Wednesday, October 13, 2010

El Camino de Santiago: Camp for Grown-Ups

I realize that this blog is dedicated to my love of food but I feel compelled to share my experience on the Camino de Santiago.  For those of you who don't know, this is a pilgrimage that has traditionally started  from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.  The route is approximately 820km and takes a little over 30 days if you are walking.  However, now there are routes all over Europe that take you to Santiago de Compostela.  Now keep in mind that you can do this on a bike or horseback.  I was not that ambitious nor did I have the time so I did 115km from Sarria, Spain.  To receive the Compostela (certificate of completion), you must walk at least 100km, so it is a popular starting point for most Spaniards.  There is a very long history of this pilgrimage but I won't go into here, you can research it yourself on wikipedia.  Doing the Camino was a big deal for me because it was a physically as well as a mentally taxing.  For those of you who know me personally, I don't think you would classify me as "active" or "outdoorsy" and would view this endeavor as outside my character.  Then again, you would also know that I appreciate a challenge. Maybe I wouldn't of done it but because I met a fellow Fulbrighter Emily who wanted to go, plans were set.  We arrived in Sarria on October 8th at about 7:30 in the morning, after being on a bus for the past 8 hours.  It was dark and we had no idea where we were going.  After having a cup of coffee, we see a sign leading us in the direction of the Camino.

You will sometimes see a clear sign showing you the path but more commonly, you will see yellow arrows pointing the way. Instead of the following the yellow brick road, you follow the yellow arrows. They are the most handy guide you are going to have.
Know what you are getting yourself into.  Or maybe in my case, better that I didn't.  Yes, its just walking but you are not walking on a nicely paved flat road, you are walking through forests, up and down mountain sides and through small farm towns.  A paved road is considered a blessing after 20 km of rocky hillsides.  You are mostly by yourself during the Camino.   I went with Emily but we spent a lot of time walking in silence as you will see many other pilgrims doing.  You spend time listening to the sound of the ground crunching beneath your feet, the roosters crowing in the morning, the wind rustling the trees and the rhythmic sound of your walking stick as you take each new step.  The Camino is very much an individual experience.  Everyone has their own Camino, there own reasons for doing it, religious or otherwise.  You will have plenty of time to think.  Think about yourself, your family and friends, your problems, your beliefs, your future or sometimes of nothing.  There were many times where I just chanted 1,2,3,4 to myself  just so I could get through the steep hill I was currently climbing.  I found that my emotions were ever changing.  Some mornings I woke up with enthusiasm and was ready to walk, and other days I cursed myself for taking on the Camino.  As my friend Janel says "if there is something going on within you, it will come out on the Camino if you let it."  You will be sore and your body will definitely hurt all over.  Places hurt that I didn't even know existed.  Where the pain started in the beginning of the day, would inevitably move to a different part of my body by the end.   However, I got up every morning and continued on despite the discomfort, and for that I am proud.
I know you haven't asked this question but it's bound to come at some point, "what was my favorite part about the Camino?"  I would have to respond by saying, the scenery.  Galicia is absolutely stunning.  Every town was picture perfect in its own way.  Sometimes I would have to remind myself to stop looking at my feet and take in the views around me.  I love the city but I have to admit that it was wonderful to get away from the craziness that is Madrid and live a simple life.  All I did was walk, eat, drink, and sleep for 5 days.  My life was reduced to a backpack and basic life sustaining activities, it was great!

On October 11th, Emily and I walked 40km in one day to be able to arrive in Santiago that night.  If I am completely honest, Santiago de Compostela was my least favorite part of the Camino.  After experiencing the peaceful Camino, it is hard to be thrown back into the bustling city. I felt accomplished when I first stepped within the city limits but it quickly evaporated when I had to fight my way through crowds to reach the cathedral.  We received the Compostela but, to me its not about the certificate but rather the journey to get there, that to me is what the Camino is all about.  It's amazing what happens when you put yourself outside your comfort zone; soon enough you begin to change before your very eyes.  I was told that people saw the "Camino growing on me."   I won't say that the Camino de Santiago changed my life forever but I will say that I came home with a new set of lenses, camino lenses, for which to view Madrid and my experience here.  And that is good enough for now.  Perhaps in the future I will consider doing the whole thing.
On the Camino, people signed their names and made dedications on signs, under bridges, on rocks, really just about any surface that they could write on.  I did not come equipped with a sharpie or spray paint so I was not able to add to the graffiti.  I will make my dedication here.  I dedicate my Camino first and foremost to myself.  I set a goal and accomplished it, no matter the circumstances.  I dedicate my Camino to my family for helping to shape me into the person I am today.  I am not sure I could have taken on the Camino without the sturdy foundation that you have provided me.  I dedicate my Camino to my fiance, for never doubting me and always knowing that I can do anything, even when I don't.  Finally, I dedicate my Camino to all the pilgrims who have done the Camino de Santiago, we are one hell of a bunch.  We are of all ages, of all nationalities and of all walks of life who take on this task despite the difficulties we face along the way.  To all of you who plan to do the Camino in the future, I say  Buen Camino!

1 comment:

  1. Leah,
    This is my third time trying to post a comment on your blog. If it doesn't work this time, I'm emailing this to you. I love your blog. It gives me a new insight into you, and a fresh perspective on life because it comes from different places and new experiences. Your perspectives are refreshing and insightful. And the pictures are lovely. Thank you for the dedication, and thank you for sharing your experiences - they are a gift. I love you and look forward to your next blog. Mommy