As a mid-ager and a touch more, I finally listened. Beyond the bucket list thing so many commonly refer to, the Camino de Santiago would not stop calling me. No, it wasn’t a FB message, cell text, or a phone call. This was a 911 flag fully unfurled.
On April 20, 2016, these now bronzed feet began the forward journey in St Jean Pied de Port, France. The end – 500 miles later – was to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
What happened in between was a compilation of weathering the weather and communing with people from many different countries/cultures.
I learned what I was made of, the power of YES, living with very little sleep and managing just fine, co-mingling in very basic lodging with multitudes of strangers who would become my Camino family, and the white flour diet of Spain. Bocadillos, pasta, rice, bread, bread, and more bread.
With that being said, the Camino was a double-edged sword of sorts. It was a testimony of faith. It was eye candy and a reward for my spirit, brain, and physical body.
Lucky to have had zero issues with my feet. Thanks to the A.M. foot ritual of slathering on coconut oil, Vaseline, and the oil of grapefruit, these hooves were unblemished. Other than a couple of situations where the laces of my Asolo boots got intertwined causing me three full frontal falls, I managed pretty unscathed. I had a ‘love’ and a ‘not so much love’ for my boots for almost 6 weeks from the date of purchase.
Universe Calls Me to the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago came to me via a co-worker. She ranted that she must do this pilgrimage across Europe. Her insistence came to me in the form of a movie she had seen. “The Way,” rated by the masses as a sleeper, was her gift to me.
Hooked after the first viewing, I played this movie countless times a day. I created my days’ work around watching this movie. Addicted and longing for adventure was the buried seed. How could this come about? I had to do this. When?
The Universe is a cunning fellow. Implosion of things I viewed as solid began to shift in my life. My career as an emergency room LPN was halted. The sale of my home and donation of all of my personal belongings outside of a car, kitty and clothes were all I had left. A move was imperative and family was calling for me to return to roots. Relationships sparked and fizzed, then died.
Two years after the push, pull, and the unsettling settling, now was the time to get serious. I had relocated to be with family. Tribe, if you will, pushes your buttons and teaches you things you have forgotten about belonging. I had been a sojourner for the past 35 years doing it ‘my way’. It wasn’t working.
Showing up on a daily basis at a job that paid minimum wage could be construed as sucking. Soul sucking. I learned I could be solid and not judge the process. I also learned I kinda like and appreciate people. Simplicity allowed the crust of the ER nurse to crack and fall away. Learning I do have a heart and I can hear it if I let myself. That felt freeing. Maybe it was to be my first Camino gift.
The details of the Camino planning came together in a flash. I’ve heard it said, ’When things fall into place quickly, it is meant to be’. In a mere three weeks the flight, the equipment needed, and the mental preparation for this journey were solid.
I began to walk. I walked the neighborhood, the main arterials of the city, any hill I could find, the respite of a park, and the countryside just to walk. With my Osprey 38L filled to the nines to equate 20 lbs and a liter of water, the training sessions grew from 5 miles to 13 miles a minimum of five times a week. I walked in rain, wind, sleet and on every available muddy, concrete, and grassy surface. Little did I know how appropriate the extremes of weather and surfaces would play out in my future
The Journey Begins
April 17, 2016, I arrived for the departure to Spain, then France where my initial steps on the Way of St. Frances began. Dual energies of apprehension and excitement felt like a rollercoaster. For one, I had never traveled internationally. The stories of pick pockets, scammers, and gypsies kept me in constant vigilance. “Take only small amounts of cash”, “stash cash in many places”, “pay attention”, and ”walk like you mean it” were some of the hints offered by veteran sojourners.
Arriving to Madrid after an easy eight-hour overnight flight seemed surreal. This chic cosmopolitan expanse and MAD, the airport code environment, spelled adventure.
Accessing ATMs, using the Spanish language with more sign language than words, and marveling at this foreign environment seemed like a dream. Now awake over 20 hours, I still had another flight to France.
Lugging my home on my back for the next five weeks would be a testimony of strength, will, health, and most importantly sticktoittiveness. I was not a quitter.
Touchdown on French soil in the magical land of St Jean Pied de Port had me giddy with childlike joy. Beautiful isn’t worldly enough a description of this fairy tale land. To think, I saw this spot on a map I now stood on, painted the reality of the Caminos beginning. Millions before me literally paved the way.
One Step at a Time
Spring temps in the Pyrenees can be testy. The path ahead had been closed due to snow. Today she was wide open and ready. I had to cross her. With one foot in front of the other on this April 20, 2016 day, I began. By reducing the enormity of this 500-mile trek to “just walk”, that’s what I did.
For 29 days without a rest day, I forged forward. I also took no OTC anything except for a ‘magic’ unknown pill. This Camino de Santiago magic pill came to me via another pilgrim. A lithe blonde young lass by the name of Franca admitted to being sent on her Camino by doctor parents. Her arsenal of defense was German tried and true.
I developed a fever and head cold after an insect bite approximately six days into my hike. I’ll never know what form the envenomation came from. There were hard nodular welts on my head. My Camino angel nurse offered her gift. I was told, “You must stand in a hot shower in order for this to work.” Her grandmother added, “You don’t need to know what it is.” So I accepted the offer and swallowed.
Chilled to the Bone
The next morning I am confident of being cured.I sleep, though not deep as I had hoped. I feel good to go. The bone-chilling coldness I couldn’t shake was manageable for the most part. The welts still present didn’t seem as mountainous. I once again faced a new day filled with heavy fog, pelting rain, and gusty winds. Air temps lingered in the low 40’s.
I froze again and wore every piece of clothing I brought with me. I wished for nothing more than warmth, a safe place to rest at night, nourishment, a hot shower, ya know the basics of life. Sometimes, I forgot how fortunate I was and walked alone simply to find me. I never used the phrases, “I’m done”,” I quit”, “I can’t do it”. Not once. This trek was immensely important to me.
During the days of pelting sleet, dense fog, sunshine, and heavy blankets of rain and blustery wind, the quiet of my stillness was born. In my walking groove, my eyes float from side to side as if watching a tennis match. The beauty around me is so magnificent that IMAX theatres might produce such stunning vistas.
Road to Self-Discovery
My thoughts on any given day include dedications to family, friends, and groups of people I wish to remember.
The Camino de Santiago dedication shows me very deep truths. On the walk for my mother, I receive a Blessed Mother medal from a restaurant, which I also received as a child from my mom when she was very ill. I also had the experience of what she felt as she carried me in her pregnancy. Humbling and chilling. The dense fog of that particular day taught me she didn’t know how she would feed another child. I was number five. There were six more to follow.
Life on the Road
As life on the quiet road teaches me to be silent, the memories for the day are now mental videos. All things witnessed per the offering of Mother Nature absolutely meshed. These offerings came in the form of talisman, a scene the intended would have loved, overhearing fragments of a conversation between other pilgrims or noticing a sign or etched symbol on a building.
On a normal day I clipped along easily managing 17 to 20 miles per day. On several difficult days, I dodged rivulets of water and plowed through high grasses to keep my feet dry. The ever-changing path is pebbled earth, mucky sticky mud, old Roman inlaid stone, grass, sharp stone, and catapulting slippery rocks amongst breathtaking scenery. This is the reward.
Things happened that I questioned. The loss of my glasses during my second week. I had no problem needing them for the duration of the trek. A treasured bracelet is lost, then found, and finally put to rest as it shattered. My body felt light and free after the loss. Nuance? Camino serendipity? Or?
The Cruze de Farro, three-quarters of the way on the trail, is a monumental mile marker. At this poignant spot hundreds have come to deposit their prayers. Prayers were visible tokens. Thousands of rocks, shells, crumpled letters, artifacts dear to each individual lay at the base of this giant cross. Bearing our crosses on this journey, the invitation to release the burden is granted.
Vision of Strength
I received kindnesses, and lost sadnesses and hopelessness. There are relics from my life and for my family left behind. I burned some Camino clothing and said prayers of forgiveness Through this, I gained a vision of my strength.
I received daily validation in the form of a stamp from each Albergue where I lodged each evening. This powerful little imprint of ink on my Pilgrim passport was verification of my BEING.
While the Nomad has re-entered the busyness of life, there are some things about me that have not changed. I still have blue eyes. I lost all my hair to a barber’s clippers, but kept the real part of me.
The strong and willful woman who knows it’s OK to not know all the time. I found that if I put one foot in front of the other and keep walking, the peace of rhythm will show me the answers.