhile, the creepy 40-year old American dude has climbed into the teeny tiny bunk bed underneath me with the beautiful young brazilian, right next to the bed with the drunk Italian homeless man.  Good night.

Day 9

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My morning

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I have so much to write about tonight but not a lot of time (it’s 1030!) and I’m using my iphone flashlight for light.  I started today with a Spanish couple and then I found Ana, a girl from Barcelona who I’ve commiserated with over injuries.  She knows Catalán, Castellano, English, Italian, and French!  I also found Roxie and I was so happy to see her!

I’m glad I’m starting tomorrow with Ana.  One thing I’ve noticed is how the Spanish are so hospitable and kind– calling me cariño, niña, hija.  The mom of the Spanish couple immediately allowed me to walk with them this morning, made me feel welcome, and then wasn’t faed when I found other friends.  I’ve learned a smile and hello0 a really easy way to make friends here.

Eleonra and I talked a while about all sorts of things in this PERFECT albergue.  This albergue.  My GOD.  First off, I have a lower bunk, so I’m not struggling to climb up to the top with my dead legs.  (I usually get the top bunk because I appear “young” so they put me on top.  What they don’t know is that most of the retirees are in much better shape than I am…)  HOT showers.  Clean dining and kitchen spaces.  Lot’s of room, lot’s of light.  A whole area of comfortable couches.  Really nice and thoughtful staff.  Tapas to welcome you in.  AND A MASSAGE MACHINE.  I REPEAT, THEY HAD A LEG MASSAGE MACHINE.  I’ll get to that in a second.  Last night, when 90 of us were sleeping in one room, and there was only one window for ventilation– OMG I WAS DYING.  This is a ginormous step up.  Also, I need to be a lot more grateful when I stay in hotels from now on….

Tonight, Rossana, another Italian girl, made a typical Roman pasta for dinner.  It was delicious and exactly what I needed.  I ate dinner with Rossana, Eleonora, Ana, Rosario who’s a girl from Argentina, and another older Spanish woman.  We talked in Spanish and half Italian and just tried to find some commonplace.  What a cool experience, all of us coming from different parts of the world.  We talked about how we were all women doing this Camino alone.  Que valientes!  It’s funny because you don’t see a lot of men doing it alone.  And those who do, like the American college guys, stick in their own group and don’t talk to anyone else.  I’m SO glad I’ve met people from all over the world.  Eleonora said to me, wow, you’re so brave for traveling alone at your age!  (She’s 35, but honestly she could pass for 22.  I found out tonight she is an ex-officer of the Italian Navy sooo she’s pretty badass.)  I feel very empowered.  I’m proud of myself.  Eleonora and I also talked at length about American things she loves since she was stationed in the US for some years.  She loves American patriotism, coffee, the Super Bowl, rodeos (she was stationed in Corpus Christi, TX, go figure), country music, Chinese food, etc.  I love hanging out with her.  We got the 2 euro leg massages together.  I mean, my legs feel 328910832910X better.  When Eleonora’s started, she yelled out Mama Mia!  Not ironically. I still haven’t been able to stop giggling about it.

Day 10

Long day, but nothing terribly interesting.  Actually, kind of a boring day. Started off with Eleonora and Ana and we talked about all sorts of things, like health and school and our lives in our 3 respective countries (US, Italy, Spain).  Got my normal lunch- bocadillo sandwich with tomato and cheese.  The last 3 km before Belorado I had to poop my brains out and there was no bathroom in sight.  It was the longest 30 minutes of my entire life.  Got to Belorado, pooped, felt infinitely better.  Ana had met another Spanish friend and they decided they were going to keep going.  So I decided to keep going.  I walked 7 more km to total about 34.  I have no clue what little neighborhood I’m in now.  This albergue has only 7 beds.  Kevin from Canada, Shannon from Australia and her mom are here.  They’re really fast walkers and attack each day intensely so I’m proud of myself for arriving with them!  The afternoon was perfect– we just drank beer and sat on the patio in the sun.  Now too bed.

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Bliss in a cup, let me tell you

Day 11

Today was okay, a lot of it alone.  I’m starting to get a little sick of just being in my own head all the time.  Some of it was spent with Judit, another girl from Barcelona.  I have a feeling Eleonora has maybe gone on to Burgos, and I won’t see her, which makes me really sad.  Today at the albergue in Atapuerca, I found Shannon, Kevin, Ann, and the other American boys who have been hanging out together.

It hit me today how the Camino has been so beautiful and memorable and formative.  I wish I could capture those little moments while I’m walking, the sensations of the Camino.  The waving wheat, the Spanish sun, the breeze, beautiful views, and of course, the road.

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Walking through the famous La Rioja wine region of Spain means days of walking through red vineyards
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Judit and I stopped in Agés on the way to Atapuerca for a quick beer
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We stopped again to play in this field. We’re never in too much of a hurry to not be able to stop and smell the roses!

Tomorrow I go to Burgos, my last day.  I’m kind of ready for it to be over.  I think I’m homesick.  I think I’m a little traveled out.  Travels are engaging and eye-opening alone, but I do wish I had some people I love with me as well.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been home…

Tomorrow is only 19 km, so it’ll be a short day.  I’m going to have a quick lunch, shower, do laundry, see the famous cathedral, eat dinner.  I hope I see some of the friends I’ve made in Burgos for the last time.

Day 12

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I MADE IT!!

I can’t believe  I’m here at the train station waiting to go back to Madrid.  I absolutely wish I could do the whole Camino, with better gear though.  I got to the train station an hour early (I was ready early for once!  This Camino schedule has made me the ultimate morning person).  There was a guy sitting down and he started talking to me.  He saw the shell on my backpack and he too was a peregrino.  He’s French and doesn’t speak much English, but invited me to sit next to him.  Now we’re waiting together.  I know I’ll stay connected with the Camino for a long time.

So many things happened on my last day.  The walk was nice in the morning, going over a mini mountain, but then got boring through the industrial Burgos. Yuck.

I found Eleonora in the albergue!!  It was quite the reunion.  We spent the afternoon together.  We went to the cathedral and it was predictably stunning.  A mass was happening in the main chapel and masses only happen there 4 times a year.  Talk about about lucking out. The cathedral was made of a white stone and was unlike the other dark, suffocating, gloomy cathedrals I’ve seen in Spain.  However, there was a lot of  paintings with lot’s of blood and suffering in this one…

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Eleonora and I, happy to have one last day together

While Eleonora was showering, I sat and was going to journal for a bit with a beautiful view of the Cathedral.  Ted was walking by and we started chatting and he came back and sat next to me.  We talked about so much- religion….

DETOUR.  I’m in quite the mood right now because I made a mistake and bought a train ticket for next Thursday instead of today.  I’m such an idiot.  I cried at the ticket station and the guy helped me change to a later train for just 15 euro, thank GOD.

Anyways, yes Ted and I talked about a lot.  He asked if I was homesick and I said no, that being in Europe and traveling has been amazing.  He told me to never let travel get away from me.  That I shouldn’t let 10 years go by without a big trip.  He told me he was glad that I felt unfulfilled here and not necessarily ready to come home because that means I’ll be quick to go back abroad.  We talked about the Camino and the people we’ve met.  It’s been so easy to meet people here because everyone is so warm and kind.  Everyone has a sense of humility– they’ve left home with only their pack on their back and are seeking to spend time walking, meeting people along the way, and finding themselves.  I told Ted I’m going to miss the ease of conversation and friendship, that at home I tend to get some anxiety in social situations.  He told me I can do it outside of the Camino.  You just have to start the conversation, get through that first layer.  Eleonora and I talked about how we both like hanging out with people older than us because they’re willing to be vulnerable.  Whereas people our age put on a mask, try to be cool.  Older people are more experienced, more settled in their opinions, so they don’t feel like they have to conceal them.  And those on the Camino may have their own opinions but they want to listen and learn from others as well.  I think it’s important I stay vulnerable and willing to open up to strangers.

I know I said I was ready for the end of the Camino, but I was so happy yesterday!  Eleonora and I spent the afternoon walking around the city.   We winded around the criss-crossing cobblestone streets. We hiked up to see the remnants of an old medieval fort and then had a beer in the sunny plaza.  Eleonora told me about how she had met a beautiful girl doing the Camino a few days previous.  She wasn’t doing so well health-wise; it sounded like she had asthma.  But there was a film crew following her.  It turned out she had a terminal disease and wanted to document the one last thing she was going to do, that she could do, alone.  The story brought me to tears and showed me how meaningful something as simple as walking can be, how this experience doesn’t just have to end even though I’m leaving.

It was hard to say goodbye to Roxie last night.  She’s been like more than a mom to me and has been so selfless with me.  We started crying as we said goodbye.  She told me she wishes she could meet my parents and tell them they did a good job raising me.  She told me not to be afraid– every new city is an adventure.  Just a few nights ago, I was writing about how I was afraid of my move to Milwaukee.  I needed to hear that from Roxie.  And just like that, when you ask, the Camino answers.

On the train back to Madrid.  I looked out as we were leaving and saw the nearby road scattered with peregrinos.  The train conductor choo-chooed at them!  I know I will return.  Buen camino!

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