It has been several months since I completed the Camino Frances and there hasn’t been a day since when I don’t think about that journey.
I especially thought about it this morning when I decided to walk to work instead of driving the 3 1/2 miles through a thriving community.
It was a cool, sunny morning with the town waking up and get their day started. Familiar sights were abound — college students biking to campus to take their finals, people waiting for the bus to bring them to campus or to work, and many vehicles passing me by. I walked by the people waiting for the bus and wondered, “why don’t they just walk?” Oh silly me, I’m the weirdo who would rather walk than take public transportation.
Before leaving my apartment, I put on my trusty backpack. I had a moment of realization that I’m oddly attached to it. I don’t always use it but I know where it is at all times. Right now, as I write this, it is sitting 2 feet away from me. I will leave it alone today, locked in my office, where it will be safe and sound.
Today my pack was filled with a laptop, work papers, lunch, and extra pair of shoes (of course). It was almost as heavy as when I used it to carry clothing and essentials in Spain. Adjusting the straps and getting it just right was a familiar feeling.
The ritual of waking up, getting dressed, eating a light breakfast, and putting on my pack was enough to transport me back to Spain. Although, this time the end of my journey this morning would be my office and I wouldn’t be logging 25 kilometers.
Walking, to me, not only provides much needed exercise by a chance to clear my head and think about the day ahead of me. Some people prefer a good run. I prefer a good walk.
When I was walking the Camino, I had several moments of deja vu. Upon reflecting back on The Way, I can pinpoint when I either felt I had been in a particular place before or I was in the right place at the right time. I’m not usually cognizant of these feelings but during my trip, I was profoundly aware of them.
I’ve always felt that my entire life has been a journey of sorts. I’ve lived in several places and worked in several jobs. And along my life’s journey, I have always felt I met certain people for a reason — like I’m supposed to know these people and stay in touch with them. Or I learned valuable things from them to take with me to my next stop.
And walking the Camino … this was just another part of my life’s journey. I was supposed to be there and meet many different people from all walks of life.
I still haven’t figured out the specific “purpose” of my Camino. Maybe it was to “find” myself, but I like to think I already know who I am. Or perhaps I needed a challenge and confidence boost. That seems more likely than anything.
However, what I know is that I am currently working in a place and in a job where I feel I’m in the right place at the right time. Maybe the walk this morning helped me realize this.
What I do know for sure is when I got to my office this morning, I had an overwhelming feeling of “I needed that.” I needed a good morning walk to clear my head and get prepared for work.
My camino continues.
I posted many (many!!) photos on Facebook and Instagram, but here's a gallery of even more photos of the trip.
So, I've been home for a week. In my first few days back home, I was thrust back into daily family life - work, doctor appointments, sick kids, making dinner, grocery shopping, etc. At one point, when I was sitting in a dentist chair having a crown placed on a molar, I wished I was back in Spain walking 25 km. Because that would have been easier to endure than a dentist drilling and chipping away at a tooth.
I've had some time to think about the Camino and what it actually meant to me, but at this point it is hard to verbalize any meaning of the trip. There were times during the walk when I questioned why I was doing it. Those were low moments when I was physically exhausted. But those moments were often met with something unexpected - a chance to meet new people or catch up with those you met a few days before. It was at these moments when I felt more at ease with my decision to do this journey.
Before my trip, I had some expectations but I mostly went into the trip with an open mind. I really did not know what to expect. The first step out the door on day 1 was probably the hardest, and I didn't expect that. I looked ahead at the trail marked with yellow arrows with wonderment -- I'm really supposed to follow this? All the way to Santiago? Well, ok then. Here goes nothing.
I expected to meet many people along the way but I didn't expect them to have a lasting impression on me. I wrote about Camino Families in a previous post and I certainly had my own family (Gayre and Esther), but there were many others along the way that I looked for as I was walking. Even in the last 100km, when the trail became more crowded with pilgrims, I was always happy to see those I had met before entering Galicia. It was a especially great to see them at the end in Santiago either staring up at the great Cathedral or waiting in line at the pilgrim office where we received our compostela. It meant that they made it.
For most of the trip, I felt like a fish out of water. I didn't know the language. I was way out of my comfort zone (it was like I was on Mars). And there were so many times I just didn't know what to do or how to proceed. But ... something in me (whatever it is) got me through this. I still don't think it's called bravery but more like fortitude. Whenever I'm in a situation where I feel overwhelmed by the experience, I think of something my great-aunt Jean said to me on the day of my mother's funeral, "You will get through this. You're my niece."
Sure enough, I completed the journey and made it back home in one piece. It took strength and guts (and a little insanity) to leave my family for 3 weeks and do this but nothing can describe the joy of seeing my family at the airport.
I was ready to come home and that first step back through the door was the easiest to make.
I had many plans for this week after I reached Santiago. My first plan was to walk from Sanitago to Finisterre, but since I lengthened my walk to Sanitago, it took away time from walking to Finisterre (usually done in 3 days, but I was looking to do it in 4). After scraping that plan, I decided that I would walk from Finisterre to Muxia, another town 29 km up the coast.
I reached Sanitago, and as pleased and relieved as I was to be there, it didn’t feel like the end. Honestly, it was a little anti-climatic. We reached the outer city limits and worked our way 4 more kilometers to the Cathedral. Once we got there, it was busy with pilgrims and tourists. So busy, in fact, it was hard to maneuver through the crowd and figure out where to go and what to do. After asking for directions, we headed to the pilgrim office to receive our certificate of completion. Standing on tired feet, we waited in line for 90 minutes to have our names written in Latin on a piece of parchment paper saying we completed the Camino. My Latin name is Marcellum in case anyone wants to know. Please don’t call me that.
However, the best part of the day was a long lunch afterwards and then relaxing the rest of the day. The Cathedral is a magnificent sight, to be sure, but all I wanted to do was rest.
The next morning, I boarded a bus to Finisterre. After arriving, I followed a path out to the lighthouse, the point where they used to call “the end of the earth.” You know, back before they knew the world was round. Where Santiago didn’t feel like the trek was complete, Finisterre did. The area is a lot like the island where I live with my family. It felt like home -- I got the same whiff of ocean smells and walked along a landscape dotted with evergreen trees. Out at the lighthouse is a Camino marker showing “0,0 km.” I knew at that point I didn’t need to walk to Muxia. It was time to concentrate on resting and coming home. My feet have had enough walking for now.
While I would like to visit Muxia someday, I don’t think this is the trip to do so. I needed a few days of relaxing by the sea in Finisterre before heading home to my family. I will continue to walk and may even do part of the Camino again. But for now, I will walk without my heavy backpack.
I will walk at home through my own forests of evergreen trees and with ocean breezes to my back.
The reasons people walk the camino are as vast and diverse as the pilgrims themselves. Since I’ve been walking, I’ve heard of many reasons people walk The Way. When you commit to walking such a far distance, you need to have a reason.
Of course, there are the fitness gurus who wanted a challenge or those who just wanted to see the Spanish countryside.
However, for some it’s purely spiritual. I met two Chilean priests who were walking the Camino for personal reflection. I came across other religious persons, a monk from Poland and a nun (from?) who are also using the Camino for a time of spiritual reflection.
Then I heard of a couple who started in St. Jean. When asked why they are walking, they mentioned the movie, The Way with Martin Sheen. The question to them was, why walk based on a movie? Well, it turns out their son had died 5 years before and the movie really resonated with them.
I think the death of a loved one is a common reason people walk The Way. This could be the death of a parent, spouse, child, or friend. In a strange way, walking gives you time to grieve and it seems like a perfect way to deal with death.
I, myself, seem to have several reasons for walking the Camino. I am walking for both Joe and I, since he cannot physically do so, but it’s much more than that. We’ve been through a lot in our first 16 years of marriage -- deaths of my mom, stepfather, grandmother, and grandfather; health issues for both of us; constantly moving for school/work. We reached a point last year where we just wanted to stop moving and picked a lovely place to live. I need this time in Spain to reflect on my life; but I also wanted to challenge myself. This Camino has been a challenge to be sure, both physically and mentally. Physically, I’m not the most fit person on the planet and some of the days were harder than others. Mentally, it’s a challenge to get up every day, pack up your things and walk 20-25 km. There are times when you just want to take a car, bus, or train to the next town. Why walk? And I’m in a country where not many people speak English and I speak very little Spanish. I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself and have gotten completely out of my comfort zone, which is good.
So, everyone has a different reason to walk The Way and doing this takes a special person. Should you want to do this in the future, you need to find your own reason for embarking on the journey, even if it is as simple as just meeting different people from around the world and seeing Spain.
It’s your journey. Your Way.
At this stage, for pilgrims who have been walking for days (not the ones who started in Galicia) have what I call, “the pilgrim shuffle.” When you get to the albergue for the evening, pilgrims can be seen taking off their shoes and hobbling around in flip flops or some other easy-to-wear shoe. They often hobble or shuffle around the albergue and town. This often due to foot pain (me) or blisters or a combination of both. Some of us have knee or muscle pain that makes the shuffling look even funnier.
I’m sure I look like an old woman walking around the albergue. Each day I try to rest as much as possible during the afternoon, especially after I’ve eaten a lovely meal. This gives my feet and legs a nice rest. But when you let your feet rest for a short amount of time, walking on them can be painful. It’s really annoying, actually. I end up doing the shuffle to the bathroom or to the laundry room. It’s kind of like my feet are telling me they're done for the day. No more walking, please.
I’ve seen people with injuries at this late stage who are hobbling to the finish line (Santiago). People with ankle or knee injuries are relying on their trekking poles to get them to Santiago. They move slow on the trail but still keep going. What makes us do this? Most people would cry “uncle” and say they’ve had enough. But these pilgrims are weathering pain and discomfort in order to make it a few more kilometers to their goal of Santiago.
Heck, I’m in pain most of the time I’m walking. I broke my right foot back in college and it never really healed. So, it reminds me each day that it hurts. And my right knee, which had some pain before Spain, is now hurting with each step.
But… Even though I have pain, I can work through it. Joe has constant pain each day and I think of him with each step I take. This is how he must feel each day. But he gets up every day. He moves around. He does stuff around the house. He takes care of the kids.
So, I get up each day and walk the 20-25 km to my next destination.
This is for Joe.
At home I have a different schedule each day. Some days are busier than others, depending on what appointments I have or what I’m doing. I generally wake up around 7:00, have a relaxing breakfast and then work on various projects after which I make dinner and go to bed around 10:00.
Here, my schedule is the same each day. I’d say this is the pilgrim schedule. Our only worries right now are to wake up, pack our bags, walk a long time, find a place to sleep, shower, eat, and go to bed. If the town is big, then you may walk around and explore the sites. It’s an easy schedule. My only concern of late are my feet and legs. Will I be able to make it to the next stop?
What the Camino has done to me, however, is turn me into a morning person. Joe likes to joke about me in the morning – “Don’t wake the sleeping bear.” Yeah, I can be a little grouchy in the morning, especially before I’ve had coffee. I have never been one to be all chipper and happy-go-lucky when I wake up.
But here, in Spain? Well, considering I’m in bed by 9:30 and awake around 5:30/6:00, I have turned into a bit of a morning person. Ok, so I’m not a ball of sunshine, but I’m awake and not growling at anyone (even after hearing snoring all night). Walking the Camino, you have a routine, especially in the morning. Normally, you don’t wait around to get going. You’re up, brushing your teeth, putting away your sleeping bag, and packing your bag. Sometimes you get breakfast at the albergue. Other times, you get breakfast on the road. Mornings are quick here. Wake up and get going.
I have 4 days left until Santiago. That’s 4 more days of this schedule. Of course, I’m headed out to the Finnisterre, but that jaunt will be slightly different (will include a bus ride).
Whether or not I will remain a morning person after I get home is uncertain. I’m sure Joe would like help in the morning with the cats and kids. However, part of me just might go back to my regular schedule.
Don’t wake the sleeping bear.
If anything, the movie, The Way with Martin Sheen, highlighted the formation of “Camino Families” or at the very least, “Camino Friendships.”
There are a lot of people each year who walk the Camino alone or maybe they have a friend that they brought along with them for this adventure. You don’t see big packs of people doing the Camino together. However, you do see the formation of Camino Families.
I, myself, have found a family of sorts. There’s Gayre, a Brazilian who lives in California and Esther, a Spanish woman from Burgos. Each of us chose to do the Camino alone and the first day, Gayre and Esther became friends. The second day, I joined their family. This isn’t something I expected. I expected to walk alone, talk to people when I wanted to (I have a little bit of introvert tendencies), and pretty much keep to myself. But after the first day, I knew I needed more than to be alone. I needed friends.
Even though Gayre has fallen behind Esther and I, we are still in contact with her and hope she can catch up to us. Esther speaks some English and I speak hardly any Spanish, but some how we communicate. And laugh together. Esther is looking for an American boyfriend, if anyone knows one that's available. She’s pretty and has great taste in music.
Last night, I was separated from Esther because I just didn’t have the stamina to make it to the next town. But it gave me a chance to see other Camino families in action. My favorite so far is a group of men (3-4 or so) who I know nothing about, but can tell from their lively conversations and excitement over dinner that they truly enjoy each other’s company. They danced around taking pictures of one of the men making dinner for all of them. It was a lovely sight to see.
There are other groups/families that have formed over the trek. Some are just a couple of people who started walking together at the beginning.
At this point, I feel as though we are a herd of people headed to Santiago. Most of us are stopping in the same towns along the way. I see familiar faces everyday in cafes or albergues. For some I know their names, but others I don’t. However, it doesn’t matter. In an odd way, we’ve become an even bigger Camino Family, or an extended one at that. We share the same aches and pains (feet, legs, back), but we always greet each other with a smile.
This is quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Walking the Camino is like running a marathon each day. Sure, less mileage than a marathon (each day) but remember you are carrying a backpack, which seems to get heavier with every step.
I’ve had open heart surgery. The recovery for that is painful. More than I thought it would be. But you heal and get stronger. I’ve given birth. That was easy in comparison.
I'm not complaining. I promised I wouldn’t complain too much about the sore legs and feet. In all actuality, I’m very happy to be doing this. During my trek today, I reminded myself of what my cross country coach used to say to me – “Just a walk in the park.” Of course, he was referring to running, but the saying applies to this adventure as well.
It is just a walk in the park, so-to-speak. I’ve traveled through farm country where you see fields of corn and potatoes and breathe in the fresh country smell of cows grazing in the field. I’ve walked through cities, but the best part is leaving the city in the early morning before it has woken up. It’s peaceful. Today’s journey was through vineyards. I so wanted to pick some grapes since it is almost harvest time.
Spain is a lovely country with a rich history that shines through as you are walking in and out of cities and villages. You see evidence of the Roman Empire along with buildings built centuries before, some of which look like if you lean on them, they’ll fall down. I walked past a rather worn down building in a small town outside of Ponferrada that was for sale. It looked like no one has lived there in a 100 years and was in need of some serious tuck pointing and glass windows since all it had were wooden shutters. Talk about a fixer upper.
I tend to notice weird things along the way. For instance, I’ve seen a cat every day. Maybe my own 2 cats let their Spanish family members know that I’m on the trail. Thanks, Sylvester and Dexter!
Tomorrow, I will wake up. Eat breakfast. Walk. Shower. Sleep.
It's been a long week so far. Traveled many kilometers. Have tired feet. Sore legs. Sore upper back. In fact, my whole body is wondering why I'm out here doing this. Even though I spent the last few months training for it, I wasn't entirely prepared for the stress this walk puts on you both mentally and physically. Yesterday I saw a rock where someone wrote (in English, no less), "My feet hate me." Yes, the probably do. I'm sure my feet hate me, too.
Since I arrived in Leon, I've met many people from around the world. There is a language barrier usually, but you can still communicate or at least get the gist of conversations. I had the pleasure of walking a few days with a Spanish woman and a Brazillian woman, who lives in California and can help translate things for me.
Up until today, the weather was not on our side. Wind in our faces. Cold temperatures. Rainy/wet weather. It's been rough. Yesterday, we walked the last 6 km uphill. Our destination in the mountains was a welcome sight. All I wanted was a bed and some hot food. Thankfully, that's what I got. Now, the weather will be better -- warmer, sunnier. Perhaps it will get easier to walk.
Part of today's stop was at Cruz Ferro, an ancient monument at the highest point in the Camino. Pilgrims bring a small stone to throw on the pile. It is believed this act lessens your burdens. I dedicated my small white stone that I carried from our home on Whidbey to Joe. I'm not a religious person any more (this might be shocking to some), but I am spiritual. Seeing this ancient monument is a moving experience, even for those of us who aren't Catholic or attend church. Everything leading up to that moment, I knew I was in the right place at the right time. The people I've met along the way so far, I was supposed to meet them and have felt I've met them before.
Even though I wonder each day if I'll be able to make it to the next stop, I magically find the drive to do so. It isn't easy. Today the terrain was rough (rocks, stones on the trail going downhill) but tomorrow it's relatively flat.
I can do it.
I wear many hats. First, I'm a wife to an amazing husband, Joe. Second, I'm a mom to 2 incredible children, Caitlynn and Miles. Professionally speaking, I am a chef, dietitian, and writer working as an instructor in Hospitality Management at Montana State University in Bozeman.
Photos: See Instagram