My final wrap up for the Portuguese Camino and the whys behind the delay.

One step at a time…
Clueless that we were totally lost and still with that day 2, filled with encouragement and anticipation glow. Our “losts” did take us to some good spots though…
This is not a good place to be walking….
This is a very good place to be walking!

 

I’ve been home from my Portuguese Camino adventure for a long time,  close to 4 months, but have been slow in my final wrap up post, which I can’t dismiss with claims of  being too busy or uninspired.  Honestly, re-entries from big trips like the Camino, have become the hardest part of the journey for me and although my life  returned to a normal quite a while ago,  until I put my final thoughts into words, it feels like a little piece of me is still there.  And therein lies my excuse.  I guess I wasn’t quite ready to add the final period and close that chapter.

This post trip, slow re-entry behavior isn’t new for me,  although recently I’ve started taking notice of it as there definitely seems to be a pattern going on here, starting after my volunteer trip to Perú in 2009.  I realize that this is my wrap up post to a Portuguese trip, not a Peruvian one, but I feel like I’ve got to lay some ground work as to the beginnings of this odd re-entry pattern of mine.  So, here goes….

When I got home from my time in Perú,  I fell into the strange habit of getting up  in the middle of the night,  wandering into my closet,  putting on a heavy sweater, then crawling  back into my bed.  I was in a dream-like state when I’d do this so was always surprised the next morning to see that once again, I had added  unnecessary layers. It  wasn’t because I was cold, but rather, I wasn’t hot enough.  It was very hot when I was in Perú, and those who know me well,  know that I don’t love the heat.  So, in my nocturnal wanderings,  I was trying to recreate what I had felt in Perú, at least as far as my physical body was concerned.  This was the beginning of a pattern that has repeated itself with every big trip I’ve taken since, in one form or another.

My time in Perú was spent volunteering at a center for the poor and or abused elderly in a suburb outside of Lima.  Many of the women I friended were originally from the mountainous regions of Perú,  a much different climate from the coastal region where they now lived.  Regardless that they were in a climate that often rose into the high 90’s in the summer,  they continued to wear the clothing they had worn in the mountain climate, still, several decades later.  That, and a genuine fear of being cold for health and cultural reasons, had them dressing in multiple layers of sweaters and something I certainly had never seen before, 2 or even 3 long, wool skirts.  It’s just what they did and it became what I did as well, post trip.  This odd behavior continued off and on for a few weeks  and when it finally stopped, so did my dreams of being back in Perú.  I was relieved and sad at the same time.

There were many other trips after Perú that had this kind of effect on me, but none as much as my trip to Greece to volunteer in a Syrian refugee camp last summer. Upon my return home, for several nights,  I’d dream that I was in the camps, only not as a volunteer, but rather as a refugee.  The same people I volunteered with were in my dreams, but they didn’t seem to know who I was and as they’d all leave at the end of the day, I’d try to explain to anyone who would listen to me that I was one of THEM and not a refugee.  Of course in typical dream frustration,  I had a difficult time speaking and when I finally would find the words, they were never in the right language.  My  psyche  was working overtime and felt the need to tie up some loose ends with me before filing the experience away.   For weeks,   I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and out of breath.  The not being heard, or understood was very real.  I was beginning to understanding a tiny bit of what  the refugees were experiencing each and every day, by living out a small montage of it in my dreams.  Those nights were difficult and long for me, but ended up being the punctuation point on my experience.

My past two times walking the Camino, brought me the same type of experience in my dreams after returning home, and this past fall after was no different.  I would pace myself around parts of Portugal and Spain each and every night in my sleep, but never seemed to make any headway as I was either walking in circles or totally lost.  I’d wake up exhausted.  So although I had been home for a a few weeks, I had hardly closed the books on the trip, or at least in my dreams I hadn’t.  It was a tiring re-entry.   I think my psyche needs a vacation.  Without me.

I’ve learned after my time on the Camino that it is a journey not only of the physical body, but of the heart and soul as well. The physical body takes the lead during the journey itself,  and the heart and soul, though never far behind, are more of a 2nd act situation – continually making their presence known long after the boots are off and the packs are put away.  It really is the journey that keeps on giving.  That’s not to say that other travel experiences don’t stay with me and present themselves as a thought or a memory later on in time, but the Camino feels different for some reason.  The miles logged will still present themselves when I’m finding myself in a struggle.  They remind me of what I can do, whether on an emotional or physical level, and give me the confidence to trudge ahead.  They became the metaphor to the bigger picture of my life, one step at a time.

I have to give credit to my physical body during that journey, who worked very hard and hung in there when my mental body was quietly chanting, “I can’t do it.  I can’t do it.  I can’t do it.”  It walked on boardwalks, dirt, cobblestones ( a lot of that), tile, sand, more cobblestones, highway shoulders, grass and rocks.  It wore sink-washed clothes that underwent a ritual of being washed every few nights, which seemed to give me more peace of mind than actual clean clothes.  It put on not yet dry underwear under not clean pants because it was raining outside and the laundry hanging out the window didn’t fare well in those conditions nor did it dry when hanging off the pack with safety pins.  It went weeks without washing its hair, wore the same socks for longer than I care to admit, drank water from a camelback mouthpiece that I realized weeks in had been dragging the ground every time  I set it down, wherever that may be, and then was promptly picked up and put in my mouth to hydrate.  It ate potato chips for dinner,  peeled breading off of fish to eat the insides only (I’m gluten sensitive…yeah, try that in bread loving’ Spain and Portugal!) and went to bed hungry.  Thank you, body.  Thank you for keeping me whole.

Yet again. Those potato chips….

Once again, one of the lessons learned on the Camino was that I have far more fuel in the tank than I even begin to tap into.  I learned that last year on the Camino,  and the year before but continually forgot it until at the end of a very long day when I didn’t feel like I could even make it up to the check in counter at the hotel.  A quick shower and a legs up the wall recovery and I honestly would feel 100% ready to go and as if the last 8 hours had not been spent walking with  20 plus pounds on my back.  Recovery is quick and truly amazing and thankfully,  it’s not only the physical body that can show such resilience but the emotional body as well.  Well done body team.  Thank you.

We spent more time on this Camino being lost, but not in an “oh no, we’re lost….now what?” but rather in a “well I don’t think this is the right way, but that restaurant ahead looks like it has a nice view” kind of way.  That’s not to say we didn’t have our frustrations.  Day two was the most challenging of all of our Camino walks combined,  much of it on a busy two-lane road with blind curves and a very narrow shoulder that was hemmed in by a knee high stone wall.  That, thankfully, did not last long.  We stopped at the first cafe we could find, tried to communicate about the route and what was ahead with the only customers there, who unfortunately all spoke Portuguese.  Lucky for us, the one late to the table just happened to be French.  Susan was able to get us sorted out in French, while in this small, Portuguese-speaking town  because my Spanish wasn’t making any headway.  Team work and some luck, just when we needed it.  10 minutes later we were in a cab on our way to our hotel.  Thoughts of “are we cheating?” kept coming to mind, but as far as milage goes, we had already put in a full day of walking milage-wise,  mostly in circles, mostly by 11:00 am.  So no.  There was no cheating involved that day.

When it’s your sisters you’re  traveling with, you can be totally honest, whether that means fessing up to exhaustion rather than muscling through it and punctuating it with complaints of a pack that is too heavy.  There’s no needing to compete to be the strongest, the most energetic or even the cleanest for that matter, because I was with my sisters and I could speak with pure honesty.

“My feet hurt, I’m exhausted, my pack is too heavy and oh,  there’s something green in between your teeth.”

After 3 weeks of walking together, averaging around 8 hours a day, that open honesty was truly was a gift.  “Oh and by the way that hunk of whatever it is in-between your teeth?  It has been there all day.”   Freeing.  Easy.  Sister-speak.

We rediscovered the odd phenomena of physical body time officially not starting until the sun comes up, which meant that if you walked 2 hours pre-dawn using the light of your headlamp to light the way, it was almost as if those 5 or 6 miles you covered were given to you without any physical effort.  The body only seemed to start tuning into the miles once the sun was up and it could clearly see what was going on. I know.  Crazy.  It absolutely made no sense at all but it was a sure thing that Susan and I discovered last year during our longest days on the Camino.  I also found this phenomena to translate into the road trip arena when my daughter, grandson and I made a road trip from Ft. Collins to Santa Fe.  We left 2 hours pre-dawn and honestly, the tiredness, the hunger, the boredom, the are we almost there?,  were magically postponed by at least two hours.   Again,  whether walking or driving, the efforts don’t seem to start tallying up until the sun comes up.  Besides, there’s that wonderful perk of seeing a sunrise, something that every single time I see, I question why I don’t see it more often because seriously, it happens every, single day and is quite the gift.

The scenery was spectacular, the people warm and friendly and the time spent creating memories with both sisters, priceless.  We each logged difficult days, fortunately none of them at the same time,  giving us ample opportunity to rally around the weakest as needed.  There can be two days of the exact same physical skill, but one day will beat you up and the other feels like a walk in the park.  I’ve no explanation for that short of your mental state when the day begins.

There was plenty of time for pity parties and we each took our turn when we needed it.  Mine was about mid-way through our journey on a long, hot day,  a few miles outside of our destination town.  I was tired, annoyed that we were still walking, and wanting my pack and boots OFF.  Of course once you’ve hit that mind set, it’s very hard to claw your way out.  Susan recognized the behavior and stopped and waited for me  in front of a small store.  As I caught up to her, she handed me a package of Lays potato chips.  She knows.  Sisters know.

Robin’s day came in a pharmacy trying to find a cure  for a pretty bad sun rash she had started developing on the back of her legs.  Robin tried to explain to the pharmacist what was going on and rather than struggle with descriptions and fight a language barrier, the pharmacist came around the counter to have a look.  When Robin pulled her pant leg up, the pharmacist literally reeled back, took a breath to compose herself then went about the task of finding the proper ointment for the job.  It’s possible that Susan and I re-enacted that reeling back motion a few more times than it was necessary.  You catch the laughs when you can.  They become vitally important.  Susan had a toe issue about half way in that presented itself on one of our longest days.  Given that we were on rural, remote path in the woods, there was literally nothing that could be done short of continuing to walk while offering up any words of encouragement we could scrounge together, including re-inactments of the pharmacist reeling at the sight of Robin’s leg.  We were only as strong as our weakest link on any given day so it was always an all hands on deck in an attempt  to scoop up the one who needed anything extra that we had.

Those many memories collected  became woven into the tapestry that is my life; a tapestry whose  pattern is not always predictable, or neat or tidy, or even always pleasing to the eye, but collectively these rows of tattered and wonderfully rich experiences are nothing but beautiful to me.  I spent a lot of hours on the Camino, in my head, envisioning myself sitting in a large room with piles of different colors of yarn, weaving each and every travel experience into a tapestry, row by row.   It’s a picture I think of often and with great comfort, knowing that each thread of a memory is woven into a greater fabric and not forgotten.  As much as the feet were moving during our  journey, the mind certainly did  its share of wandering as well and long after my return home, I find myself recalling those imagined places such as the large room with the tapestry yarns, just as much as I recall the real ones.

Although I’m putting a period to this latest Camino experience,  that’s not to say that I won’t still have a random moment  when I’m taken back to a time and place so specific that for a moment it feels like I’m actually there.   Back to a trail or a road or along the narrow shoulder of a busy highway, with two sisters walking ahead of me, and once again my heart will feel full and content. Until the next time…

I’d walk anywhere with these two…

 

Our arrival to the cathedral in Santiago was exciting but truly it was the journey, not the destination, that had the biggest impact.

El Camino. Final thoughts…

I had good intentions of writing a follow up Camino post shortly after I got home but the shortly turned into two months which has quickly grown into four.  I could easily blame the holidays or the unpacking and resettling – oh wait, I only brought 9 things, or a host of other excuses for my delay in getting my Camino “in the books,” but in reality, I simply wasn’t ready to write or even share.   Instead,  I needed to go inward, and spend some time absorbing the experience.  Years of anticipating this journey,  which started for me with curiosity after reading Shirley Maclaine’s book on her Camino experience, gained momentum slowly.  It was a thought that got tucked away and took several years to grow into a plan.  When my sister, Susan, threw out suggestions of walking the Camino, I knew I had the universe working with me on this one.  Within a year from that “hey, here’s an idea…,” our plans took shape and plane tickets were purchased and packs were packed.  My Camino began long before I even laced up my boots or followed my first yellow arrow.  This long entry of anticipation and well thought out planning and training gave me more skin in the game than I usually have when I travel, making the last few days of this incredible journey difficult and my transition back even more so.  Re-entry was going to be a tough one.  I had put so much of my heart and soul into this and wasn’t sure what I was going to with that space, that emotion, that huge amount of anticipation that the Camino had occupied for so long.  My Camino journey, no surprise, has become the undisputed winner on difficult re-entries.

My reluctance to let go of the Camino once home appeared nightly for several weeks when my dreams took me straight to the Camino, and once again I would walk and walk and walk, while I pushed myself towards an elusive goal that kept moving just out of my sight.   I struggled with finding my sense of familiar once home, after spending 35 nights, each one in a different town, a different room and in a different bed.  The only constant was that my sister, Susan, was in the room with me.  More than once after my arrival home, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t be able to find Susan.  Fearing that she had already left for the Camino,  I’d find myself wandering around in my dark bedroom in a panic while I searched for my boots and my pack so I could catch up to her.

My lessons learned on the Camino didn’t really present themselves until my boots are off and I was home and they were hardly the “aha!” that I had expected, but rather were gentle nudges and quiet whispers that seemed to present themselves unexpectedly yet exactly when I needed them the most.  Case in point,  when a few weeks ago I found myself in a fearful position of  traveling through the mountains, at night, in a snow storm, all elements that scare me on their own, let alone together.  I couldn’t find anything but static on the radio so began to spontaneously sing as a nervous reaction, the volume increasing with my fear.  Add to this odd scenario, the very familiar song I was belting out was the alphabet song. It hadn’t been all that long ago when I last sang the familiar tune while I walked  across a very tall bridge with water on one side and high way traffic on the other and a guard rail that came up to my knees, which was hardly reassuring.  We were in our final days on the Camino and felt like by this time, added to our lifetimes, we had to know just about everything there was to know about each other.  Well, unbeknownst to me, Susan has the same go to with the same tune when she is scared.  Once safely landed on the other side of the bridge, she told me she was singing the exact same thing, from A to Z.   While driving on that snow packed mountain road, in the dark with the snow coming down and my pre-schoolish singing of the alphabet, I was taken straight back to the Camino, straight back to the bridge and right there between L, M, N, O, P, I discovered one of the greatest gifts that the Camino had given me and that was that I was far more capable than I ever realized.  That’s when “You’ve got this…” made its way into my alphabet song and my heart rate slowed a bit and I couldn’t help but smile. That.  That one realization alone, was worth every step of the 500 mile journey and I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

I met a woman from England at dinner one night a few weeks into the Camino, who told me that she was walking the Camino for the 3rd time.  She had done it every other year for the past 6 years, but this time was her last.  I had to ask her why she continued to walk the Camino when there were so many other walks she could do all over the world (by the way, I’d not ask this question today, as I’d know the answer and I’m guessing anyone who had walked the Camino would agree… it gets under your skin and I certainly understand that itch to return).  Her answer surprised me.  She said she wanted to do it perfectly this time.  Really?  Like the kind of perfect that you stretch more every day, drink more water, eat less bread, slow down and look at you surroundings, stop and talk to more people, wear cuter outfits kind of perfect?   Naturally, I was curious as to how her 3rd endeavor was going so I asked and with a nonchalant shrug and sigh, she said,

“Oh pretty much like the last two times, but I’m loving every minute.”

This woman, who wanted to “get it perfect” this time, was a vision of perfection to me, while I sat across from her at dinner.  She was in her late 60’s or early 70’s and was walking the Camino alone.  She had a tattoo of a shell (one of the signs of the Camino) on the inside of her wrist, which I commented on, and she told me she got it after her first Camino and she wanted it in a place that she’d see it often.  She told me that it made her smile, still, every time she looked at it.  Is that not perfection?  I’ve thought of her often, wondering if while back in England, if she’s started wondering if maybe she needs to go a 4th round.  Maybe her need for Camino perfection is simply her wanting to return to something that just didn’t quite feel finished to her.  That, I get.  I also get that maybe there’s not supposed to be a finished when it comes to the Camino.  I walked to the end, which was the cathedral in Santiago, but in many ways it was when I left Santiago that my real journey began.  The Camino simply gave me more insight into the life map that I had in my hand all along.

Sharon, who I met along the way told me me that while on the vast expanse of the meseta, she spied a lone tree off in the distance and decided to make her way over to it to sit and enjoy a snack and well… the world.  The meseta is a good place to enjoy the world as you can see so much of it right from where you’re standing, or sitting.   It’s as barren as it is vast and hauntingly beautiful, but that may be the Kansas girl in me speaking… truly not everyone’s cup of tea.  Funny, but I knew the exact tree that Sharon spoke of as we passed so few of them on that day of several while walking across the meseta, something you become very mindful of when you need to go to the bathroom, but that’s another story entirely.  I remember hesitating a moment when that tree came into sight,  also thinking it would make a nice place for a break, but my reluctance for adding any more miles to an already long day won out and I kept on walking, putting the lone shade tree behind me.  I suppose if I was to go back to “get it perfect” the next time, I’d stop under that very tree and think of Sharon, while simply enjoying the scenery around me and the many gifts from the Camino.  That, of course would mean I’d have to quit doing the making good time math, while figuring out my shower followed by beer eta’s. So yeah, woman from England whose name I forgot,  in your quest to get it right the next time,  I get it, but I also see the perfection in the imperfection of it all.

Maybe my struggles in writing this final Camino post are because although the boots are off and the pack has long been emptied and put aside, my Camino hardly feels like it’s over to me.  I walked the Camino to its end in Santiago, Spain, but feel like I’ve just stepped into a beginning rather than an ending.

To be continued…

Our routine…

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Our basic digs… not unlike our little twin beds we grew up with…

We’ve got this gig down pat, but it didn’t happen over night.  For some reason or another, this was what I thought about while walking 25 km’s on the Camino today.  I thought about how clumsy we were with packs and poles and packing and repacking and that without really being aware of it, one morning we woke up and we were spot on, in sync.  Our morning routine, to get our walking gig going, has almost become a dance for the two of us.  We’ve got it down.  So, with only a few days left, I want to post our day and how it rolls.  I feel like I may be a bit late to the game on this, but it’s what came to mind today so will roll with it…

Our mornings start at 6:00 or 6:15 on a “sleep in” day (a day with less than 24 km’s to walk).  We know the shuffle of who to the bathroom first while the other is on their phone, checking to see what happened in the world while we were “gone” then we change places.  Our laundry that was washed in the sink the night before with packets of shampoo or bar soap,  because we no longer carry soap (I left it behind many towns ago on accident), is checked to see if it is dry, and it usually isn’t so is safety pinned onto our packs.  It’s a good system, and I’d do the same thing again if the opportunity arises, but it’s not fail proof…. (I’ve lost 2 socks and a pair of underwear somewhere along the Camino).  We lay out our “outfits” for the following day the night before, which isn’t all that difficult as we have 2 or 3 to choose from depending on weather, which basically has been the same every day, which has been absolutely perfect…chilly in the morning turning into warm, but not hot, and sunny by afternoon.  For me the whole laying out the clothes is even easier, as I sleep in my “fresh and clean” outfit for the following day, with a bit of modifying to make my clothes seem more like jamies, i.e., taking the pants off, but other than that, I’m set.  Susan, the more dignified of the two of us, has proper sleepwear, but I simply couldn’t be bothered by the extra ounce or two of weight. Besides, I’m so much more streamlined on my getting ready in the morning than she is, allowing me more time to write posts like this!

We have the packing and re-packing down pat, and can maneuver through that whole process in a matter of minutes before doing our final final on the room,  which means Susan reminding me to look under the bed, in the bathroom, under the bedspread and so forth.  I’m lousy at this.  Case in point, I’ve left behind a watch, a night retainer, a night guard and some lotion.  Seems to be my thing that if I’m going to lose stuff, I pick the expensive stuff, with the exception of the lotion.

After the check, double check on the room, we make our way down to the hotel restaurant (and with some, but not all, of the posada/hostel/albergue places we’ve stayed, I have to use the restaurant word generously, just to keep this a bit more “real”…. it is more like a bar that serves coffee and maybe someone in the back will bring out a tray of toast).  Our hopes, enthusiasm and anticipation of a proper meal showing up started waning at about day 4.  We have now gotten real and usually try to buy yogurts and a banana the night before and share a plastic spoon that we got 2 weeks ago to eat the now warm yogurt, which sadly broke this morning.  It’s not ideal or even kind of good, but it is something our bodies need far more than 14 pieces of toast, which is actually a true and sad story.  We don’t complain about the coffee, however, and have grown to love Spain’s cafe con leche… our basic of basic morning fuel.

Because we start so early, we usually walk in the dark for the first two hours, using our head lamps to light the way.  It always feels far earlier than it is, (7:00ish) as the streets are vacant and all is so dark. It doesn’t start getting light until 8:30 or so and who knows when people start coming out of their houses given the weird schedule of the Spaniards!

The layers of clothing come off one by one, quicker if we leave with an uphill exit, slower if it’s on even terrain, and we both seem to know exactly the time to shed first the outer down jacket, then the over shirt and for me, switching the fleece hat out for the bandana then eventually for the hat, when the sun becomes strong.  We passed some “newbies” to the Camino the other day, who had started in the city we had just left, and they were continually taking off the jackets, putting them back on, taking them off again and so on and so forth.  Susan looked at me, shook her head and said, “Rookies.”  We know the timing on this, through trial and error, and don’t waste a minute with unnecessary removal or adding onto.

Our routine is to stop at the first bar (cafe) that we come upon, but not before at least an hour or so of waking.  This is not always a given, especially during our time on the meseta, when we had to walk 4 hours for that first cup of coffee as the hostel didn’t serve breakfast until 8 and we were long on the road by then.  We have a little more hope of finding “real” food at our “second breakfast” and often will have an egg sandwich or a tortilla con potatatas (potato egg dish), but lately we are so tired of both of those that we will get our cafe con leches and will dig through our packs and snack on crackers, cheese, fruit, bits of candy bars and whatever else we have leftover from what we bought the night before.  The theme here is, we are hungry!!!  We spend a good deal of our day either talking about food or in search of it, neither of which is very satisfying.  The pilgrim dinners, that are served earlier than their usual 10:00 starts for dinner, are basic, predictible and pretty boring… a piece of chicken or pork and french fries with a glass of red wine and yogurt or flan for dessert.  It will do, but is never much to look forward to after walking 5 or 6 hours when we are famished.  We do like the beer though, and the wine, provided we spring for a decent bottle (less than 5 euros).  IF there is a bar that we pass, early to mid afternoon, we will stop for lunch, but if not, we finish off the food in the packs and improvise.  Three times, we have been lucky enough to find lentil soup for lunch, a rarity among sandwich-heavy menus, and an absolute delight given the very heavy bread diet here in Spain.  It made such a happy impact on us that I can clearly remember each of the bars where we had it!

 

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14 pieces of toast kind of seems like a lot… but they love their toast here!

We usually arrive in our town around 3:00, then there is the whole ordeal of finding the hotel/hostel/posada/albergue.  There is such a relief of “Oh we’re finally here!”…. but if the town is “big,” we could have another few kilometers to walk to to actually get to our place.  This is when the feet and the knees and the back all sing in unison and it’s not a pretty song.  There’s a lot of anticipation as to what kind of town we will be in… what it will look like, feel like, and would it be a place I’d return to.  I really do enjoy that part.  We’ve been pleasantly surprised far more than disappointed in the towns we’ve stayed in.  We both have come to love the smaller, quainter villages (less than 100 people, far more than the larger towns.

We find our room, dump our packs, boots off and legs up the wall on our respective beds.  When enough time has passed, 10 minutes or so, we take turns with the shower and wash underwear and socks in the sink with whatever is available (thank goodness for packets of body gel get as few places have bars of soap).  After scrounging for any remainding crumbs of ANYTHING in our packs, and with our “clean” clothes on (and I use that word generously), we make our walk through town to see exactly where it is that we’ve “landed”, find a grocery store to replenish our pack food then find a place, preferably outside and in the sun, for a beer, and simply to enjoy the moment.  We find what we can for dinner, which is not usually memorable or really even good, but we are hungry and our bodies need the fuel.

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Our usual, usual… legs up the wall…

We usually head back to our room shortly after our dinner, finish up on emailing, social media etc. and lights out by 9:30, simply because we are exhausted.  By morning, we both feel ready to do it all over again.

We’ve got this down pat.  It will be a big adjustment both physically and emotionally for the both of us when this comes to an end.  Right here, right now, I can positively say that I’m not near ready.  We’ve got 4 more days of walking though so will have time to ease into it a bit.

I can’t end this post without saying what we say to so many others and what is said to us countless times each and every day and what has come to mean so much to me….”Buen Camino.”  And it is.

Facing my fears…

imageAnyone who knows me well, knows that I have a fear of birds…maybe even an irrational one, that somewhat parallels the fear I have of rodents.  Maybe my fear of birds should be greater (or less??) as they will eat the mice, but so much for keeping things even.  I fear them both.  Not that long ago I was playing the game with my sisters of “What would you do and for how much?” That’s not the official name of the game, as I don’t think there is one, but that pretty much sums it up.  The question posed in that particular game was… “How much money would it take for you to spend the night in a small car (think Prius or smaller) with a raven?” I didn’t have to think long on this….”$100,000???”  “Final answer?”  “Yes.”

When I asked one of my kids this, their first response was, “Can I kill the bird?”  “Kill the bird?????  Are you SERIOUS??? I don’t even want to touch it!!!”

“Mom, calm down.  We’re just trying to assess to game rules…”

So, this is how I preface my blog post.  I’m afraid of birds…

Today, while making our way to Rabanal del Camino from Astorga, our last few km’s was a rambling hike through the woods, a scene very familiar to the both Susan and me given our love of hiking.  NOt long into the trail, we came upon a falconeer, in a small tent, trail side, and dressed like a character from Camelot, complete with a big falcon (I need some assistance on this one…. falcon is the only word I can come up with… I can’t be specific on a type here..).  He was collecting donations for an organization that provides funds for children with cancer and for a monetary donation of your choice,  you could hold his beautiful creature.  I immediately said, “NO.”  Upon hearing that, he began to push me a bit to the point that I was beginning to feel somewhat defensive so began to walk away. I’ve got to say that he was a very kind man, and all thoughts of “pushing” were coming from my perceptions, not the reality of the situation, especially given the fact that my defenses were up and fear was temporarily during the car.  After a few steps, I hesitated, then turned around and meekly said, “OK.  I’ll do it.”  Granted, I was still terrified, but felt the need to push myself.  I had to see this as an opportunity that had presented itself in the most unlikely of circumstances and on the Camino, no less….seeing it for the gift that it truly was.

So, I put the glove on and he set “Julia” on my hand.  I’ve got to admit that feelings of terror, quickly melted into, “I’m doing this!  I’m holding a big bird!!”  This all fell into place nicely with what I’ve been going through for the past 2 weeks on the Camino…. pushing my edges, finding my fear, walking into it and realizing that I’m not going to die or drown or be attacked by a big bird, but rather come out of the situation just a little bit more strengths than what I had entered into it with. The more those thoughts sunk in, while holding the very large bird on my gloved hand, the more comfortable I felt.  The falconeer sensed that and in a joking gesture and with an exaggerated wink, said he was just going to walk away and have a break for a bit and would be right back. I smiled but gritted my teeth and of course he understood, smiled and retrieved Julia from my outstretched hand.

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After the falcon had been returned and the glove removed, he gestured me back to his table and asked me if English was my language of “choice.” When I said yes, he showed me a paper with a sentence typed in several different languages that in English read,

“If you want to see the most beautiful thing in the world, look here…”

Next to the paper was a closed box.  He then motioned for me to open the  box.  I opened it and not all that surprised me, found a mirror.  “Oh, a mirror….nice…”

To which he answered, “No, not a mirror at all.  It is YOU.  It is you.”

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He said he only does this with women as he’s tried it before with men and they either make fun of it or will look at the mirror and comment on the sky or the trees or the people in the background, rather than the person looking back at them.

This was a gift today.  Truly a gift.  I faced my fears, then looked at them in the mirror and lo and behold, the person looking back at me looked just a tiny bit stronger than the one I saw earlier that morning… the one who was anticipating a new day with new experiences and a journey to a new place, but in reality had no idea.

 

 

Magic on the Camino….

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The wonderful comraderie of sharing a meal with fellow pilgrims.

The “magic of the Camino” is alive and present and was witnessed 3 times last night during dinner at our posada.  There were 13 of us, all seated at the same table, and about 15 minutes into the meal, the woman across from me, originally from Honduras but now living in Texas, made the connection with the woman seated right next to her, who was from England.  They both realized that they had spent a lot of time walking together on the Camino 3 years ago.  The British woman was walking with her husband during their walks the last time, but this year, was walking it alone as she said the walk was too strenuous for her husband.  The woman seated next to Susan, who was traveling with the Honduran woman, was also a part of that group from 3 years ago.  Of course once they made the connection, there was all sorts of remember whens and affection shown between them.  It truly was touching to watch the reunion and hard not to see it as magic on the Camino.

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imageEarlier in the day, Peter, from Austrailia (of course, where else?), who Susan and I had seen day 2 of the Camino but not since, had arrived and we were all thrilled to see each other again as we had often wondered what had happened to him.  I was seated next to him at dinner and after the surprise of the 3 women re-uniting, he told me that he also had some Camino magic to share.  He asked me if I had seen the rock sign a few days ago that said “Aussie Peter.”  I had, and happened to be walking with another Austrailian, who has also weaved her way in and out of our days.  Sharon and I saw the large arrow made of rocks that pointed to “Aussie Peter.”  Next to that was a big rock with a note underneath it.  We both stopped and commented on it, wondering if that “Aussie Peter” would ever actually see his name and retrieve the message that was next to his name and under the rock.  Well, he did because he was sitting right next to me and showed it to me!  He had met a mother/daughter from Scotland who had written the note and wished him well on his Camino as well as sharing their contact info with him.

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Arrow to the message…

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Aussie Peter!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many messages on the Camino for people and I have always wondered if they really are ever seen.  I got my answer tonite.

The 3rd bit of Camino magic that happened around the dinner table last night was when Susan and I recognized the couple on the opposite end of the table as the couple who was seated right next to us in a small Italian restaurant where we ate in Burgos, over a week ago.  I thought it was a huge coincidence, but when I said something about sitting next to them at the Italian place, the wife simply said, “Yes, I remember…”  Obviously, she didn’t see the magic that I did, so I let it go.

If your eyes and heart are even a little bit open on this journey, there is truly magic to be seen.  It’s hard to describe, but easy to feel.  As I was beginning to head to our room after dinner, the Honduran woman approached me and gave me a big hug and told me that she was sure our paths would cross again.  I’ve got to think she was probably right on that.

All systems working… well ALMOST all…

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image imageWell go figure… all that sneaking around and hoping the mind wouldn’t tell the body that it is time to be tired, didn’t exactly work but now a new theory has come into play….

It seems that no matter the distance, it is ALWAYS 6 1/2 hours of walking.  Maybe subconsciously, on shorter days, when we make our mid-morning stop for breakfast, we relax just a wee bit more and that’s how the times always work out to be the same.  6 1/2 hours of walking, no matter how you pace it out.  It is what it is.  Another observation along the same lines is that whenever one of us is checking time or distance remaining, it is ALWAYS 10 kilometers, or 2 1/2 hours.  No matter what.  So, even if the town we are headed to is in plain sight (which means being able to see more than the cathedral tower), we’ve learned to still call it 10 kilometers.  Granted, when on the meseta, and a town pops up on the horizon, we used to get so excited, but have learned over time that those horizon towns can be hours away.  Not exactly a mirage as they do surface eventually, but a lot farther off than we originally thought.  Even if we’re only walking 10 kilometers (which isn’t going to happen once, but for example’s sake…) and we’re 1/2 way there, we’re still 10 kilometers away.  No. Matter. What.  Seems to be another pattern running here…

Then my train of thought shifted from time to the physicality of all of this.  I thought a lot about our bodies and how hard they are working, day in and day out.  The feet are the main prize winners on this, still remaining blister free (in part I think as the temps on the meseta have been “unseasonably” cool (75ish) which in turn keeps the feet a bit cooler.  And then there are the legs, certainly contenders for MVP’sas they are lifting the heavy boots (we’re guessing over a pound each…) with each step.  Included in that system of course would be the knees and the hips, who are working non-stop to keep all the all the folks below them running smoothly.  Then there’s the back…. one can’t discount the work of the back that has 20 plus pounds hoisted up onto it (yes, we’re no longer calling it 18, simply because we are carrying fruit and Mars bars daily, none of which are featherweight).  The back is the work table with all the goods piled on top of it.  Go back!  You’re working hard. As are the shoulders, who are kind of the assistant managers to the back, while helping to hold up said 20 pounds of loot.  The arms keep the pole (we each only use one) where it needs to be, while the other is at the ready to grab the camera if need be.  There’s a lot of teamwork going on here, with no slackers in the bunch.  Oh… well ALMOST no slackers. The breasts.  We’ve concluded that they are simply free-loading as they’re doing diddly squat and they even require their own outfits, which by the way don’t dry near as quickly as all the other clothes.

So head to toe scan, that’s what we’ve come up with today.  Lots and lots of work going on with all the body parts (except two), which of course includes the head, as it’s keeping me immersed in thought as I pace through the Camino.  We’re on the meseta for approximately 10 days and it is said that this is the part of the Camino that is mental, the miles preceding being the physical part of the journey.  The landscape is hauntingly beautiful (said from a gal who was raised in Kansas, who has its own share of the “meseta”) but in its vastness, there is little else to look at…no distractions of buildings, or lakes, or trees or  signage or really anything but the pilgrims in your line of sight and the fields that meet the sky.  A cloud is a welcome sight.  I’m finding a real connection to the meseta as I’m someone who likes to hang out in my head quite a bit, but I certainly understand the challenge.  At first I felt like plugging into my iPod would be cheating but we all make our own Camino, and the “rules” that go along and my rule is go to the music until the battery dies.  Besides a bit of a distracted of time, it adds a lot to the already beautiful landscape.  Daniella Romo, my favorite Mexican singer, got me across much of today’s meseta.  Gracias a Daniella and apologies to those walking behind me given what they had to hear and witness.  My hiking pole was swinging to the beat…a pole dance of sorts, I suppose.  This is not an all day thing for me though as I find the quiet to be quite inspiring,especially in the early morning hours.

The monotonous days are teaching me patience and living in the moment, while the moments or hours or days of breathtaking beauty are teaching me the importance of gratitude.  The amazing pilgrims I’ve met along the way are reminding me that kindness, compassion and caring for others are thankfully still very much alive and well.  All you have to see is a fellow pilgrim limping along and each and every person who passes him, stops to ask if he’s OK.  I witnessed this today while on the final stretch into our town.  I’m continually touched by such acts of kindness and compassion.

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A “hospital of the heart” that we walked past early this morning while on our way out of town…a place to go for quiet thought. I wish we had discovered it sooner…What a beautiful idea.

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The mind and the body are in cahoots and we’re paying.

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Walking, walking, walking…
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Man wears spaghetti ascot… oh wait… that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but funny, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had a lot of time to think… about 6 to 7 hours a day for the past week.  The Camino is the perfect time to think, until it’s not, and honestly, that’s when you’re in trouble.  Trouble,  because you can’t escape yourself, or your thoughts no matter how much you try.  So here’s the thought process that I couldn’t escape today…

Without exception, it is ALWAYS the last hour that seems to be the problem for both Susan and I while walking the Camino.  The last hour is when the feet start crying out and the body is simply tired.  That would make sense if every day we walked the same amount of time and it was the same degree of difficulty, but that’s simply not the case.  The times vary and some days have been shorter and much easier than others, yet it is still that last hour that brings the trouble to the forefront.

So, this is what I’ve come up with while pacing myself through 7 hours on the open, exposed, unchanging views of the meseta today…

The body and the mind are in sink, something that I know from yoga and try to achieve, yet right now, at this very moment, I feel like the two of them need to be separated because they are simply causing trouble by working together.  The mind, at some point during the day, says to the body, “OK, I heard Laurie talk and looks like she’ll be walking for 7 hours today.  So, you know what to do around 6 hours.  Oh and she’s on a sister trip, so this is going to go on for a while. Those two push limits when together….”

To that, the body responds, “OK, got it.  I’ll start the feet in complaint mode, at about an hour before their destination, then will target the more sensitive areas, such as Susan’s knee and Laurie’s shoulder, if need be.  It will insure that they both will continue to do the right thing… legs up the wall, lots of water, yoga poses, etc.”

Those two.  Their scheming is hurting the last hour of our game.  When the mind seems to know when the body is going to hit the wall, so to speak, and once that power has shifted, there’s no going back and it is ALWAYS one hour before quitting time.  I think it’s time to trick the mind and buy ourselves some time…. an hour precisely.

And then there’s the whole leaving early thing…. I truly believe that the body doesn’t start keeping track until it’s light out.  I know.  Weird.  But it does seem to hold true for us.  We’ve got a pretty hard day ahead of us tomorrow and with my concepts of darkness being a free spot on energy expension, we’ve decided to leave 2 hours before sunrise just so we can log those two hours of physical difficulty without the body really knowing about it.  You know… sneak it past it, in the dark of the night.  The stuff my mind goes to sounds kind of crazy as I’m typing this but I have to think it’s the case of pushing both physically and mentally father than usual that has brought me here.

So…. back to that last hour that hands down is hard, regardless of what preceded it or for how long….

If the head would just leave the body alone this wouldn’t happen.  The two need to be separated.  That’s all there is to that.  Susan thought a time out for the mind could be a plan.  Now, just to incorporate that idea….

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Daily routine and we’re not the only ones… all of the walls from where we’ve stayed have spots on the walls right where the feet hit.

6 or 7 hours a day is a long time to spend wandering in and out of your thoughts.  Hopefully tomorrow something a tad more brilliant will surface, but for now, I’m just trying to keep the mind from over communicating with the body and starting to spread rumors that the body is tired, an hour before I THINK it is.  For the record, our 7 hour day tomorrow is now being called 8 hours.  Shifty.

 

From country to city (San Juan de Ortega to Burgos)…I prefer the country…

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Silhouetted pilgrim in the morning sunrise…

Today started out with an hour of walking under the faint light of a full moon (with headlamps to help).   I’m not sure there is a more peaceful and inspiring way to begin a day.  It was so quiet that all I could hear was my own breathing and the sound of my boots hitting the dirt and stone pathway.  There was a couple ahead of us, which did give us a sense of comfort as the yellow arrows that give us our direction, were hard to spot.  The guy ahead of us stopped to warn us of a cattle grate, which had some pretty big gaps.  Given that it was dark out, it could have been a disaster, or a sprained ankle, had we not been wearing the headlamps or had he not given us warning.  He was a good pilgrim.

We meandered through small, charming towns stopping at the first one for a coffee because our hotel had nothing but a coffee vending machine, which we were forewarned about from the Austrailians…. all cold and not drinkable.  It was a charming little restaurant that was quite busy with only a woman and her husband working there.  Still, the cafe con leche was made one cup at a time and the orange juice hand squeezed.  I admire the work and dedication they put forth in eating good food.  Nothing seems rushed.

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We meandered through the beautiful landscape that we’ve become quite spoiled with, stopping along the way for a fruit and cheese lunch.  Every day seems to be prettier than the last… but today didn’t end that way… things turned south for the last 4 plus hours of our walk to Burgos. There was more than one route to take today and although we never saw a sign that gave options, we also didn’t pay much heed to the guide book’s warning of of various paths to take. Needless to say, the route we chose, or that chose us I suppose, as neither of us remember a choice, wasn’t the best.  It took us past the airport, alongside a highway and down a busy street filled with factories. I felt like we had walked along side I-35 to the downtown airport then hit the industrial section of town.  The scenery was not what we have grown accustomed to and having cars honking while we dashed across highways, didn’t feel good at all.  The shift change at the Bridgestone Tire facory on the outskirts of Burgos was the most interesting thing we saw… all the guys headed to their cars with their lunch boxes while the new shift of workers came in.  I swear, it had to of taken 10 minutes to walk past the factory… it was that big.  We both wondered several times if we were even still ON the Camino but eventually passed a German man we had met earlier who said,
“The Camino is a metaphor for life, isn’t it? And this would be the not so good part.”

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Good grief, did we walk ourselves all the way to Las Vegas???
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This was not a pretty part of our journey….

Well said, German friend.

Burgos is a big city. We should eat well tonite.

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True confession… once to Burgos, this is how we got to our hotel… via cab.  It was a 15 minute ride, so no telling how much longer we would have been walking.  We had already walked 27 km and were beat.  I think we both were initially reluctant as it seemed like “cheating,” but we chose right.

A whole lotta better today….

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What a difference a good night’s sleep makes… the day before, in Najera, there was a religious celebration of sorts taking place with a lot of music, dancing and revelry in the main square until nearly 5 am.  It was so loud, that there were times I thought they had entered our room.  They didn’t, but much of the celebrating was right below our room.  Spaniards have a different clock than we do and Susan and I still don’t feel like we’ve cracked the code on it.  They eat late, at least 10:00 or later, kids and all,  and seem to get up at the “normal” time.  The towns shut down in the afternoon (shops anywhere from 2 or 3 in the afternoon until 7 or 8 at night, when they open again until 10 then close for dinner and the night.  I’m intrigued, but kind of exhausted just thinking about it.  Towns literally feel like ghost towns when we’re walking through them… still asleep?  Just quiet?  Or afternoon siestas?  They do take their siestas seriously and given that their nights last so long, I’d guess it is a necessity.  Last night in Santo Domingo, there was no celebration, no music, no fireworks, no cathedral bells and so a very good night’s sleep was had by all.  Or at least by Susan and I.  Thank you, España.

We are finding our routine… our rhythm, our pace, our schedule and our favorite snacks to get us through it all.  I’m concluding that it takes 4 days for the body to say, “OK, I get it.  I see the pattern and know the routine.”  I feel stronger, have no blisters, feel like I’m in overall pretty good shape and am not really sore, but it seems that no matter the distance, one hour before arrival, my feet begin to protest, and I can hardly blame them.  Boots off is a highlight of the day, followed of course by legs up the wall and a manic devouring of whatever snacks we collected throughout the day.  We’ve been leaving early, on the Camino by 7, which of course has us wanting dinner at 4, which in this crazy, late night of eating country, simply isn’t going to happen.  Thank goodness for snacks and the pilgrim dinners that we can usually find by 6 or 7.

The people we’ve met, the stories we’ve heard and the incredible scenery we’ve paced our way though – THIS is the beauty of the Camino.  From the rainbow that presented itself yesterday, right when I seemed to need a push, to the man who poured some peanuts in my hand as he passed me today, just when I was realizing how hungry I was (peanuts in Spain are far better than any I’ve ever had before…) to the encouragement felt simply from hearing the words, “Buen Camino,” it’s all magic of the Camino.  Today, for the first time, I listened to my iPod.  Watching the long road ahead of me, sprinkled with pilgrims, most walking alone, while listening to Spanish guitar music, brought tears to my eyes.  Everyone here is here for a reason, some probably won’t realize that reason until long off of the Camino.  It touches me deeply and inspires me profoundly.

I’m blessed beyond words, to be able to take this journey both with Susan, and alone.

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We’ve got a ways to go….
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Our digs in Belorado

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Pack envy.

While seated on the floor in the Atlanta airport (to access the outlet for charging), I noticed the woman seated nearby’s backpack, which had a Camino patch on it.  I asked her if she was walking the Camino.  She is.  All of a sudden we had so much to talk about and she’s my new best friend in the Atlanta airport.  This quick and instant connection was one of my favorite parts of walking the Camino and it made me happy to see it return before even getting to Spain.  Another woman, also with a pack with a Camino patch, joined us, and asked if we’d watch her pack while she went to fill her water bottle.  Her pack was small.  I mean really small.   Woman #1 looked at the pack, then looked at her pack then asked me, “Is there such a thing as pack envy?”  I then asked her how much her pack weighed, a pretty standard conversation opener on the Camino, and she said, with a somewhat discouraging tone,  “16 pounds.”.

“Oh yeah….there is definitely such a thing,” said the girl whose pack was now tipping in at 18 ish pounds.  The ish covers the hair conditioner and the extra scarf I added this morning on a crazy whim.

She then said,  “I added my hair conditioner last minute…. oh and some mascara and some blush and I’m feeling kind of guilty about that.”

The Camino comraderie has already begun.  I didn’t feel so alone as I boarded my flight to Madrid, knowing that there were at least 3 of us headed to the Camino and I sure felt more justified in the last minute addition of the small bottle of conditioner to my pack.  It really did feel like I was home again.

Susan arrives in Madrid tonite then we take the bus to Logroño in the morning and will begin walking the next day.  I’m clean, my clothes are clean and my feet are blister free.  Time to get this party started.