Camino Continues: Navarette to Azofra

Distance walked: 23.2km

In Navarette, I woke at 5:30am, to a room filled with noisy alarm clocks, mobile phones, and rustling sleeping bags. The small space was filled with bright LED torches bobbing left and right, as people packed up their gear. I lay in the warm comfort of my bed but eventually realised there was simply no getting back to sleep.

I’m not a morning person, and I didn’t really support the ethos of rushing out the door before dawn, but here I was:

Awake and with a day of walking ahead of me. I decided to get up and go. I decided to start walking as soon as the front doors opened at 6am.

Downstairs, I put on my walking shoes, grabbed my walking poles out of the basket, and secured the backpack across my shoulders. Outside the door, the others walked off quickly into the early morning, and I slowly walked along behind them. Before long, they’d rounded a corner and were out of sight.

I tried to leave Navarette – really, I did.

But the morning was dark and I couldn’t distinguish any yellow arrows against the dark footpath.

I couldn’t distinguish any yellow arrows on the side of buildings, either.

The town was small, so the Camino signs were handmade and irregular. There were no formal signposts, or symbols embedded into the footpath. There was no one on the streets either, and that concerned me more.

I knew that dozens of pilgrims had poured onto the streets only minutes beforehand, but I couldn’t see any of them. There are always pilgrims around somewhere, so I doubted my sense of direction. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn.

I doubled back, and started again but still, there was no-one around, and I was sure I had missed a turn somewhere.

I walked to the edge of the small to town – to the point where the street lamps ran out, with only dark countryside ahead.

As a woman walking alone, I took stock. I didn’t feel I was in any danger – my gut instinct indicated that it was safe to proceed. But my mental training kicked in: Don’t risk it. It’s not a good idea to walk off into the unknown darkness alone. So I turned around, and went back towards my hostel.

I spent nearly an hour doubling back on myself. I walked the stretch of road several times – back and forth – trying to find arrows or yellow paint anywhere along the way. I could see nothing.

From an upstairs apartment window, a local shouted out to me in Spanish and confirmed which way to go.

Another local looked like he was just returning home (from working a night shift job? from a night of heavy partying?) and confirmed which way to go.

Eventually, I heard the tap, tap, tap, of walking poles behind me. I couldn’t see anyone in the darkness but I could hear the sound of footsteps and could see the bobbing of a head torch. The Korean pilgrims confirmed which way to go.

After three confirmations I felt more confident of my direction, and was glad of their warm assistance.

And wouldn’t you know it: I had been going the right direction all along 🙂

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In Ventosa, I stopped for morning coffee, breakfast, and free wi-fi.

In Nájera, I stopped in a small corner shop to buy postcards and stamps, and found a sunny bench on the side of the street. There, I took off my socks and shoes, and felt entirely comfortable in my bare feet – even though busy traffic and pedestrians bustled all around me.

The Camino passes through so many towns, villages, and cities along the way, and there is a steady stream of pilgrims en route. Pilgrims need to tend to their feet – so this means taking off socks and shoes, bursting blisters, applying ointment and bandages – all in plain view. It becomes normal to see people on the side of the trail, tending to their feet. I don’t know what the locals think of all this but I imagine it’s become a normal sight for them, too.

I sat on the bench and took a few minutes to apply sunscreen, drink water, and let my feet cool down. I wrote a postcard, and listened to the sounds of children shrieking and laughing in the nearby schoolyard. I also observed the only Chinese restaurant I saw on my whole Camino, and it made me realise that I hadn’t seen very much non-Spanish food on the journey to date. Funny, I hadn’t noticed that and hadn’t missed it, either.

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Crossing the river in lovely Nájera

I arrived in Azofra at 1pm, and hoped I was early enough to secure a bed in the hostel with 60 beds.

Thankfully, I was.

To boot, I would share my room with only one other person! After so many noisy, busy dorms, the prospect of such (relative) privacy was intoxicating, and I delighted at the prospect of getting some decent sleep.

Outside, pilgrims sat in the afternoon sunshine, bathing their feet in the cold, outdoor fountain. What luxury! I happily bumped into Barb and Dave, whom I hadn’t seen in days, and it was a joy to see their friendly faces. Dave even helped me find an empty sunny patch on the clothes line, for my newly-washed clothes 🙂

It might sound ridiculous now but with dozens of others competing for the same patch of sunshine, in the same courtyard, and at the same time, free space on a clothesline was precious. Inherently, I would have tried to find a free spot without moving anyone else’s belongings. It’s polite and respectful, sure, but I would have sooner denied my own need for dry clothing than presume it was okay to move someone else’s stuff.

(Maybe I needed assertiveness training?)

My reserve would have been a problem because at the same moment I was needing a sunny space, three other pilgrims emerged beside me with armfuls of dripping, wet clothes. They too were looking for a spot and there was no way the four of us could squeeze our gear onto the existing line space. This might have turned into a “survival of the fittest” moment except that Dave magically and effortlessly found space for all of us! He took care of me first and pointed out a free patch. The three women beside me started to get a bit edgy in seeing that I would need every bit of that space. No fear, Dave jumped in with news of another free spot, and he led them down to the far end of the courtyard.

Without being any way pushy or domineering, he found prime sunny space for all of us. He made it look easy and effortless. To him, it probably was. He took care of each of us in the most natural and gentle way, and we all got what we needed. I’m pretty sure he won’t even remember this incident but without realising it, he got me out of a tight spot that afternoon. You see, I’d decided to wash almost all of my clothing that day, including my sweatshirt that I hardly wore but which had become really grimey nonetheless. I needed a lot of sunshine and heat to make sure everything was dry before evening. I wouldn’t have pushed my way onto the clothesline by myself, and Dave’s generous intervention meant that I found a way – and got what what I needed.

I’m pretty sure you don’t remember any of this but Dave, Thank You!

For the second day in a row, I had covered a considerable distance (Brierley would approve!) and had arrived into town early enough to secure a bed. I’d even arrived early enough to wash everything and ensure it was dry before nightfall – no more grimey sweatshirt!

Those new shoes truly changed my Camino.

My Camino Prayer

When I walked the camino, I did so with a deeply-held prayer in my heart. It was a prayer that I said quietly, with all the sincerity that my tired & sore self could muster.

Now, those who know me well that I rarely speak of prayer or “the G word“. I almost never speak of these things aloud because, for me, belief systems are a very private affair. I don’t resonate with the public bells and whistles, I prefer the quiet connection.

So, to speak of prayer is not my usual comfort zone. My camino prayer began before I ever flew to France to start my walk. And it ended? Well, honestly I think it’s still echoing through my life.

The prayer?

It was simple, really.

You’ll remember that I landed in France with a quickly cobbled plan to walk 500 miles to Santiago. On my first night in St. Jean Pied de Port, I met pilgrims who’d spent two years physically training, and assembling and testing their gear. They’d read blogs and books. They prepared for all sorts of scenarios. They raised their eyebrows at my rash impulsiveness and I imagined that they judged me for being a reckless fool.

Thing is: they had a point.

I had done none of their preparation and boy, I felt that lack. But what I *did* have, was a strong heart and a strong spirit for the quest ahead. There was no doubt that I was doing the right thing. The doubt was in my ability to rise to the challenge before me.

So every day on camino, this was my prayer:

“I want to keep going. Please. Give me whatever it is I need to keep going.”

Give me the ability. Give me the stamina. Give me hope. Give me sunscreen. Give me blister-free feet. Give me lightness and calm. Give me all the things I-don’t-even-know-I-need, because I don’t even know what lays ahead.

Every night, I needed a safe place to sleep. I needed food. I needed proper walking shoes. I needed dry socks and clean underwear. I needed the strength to carry my backpack. I needed help putting one foot in front of the other. These were all very physical and practical needs.

But the other things I needed? Well, I found tremendous hope in my conversations with Kevin & Liz, Madonna & Brian. I found great relief in my chats with Peter. I found generosity with Barb and Dave. I found lightness and laughter with Marco and Ricard. I found the unspoken truth with Margaret.

We all need hope, relief, generosity, lightness and laughter. We all need truth.

On camino, I knew that I faced an unknown challenge. I couldn’t plan for every eventuality and I knew I would need help. So, I bowed in to the greater forces of this world and I asked for help. I didn’t know what I needed, so I also asked that my needs would somehow be anticipated and somehow be met.

And they were.

Every day in life, we need countless supports to get up and engage with the world. Every day, a bunch of our needs are met without us ever thinking about it. If you’re anything like me, you don’t go around with a list of hourly requests but yet, a flurry of your needs are anticipated and met, each and every day. And again, if you’re anything like me, you don’t always remember to count out each of those successes and give thanks for them.

On camino, my attention and focus were different. I was acutely aware of my needs being met and I was acutely aware of giving thanks. And still, every day, I walked out of my hostel in the early morning light with the same, humble prayer:

“I want to keep going. Please. Give me whatever it is I need to keep going.”

I walked. I did my utmost each day to “show up” and do as best I could. The greater forces “showed up” too and took care of the behind-the-scenes details. Between us, there was a sort of magic and I came home a profoundly changed woman.

The prayer worked and it’s worked ever since, too.

So, I share it with you in case you’re going through trials with your own camino or your own life right now. Maybe it will bring luck and light to your life too. I hope it does. 🙂

 

 

 

Passing the Half Way Point on Camino Francés…and Still Going

Distance walked: 23.7km

Distance to Santiago: 360.6km (Despite what the photo says!)

Walking the Camino de Santiago on a Sunday is a bit different to walking any other day of the week. Shops and supermarkets are closed so if you need to buy a new rain jacket or some picnic supplies on a Sunday, you might find yourself disappointed. Generally, I discovered the shutters pulled and the front doors locked. Smaller village shops *may* open for a couple of hours in the morning so you might be lucky in buying a few basic supplies but otherwise, you’ll have to wait.

This makes small villages particularly quiet on a Sunday. Depending on your preference, you might find this stifling and dull or delightfully relaxing.

Me? I had no reason to hang around San Nicolás del Real Camino that Sunday morning so I enthusiastically walked on to Sahagún 6-7km away. I was hungry and in search of breakfast, and while I walked I imagined plates of fresh fruit, with pancakes and syrup and pots of hot coffee and bowls of oatmeal. After weeks of baguette, I wanted something different. My taste buds cried out for berries and pears and pineapple. As I walked, I convinced myself that Sahagún would have such a feast on a Sunday morning. There’d be some quirky café open for breakfast and brunch, and I’d sit in, listening to funky music, eating my (no doubt) organic, sustainably sourced feast.

And it would be *am-a-zing!*

Right?

Ha ha….nope!

On the way in to town, I passed through these beautiful markers, reminding me that I was half way between St. Jean Pied de Port and Santiago. In some ways, I felt I  had already travelled more than that but I stopped for a break and aired out my feet. When other pilgrims came up behind me and wanted to take photos of the monuments I had to shuffle out of their view. Hence, I never got around to taking photos of my own 🙂

Click to image to see the photo credit

Sahagún has a population of some 170,000 people so I imagine that some version of my (imaginary) pancake & granola café is there somewhere. In a town that size, there’s surely some potential for it. On that Sunday morning, however, I didn’t find it. I didn’t come even close. Every little café and corner shop I passed on my way in to town was firmly closed up. My dream for pancakes and oatmeal seemed increasingly absurd. I’d be lucky to get breakfast of any sort, never mind my imaginings! Walking camino is not like everyday life and even though I craved a bit of normality that morning, it just wasn’t happening. So, when I finally happened on an open café I was thrilled. And I was happy to eat the baguette, the chocolate croissant, the eggs, and two cups of coffee. Hunger is a great sauce 🙂 And across the road? A small corner shop was open so I stocked up on baguette, tinned tuna, and fruit. I was set.

Sahagún is remarkably historical and significant and others have written about it far more than I ever could. If I had stopped off some other day of the week I might have made an event of it but that Sunday morning at 8am, everything was closed and looked like it would be for the remainder of the day. I crossed over the river Cea and walked on.

Making my way to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos was mostly uneventful. The day was hot and dusty, and I was hopeful that there’d be space for me in the 22-bed hostel. I had chosen to walk 8.7km of an old Roman road as part of my journey to get there so the walk was tiring and sore, and I didn’t really have it in me to go on any further.

In the last 2-3km, a woman appeared suddenly at my shoulder. She’d come up from behind without me even knowing she was there, and she started to chat.

Where had I come from?

Where was I going?

I revealed that I hoped to stay in the hostel up ahead. She too, hoped to stay there but then revealed all the fear. She’d heard that there were no beds left. She’d heard that they didn’t open on a Sunday. She’d heard that if there was no space there that we’d all be stuck because there’s not another hostel for more than 20km!

And then she abruptly ended the conversation with me and ran off ahead.

Why?

To beat me to the hostel.

To get a bed before I arrived.

To maybe take the last one available.

And not for the first time while I walked camino, my heart sank.

Maybe I am foolish and naïve but in *my* head, I would have thought we could walk those last 2-3km together, continue the chat, and investigate the hostel together. If there were beds available, great. If not, then we could unite in finding alternative accommodation or in taking a taxi to the next spot, 20km away. She wasn’t my friend but she wasn’t  my enemy, either. I had no reason to not walk and talk with her, and share some of the journey.

But how sad that she saw me as a threat and literally ran ahead of me. What would she have done if, after all that running, there was no space for either of us? What would she have done then? Would she have pretended to befriend me again or would she have ignored me while pursuing her own agenda? I’ll never know.

As it happened, there was plenty of space for both of us and for everyone who turned up after us, too. Our hospitalero was warm and generous in his welcome, and greeted everyone with a wide smile. He exuded positivity.

So all that fear and all those rumours about there being no space? Most of the time, the rumours weren’t true. There was no need for the fear. And there *really* was no need to outrun and outdo each other.

But that’s my feeling on it all. What’s yours?

 

 

Camino Continues Westwards

Distance walked: 36km

Distance left to Santiago: 369km

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Not a lot of clothes line space in the hostel!

My evening and night at the Santa Maria hostel in Carrión de los Condes was happily uneventful. No crazy snoring. No crazy traffic outside the window. No stress. The nuns requested that we each contribute some food towards the evening meal so in the hours before dinner, the small kitchen filled up with a random display of watermelon, baguette, and chorizo. Always, everywhere, chorizo 🙂 The nuns added fresh vegetables and salad from their own garden and created an evening meal for everyone to share. Communal meals like this are really nice on camino. I had a share of them along the way in various hostels (whether religious or privately-owned) and I appreciated the sense of community that they created.

The next morning, I made my way from the hostel out into the countryside by the light of the moon and the rising sun. I didn’t have a set plan for the day, as usual, but I’d hoped to walk 26.8km to Terradillos de Templarios that day. It seemed like a reasonable distance to cover, especially as there were no coffee stops for the first 17km. I didn’t want to overstretch myself.

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My guidebook informed me that 70% of the route followed natural paths, most of which are part of the Via Aquitana, the paved Roman road that connects to Astorga. It also informed me that the landscape was flat and featureless, so it was another day of ambling along under the searing hot sun. My day was uneventful and I settled into the rhythm of walking westwards. My average walking speed on level ground is somewhere between 4-5km per hour. So, the 26.8km took between 5-6 hours that day, with extra time for breaks along the way. By the time I got to Terradillos de Templarios, the hostels were all full. All 83 beds had been taken already even though it wasn’t yet lunchtime.

This is okay, I thought. I’ll just walk on to the next village.

I walked 3.2km onwards to Moratinos, just under an hour away, but the hostels there were all full there, too. I didn’t even get a chance to investigate that for myself: some pilgrims shouted the information to me from across the road. You’d think that after my experience in Carrión de los Condes I would have taken the time to verify the facts for myself but honestly, it seemed like too much effort to walk from one doorway to the next. Rightly or wrongly, there were days on camino where I felt I didn’t have the extra time, energy, and footsteps required to walk from one hostel to another. In Moratinos, I trusted the pilgrims when they told me everything was booked up, even though they shouted it with big smiles while they went to get cold beers!

By now, I’d been walking nearly 7 hours, the temperature was over 30 degrees C. and you know what? I was tired. I was sweaty. I was very, very dusty. And I really wanted to find a bed for the night. I needed to get in to the shade, have a shower, take a break, but until I found a hostel there was no chance of any of those things. In Moratinos, I assessed my options. I would walk a further 2.8 to San Nicolás del Real Camino in the hope that the 20-bed hostel there would have some space.

That 2.8km was filled with anticipation and nervousness. As the day wore on, the heat increased to near unbearable levels. If there was no bed for me, I was going to have to stop for a few hours anyway. Maybe I could rest for a while and resume walking later in the evening when the day had cooled down. I observed the countryside around me and for the first time in all camino, I seriously considered sleeping outdoors that night. I didn’t have the energy to walk an additional 7km to the next village and even if I did, it would be early evening by the time I’d arrive. That meant there’d be little chance of getting a bed. But out there in the farming countryside, I peered at the enormous bales of straw and thought about sleeping underneath them that night. They were dry, they’d offer some sort of warmth from the cool night air. There were no washing facilities or privacy but I could get over that. I needed somewhere to sleep and those straw bales were a viable option. I wouldn’t rule them out.

When I arrived in Albergue Laganares in the small village of San Nicolás del Real Camino, I expected to hear the worst. The village was eerily quiet and the hostel didn’t even look like it was open for business that day. I tentatively asked for a bed, while thinking of the straw bales down the road.

Sure, we have a bed, the hostel-owner said. Would you like something to drink? You look tired!

Hallelujah! I rejoiced inside. I wouldn’t have to walk another step! After 36km and searing heat, I was finally able to relax for the evening. A shower. A bed. A place to rest for the evening.

And what a fabulous little hostel this was. Quirky with tonnes of personality and care. And couches! Oh my goodness but I hadn’t even seen a couch in weeks, much less sit in one. I sat luxuriously, indulgently on the cushioned seats and felt the weight of my nomadic existence just melt away. Having a couch felt like having a home. It was one of the sweetest moments in all camino!

That night, a feast with pilgrims from all over the world but most of them from Spain. And afterwards, shots of potent desert wine from Madrid – a heady rush of giddiness before falling happily, drunkenly, gratefully into bed.

And how lovely that it was a bed and not a bale of straw after all 🙂

 

 

What Camino taught me about Friendships

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Before I walked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago route in Spain, I felt a bit stuck when it came to friendships. Stuck and sad.

In the years prior, I’d noticed that certain friendships were dwindling or dying. After university, people had scattered to all corners of the world. They had busy jobs, as did I. They had partnered off, as had I, and maybe had new families of their own. They were trying to squeeze a lot of living into a small amount of time, and keeping in touch fell by the wayside. Logically, I got it, and in many ways I was in the same boat. But on a heart level, I missed my longterm friends badly. I missed the fun of hanging out, the spontaneity, the travel, and the parties. Most of all, I missed the connection.

I asked around and I was told it was all normal. It’s a life phase, apparently. Except, it wasn’t just a life phase. Some of the people in my life loved me for sure but didn’t prioritize friendship. Take for example, my friend Bendy (not their real name!). I’d call Bendy and say:

Hey friend, how you doing?

Bendy and I would have a big old chat for two hours and catch up. We’d laugh. We’d swap war stories and it felt great to connect. But at the end, Bendy would always say:

We must do this more often. We must make more of an effort.

I was heartened. It seemed Bendy and I both wanted to stay friends and stay in touch. And I agreed: Yes, we must do this more often.

Only, 6 months would go by with no word from Bendy, no reply to emails, no reply to text so I’d call again:

Hey friend, how you doing?

The cycle would begin again. After 2-3 years of this, I noticed an increasing upset within myself. It felt like I was the one initiating all the contact. It felt like I was the one making all the effort. Just like Bendy, I too was busy with a career and a relationship, but I still found time to reach out to my friends and check-in. I felt alone in my efforts, though. I felt Bendy was taking but not giving in return. Was that just a feeling or was there some truth to it? In 2010, Bendy and I were wrapping up a phone call when the usual script came up again:

We must do this more often. We must make more of an effort!

I was prepared for this and I wanted to do an experiment. I wanted to see what effort ‘we’ were willing to make to keep the friendship alive. I replied by saying:

Yes, we must! Next time you make the phone call!

Bendy laughed a hearty laugh and said goodbye down the phone line. And I didn’t hear from Bendy again for over two years.

I hadn’t imagined the one-sidedness of our friendship. I hadn’t imagined the imbalance of effort. I was the one initiating the contact and when I stopped doing it, Bendy and I had no contact at all. Turned out, there were lots of Bendy friends in my life. They loved me, for sure, but they weren’t ‘there’ any more. That sadness I felt? It was real.

By the time I walked Camino, my heart was heavy and sore from the loss of friendships in all corners of my life. Sometimes I took it personally, other times I brushed it off as normal but either way, I still felt sad.

Everyone who’d walked camino before me (or who’d known someone to walk it) all swooned in telling me:

You’ll meet so many great people along the way!

They imagined that I was worried about walking alone and this was their way of reassuring me. Only, I wasn’t afraid of walking alone. Honestly, that sounded like total bliss! Being an introvert, I didn’t really want to meet lots and lots of people every day. All that small talk made me sweat just thinking about it. Sure, I could do it but the very idea of it was exhausting. So, their reassurances had the opposite effect. But I did meet lots of great people along the way and over the course of those 500 miles, I learned some deeply-felt lessons for my heart and my life, too.

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For a start, I met far too many people who were self-absorbed and insensitive, and they reminded me of all the people like them in my ‘real life’ back home. They were the kind of people I didn’t want to hang out with in Spain and as it happens, I didn’t want to hang out with them at home either. What a revelation to finally and unapologetically realise that.

Secondly, camino helped me get really clear about the different levels of friendship I had in my real life. Not everyone was a close friend and not everyone should get a prime time slot of my time and energy. I hadn’t told anyone when I would return from Spain so I was ‘off the radar’ for a few weeks after I returned. I did this on purpose. I didn’t want the pressure to meet up with all the acquaintances in my life and tell them stories about the cheap wine and great sunshine in Spain. I was on a retreat even when I returned home. And in that quiet, still time, I sort of ‘graded’ my friendships, and gave my time and energy in accordance with the grading. The people I reached out to and met with first were the ones I really, genuinely, heartily wanted to see. All the rest came after. Again, what a revelation to finally and freely prioritize people in this way.

Perhaps the biggest lesson was this:

Camino taught me that people come and people go. And that’s okay.

Every day, I met lots and lots of great people on the trail. People who were open, friendly, generous, and good. People I loved spending time with. It was easy to make friends with these people and I was delighted with the connection. Only, there were some I never saw again.

I met people on my first 1-2 days of walking, had a fabulous connection, assumed I would bump into them further along the way, but never saw them again. Not once! To this day, I have no idea whether they lived, went home early, or ever made it to Santiago. My heart was sorry to have missed out on getting to know them.

And I also met people on my first 1-2 days of walking who appeared on my camino over and over again at the most unexpected and delightful times. We shared dinner and coffee. We connected, we chatted, we swapped stories. Every time we parted, we bade each other a Buen Camino, never quite sure if we would see each other again. But some of these friends met me in Santiago with warm smiles and hugs, and we are in touch ever since.

What was the difference between some friendships ‘sticking’ and others not?

Timing, for sure.

Intent? Yes.

But I’m gonna say that some of them worked because we were in each others’ orbit. Roughly speaking, we were doing the same thing, at the same time, in a roughly similar way, and we had a lot in common. Seeing each other regularly gave us a continuity that made connection easier. And rightly or wrongly, spending time together is important. Without that, some connections just fade away. And that’s what had been happening in my life at home.

On camino, some friends left early. Other friends stayed to the very end.

My heart was soft for them all but slowly, I really came to understand that friends come and friends go. And that’s okay.

So, all that sadness and hurt and anger I had felt over my dwindling friendships at home?

Let it go.

And all that fear I’d felt about not making new connections?

Let that go, too.

The Beatles said it far more poetically and sweetly when they sang, ‘In My Life’ but the sentiment is the same. We are all on a journey. Literally as well as figuratively. We change. We move. We meet people and lose people. Maybe we meet further down the line or maybe we never meet again, but we carry a softness of heart for them as long as we live.

Camino taught me all this. I forget it, sometimes, but I’m remembering again. And remembering the friends and strangers who were so kind to me along the way.

Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

The Camino Provides in Carrión de los Condes

When I arrived in the town of Carrión de los Condes, I was sweaty and dusty and tired. A seemingly helpful woman told me the church hostels were all full, but kindly directed me towards a private hostel that still had space.

At least, she seemed kind and helpful, and I assumed her office attire and clipboard meant she was from the local tourist office or some other professional organisation. My mistake.

When the private hostel staff refused to give me a bed, I stood in the street feeling speechless and numb. I understood being refused a bed because of no space…but this? Being refused because I was a solo traveller was alien to me on camino. And it was a bitter blow after the immense kindness and welcome shown me just a day earlier in Boadilla del Camino. So, what would I do – would I try to find a private B&B? Or would I walk on to the next spot, some 17km away?

I walked through the town for 20 minutes and found a park bench in the shade. Grateful, I removed my sweaty backpack and my even sweatier shoes, and sat to gather my thoughts. I really didn’t have the energy to walk on to the next town so I’d either have to get a taxi there, or I would have to find somewhere to stay in Carrión. The town was busy and popular, and I felt a deep dread at the thought of finding private accommodation. The shoals of people following Brierley’s guidebook would have started in Frómista that morning and ended their day’s walking in Carrión de los Condes, just like the guidebook instructed. They would have checked into the hostels early or booked private B&Bs in advance. The Brierley brigade were good at following instructions and staying organized. They made it difficult for free range walkers, like me, to show up unannounced and find somewhere to stay.

After half an hour in the shade, I re-read my (Brierley!) guidebook and reviewed the options. I still wanted to stay in the Santa María hostel, if possible. You’ll remember that on the trail, I had stayed with the nuns in Zabaldika, and they had recommended this particular hostel in Carrión. IMG_0797

Even though the “helpful” woman had told me all the hostels were full,  I decided to walk over there and see if they could squeeze me in.

And boy was I glad that I did!

I arrived at the heavy wooden door expecting to be told that all beds were taken. I stood on the threshold uncertainly but a gracious young nun gently ushered me in the door. From behind the desk, she welcomed me in with a warm smile.

By now, it was mid-afternoon. Most hostel beds fill up by noon so I had arrived at least two hours later than everyone else. And I had spent one of those hours following the misdirection of other people who’d convinced me that all beds in the town were taken. Asking for a bed here, now, seemed like a ridiculous long shot.

Hello, I said, do you have any beds? I need a bed for one, please.

I held my breath.

, she replied casually, as though they always have beds. No biggie.

I exhaled! Oh my God!

There is only one thing, she said tentatively.

Oh, here we go, I thought to myself.

It is up high, yes? Is that okay?

She was trying to tell me that my bed was at the top of a bunk. I suppose some pilgrims don’t want (or maybe can’t quite make it to) the top of a bunk, so she was mindful enough to mention it to me in advance – just in case. Thankfully, it was no problem for me. High, low, in beside the washing machine, out in the back garden…I didn’t care where I slept. I was just massively relieved to have found somewhere to stay…and in my choice hostel, too.

That night, I slept soundly in my upper bunk beside the window. Glad, grateful, and in awe of how simple it was to get a bed – again. I say “simple” because the beautiful nun made it seem like an effortless and easy process. And maybe to her, it was. But for me, securing that bed required me to “simply” sidestep the mistruths I’d been told. Securing that bed required me to have a bit of faith.

My takeaway things-to-remember that day?

  1. Don’t believe everything you hear – even people who seem professional and helpful can mislead you.
  2. Go for the thing you want. Be brave and give it a shot. Even if you’ve been told it’s unavailable, you never know what might happen. There might be a way of simply squeezing you in 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Dick Measuring – On Camino & In Life

I had an unfortunate encounter this week. I crossed paths with someone I didn’t want to see. She isn’t part of my inner circle but she’s someone I have known a long time so I was obliged to say hello.

Exchange pleasantries.

Pretend to be interested.

I did all that and expected our conversation to wrap up quickly but before I knew it, she started asking more detailed questions. About what? About my plans. Career. Childcare. Things I don’t want to talk about right now. Things I am still figuring out. Things that take time to explain and require great listening, understanding, and trust. Just some of the things that are lacking between us.

I wasn’t prepared for the inquisition. She’s one of these people who hasn’t learned how to ask open-ended questions in a neutral tone. I didn’t want to get into details so I fudged a vague reply. She didn’t take the hint. She asked more questions. Pointed ones. The kind of questions that indicate judgement about my choices, my priorities, my heartfelt journey through life.

And I came home feeling sh*t about myself.

Sound familiar?

We all have people in life that rattle and upend us. The holiday season shakes up our social circle in all sorts of ways and we often come face-to-face with people we’d much rather avoid. It’s part of life.

And it’s part of camino, too. Every day that I walked, I met people who needled me for specific information: How many kilometers had I walked that day? How much money did I earn? What hostel would I stay in that night?

Sometimes these questions were just conversation starters. Most of the time they were benign and meaningless. But all along camino, I met people for whom these questions were far more important. They asked them as a means to gather information about me, often without answering them in return. Or they asked them so they could brag about their own achievements (in life, on camino, whatever). They asked them so they could judge me. Was I as rich as them? As fast as them? As fit as them?

I’m told this is called “Dick Measuring”.

And just as it happens in everyday life, so too on camino. You’d think all those pilgrims would know better.

They don’t.

They walk 500 miles asking pointed, nosey questions that undermine the people around them. They needle for binding, yes/no answers that are easy to catalogue. But I didn’t abide by the black/white rules of life: I was living proof of grey.

It took me a while to figure this out on camino. I went to France/Spain with my heart on my sleeve. I was open. I didn’t have a strategy in my conversations or in my everyday walking. I assumed that the people around me were wholesome and open-minded.

Sometimes, I was wrong.

I learned to keep some details to myself – mostly because they were irrelevant but sometimes because my honesty was used against me.

I had only one true plan: I would do my very best to walk all the way to Santiago. After that, I hadn’t a clue where I would sleep each night or how far I would walk each day. Some people thought I was being difficult or cagey when I didn’t answer their questions. They thought I had something to hide but the truth was less dramatic: I just didn’t have the answers. And I didn’t pretend otherwise. And that was an almighty liberation from my everyday life where I felt this ongoing, immense pressure to always have a plan and always be “on track” with that plan.

As soon as I started seeing a guy, people wanted to know when we would marry.

As soon as we married, people wanted to know when we’d have kids.

As soon as I had a kid, people wanted to know when I’d have another, return to work, and get the first child out the door already.

All this push push push to get to the next thing. And for what?

We’re all going to die. Fact. So why the rush to get through all of life and get to that end point already?

Truth is, I don’t really have a plan. I have aspirations and intentions, and sometimes they merge into a sort of plan. But that’s as organised as it gets around here. I don’t really get into Dick Measuring because it’s absolutely unhelpful in my life. Actually, genuinely unhelpful. And unhealthy too.

I’d like to be asked different questions, like: When did I last get a good look at the sky? What was my favourite thing to happen this week? What am I enjoying these days?

I walked my camino with a deep need to walk with trust instead of fear. And I try to carry that through to my everyday life, too.

So.

To all the people who have needled and pressed me for information: I’ll tell you if there’s something worth sharing but in the meantime, let me be. The answers will come when you stop harassing me with questions.

Just as it was on camino, so it is in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Things You Remember (and Forget)

IMG_1003.JPGIt’s been a while, I know.

Every day, I’m “writing in my head” and coming up with things I want to share here. That’s fine for a while but I need to write “outside of my head” every now and then, too.

So here I (finally) am.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about the Camino de Santiago in a new way and how I write about it. Let me explain:

A lot of camino blogs seem to act as digital postcards for friends and family back home. They list place names and hostel stops. The photos show smiling faces and plates of food. The blogs don’t give a lot of detail and they don’t get reflective. They are just a note to say “Hi, I’m still alive”.

I didn’t write a blog while I walked across Spain. I didn’t expect to write a blog at all but after I’d been home a while and the dust had settled, I discovered I had a lot to say. I decided to write. As time has progressed and my life has become busy with…well…everything, I can’t help but notice what motivates me, or blocks me in writing.

For example, you might have noticed that I had quite a bit to say about the small village of Boadilla del Camino. I wrote four posts about walking to, and staying in this tiny village:

That’s an awful lot of words for a village that (according to my guidebook) has only 140 residents. The reason? The day I walked to Boadilla del Camino was a day when my body felt supremely strong and capable. That day was a high. And everything that happened in the village that evening changed my perspective on my life at home. Outwardly and inwardly, the day affected me deeply. And that was easy to remember. It was easy to get excited about. It was easy to write and write and write.

But the next leg of the trip?

Oh, I hate to admit it but there’s a chunk of the day I just can’t remember. I look at the map and I don’t recognise the place names. I don’t remember the countryside. There are hours in the middle and I don’t remember a thing. I don’t know if that’s because I found the landscape fairly forgettable or if it’s because I was so content with the walking that I didn’t record anything to memory. Either could be true. But whatever the case, my lack of memory has been a block to my writing.

What do I write about when I can’t remember huge chunks of the day? I run the risk of creating a blog post that is just like the ones I mentioned above: brief, vague, and fairly dull. So, what should I write?

Maybe I should come clean and admit it: I can’t remember huge chunks of the day I walked from Boadilla del Camino to Carrión de los Condes. Even though walking the camino was one of the most outstanding and memorable events in my life, there are sections of the trail that I just don’t recall. Of course, I could never remember all 500 miles equally: that wouldn’t make sense. I forget bits. I remember bits. I guess certain bits were uneventful and forgettable. And the bits I remember? Well, those were the bits that changed and re-wired me from the inside out. Those were the bits that have stayed with me every day since.

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Here’s what I remember:

I left Boadilla in the early morning darkness after thanking the hostel owner for my bed & meal. He told me that out of 70 pilgrims who’d dined there the previous evening, I was the only one to thank him personally.

His comment was both saddening and sobering.

I walked westwards. I avoided conversation with Lucy* when I saw her in a café later that morning. It was awkward, for sure, but to resume company with her would have made me murderous: I was better off alone. I walked just over 20km that day through flat, sunny farmland. I took almost no photos but for some reason, I took this one:

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When I arrived in Carrión de los Condes that afternoon, I quickly learned that all the hostels were full. Or so it seemed. Strangely, as I entered the town, a woman in a smart blouse and skirt stood beneath a street sign that directed pilgrims to the different hostels. She spoke to me in English and asked me where I was staying.

I haven’t booked anything, I replied.

There are no beds left in these hostels, she said, and she listed the names of the hostels I had hoped to stay in. But then she (kindly? helpfully? deceptively?) told me the name of a private hostel that happened to have free space.

Disheartened but sort-of grateful, I found the hostel she had mentioned and rang the buzzer from the street. A raspy, muffled voice came through the speaker and I struggled to hear it over the sound of the loud traffic.

In my rusty Spanish, I asked for a bed.

How many?

One bed, please. I am alone.

Just one? No. We have a room with four beds so we will give it to a group of four people. Not one.

And the line went dead.

I stood on the busy street, soaked with sweat, tired, and suddenly disheartened.

That woman had told me all the hostels were full. She’d told me that these guys had space, but the greedy jerks were holding out for a bigger group and more money. I couldn’t blame them but still, there’s supposed to be an understanding that if a pilgrim shows up and needs help of some sort, that help is given.

So, I stood in the shady side of the street and I wondered:

What should I do? Spend valuable time searching the town for a free bed that may/may not exist? Or should I walk out into the countryside again and on to the next village, hoping for a bed there?

On camino, as in life, here’s something I should remember:

Don’t believe everything that you hear.

It turned out that the woman in the skirt & blouse might not have been telling the truth!

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Camino: Is it *Really* that Cheap?

When I first heard about the 500-mile walk in Spain, I was still a student at university. My mountaineering friends talked about the open landscape and the physical challenge….oh, and the affordability of everything along the way. Unlike other long-distance hikes that I knew across the US and Europe, walking the Camino de Santiago seemed surprisingly cheap. Could it be real?

When the time came to walk, I didn’t know how to budget for it. I’d heard and read the stories of people who walked it spending only €20 a day (paying for accommodation, food, and sundries) and I wanted to do the same. I’d just quit my job and didn’t have another one on the horizon so getting the budget right was a necessity. But still, €20 a day, every day, in Europe seemed unrealistic. Would it be enough? And if not, how much extra would I need for 6 weeks of walking?

During my journey, I met a couple who’s combined total spend was €10 per day (wow). I met alleged millionaires who spent thousands of Euro on their trip. And I met every sort of person in between.

Me? I spent more than the rumoured €20 a day. I averaged closer to €35 per day. If were on a super strict budget, that kind of increase would have been a major stress for me. It’s nearly twice the amount that other pilgrims and guidebooks claim is average. So what happened? Did I lose the run of myself and squander my savings on fine dining and lavish spa treatments?

Ha! Not a chance.

From what I could tell, the €20 per day spend was possible only if one did the following:

  1. Walk fast so you can arrive at a town/village early and nab one of the €5 beds before other pilgrims *or* camp out
  2. Cook evening meals in the hostels instead of eating out
  3. Split the cost of private rooms with other pilgrims

Can’t do these things? Don’t want to do these things? Then €20 per day is not feasible and you need to put more money in the purse.

So what did I get for €35 per day?

Things I did:

  • Paid for flights within Europe
  • Slept indoors every night (mostly in dorms)
  • Bought footwear & clothing beforehand and en route
  • Bought pharmacy items en route (Compeed plasters, Ibuprofen, sunglasses, etc.)
  • Sent 1.5kg of belongings home in the mail
  • Contributed to the cost of 2 taxis with other pilgrims
  • Paid for 2 return bus tickets
  • Paid to have my laundry washed & dried in machines on a few occasions
  • Gave between €10-20 to ‘Donativo’ hostels (I could have given less but that was my choice)
  • Stayed in private hotel rooms by myself for 5 nights en route
  • Bought postcards, chocolate gifts, and earrings
  • Bought food in corner shops, supermarkets, and the occasional stall
  • Ate out for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner every day
  • Ate picnics
  • Donated to a photography exhibition & church collections
  • Bought beers & coffee for other pilgrims

Things I didn’t do:

  • Camp or sleep outdoors
  • Plan my route around cheap hostels
  • Book a room in advance (not even my first night in St. Jean or my finish in Santiago)
  • Stay in any of the Parador hotels (alas!)
  • Buy fashionable clothing or anything made of Spanish leather
  • Cook my own food (with the exception of 3-4 occasions)
  • Order the cheapest item on the menu
  • Skimp on pharmacy supplies, food, or a place to sleep
  • Go to bed hungry

All in all, my experience wasn’t overtly decadent but it wasn’t all frugal hardship either.  I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and in the quantities I wanted. I didn’t hold back on the coffee or wine! And I bought whatever clothing/medical supplies I needed along the way. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really see much that I wanted to buy en route. Sure, I could have bought fashionable jeans and winter sweaters in Leon….but then I would have had to carry them all the way to Santiago. There wasn’t a hope in hell I was going to do that, so the temptation to buy frivolous items disappeared quickly.

I bought what I needed and some of what I wanted, and I did just fine.

And you know, the differentiation between my ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ has never been more clear. It was an eye opener for me, not just while I walked but for everyday life too. It’s just another way in which camino changes those of us that walk it.

🙂

 

The Secret to Happiness

I don’t know if people say this very often but here, let me say it:

Walking the Camino de Santiago wasn’t always a barrel of laughs.

A lot of the time, it felt like a tough grind from one dusty day to the next. Am I a bad sport for saying that? I don’t know. I walked and walked and walked, and I wasn’t always sure that there was a point to my efforts. My body hurt in a gazillion different places and I was upset by the competitive race for everything….beds, wi-fi, even a free spot on a clothesline. Maybe I was ‘doing it‘ wrong but I found it immensely physical to walk 500 miles in less than six weeks. I found it emotionally taxing, too. I met pilgrims who swooned about feeling immense joy. Often, I felt I couldn’t relate to their fervent excitement.

But the day I walked from San Bol to Boadilla del Camino (I know, I know, quit talking about this one day already!) I had real, emotional breakthroughs. Yes, I learned to follow my own impulse instead of following anyone else’s pace. And yes, I learned that my social circle needed some heavy pruning. But I also learned something I had forgotten: I learned the secret to happiness.

At this stage in the journey, I’d already been walking for about three weeks. That was long enough to have experienced some rain, some frustration, and lots of tears. It was also long enough to have experienced some solid connection and tender kindness. Walking through the Meseta gave me a chance to put these things in some sort of order. I think the flat, open landscape was so under-stimulating that my mind had a chance to do some internal processing. As I walked, I found myself giving thanks for…well, everything.

I gave thanks for the new, lightweight shoes that were just *so* comfortable compared to my hiking sandals.

And I gave thanks for the fact that I didn’t have any blisters.

I gave thanks for the Factor 50 sunscreen that was protecting my skin from going lobster red.

And I gave thanks for my healthy body that somehow carried me from place to place.

Hour after hour, I ran through lists of things for which I was thankful. I gave thanks for everything I could think of, from my sunglasses to my healthy knees. I gave thanks for every hot shower along the way. I gave thanks for all the coffee, all the clean bedding, all the yellow arrows that pointed me in the right direction. I gave thanks for having the health and finances and impulse to go walk camino. Millions of people would never know that triage of good luck in their life: I was very blessed to have it in mine.

By now you’re thinking: What, that’s it? That’s your big, ‘A-Ha’ lesson? And I bet you’re thinking you’ve heard this kind of thing before. You’ve read this kind of thing before. Blah blah blah.

Right?

If you’re like me, you breeze through your day with a certain confidence about things going a certain way. There’s food in the cupboard. There’s hot water in the shower. There are clean clothes in the closet. Me? I don’t think to give thanks for these things every day, I just assume (and expect) them to be there. They are the baseline, the starting point to my day. I take them for granted.

But on camino, I didn’t have my own cupboards so I didn’t know when, or what I would eat. Similarly, I didn’t know if I’d ever have a hot shower. After all, when sharing a hostel with dozens of other people, there was always the possibility that the hot water would run out just before my turn. On camino, I couldn’t assume anything. I didn’t book my accommodation in advance so from one day to the next, I never knew where I would sleep. Other people were stressed by my lack of planning but I did it by choice: it kept me from getting complacent. And I was grateful for every single bed, regardless of its state.

I had six weeks in my own company so I noticed certain trends. There were days when I gave thanks throughout the day, dozens, if not hundreds of times. Those days were light and full of serendipity. Other days, I felt burdened by all the aches and pains. I felt burdened by disappointments. I didn’t give thanks for much and consequently, felt beaten down by both the camino and by life.

There’s a connection there. It sounds trite but really, giving thanks and literally counting my blessings made me a happier person. I felt light. I felt capable. I felt confident and playful and free.

It really was that simple. The secret to happiness? Give thanks for what you’ve got.

I say all of this because it’s relevant on two fronts:

  1. Giving thanks was a potent experience for me on camino and in my everyday life since then. Quite literally, it transforms the seemingly banal hum drum into something exquisite and profound. I can always use more of that 🙂
  2. When I left the albergue in Boadilla del Camino, I sought out the owner to say thanks to him in person. You’ll remember that he took me in even though he had no room and later, found a bed for me. He cooked a superb meal the evening before for everyone in the village…not just the pilgrims in his own hostel but the other ones too. He was the personification of a generous host. I was full of sincere and heartfelt thanks, and I wanted to say it to him before I walked off into the 6am light. The hostel was full of people putting on their boots and zipping up their packs for the day ahead. I found him in kitchen, already preparing for the day ahead. In my rudimentary Spanish I thanked him for being *such* a nice guy and for being so kind to me. And you know what he said? Of the 70 people who’d eaten his meal the previous evening, none of them had said thanks. And of all the pilgrims who’d slept on beds, sofas, and the floor, none of them had said thanks either. That morning, I was the only one who sought him out. We stood there, thanking each other.

I was glad I’d made the effort to reach out and say a nice word. But I was disappointed and saddened too. So many of my fellow pilgrims barreled through camino with a sense of entitlement. They assumed that the dinner would appear just because they were paying for it. They didn’t think of the people who spent the day planning and cooking it for them. They didn’t think to say thanks. Worryingly, they didn’t think they had to.

Walking to Santiago isn’t just about the cheap wine or the interesting people from all over the world. It isn’t life-changing if you spend your days racing for beds and being a dick to the hostel owners along the way. Everyone wants the adventure and the glory. Everyone wants the ‘A-Ha’ experience but to get it, we have to exercise a bit of kindness. Humility. Gratitude. Decency. They’re simple concepts but not always easy to put in practice. But when we do? Wow, what happiness awaits. So today, give thanks. Count your blessings. And tell someone just how much you appreciate something they’ve said/done that made your life easier. *This* is what camino is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

Camino de Santiago: A Turning Point

When I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage route in Spain, I knew I’d have time to reflect. I knew I’d see my life differently. I knew the experience was going to change me. Six weeks of walking will do that to a person.

The evening I arrived into the small village of Boadilla del Camino, I had no idea that I was on the cusp of a major turning point, not just for camino but for my “real life” too.

Backtrack a bit: Lucy* (not her real name) and I had walked together earlier on the trail. She was a native English speaker, travelling alone, and she walked at the same pace as I. We fell into each other’s company easily and I enjoyed the chat. That is, until I didn’t. Over the space of a few days, I slowly realised that I didn’t want to spend so much time with her any more. Our values felt very different. Our intentions around the camino felt very different. I felt increasingly miserable in her company. I decided to continue on alone, so I bade her a Buen Camino and never expected to see her again. Sweet relief! Bumping into her in Boadilla del Camino was a surprise. Her excitement at seeing me was a surprise, too.

From the minute she spotted me, she stuck to my elbow for the next couple of hours.

I went to find somewhere to stay, she followed.

I went to light a candle in the church, she followed.

I went to hang laundry on the line, she followed.

All the while yapping about herself, and her trials and tribulations over the intervening week.

Nothing wrong with that, you say.

For two hours, I nodded, I oohed and ahead, and felt my initial interest drain away from me like blood. Truth is, I was dog tired that evening, and being on the wrong end of a monologue sapped my remaining energy. I didn’t really care about the food she ate three villages back on the trail. I didn’t care about the amputee she’d met somewhere on the route. I didn’t even care about the conversation she had with the hairdresser when she decided to have her hair styled into a long-lasting blow dry.

I just wanted to chat with other pilgrims, eat some dinner, and get to sleep.

Lucy* wanted to monopolise my energy and my evening.

Countless times, I tried to steer the topic to me…just so we might have an actual conversation. Every time, she steered it back to her. Only once in the two hours did she ask:

So, how are you?

Well, since I saw you last I….

She cut across me and steered the chat back to her again.

Sigh.

We sat together over dinner and I watched her actively ignore the two German women sitting at our table, as she wanted to talk to me only. She couldn’t share the table with strangers. She couldn’t share general conversation. By the time we finished our evening meal, I was truly exhausted from five hours of being targeted. The next morning, I avoided her.

Over the next three days, I noticed myself getting angry every time I thought about Lucy*. I walked out of Boadilla del Camino with speed, determined to put some space between us but still, my mind kept tossing over the events of the evening.

Why am I so upset about this, I wondered. She’s gone, I may never see her again, why am I getting angry?

And then it hit me: I knew a whole list of people just like her in my real life at home.

Friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues…I knew too many people just like her. People who took advantage of my empathy, my listening skills, and time. People who, in theory, were contributing to a relationship but in reality, took my kindness for granted. For years, I had felt the imbalance of our conversations and time together but I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Everyone was busy.

Everyone had stuff going in their life.

It was understandable that people neglected to ask me about myself, or listen when I offered to share. They just didn’t notice but next time we’d rectify that, right? For years, I had felt the hurt of being overlooked and unappreciated. I thought that if I invested more time in these relationships they’d balance out a bit.

I was wrong.

After spending the evening with Lucy*, I finally got some perspective on how these other relationships affected my life. I had felt hurt and lonely and ignored for too long. Spending more time with these people wasn’t the answer: I needed to spend *less* time with them.

Like everyone else, I too was busy. I too had stuff going on in my life. And I was as deserving of a listening ear and support as much as anyone. Relationships are supposed to go both ways. I decided to give less to the ones that were stuck at the end of a one-way street.

So, the friend who promised for three years that they’d call next time they were in town…but didn’t?

That’s okay. I’m not upset, just don’t expect me to keep initiating contact.

And the family member who expected me to visit them all the time?

Sorry, the road goes both ways. Next time it’s your turn to travel.

After the evening with Lucy*, I felt agitated and angry for three days until I realised that she was an echo of my real life at home. I could walk away from Lucy but I never realised that I could walk away from other defunct relationships, too. That surprise, unwelcome, and monopolizing encounter was a turning point: it gave me the strength to evaluate my relationships with less hurt and more pragmatism.

Does the person initiate contact with me? Yes/No

Does the person respond to me? Yes/No

Does the person take an active interest in me? Yes/No

Do I feel valued in this relationship? Yes/No

Do I see a future for this relationship? Yes/No

Do I want to keep this relationship? Yes? ? ?

No.

I never knew I could say that.

Friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues…all of these relationships changed after camino.

Thanks, Lucy* for driving me so crazy that I changed my life 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boadilla del Camino and the Hostel of Plenty

When I waved goodbye to Denis and Fred in Itero de la Vega, I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t see the pair of them again. Camino is like that: people come and go all the time and you never know if you’ll ever meet them again. The day would prove that in more ways than one.

I arrived in Boadilla del Camino at five in the evening, covered in sweat but energised from a day of fabulous walking. My guidebook informed me that there were 76 beds on offer between the various hostels. At that late hour in the day, would there be a bed for me? If not, I would have to walk another 6km to Frómista, knowing that to arrive after 6 in the evening would really limit my prospects.

On the door of the first hostel I saw the sign: they were full. Sitting out front, reading a book, I recognised Lucy* (not her real name) whom I’d walked with days earlier. She leapt excitedly from her chair to come greet me. With her arms waving and her hair flying, we were suddenly in a hug with squeals of surprise. She was clearly delighted.

But is it awful to admit that I wasn’t delighted…not even a little?

We had spent 2-3 days in close orbit further back on the trail but I had been happy to part ways when we did. I hadn’t expected to see her again so soon. Or at all. I especially didn’t expect to hear that she had taken a bus to bridge the 100km distance that would otherwise be between us.

Drat.

Oh, and she had found the time to go to a hairdressers along the way to get some sort of permanent blow dry in her hair. Apparently she was having trouble managing the frizz.

<Insert my withering (and yes, judgemental) smile here>

Considering I had abandoned my fashion sense *entirely* on camino, this news of hairdressers was stunning to me..literally. I was speechless, even though I admit her hair looked great.

Without haste, she informed me that every bed in the village had been taken hours earlier. While she sat reading a novel, I had walked a sweaty, speedy 6km per hour and totalled nearly 35km that day. The difference between us stung a little. She advised that I would need to get a taxi to Frómista, or maybe even the next village after that. There was simply nothing on offer here.

Still, I pottered up to the doors of En El Camino to see whether they could help and was happily surprised to bump into Barb and Dave, who welcomed me with warm smiles.

“It’s all booked up’, they confirmed, ‘but go inside anyway and ask”.

Within, I got chatting to Hugo who initially looked helpless when I asked for a bed. He stared down at the ledger in front of him and confirmed what everyone else had told me: they were all full up. Not only was every bed taken, but all their floor space in the sleeping areas was taken too. The armchairs were taken. The couches were taken. There was nowhere he could put me. He was very sorry.

But a little bit of magic caught us both by surprise:

I found myself saying, “Do you have anything at all? I’m only little and I’ll be very quiet!”

He laughed.

His eyes twinkled.

There was a moment of playful sparkle in the air…and he said to me:

“We will serve dinner in the dining room this evening but when it is over I can put a mat down on the floor for you. That’s the best I can do.”

HURRAH!

I thanked him profusely 🙂

I’m not usually a person who blags my way into VIP areas or asks for discounts on my bill. I’m generally uncomfortable with asking for special treatment but somehow it was easy that day. I was filled with contentment. I found fun in the asking.

I had walked my furthest and fastest. I had also walked with a heart full of gratitude and joy. Getting a mat on the floor meant I could rest for the evening. I had somewhere I could take a shower, wash my clothes, get some dinner. Even better, this was a hostel that had a grassy lawn out front where pilgrims sat in the sun, chatted, played guitar, and dipped their feet in the water fountain. It was like an advert for a holiday resort.

As dinner progressed, Hugo kept me updated on their ever-changing lodging details. He had found a floor space in one of the dorms so he would put a mat there instead of on the dining room floor.

Awesome! I wouldn’t have to wait for everyone to finish their post-dinner drinking before I could go to sleep.

Later again, he came to find me and share that a bed had become available. The pilgrim that had booked it never showed up. It was after 9pm and they were unlikely to show at that late hour.

“It’s on the top [of a bunk]”, he half apologised. “Is that okay?”

I was thrilled!

Every day on the trail, people around me talked nervously, excitedly, and authoritatively about the availability of beds. Everyone understood that hostels filled up by lunchtime or even earlier. It was nearly pointless to try finding a bed later in the day.

Yet, that’s exactly what I did. I had rocked into the village after 5pm and gone from having nowhere to sleep,

to a mat on the floor,

then a mat on a quieter, nicer floor,

to having an actual bed.

All this without reserving anything in advance, without perpetuating the fear that others felt, and without pushing my body to walk any less or more than it wanted to walk that day.

The goodness had fallen sweetly, gently into my lap.

When I fell into bed that night, I felt fit to burst. It wasn’t just from eating a feast of lentils and hake, it was from the joy of living a full and generous day.

They say, “The camino provides”. Indeed it does 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Life is a Camino

My good friend Jen is walking her second Camino Francés at the moment. This time, she’s walking it in reverse…she started at Finisterre on the coast and is making her way back towards St. Jean Pied de Port in the south of France.

Before she left, she made small inspiration cards to share with other pilgrims and I got a pack of them too. Every day, I randomly pick a new one from the pack, wondering what thoughtful reflection I will find.

Yesterday, this was my card:

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How is the camino like my life?

Funny, I think about this every single day.

Since the arrival of Little Baba, I have less time and energy than before. I desperately want to write blog posts but I get about an hour in the evening to eat, shower, and spend time with Handsome Husband before I fall into bed. I hate to say it but blog posts are a luxury I don’t have the time for.

It’s kind of fitting because I didn’t have time or energy to write blog posts while I was on camino, either. I don’t know how anyone does. By the time I found a place to stay each evening, had a shower, handwashed my clothes, and ate a dinner of some sort, I wasn’t fit for another thing. Some days I was too tired to eat at all and went straight to bed despite my empty belly. I can’t imagine the admin and energy it would have taken to write blog posts of any merit.

My life with Little Baba feels like another Camino. I think about that every day and I take great strength from knowing I’ve walked one Camino already. I know I’m a tough old bird and I’ve got pretty good stamina. And like my days in Spain, these days:

  • I am awake before 6am and in bed by 10pm. (I got fairly uninterrupted sleep back then whereas now…well, that’s a daydream!)
  • I am frazzled tired but I need to keep going. And like camino, I’m drinking the coffee but not feeling any difference to my energy levels or alertness!
  • I look a fright! I’m not really doing the “Yummy Mummy”thing right now. Similarly, when I went to Spain, I didn’t bring my nicest hiking gear. Instead, I brought the pieces that were reliable and durable, even though some of them were God damn ugly. I wasn’t trying to look the part, I wanted to be the part. And I’m doing the same thing now, too.

These are all fairly trivial similarities. The real meat is at a more private level.

How is the camino like  my life?

  • I am learning again that pacing myself is important. You can’t walk 500 miles to Santiago all at once. You can’t raise a small child all at once, either. Big things happen in increments over time. It’s taken weeks to write this blog post because I’ve snatched 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. I can’t do it all at once any more. I am learning all over again what it means to get up every day, set realistic but flexible goals, and do my best to meet them…all the while knowing that the day could turn pear-shaped at any time. When that happens, I have to chalk it up to experience and start the next day afresh.
  • I’m learning again what it is to say Thanks for all that goes right on a given day. The water in the shower was hot? Awesome! I didn’t get rained on when I brought Little Baba for a walk? Wonderful! Every day, thousands of things go in my favour. Most of the time, I take them for granted and get on with my life. Lately I’m learning again what it means to have even a moment of mindfulness and say Thanks.
  • I’m reminded that when I compare myself to others, I usually put myself at the bottom of the pile and that sucks. So, I’m not rocking the “Yummy Mummy” vibe right now? I didn’t rock the “Trendy Hiker” vibe while on camino, either. I’m okay with that. Comparing myself to all the trendy hikers and glamorous Moms of this world is a quick slide into hell for me. The best thing? Just don’t go there.

Of course, there are things about camino that I really miss and long for. Mostly, I miss the time. I miss all those hours I had to myself every day to walk, reflect, and explore. I didn’t stay in any hotels or drink any champagne on my camino but my experience was still a luxury – I had a healthy body and time on my side. Everything was possible!

I knew this, of course. I left my job to go walk camino because my life was spinning in a frenzy and with each passing year, I seemed to have less and less time for the things that mattered. I wasn’t happy. I needed to hit the “reset” button and I knew that 6 weeks of walking was a luxury of time. I had to take it.

I am delighted that I did. Walking camino gave me an opportunity to be someone else for a while…not just a disgruntled employee or a newly married woman, but a solo traveller on a physical and metaphysical pilgrimage. Camino gave me time with myself. Even though my life is busy now, I still feel energised by my Camino experience. It’s kind of like having a bulk of savings in the bank before buying something really expensive. I had 6 weeks to walk and to reflect: what a tremendous asset before all of this other, very grown-up stuff started happening. Every day I draw on my Camino experience in some way and I take strength from it. Every day I find similarities between my 6 week journey then and my life now. I imagine I’ll keep finding similarities for years to come.

I’m just hoping I can start getting a bit more sleep soon. That would be good 🙂

What about you? How is the Camino like *your* life?

 

 

 

 

My Best Day’s Walking: San Bol to Boadilla del Camino

Distance walked: 33.6km

Distance to Santiago: 440.8km

I loved this day. Somehow, it contained so much goodness that it became my best day’s walking on the Camino Francés. All this time later, I still think of it with great fondness. When the going gets tough, thinking back on this day fills me with strength. It was one of those days when pretty much everything went right and my body felt strong and able…a glorious synchronicity on my 500-mile journey.

My previous night in San Bol had been uneventful and restful. Once the generator had cut out, we had no choice but to go to bed at the unexpected hour of 8.30pm and I slept soundly under a mound of woollen blankets. I couldn’t have been happier!

The next morning, I left the hostel before 6am and headed west towards Hontanas, where I  hoped to find some hot coffee and breakfast. Out there in the middle of the meseta, there was no one on the trail ahead of me or behind me. The wheat fields had been cut so that only stubble remained in this completely flat landscape. I could see for miles around. The moon hung low in the sky ahead of me, in the west. The morning sun rose warmly behind me, in the east. For a time, they both sat in the indigo sky and I felt the magic of being right in the middle, walking ever closer to Santiago. The lights on top of windmills in the distance flickered on and off, a warning to low flying aircraft, and were the only movement on that otherwise still and quiet morning. I felt as though I had the world to myself.

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Early morning on the Meseta

In my “real life” I am not a morning person. I love lazy lie-ins. On camino, I was up before dawn quite a lot and those early hours became some of my favourite. I liked the quiet. I liked the changing light. I liked listening to the birds chirping and singing from their concealed perches. I felt altogether more wholesome and connected to the world when I was up early, walking, walking, warming up my body for the day ahead.

In Hontanas, I found a café with funky music and friendly staff, and I loaded up on hot coffee and carbs. I also spotted a swimming pool and for a moment, I stood at the chicken wire fence, gazing into the still blue water, so tempting, so clean.

If you can believe it, I debated on whether to bring my swimming togs with me on camino. In my real life, I swam 2-3 times a week and I knew I would miss it desperately while in Spain. I even researched some of the camino forums to find out whether there were swimming pools anywhere on camino but I struggled to find any real details. Anyway, the idea of packing my togs seemed ridiculous when the plan was to cross Spain by foot. I couldn’t justify carrying the weight of the togs (ahem!) when I’d surely get no use out of them…so I never packed them. That morning in Hontanas, I wished that I had!

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Doesn’t it look great?!

For those of you wondering about swimming pools on the camino route: I stayed in 2 places with swimming pools and passing the pool Hontanas was a third. So…I’ll know for next time! 😉

I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly made Hontanas seem so appealing that morning, but it had a definite vibe, even at 7am. My morning coffee stop was usually 15-20 minutes but in Hontanas I lingered for an hour. Whatever the reason, the little village felt cosmopolitan and hip, and somehow connected to the real world beyond camino. I was reluctant to leave.

But I did eventually leave and walked on to San Antón and its 15th century convent, and a hostel that was/is famous for pilgrims sharing an evening meal by candlelight. Rumour had it that an American doctor walked camino at the same time as I, but was followed by Oprah Winfrey’s TV crews and “people”. They wanted to film him on his profound and life-changing journey, so he was followed by camera crews from beginning to end. I’m not so sure how profound that would be…but hey, I’m the last person to promote reality TV. Apparently, he & the crew stayed in San Bol about a week after I passed through, and destroyed the intimacy of the evening by using strong lights for their filming. No candlelit dinners that night. 😦

I heard the Oprah rumours again further along the trail but I never did confirm whether they were true. If they were, I feel sorry for any pilgrims that chose to stay in San Antón the same night as that guy…anyone wanting to experience intimacy or quiet would have struggled to find either, I think.

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Magnificient!

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Brierley’s guidebook tells me that under St. Anthony’s archway (Arco de San Antón), bread was left for pilgrims of old. The tradition continues today but with pilgrims leaving messages instead. If only I’d read my guidebook at the time, I might have known this when I passed through! Instead, I wondered at why so many people had chosen to leave written prayers in that particular spot.

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When I think back on this day, lots of different things helped make it a particularly great day of walking. My body had grown stronger so I forgot the aching exhaustion I’d felt at the beginning. The weather was spectacular: azure blue skies and beaming sunshine for hours on end. And yes, there was lots to see along the way. But something in me had shifted. Way back in Burgos, I had checked into a private room feeling overstimulated and cynical about the camino thing. I had expected that everyone walking towards Santiago shared the same sense of spirit. I had assumed we’d all be walking with humility and compassion: I thought we’d all “go with the flow”. I never expected to find myself in the middle of a daily race for beds. I didn’t expect people to leave pools of water on the bathroom floor. I didn’t enjoy watching pilgrims shout at café staff in English, thinking this was somehow reasonable in rural Spain. I didn’t like the selfishness that I saw play out, day after day.

But somewhere between Burgos and San Bol, I stopped caring about what others did. I’d already spent way too much time being upset by others’ behaviour, their words, and their apparent intent.

Everyone else had *their* camino: now it was time for me to have *mine*.

I reflected on my behaviour, my intent, and thought about what I wanted.

What did I want?

I wanted some peace and quiet.

I wanted more time by myself.

Most of all, I wanted to walk.

This day, between San Bol and Boadilla del Camino, I walked 34km of solid, steady, strong walking…and I loved it! After so many painful, worn-out days on camino where I felt I was dragging my sorry-ass corpse across Spain, *this* day felt like a magnificent flourish.

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So what was the secret?

  1. I did what I wanted to do: I walked. I stopped thinking about whether that was fast or slow. I stopped thinking about pretty much everything and I just let my feet take over. Glorious!
  2. I noticed myself saying prayers of thanks as a way of passing the time. Hour after hour, I gave thanks for the weather being dry. I gave thanks for the high-tech gear that made my walk a bit easier. I gave thanks for not having blisters. Hour after hour, I listed off hundreds of things that were working well in my life. And you know what? I discovered that I had an awful lot to be thankful for.
  3. I also noticed myself saying the very few prayers I know since childhood. Hail Marys and Our Fathers,  mostly. I said them on a loop, hour after hour. Without thinking about it, I prayed for my first teacher at school and for the woman who drove my bus to school each day. I prayed for relatives who were living and dead. I prayed for healing. I prayed for people I hadn’t thought about in years. And when I had finished praying for all of these people and I felt I still had prayers to spare, I prayed for anyone at all who might need some help. I prayed for pilgrims ahead of me and behind me on the path who may have been having a tough time of it, just like I did a few days earlier.

Somehow, these things unlocked*my* camino magic.

My camino joy came from the very simple, but profound act of doing something that I loved. I walked, and I left people behind without feeling guilty or sad. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them anymore, it was just that I needed to really strike out on my own in a good way.

I didn’t (and don’t) do enough of this in my life. I get bogged down by responsibility and duty. I get bogged down by chores. I make decisions that are for a group’s benefit rather than my own. I run around with an endless “To Do” list and I leave the fun stuff to the very end. Neglecting this blog is an example of my misplaced duty for other parts of my life. Only if, and when the kitchen is spotless and I’ve replied to all my emails do I allow myself to do the things that nurture my soul. So you can be pretty sure that I don’t get to these things often enough…it sucks.

This day, I mentally & emotionally embraced what it meant to walk for myself, and I rejoiced at the glory of it!

The second bit – expressing gratitude – was truly profound for me. I chose to walk camino in a particular way and it meant I could never be certain of a bed to sleep in or of getting all the way to Santiago. Walking this way – and leaving myself wide open to the uncertainty – forced me to take note of all the things that worked in my favour every day. It forced me to pay attention to all the goodness and once I started doing that, the goodness seemed to multiply. There were, quite literally, hundreds of things to be thankful for. I spent hours listing them in my head and feeling like the luckiest woman in the world to have it all fall into my lap so effortlessly.

Out there in the meseta, walking towards Santiago, I walked exactly as I wanted to walk and I gave gratitude for every step along the way. It was a potent combination and by late morning I felt invincible.

In Castrojeriz, I had the unexpected delight of stepping into a photography exhibition in Hospital del Alma, where I drank mint tea and ate cookies in the cool shade. I never expected to find a photography exhibition on camino but it was delightfully normalising and I lingered for more than an hour, wandering around the shabby chic house that had been converted into a gallery.

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If I had looked at my guidebook (ha! if ever!) I’d have known that there as a 900m high point ahead of me that day. I’d have known to pace myself or to brace myself for a sweaty climb in the afternoon sun. But I didn’t read my guidebook. After hours of walking, in the scorching heat, I suddenly found myself half way up this hill that seemed to appear out of nowhere and I remember thinking to myself:

“Fuck me, this is a bit much, innit?!”

By then it was early afternoon and the sun was at its highest, and hottest part of the sky. I had walked for hours already and I had worked up quite the sweat. Climbing uphill in the early afternoon sun was the last thing I needed but there was no way out of it so I coached myself on with the thought that from the top of the hill I’d have a good view of the land on the other side. I expected to see the next little village up ahead. There’d be a cluster of trees and buildings. There’d be some cool shade and a café bar where I’d get an ice-cold coke instead of my usual coffee. There would be a chance to get in from the 100 degree heat and take a break.

When I got to the top, I looked out the far side. This is what I saw:

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No cluster of trees!

No little village!

No cool shade. No coke. No break!

Another day, I would have wept at the realisation. This day, I laughed out loud…and kept walking. I felt so entirely content. I didn’t really care that there wasn’t a break in sight. I was caked in sweat and dust, and my own odours were intense (nice!) but I didn’t give a hoot. The physical exertion felt like the most real thing I had experienced in years and I was only delighted to keep walking.

Bring it on!

An hour later in Itero de la Vega, I happily bumped into Denis and Fred, and some other familiar faces. I joined them in the shade of a café bar while they drank cool beers and I finally got my cold coke. They’d booked into the hostel already and would pass the afternoon with chat and laughter. I was tempted to join them…even more so because I hadn’t seen them in days and I loved their company. If I stayed, I’d have a fun evening and great company.

But…

I really, really wanted to walk.

I had walked just over 25km that day – a decent amount – and it was wise to quit while I was ahead and keep some of my energy. It was also gone past 3pm and the ground seemed to shimmer from the intense heat. To keep walking in that was madness…especially when the next hostel stop was over 8km away. Most pilgrims stopped walking by lunchtime every day to avoid the heat. It was a risky move to consider going on further:

What if I walked those extra 8.2km and got sunstroke?

What if I walked those extra 8.2km and exhausted myself?

What if I walked those extra 8.2km and found there was no bed in the next village? I’d have to walk even further and by then, it would be late in the evening. Did I really have the energy for all of that?

In the end, I decided that I did.

So at 3.30pm I waved goodbye to the guys and walked the fastest 8.2km of my life! I wanted to get out of the sun as quickly as I could, so I pounded my way to Boadilla del Camino where I hoped there’d be a bed for the night. I had felt invincible and blessed that entire day, and it was my best day by far. I wondered what awaited me in the village up ahead but there was only one way to find out!

I wonder: what was *your* best day on camino? Do you know what made it so great? And do you think those things could be replicated in your “real life” every day? 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camino: You are always on my mind…

You may have noticed another hiatus in this blog…there haven’t been so many new posts recently.

I admit it: I’ve badly neglected this blog, despite my best efforts to post often. True, I changed jobs and moved house in the last year and those things had a big impact on my availability…but not as big an impact as the arrival of “Small Baba” in my life.

A-ha! 

The *real* reason for my neglect these past few months!

People say that changing job, moving house, and having a baby are among life’s major stressors. I remember reading that they were in the Top 5. They may even be in the Top 3 list of life stresses. I’ve experienced all three in a 12-month period. Life has been so busy and unexpected that I often haven’t had the time to reflect on how it’s progressing. The landscape keeps changing and I just keep going. Years from now, I’ll probably look back at this time as somewhat insane. For now, I just keep plugging away as best I can, surfacing for air every once in a while.

Small Baba has proven to be the ultimate distraction. I anticipate an hour of quiet so I flip open the laptop lid and press the power button…only to get called away by the squeaks and squeals of this new little person needing my attention.

Writing anything – even a shopping list – is a big ask sometimes!

That said, I find myself thinking about camino every day. I find myself reflecting on camino-themed blog posts in my mind. I keep thinking of parallels between my camino experience and my daily life, and I keep thinking of material for new posts. Camino is always on my mind, hovering close to the surface.

These days, I’m continually reminded of how walking camino and caring for a small person are similar in ways: both feel like marathons, not sprints.

  • Pacing oneself is important.
  • Setting realistic expectations is important.
  • Celebrating the successes, however small, is important.

There were days on camino when my body felt so impossibly sore and tired that I couldn’t fathom how to keep going. With hundreds of kilometers stretching out in front of me, I wondered whether I had the stamina or resources to make it all the way to Santiago. Sometimes the challenge felt too huge to really comprehend. Sometimes Santiago felt like a mirage – one I couldn’t quite rely on.

I did the only thing I could do: I took it one day at a time. I left my hostels every morning, sore, stiff, and tired from a night of snoring roommates, and I put one foot in front of the other. I tried not to think too much about the aches and pains. Instead, I thought about the hot coffee awaiting me in the next village. I thought about the warm sun behind me, browning the backs of my legs. I thought about all the things that were working in my favour. And I prayed for everything I would need to keep going. Walking 800km all at once doesn’t happen in one day or in one week – the trail is too long for that. My mind struggled to understand what 800km really meant. The only thing I could do was take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and leave the rest up to the heavens.

Life with Small Baba is different but not dissimilar. Anything can happen. Plans change quickly and unexpectedly so sometimes it’s better to have a flexible aspiration for the day instead of a plan. That way, when the day goes better/worse than expected, there’s less upset about the plan working/not working.

My camino was a lot like that.

And everything I learned about myself on camino is standing to me now. All those noisy hostels, all those humbling aches, all those hours alone to reflect and reassess my life. I didn’t walk camino to “find myself” but I came home knowing and understanding myself on a whole new level. I came home knowing, and I mean *really knowing* that I am strong. I came home knowing that big things are possible when they’re broken down into smaller, manageable chunks. And I learned that there is a time for everything…so it’s okay to take the time and space, and just let the journey unfold.

There are lots of things I want to say about camino. There are photos and memories to be shared, and conversations yet to be had. If you can be patient with my comings and goings, I’d like to think that I will translate some of these thoughts and insights into written word over time.

And I’d like if you could stick around to read the words and tell me what you think.

In the meantime, there are squeaks and squeals to tend to, and a new journey unfolding before me every day. For all of us, January is over but the year is still young. Go gently. Pace yourself. Take it one day at a time. And celebrate the successes, however small they may be – they will give you the strength you need to go further, go higher, and go deeper.

We will all get there, wherever “there” is. Just give it some time.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Siesta

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Candles in the Church in St Jean Pied de Port, France

** Reposting this one – enjoy! **

When I walked the Camino across Spain last year, I passed through countless towns and villages along the way.

Okay, somebody probably counted them by now so they’re surely not “countless” at all.

But there were a lot of them.

I got familiar with the Spanish custom of siesta in the afternoon – usually between the hours of 1 and 4pm.

Sometimes, I had arrived at my destination by then and was enjoying lunch and chat with other pilgrims. We could be having a coke or a glass of wine, sitting in the shade or the sun, and relishing the chance to sit and rest our tired bodies.

Other times, I was in the process of showering and washing my clothes in a sink, taking care of logistics in preparation for the next day’s walking.

Sometimes, by the time it came to 1pm, I was still out walking. It’s a hot time in the day to be on the trail but I wasn’t fast enough to walk 25km first thing in the morning, so I often walked into the early afternoon. Occasionally, I was still walking when the clock rolled around to 4pm, too. If you thought it was hot at 1pm, you’d be surprised to find it even hotter at 4pm!

Once, I felt frustrated with the awkward opening hours, hungrily waiting to buy food from the only grocery shop in a tiny village.

When it came to siesta, I often found myself doing something other than sleep.

But on a couple of occasions I happened to be indoors, with a secure bed for the night, and a relatively quiet room around me. On a few occasions, I managed to have an afternoon nap and join the rest of Spain in this glorious custom. Those naps were precious and delightful. Thinking about them even now makes me smile inside!

We all need to rest. We all need to down tools and put up our feet. In Spain, the daily siesta gave us an opportunity to go more slowly in life. The daily siesta gave us a chance to take a break from walking, or take some time to reflect. Life can’t be all “go-go-go” all the time. We are organic creatures and need recovery time.

Christmas is a flurry of activity for many of us. There’s a long list of shopping, cooking, and socialising to tend to, and sometimes that’s before the 25th even starts! For others, it tenderly reminds us of loved ones who are ill or no longer here to join us in celebration. For some of us, it’s a lonely time as we watch other people race about in excitement, but with little excitement of our own. And for some of us, it’s not really a holiday we resonate with, but we have to watch the flurry all the same.

Not everyone likes Christmas, while others would embrace it every day of the year.

It takes all sorts.

In the northern hemisphere right now, it’s winter. The days are short, the nights are dark, and our hibernating tendencies kick in as we try to stay warm, stay fed, and stay cosy. It’s a good time of the year to have a holiday, have a nap, and load up on extra calories.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, it is still a winter holiday – a time to take a break and put up your feet. Whatever your stance around religious holidays, family gatherings, boozy celebrations, or consumerist shopping sprees, this is a siesta in the middle of winter. It’s an opportunity to slow things down a little, take some time to rest, and take some time to reflect. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or involve a lot of cooking – it’s all about taking a break from the daily chaos.

Every day I walked Camino, Spain held its daily siesta in the afternoon. The break was great, but there was always more walking to be done. We couldn’t stay resting forever, however tempting it was!

So may your Christmas siesta give you the energy and strength you need to keep going, too. Whatever you choose to do with this winter holiday, I hope it fills you with peace. May the Christmas siesta be refreshing and restful, and may you return to this blog feeling hopeful and inspired for the year ahead.

I’ll be here to share more tales from my Camino journey, and I look forward to connecting with you then. 🙂

In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

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