Hello September!

Hello,

I’m back!

I need to ‘fess up and admit, red-faced, that this camino story has turned into a very long, drawn-out tale. I never intended it to be like this so apologies for all of you who’ve been waiting all this time for the end. It will come, just like the real end of camino did, and I promise I am getting there.

In many ways, I am still catching up on all the ways in which it changed me. Is that an excuse for taking a ridiculously long amount of time to recount my experience? Yes, it is. And it’s also the truth. To tell the story too quickly kind of implies that walking the 500 miles was something I just did one year, casual as could be, with no thought about it afterwards. That wasn’t my experience of walking across Spain. While I am sorry I’ve been so slow with the writing, I know camino wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan experience for me. Somehow, the slow recounting is part of that.

I’ve had a busy summer and got locked out of my wordpress account more times than I could count, so I lost some of my motivation to write. But, I’ve got that back-to-school energy at the moment and I am full of industrious ideas and plans. I’m also reminded of my camino journey, which started around this time of the year. The seasonal change reminds me of it all — packing my bag, getting on the plane to Biarritz, and later, the hours and hours of being outside every day. I look back on it with rose-tinted glasses, I know.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how my camino experience has steeled me for life. In the time since I finished walking,  there’s been plenty of illness and bereavement, sorrow and loss, overwhelm and depletion. There’s also been tremendous joy, new beginnings, new unions and life, and great connection. Every day, I am so busy trying to do my best with the day, I often forget to zoom out a bit and look at the big picture. I often forget to take stock of all that is going on in my life and how much of it is working well.

There were days on camino when everything seemed to slot together and my entire being hummed with contentment, like one very happy tuning-fork. There were also days when I was so overwhelmed with gloom that the best I could do was draw a line under the day and hope the next one would be better. My everyday life is like this too: some days are full of choral harmonies and other days are a groan from beginning to end.

So, how does the camino help?

Because it taught me this: just keep going. No one walks to Santiago in one clean hop. No matter what way you look at it, 500 miles is a long way to go by foot, irrespective of your circumstances in life. Some people walking have loads of money and others have only some of their limbs. This is life.

So don’t shy away from the challenge of it, whatever “it” is in your life right now. Don’t let fear swallow up all of your best ideas and heartfelt aspirations. Don’t let uncertainty turn into inertia. Just keep going. One foot at a time, one day at a time, one café con leche at a time. Amazingly, the effort all adds up. It doesn’t always seem like it but it does amount to something, it does create something in its own right.

Camino…life…writing a blog about camino and life….it’s all one day at a time. One post at a time, one strong mug of coffee at a time. And isn’t it great to be able to do it? Really, every day I am alive, I still have a crack at living well and making things a bit better. I still have choice.

So, camino made me strong, keeps me strong, and gives me good perspective on how to keep going. I said it before but it re-wired me from the inside and changed everything since.

Thanks for reading, for waiting, and for giving a damn. I’m excited to be back and look forward to more in the weeks ahead.

Buen Camino to you.

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!

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Camino Challenge: Comparing Myself to Others

I’m back!

After a long hiatus, I’m back at a keyboard again and hopefully ready to write a bit more about my camino adventure. It’s been a long gap, I know.

Thanks for sticking around.

There are different reasons for my long silence but one of them, in particular, really caught me by surprise.

Short version: I subscribe to various camino blogs. Some of them are written by people who planned their walk for Spring/Summer this year. In some cases, it was their first camino. In others, it was their second or third. Either way, I signed up for these blogs ages ago and enjoyed reading about, and commenting on, their preparations and plans.  I still love reading about camino so the blogs are a great way for me to keep in touch with the good memories and anticipate my next walkabout.

So far, so good.

But 2-3 months ago, all at once, these people were ready to step away from the keyboards and go walk. Their bags were packed, their flights awaited, it was time to leave. All at once, my inbox was full of their updates. They wrote from France and Spain, from hostels along the way. They wrote about the friends they made, the blisters they drained, and the plates of pasta they gorged on. I empathized with their frustrations and disappointments. I smiled at their frank reports from smelly dorm rooms. I relished their photos from parts of the trail I surely passed, but didn’t remember. And then I felt bad for forgetting so much of the trail, especially when I thought I had remembered so much.

I don’t know any of these people personally but their journeys felt personal to me. I cheered them on from afar.

But surprisingly, with all the talk about *their* camino journeys, I felt less and less able to talk about mine. They blogged live from the trail and somehow, that seemed more interesting and more valuable than anything I had to say. After all, it’s nearly 2 years since I walked camino. I’ve had time to reflect but they had an immediacy that was attention-grabbing. I felt there wasn’t enough room in the blogosphere for both our voices.

So I went quiet for a while.

Oddly, I also went quiet because I knew that some of these people subscribe to this blog, and I didn’t want them receiving my updates while they walked their own journey.

Why?

Well, I subscribed to only one camino blog before, and during my camino. I enjoyed Jen’s style of writing. I enjoyed her honest accounts and vivid descriptions from the trail. It all seemed so easy. It all seemed like a lot of fun.

While I walked across Spain, my smart phone buzzed with email updates every time I found wi-fi. Some of the updates were from her blog and I couldn’t help but read them. She had finished walking by then but wrote about finding people to walk with every day. She wrote about laughter and chatter with the locals. She wrote about going at her own pace and taking early stops in charming, scenic villages.

It all seemed so easy. It all seemed like a lot of fun. But I couldn’t relate to it. Most days, I chose to walk alone. I didn’t have enough Spanish to have much chatter with the locals. I didn’t stop often enough and as time wore on, the small villages charmed me less and less.

Compared to Jen, I felt like Oscar the Grouch!

Her blog was full of insight and reflection, and she seemed to have it all figured out. Meanwhile, I felt I was dragging my sorry-ass corpse across Spain and was making everyone miserable – myself included.

Receiving Jen’s updates while I still walked my own path was a strange sort of torture. I read about all the things that went well, all the things she did right, all the things she was grateful for. I compared my experience to her experience, and felt I was failing. I felt I was “doing it” all wrong. I felt tired, over-stimulated, and very, very sore. I didn’t feel I was having any great epiphanies or profound experiences. I felt I was failing at the very act of walking a pilgrimage route, and I wasn’t having a lot of fun. As the days turned into weeks, this self-defeating criticism mounted. It brought me to a point of utter despair and I thought I couldn’t go on. I thought my entire camino journey was doomed. I thought I couldn’t walk all the way to Santiago.

I still remember the rawness of those particular days. I remember how the heaviness of my heart made my whole body feel like lead. Of course, I wasn’t just comparing myself to this one person. I compared myself to the hundreds of strangers around me, and I saw only their successes and my own failures.

It was my own, very personal form of hell.

You’ll be glad to know I found a way through it – otherwise, I couldn’t blog about camino with any kind of joy or fondness!

But still, I remember the ache as I compared myself to others and particularly, to this person at the far side of the world, on the other end of a blog post.

Somehow, these past few months, I couldn’t write about my camino while I knew there were people who might read it while they walked their own journey.

Most of them have finished walking by now and have made their way home, to reflect and recover.

And now that there’s a quietness to my inbox again, I feel it’s a bit kinder to talk about my camino. No comparisons, no judgements, but hopefully, a shared experience that is positive and good.

So on we go – and hope for the best!

I hope you’ll continue to join me! 🙂

Breaking the Blogging Rules

I’m sure someone, somewhere has put together the Top 10 Tips for Blogging and one of those tips is “Get up at 4am to make sure you blog every day!” (or some other Type-A, Tiger-Mom equivalent that says “No excuses, you lazy bum!”)

You know the types: Get your message out there, build your network, command that spotlight, etc.

I get it.

Social media can be pretty fickle and it takes effort to stand out in the online world. Millions of people are competing for attention this very minute and sometimes you have to shout loudly, and often, to get heard at all. When it comes to blogging, you have to have something to say. You have to say it often. You have to say it loudly. You have to say it across different platforms. Otherwise, no one will read, no one will follow, and no one will care.

I get it.

And I admit, I have failed miserably to do any/all of these things the past few months. I’ve broken the blogging rules. I’ve neglected to write in all areas of my life – be that emails, text messages, and this lovely blog. There have been a collection of factors: illness, bereavement, and some major changes in my daily workspace. Even when I’d navigated my way through *those* distractions, I was faced with a broken laptop, a water-damaged smart phone, and had no broadband for a while. Quite literally, I lost use of the very tools I need for communicating online.

My list of hurdles became comical in that “The dog ate my homework” kind-of-way. I’m sure they read like an elaborate list of excuses.

And as the weeks rolled on, I wrestled with frustration, exasperation, and guilt about this non-writing life I seem to be living lately. Sure, my life has become busy in unexpected ways and my days have been full to the brim…but still, I expected that I should somehow make the time, conjure the wi-fi I needed, and find a way to keep writing – regularly and diligently.

This blog is my candle in the wind. If I don’t keep it lit, then who will?

If I don’t keep it lit, won’t it just fade away?

I went round and round in my head with all the reasons why I want to blog and all the reasons I found it hard to sit down and write.

I admit, sometimes I just didn’t feel like it.

There, I’ve said it.

And if I’m being really honest, I sometimes liked the feeling that came with being offline and somewhat inaccessible for a while. It reminded me of my days walking in Spain and the freedom of being “off the map” for a few weeks. In Spain, the leave of absence allowed me to ignore all the white noise of modern living and just “be”.

But this recent period of silence didn’t sit so easily with me.

I wondered: Have I beached up already?

I’ve written only a portion of my camino journey – the section from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos. There is still *so* much I want to say – about the walking, the terrain, and the things I learned along the way. But have I already grown bored and lost my self-discipline to see this thing through?

I wondered all of this until quite recently, someone pointed out to me that writing a blog about the camino is a bit like walking the camino.

There are days full of bright-eyed, bunny-eared enthusiasm and things go easily. There are days of exhausted reluctance, when the biggest challenge is to physically show up and look interested. Camino presents a litany of challenges – weather conditions, illness, sore feet, loud snorers, lack of vegetables – the list goes on. And yet, thousands of people every year, find a way to sidestep all the reasons why they should not walk camino. Every year, thousands of people find a way to keep going, despite the odds.

I was one of those thousands of people.

I found a way to keep going despite the challenges. I hope to do it again, now, with blogging.

Bear with me. I know the journey can feel like a long one but I still think it’s worth it.

Do you?

Blogging the Camino

As I said in my “About” page, many people asked in advance whether I would blog my Camino experience live from Spain. Others suggested I should do it and told me they’d happily follow my reports. I was flattered by their interest but ultimately, I had no interest in blogging as I walked.

Why?

I didn’t want the pressure of finding decent wi-fi and providing daily updates. I carried a smart phone with me but couldn’t be bothered squinting into its small screen and trying to write anything coherent. Writing a blog from a desk, where I have access to internet, a monitor, and a proper keyboard, is relatively easy. Anything other than that felt like a lot of work, especially while also trying to walk 800km and carry all my belongings on my back. Having walked it, I can say that trying to find decent wi-fi and provide daily updates would have driven me to drink. And you’d have had nothing to read in the meantime!

I met people en route who did blog as they walked. I can only applaud them from afar – they must have been more organised than I. 🙂

In Viana, I met a woman in our albergue who spent an hour sitting on the floor in the reception area, inches from the Internet router. She carried a full-size iPad to take photos and later upload them to her Facebook page. I’d seen her days earlier taking quick snaps at the top of Alto del Perdón. She walked with 3 friends but didn’t stop long enough to take in the view with her own eyes. Instead, she unleashed the iPad to take a panoramic video of the windmills and iron sculptures, and was gone. Back then, I looked at that block of technology and wondered how she carried the weight of the thing – those babies ain’t light!

But in the albergue I noticed something else: in the hour that she sat on the tiled floor, that machine took all of her attention. The device allowed her to send photos and messages to people back home. It enabled connection with them, thousands of miles away. But she was oblivious to the people standing next to her, just inches away. Watching pilgrims do their laundry or smoke a cigarette are hardly the height of entertainment, I admit.

But the point remains: that machine discouraged connection with the people standing right next to her.

She reminded me of myself, and of an imbalance in my own life.

There’s something unnatural about that, don’t you think? That we could all stand so close to each other and not make eye contact, not say hello, not connect in some basic, human way.

And I’m upset that it has become an accepted norm.

In terms of walking the Camino for weeks at a time, I understand that email updates provide reassurance to loved ones at home, who may be worrying. Writing blogs and sharing photos are a good way of including loved ones in the excitement.

I get it.

But every hour spent uploading photos to Facebook is one less hour ‘in the present’. You do that every few days over an 800km journey and you’re bound to miss out on some real-life people. You do that over a lifetime, you find yourself documenting life instead of being moved by it.

Before I departed for Spain, I couldn’t articulate my disinterest in blogging but these were some of my reasons:

I didn’t want to ignore real people in favour of virtual ones.

I didn’t want to treat Camino, or life, as one big broadcasting opportunity.

I wanted to be moved by the experience of being there in real-time. I wanted to feel the rawness of that exposure. Sure, it meant that some days I was a ball of tears, and others I felt frustrated by my fellow humans. More often, I felt gratitude. I felt an ever-growing contentment. I felt a freedom in my own skin that I hadn’t known in years and with it, a deep-rooted sense of being truly alive.

I wanted to walk for myself – not for other people. Being asked (or told) to blog my experience was flattering in some ways, but largely misguided.

I wasn’t walking for the entertainment or excitement.

I didn’t really think of Camino as an adventure holiday or long-distance hike.

I don’t consider myself religious in any organised way but I inherently understood that my reasons for being there were bigger than needing writing material, or a public audience.

I went on retreat.

Mine was a retreat from scheduling, planning, and trying to control my everyday fate. I retreated from the voices that told me what I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’:

do,

want,

or

be,

in life.

I went on a retreat from spending my days looking at a computer screen, conversing with people around the world and ignoring the ones sitting next to me. I took a retreat from worrying and instead, learned how to trust myself and my gut instinct even more. I retreated from technology and found a deep-rooted delight in looking at the open sky every day. Selfishly, I did it for myself and I didn’t want an audience interfering with, what was, a profound and personal experience.

Over a year later, I wish I could remember more of the plant life and sunlight so I could write evocative and picturesque blog posts. I’m sure you would love to know more about the terrain and the countryside. I may get to that – I haven’t really decided yet. By all means, tell me what you’d like to hear more of – this whole endeavour is a work in progress and I’m open to suggestions!

I wish I could give more accounts about the architecture and history, or even share wild stories from nights’ spent drinking the plentiful bottles of wine. I have some stories but they don’t dominate my journey (thankfully, as I’d never have managed to walk if I were hung over every day! :-))

Blogging my journey now, over a year later, has its limitations.

That said, it’s easier for me to write about my experience now. I’m following a gut instinct on this – it’s a leap of faith. Despite the personal stretch, and the fact that I’ve forgotten some things, I’m finding it easier to blog now than I would have, live from the trail.

And you know what?

I’m delighted with my decision.

Walking the Camino is one of the best things I have ever done for myself in life. Walking it without a live, virtual audience was a liberation. Would I choose the same decision again?

Absolutely.

Blogging about a Blog

So, I just updated my “About” section – you should check it out 🙂

And now I’m thinking of changing the blog address from “gerscaminoblog….” to something else. I might want to talk about some things other than the Camino every now and then. I’m still researching whether changing the address is as easy as it looks, and how to make sure all you lovely people continue to follow me and my musings.

Anyone ever done this and care to share their experience?

I’m now blogging about the technicalities of producing a blog – this all gets a bit “meta” and post-modernist, doesn’t it?

But really, I appreciate your thoughts and advice here, if you’ve ever done this yourself.

Thanks!

“Doing the Camino”

I’ve debated whether to write this post but for a few minutes, I really want to explore the notion of “doing the Camino”. People say it all the time: “Oh, I’ve a friend who did that” or “Did you do the whole thing?” I’m trying to figure it out: what do we mean when we talk about doing the Camino?

I may be showing my age here but when I hear the phrase, I imagine Beavis and Butthead, sniggering and snorting, “Um…yeah…doing it…huh huh huh…” (That’s probably the first time that Beavis and Butthead have made it into a blog about the Camino de Santiago 🙂

I probably used the phrase myself before I packed my bag and went to Spain, but on my second day of walking, I met a woman who’s use of the phrase really challenged my thinking. She and I met in Roncesvalles, sitting in a restaurant with probably 70+ other people. We’d never met each other before, so we passed the next two hours eating fried fish and chips, drinking wine, and making small talk with the six other women at our table. For what it’s worth, the fish and chips were truly delicious, smothered in grease and salt.

This particular woman struck me as a real go-getter: ambitious, outgoing, and an achiever in life. She had travelled extensively to offbeat places like the Galápagos Islands. I found her stories interesting until she said things like:

“I’ve done South America. I’ve done Asia. Last year I did Kilimanjaro: now I’m doing Camino. After I finish Camino I’m doing the New York marathon.”

Or maybe it was Boston.

But you get the idea: everything was already “done” or on the “to do” list. And ideally, in quick succession.

Over time, I felt uneasy listening to her because her list was extensive. She had lots of stories and factual information, but had very little to say about how these things made her feel or had influenced her life. I wasn’t looking for a big Oprah revelation (or maybe I was) but it just seemed she had done all of these things and not reflected on any of them.

Had a trip to the Galápagos Islands been a childhood dream come true, for instance?

How did it feel at the top of Kilimanjaro?

Had these experiences changed her in any way or made her life richer?

I hadn’t a clue.

She had done lots of impressive and awesome things, but the way she listed them off made them sound trivial. I didn’t want to challenge who she was in the world, but internally, I found myself challenging her choice of language.

What is this fascination with “doing” all the time? Is it a western preoccupation? Do we have a fear of idleness? Maybe a fear of our own mortality? Is it a way of padding the job applications to demonstrate just how fabulous and qualified we all are, all the time? Maybe it’s a way of standing out in a world full of seven billion people?

There was something about her story telling that made me think of this:

Consuming, without engaging.

It’s like eating a meal without letting the taste of the food register in your mouth.

Consuming the experience, the travel, the mountain, the pilgrimage, whatever, without engaging with it or reflecting on it in any great detail. Consuming it, without even noticing it. Consuming it without acknowledging how magical it is to be alive at all, and in a position to experience such wondrous treats.

You know those books that list off 5,000 places to see before you die? Well, it felt like she was making her way through that list with great efficiency but with very little joy or wonder.

Galápagos Islands? Check!

Camino? Check!

Lived, died, dead, and buried? Check, check, check, check!

 

I really didn’t know, but I could imagine the rest of her script looking something like this: “I did Camino. I did the New York marathon. I did the old age thing. I did life.”

By all means “do the dishes” or “do the laundry” but don’t “do Asia” or “do Kilimanjaro”.

Save a bit of space for feeling delight or awe now and then. Please.

 

I reflected on her words for weeks afterwards. Do, do…done, did, did…everything sounded like a check box item, neatly ticked. Trying to equate this with Camino was unsettling because I met hundreds of people “doing it” in different ways.

For instance: I walked 800km between France and Spain, but I met a guy who walked from Prague. That’s right: he started walking six months before I did so by the time we met, he’d already crossed through the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and then Spain. Could you equate our walk in any way? Was he “doing the Camino” better than me, or more fully than me because he walked further, for longer? Compared to him, was I even “doing it” at all?

Were the mass-going Catholics “doing it” better? Were the people who walked only 100km from Sarria “doing the Camino”? What about the people who walked for a week at a time now and then – were they “doing the Camino” for just a week, or for years?

I met people walking and cycling. I had a group of people go by me on horseback. I heard of a guy who was “doing it” on a unicycle. One day, I saw two people on quad bikes! Were we all “doing” the same Camino?

Personally, I wanted to walk the Camino for more than ten years. I knew I wanted to walk westwards from the French side of the Pyrenees for 800km, alone, carrying all my belongings on my back, and in one full run. I didn’t want to do a week at a time or make do with a shorter version. Don’t ask me why but that was always my aspiration, and with the exception of two short and unplanned taxi trips, I “did” the Camino as I had hoped. I was very happy about fulfilling the dream with its detailed specifications. But in all my time walking, I met hundreds of people who were experiencing the same route in different ways. I couldn’t figure out who was “doing it” properly or truly, or how we would ever calculate that measurement to begin with.

So the only thing I could come up with was to change my choice of language. I stopped talking about “doing the Camino” and instead, talked about “walking the Camino”. I expect most people don’t notice the difference and don’t care either way but for me, my change of language marked a change in my thinking. That dinner in Roncesvalles, so early in the whole journey, reminded me of why I was there. I didn’t want to consume without engaging: I wanted to be open to the experience and even be changed by it. I wanted it to touch my heart. I wanted it to fill me with feelings of delight and awe. I wanted to live it and celebrate it, not just do it.

So, in all my writing and rambling, I’m aiming to keep that phrase to a minimum. It’s not my phrase and it’s not my preference, and I really need to explain my distinct reasons for rejecting it.

Phew.

So glad I got that off my mind, it’s been rattling around in there for quite a while!

That’s my thinking on the matter, but what’s yours? When you think of “doing the Camino”, what do you think of?