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 🙂