Lessons Learned

There are a lot of things I will miss about Spain and the Camino. It’s beauty, most of all. The passion of the people. The language. The lack of “take out,” encouraging a chance to sit and stay awhile. Siesta: a daily embrace of rest. Paper tablecloths as a welcome. Fabulous cafe con leche. Great wine. Hearing five different languages over breakfast. Cheap accommodations. Churches, churches and more churches. Bridges built by the Romans. Bread.

What I won’t miss? Incredibly slow service. A single waitress for a full restaurant. Terrible WiFi. So far from my family. Narrow roads. Smokers. Timer bathroom lights that last 20 seconds or less. No peanut butter anywhere. A different bed every night. Travel stress. Push button toilets. Hand showers. Plastic covered mattresses. The endless search for water. Bread.

Have I told you I’ve learned a lot? The pilgrims say that your Camino starts when you get home. I guess I’ll have some lessons there too. But for now…

Lessons from the Camino:

  • Walk your pace. There’s always someone faster. That’s okay. Walk your pace.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing your best. So is everyone else.
  • Appreciate your body.
  • Get over yourself. You are not the end all be all. At the same time, you are everything.
  • A little Spanish goes a long, long way. Show people you respect them and their culture.
  • Some people want to be quiet. Let them.
  • First impressions aren’t always right.
  • You gotta walk through some bad to get to the good.
  • The good stuff takes time. You have to put some time in to reap the rewards.
  • Patience. You have to wait. It’s okay. The world is not on your clock.
  • You gotta give a little to get a little.
  • The mind gives up long before the body.
  • You get by with a little help from your friends. Thank you friends for keeping the home fires burning.
  • Your journey does not belong to someone else. No one can walk it for you.
  • If you want to do the Camino, make sure Marci is available. You’ll want to go with her.
  • There’s no place like home.

Thank you to everyone for the comments and the messages of support. Thank you for your cheerleading even though I know you often wondered what the hell we were doing. Thank you for sending notes of support on our darkest days. Thank you for inspiring us and letting us know you will be there for us when we come home. Thanks for the poems, the photos, the prayers and all the love.

The sun has set.

See you in a few days.


Spain by the Numbers

This morning started off rainy and sad. We were thinking about Jaime and not feeling very inspired as a result. Today we walked to Finisterre, the “end of the world” according to the early pilgrims. Everyone is talking about their plans for this last week, meeting up one last time. and of course, going home. It feels utterly surreal.

We didn’t know how long it would take us to walk to Santiago, and we built in some rest days which we didn’t wind up using. So now we find ourselves with a couple of extra days at the end of our trip to take in the coast. We day hiked to the light house here, which is stunningly beautiful. Lucky for us, the sun was shining.

It’s odd to not to be with the same people we have walked with for so long and to be out of the Camino routine. We have found ourselves really wanting to go home and hug our families tightly.

We have a room that overlooks the ocean, amazing by our recent standards. It’s a good time to think about transitioning back to our lives and stepping out of our walking shoes.

But it’s hard. Its hard to stop, to slow down, to not have to keep moving. We’ve thinking about doing the walk from Finisterre to Muxia with friends, which runs along the coast line.

Just for shits and giggles, here is a recap of Spain by the numbers:

Bathrooms I have used: 122 and adding

Pilgrims I have met: at least 100

Oldest person I’ve met: 77 although have seen older

Youngest: 13 although have seen babies.

Number of cafe con leches I’ve consumed: about 41

Countries represented: 15 at last count, there are more

Shirts I have worn: 2

Pairs of shoes I have worn to walk: 1

Blisters: 0 (BTW, this is amazing. I am so grateful. Marci has only had a couple. So many people here have really suffered with these).

Beds I’ve slept in: 32

Days of rain: 2. And only mild.

Average temperature: Around 65 or 70. Nice to walk in.

Times I’ve worn the shorts I brought: 2

Times I’ve worn the down jacket I purchased in LogroƱo: 20 plus

Times I have seen a pilgrim get upset or irritated: 0

Times I have fought with Marci: 0

Times a day I think about going home, and missing my people: about a gazillion.

Times I imagine the moment I will see them and play it over and over again in my mind: roughly a gazillion.

Slowing down takes a conscious effort. We met a man from Denmark who was insisting I come back and do the Norte route. Did you know there are many Camino routes? The Norte comes up from Portugal. Asking me to walk that is a little like asking me to get pregnant again while I’m still lying in a hospital bed after giving birth. Not gonna happen. Well, maybe. But if I come back I want to be with my husband. I’m tired. I miss him.

I am planning on doing some writing and walking these last days to help me get ready to go home. I want to write the things I will miss and the things I have learned.

How often in life do I get a chance to do that?

I hope that I can use this time in the best way possible. To honor this opportunity. To honor a friend whom we all wish had had more time.

At the lighthouse, people have left a variety of objects. Boots, sweatshirts, stones with names. Some even burn things like walking sticks. We will walk back there today.

What can I leave behind that I no longer need?

What can you?

A Miracle and Dinner with A Star

Have you ever heard a really good story? Here you hear them every day. Multiple ones. We had dinner with our dear friend Mike. He leaves tomorrow to go home so we won’t see him again. It was a bittersweet goodbye over wine, steak and delicious greens.

Mike is somewhat of a legend here on our camino. He writes his own Facebook blog every day with his adventures and stories of miracles. Everyone knows him. We felt so happy to get to have dinner with him on his last night of the camino. It was a very special night spent laughing, crying and enjoying a lovely meal.

Now, Mike will tell you the last thing he is is a superstar. He’s very human like the rest of us. But we spent the evening sharing stories. Ones we have been a part of and ones we have heard about.

A sampling includes:

  • The 81 year old whose shoes were two sizes two small who outpaces others half his age.
  • The Russian who carries a rucksack weighing 22 kilos including a tent.
  • The 77 year old grandmother walking with her 13 year old grandson.
  • The dad who is walking with each of his 3 daughters in 3 separate segments.
  • The family with a two year old and 5 week old baby.
  • The man who tattooed a Camino shell on his hand to remind himself every day that he needed to walk it over his 70th birthday.
  • The many who carry instruments, large and small, to inspire pilgrims on the way.
  • The elderly Spanish couple who are spending their last years baking and providing food and a bathroom to pilgrims.
  • The young volunteers from Virginia who offered “free hugs” and gave me a lifeline on a really bad day.
  • The nuns who devote their lives to nurturing pilgrims through music and prayer.
  • The woman who pushed her adult daughter in a wheelchair.
  • The man who carried his wife’s pack on the front of his body and his own on his back.
  • The many, many pilgrims who walk in silence, carrying tokens of loved ones.

I have to say a special thank you to our friend Mike. He always showed up when I needed him, distracting me from my sore knees and providing both a laugh and something to think about. I know I’ll always have a home here.

I have to tell you something else. When we were back in Burgos around kilometer 100, we went to a physical therapist. She gave me a great massage to my knee, gave me a knee support and some arnica and other therapies. She told me I needed to take a minimum of two days off. But she did something else. She told me that if I completed the Camino on my knee, it would be a “milagro” or miracle. She waved her finger at me, literally.

This absolutely crushed me at the time. I felt I had failed. I couldn’t write about it. I felt raw, like an open wound. When Marci and I went back to our auberge, we had to regroup. We decided to hell with it, we were gonna keep going.

The next day, we walked 19 miles.

I won’t say my knee hasn’t hurt since then. It has. But it has gotten slowly better. A good friend told me once that the body accepts what is and moves on. It’s true.

Sometimes you have to make a game time decision. At that moment, you have to decide what’s best for you in the face of what others think. You don’t know the future, but you feel it. I only know that I decided to walk anyway. But that’s like life isn’t it? I have seen things. Incredible things, things that you can’t imagine were possible. I have gone beyond my own expectations. I have forged past my limitations. I know that’s in me now.

It’s in you, too. I guarantee it.

What is possible?

What is your miracle? What can be?

Update…We found out late last night that our friend Jaime died. I won’t say she lost her battle with cancer because that would imply she didn’t fight hard enough, and she was an absolute warrior. Jaime was an early and ardent supporter of this journey. She deeply wanted to do the Camino one day. It’s not lost on me that her journey on earth ended the same day as our journey to Santiago. I didn’t know her well enough to tell her story here, but she has one, a miraculous one, written now in the Book of Life.

Remember her today.

First and Last Impressions

There’s a man we have been walking with for quite some time now on the Camino. We’ve seen him on and off in different towns. Most notably about him: his very short shorts. Also, his propensity toward close talking is a little off-putting. Sadly, we often tried to avoid him.

But last night, as we checked into our casa, we noted he was staying in the same place. I turned to Marci and said, “there is a lesson here for us.” Sure enough, in the morning, he invited us to sit with him for breakfast. As we ate our tostadas and sipped our cafe con leche, he was so incredibly warm and gracious. In our best Spanish (he’s from Argentina), we learned that he has 4 children, he’s still in love with his wife of 35 years, he did the Camino 15 years ago by bike and that he loves being a grandfather. He wanted to come back to walk the Camino instead of riding. He wanted to form friendships, and slow down. What a cool guy. My first impression was way off.

Then we asked him, why did he want to do the Camino in the first place? What did he want to express? And he answered in crystal clear English, with hands raised in the air, “Thank you for my life.” We’ve asked a lot of people this question. But that was the most beautiful answer we had received.

Later, Marci and I walked into the square at the Santiago Cathedral. Thousands upon thousands of pilgrims have done the same over thousands of years. The far off sight of the spires of the cathedral are truly awe inspiring. I can only imagine how early pilgrims must have felt, not having benefited from frequent hostels, direction arrows and oh yeah-food.

We attended Pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral at noon, surrounded by hundreds of other emotional pilgrims. During the mass, multiple men pull down a large urn of incense called botofumeiro and swing it high into the belly of the cathedral. All pilgrims know and savor the moment. You are never guaranteed that it will happen when you arrive. It’s a special and frequently unscheduled occurrence.

Feeling raw emotionally, I stood in line for communion. I haven’t received communion in a long time but I wanted to for my mom and dad. As other pilgrims took their turn in front of me, I heard my father’s voice. Mind you, I haven’t heard it in 25 years. But there it was. He said, “You’re welcome.”

At first I didn’t understand. Then I remembered my Argentinian friends words. “Thank you for my life.” I was completely overwhelmed and almost couldn’t step forward. It was my Camino moment. It became so clear to me.

I have come here to say thank you.

For my life.

My mother and father gave me life. My husband and I have given life to two beautiful girls. And I have given myself the fortunate life I lead.

Going forward, I’d like to live my life in the form of the best thank thank you card I ever got. With sincerity, grace, positivity and creativity.

I can’t really express the incredible whirlwind of poignant emotions I’ve felt today.

What are you thankful for?

How will you write the thank you card for your life?

The Best Laid Plans

Making a plan before you come on the Camino is often much like making a birth plan before you deliver a baby: utterly useless. Before I left, I scoured online forums, met with friends, read blogs and made Pinterest boards. I researched packing lists, places to stay, types of fabrics, Spanish food, you name it. But the Way has a way of throwing things at you that the best laid plans can’t prepare you for. That is it’s job.

For example, you’d think that 16-18 miles a day of walking would promote weight loss. Nope. Cookies, croissants, bread and cheese do their part to counteract these effects. You might also think that after 30 days of walking, your body would get used to it. Maybe even have less aches and pains. Well I’m stronger for sure. But no, not used to it.

You would think that after pouring over hundreds of lists and a few last minute panic buys that I would have a completely dialed in backpack. Nope. It’s still heavy as hell, despite being my best friend.

You might be inclined to believe that by this point in time, some revelations would be made clear and you would have some solid answers to life’s enduring questions. Um, I’ve still got a little time. I’ll solve the world’s problems soon.

Also, it turns out that six weeks is a really long time. And 500 miles is a really long way. Still, I’m grateful for every step and every moment.

I also thought that now, less than 20 kilometers from the end, I’d be thrilled. I am, but I’m scared too. How will I be able to stop walking? How will I say goodbye to my new friends? How will I bring home the Camino to my family in a way that honors both her and them? How will I get moving in the morning without a song and dance from Marci?

Maybe, in committing to a challenge, we get more questions than answers. Maybe those questions really are the stuff of life.

Maybe the answers aren’t really any of our business.

What’s your plan?

Welcome to the Show

Walking on the Camino, day after day, you come across the same smelly thing. Over and over. On your shoes. Burning your eyes. Running down the hill. Welcome to the shitshow.

I am not criticizing. This is a hard working culture. They work the fields, they shear the sheep, they groom the horses and they herd the cattle. There are also donkeys, geese, dogs and cats roaming the countryside. But all these creatures poop. A lot. The towns we walked through today were particularly stinky. Whew. Rough.

The poo comes in all forms. There are splotches, splatters, smears, piles and puddles. They are mostly brown with some green hues. At times the poo is unavoidable. My shoes and socks are covered. You have to jump over it, scoot around it, navigate it and power through it. Your eyes water and you gag. Shit happens.

As far as people are concerned, many of you have been asking. Where do you pee? What do you do when nature calls? As far as peeing, men are definitely at an advantage here. They just go. Some don’t even bother to find a bush or shade. They just go ahead and pee. Right in front of you! Most of the time I’m sure it doesn’t even occur to them to be grateful for the good fortune of their anatomy.

For the women, it’s a trickier situation. We try to find a somewhat private spot. The next dilemma is, leave the backpack on or rip it off? Use paper or air dry? Sore knees? Squatting may not be a good idea.

Let’s face it. In Spain you don’t eat as many vegetables and you are eating a lot of bread and salty meats. You may, at times, be a little jealous of the cows. And that handsome Spanish guy you saw yesterday? Not so cute when you are the next to use the bathroom after him. I digress.

So? In conclusion, there can be some awkward moments. But I still stand by my body. I am amazed on a daily basis by what it can do, what it manages to deal with no matter what I throw at it. Or make it walk through. Or smell. My body asks me every single day, “Really? Now this shit?”

And then it sustains me yet again.

Here are a couple of my favorite shit related signs from the Camino:

My Favorite Camino Quotes

We have met lots of people here. All ages. All backgrounds. All countries. And so many of them have said things that have made me think, laugh and cry.

In no particular order, here are some of them:

Mike from the UK: I don’t know how I will be able to explain this to anyone back home. I don’t have the words and I’m a writer!

Paul from Germany: It took me this long to realize I already have everything I want.

Brad from Canada: I have been here 6 times. It keeps calling me back. It’s an addiction.

Paul from Ireland: I’m not the outdoorsy type and I’m completely fucked, but my heart is singing.

Sabrina from Paris: Most people start the Camino thinking that they are walking to the top of the iceberg but soon they know the bottom, underneath the water, is what comes first.

Spencer from Australia: I’m in love with a girl. Her name is Spain.

Brooke from Australia: Sometimes you have to be on your own. And also, you have to go slow.

Laura from Spain: The best medicine on the road in Spain is sangria and it’s magical effects.

Helmut: I come from Germany. I want to feel the way he feels who does the Way.

Talisa from Germany: My mother worries about me. She wants me to call every other day. This is okay.

Olga from Russia: I didn’t know my feet could hurt so much.

Unnamed woman from Portugal: I know I am, how you say? Portuguese? But Portugal is most beautiful Camino.

Ryan from US: You know, nature and shit.

Laurent from France: I only just met her but my only job is to make her smile (about a US woman he met on the Camino whose husband died last year).

Rafael from Germany: I am feeling adventurous now. I was once scared and afraid. Now I say, we go see the world!

Petra from the Netherlands: I just wake up and go go go. But I know how to rest good.

Nun from Spain: It’s the little things. You know, like a smile, a friend and knowing you go to the Father at last in the end.

Alex from Canada: I’ll never do this again. That’s for fucking sure.

Rebecca from Brazil: Its nothing I wanted and everything I needed.

Shawn from US: There’s no one I’d rather do this with than my mom. She’s awesome.

Domenico from Spain: Pray for me in Santiago! My name is Domenico!

Denise from US: I came here because I lost my purpose. People are so good here. Why can’t it always be like this?

Stefan from Austria: My friend told me to come here. Friends know what you need.

Leah from the US: You won’t believe how strong you will become.

I know there are more I’m forgetting. People say things here they wouldn’t say in the real world. But why not?

Why can’t we say it in the real world?

Can you?