My Camino: Day 31 – The End of the Road

Well here we are – at the end of the road for this pilgrim. Two years ago I watched a stupid movie and the next thing you know I’m telling folks I’m going to walk across Spain just like Martin Sheen did in “The Way.”

His way was nothing like my way, but that’s Hollywood for you.

I woke up this morning a jumble of nerves – not knowing if I was excited, resigned, or proud. I really couldn’t define my feelings.

And then I got on the road – The Way of St James – for the last 22 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela.

And I gotta tell you it was like a carnival and I loved it!

The path was packed – at times three and four people across. Seems the tour buses were letting people out so they could experience being a pilgrim! Yep, a five euro bus fare, a quick stroll, no blisters, and you too can waltz into town all high and mighty….. But you know me – I’m not one to judge!

I savored every step, pinching myself that this was it – at long last my fucking Spanish Schlep was coming to an end.

The walk to the end of all ends – the Cathedral in Santiago- is anything but spectacular.

I’ve walked across this entire country and there’s not a bronze shell or yellow arrow to mark the way that I could have missed. There’s no way Stevie Wonder could have missed the markings up to this point. But the minute we get to the Santiago- sorry pilgrim, you’re on your own. I guess it was the final bitch slap we get for thinking we’ve got this thing down.

And then I saw them – the spirals reaching high and higher – up, up, up into this picture perfect blue sky – and I knew I was close.

Snaking my way through the old town, I had to ask several people where was the Cathedral, they all pointed “that way” and so I went until I got there. And there to greet us – bagpipes and scaffolding!!!

Ok not what I imagined, but I was overwhelmed with emotion, I started balling, that heaving, ugly “break up” girl cry – yep bubbling snot and all – just like in the movies.

And I didn’t care one shit. As I looked around, everyone else was having their own ugly cries too – even those who just caught the bus and schlepped 10 kms.

I sat my skinnier ass down and ordered me a Kalimotxo and toasted myself. I must have radiated pride because I heard a woman say in that classic Irish brogue, “So, did you just finish the walk yourself?”

“Yes”

“Ahhh, and there’s no one here to hug you….

“Not yet, my husband is driving, but he’s lost”

“Ahhh dearie, that won’t do, let me give you a hug right now!”

And so while my husband was desperately trying to drive his way into the old town, my surrogate cheerleader, Mary from Mayo County, gave me a congratulations hug.

And I cried again.

Shortly thereafter my husband arrived and we celebrated with more wine and lunch.

A couple of hours later, I was standing in line for two hours at the pilgrim office to get my Compostela aka the “Well Done” certificate.

Yeah only on the Camino do they make you stand in line for hours to get a certificate to certify that you walked the walk.

But here it is – all in Latin, so hopefully it says I’m an official pilgrim.

I splurged the whole two extra Euros to get another fancy piece of paper – something in Spanish that hopefully says I walked from France to Santiago.

Certificates in hand I ran to the cathedral for the 7:30pm pilgrims’ mass to witness the swinging of the Botafumerio.

The Botafumeiro, or as I like to call it, the Joey Buttafucco, is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome of the ancient church and about eight priests pull on ropes to make this giant burning incensed-filled urn swing back and forth over the heads of all us sinners.

They announce multiple times – in multiple languages – not to take photos or videos during the service, but I think the photo will prove, no one listens to anyone anymore.

And so what …. It truly was awe-inspiring and a tad humbling…. even for me!

The mass was in Spanish so I had plenty of time to reflect on my purpose for doing this Camino – besides, you know, Martin Sheen made it look so easy and so fun.

I didn’t know it at the beginning, but now I know why I’ve marched across Spain – It’s for my girls – the loves of my life.

They’re now off to college, their worlds are getting bigger, and more exciting, and further away from me. And that is as it should be.

I was there when they each took their first steps, but I won’t be an eyewitness to their next big steps. The ones that will take them into adulthood.

There will be their first real jobs, their first true romances, marriages and possibly children.

There will be happy times, hardships and heartaches, and hopefully I will be there to give them comfort and support, but who knows.

I was 40 when they were delivered, so chances are I’ll be slowing down as their lives ramp up.

I have this awful movie that plays out in my mind way too often – it’s of their childhood, and it’s set on fast forward. I so wish I could press pause or even the rewind button and go back, relive each and every one of those days – they were the best days of my life and they’re gone.

I’m not a moron I know there are many great days – hell, great years to come – but they’ll be different.

Now I have to share them – with their lovers, their school, their work, their friends, and their busy lives – and I’ve never been good at sharing.

It seems funny that I feel so close to them here in Spain thousands of miles away from them, but I do.

I listen to their favorite songs and I remember the concerts, car rides, or just the background music playing in our kitchen when we were all living at home together.

I now know why this Spanish Schlep was important for me to complete.

I will not always be there for my girls but I want them to know that no matter what life hands them – they can move forward, move ahead, and get to where they want to be, get to be where they need to be – by just taking one step at a time. And I know no matter where their lives take them – I will always be with them – in person or in their hearts – encouraging them every fucking step of the way.

My stats

13 Miles walked today

(Arca/O Pedrozo – Santiago de Compostela)

505.8 Miles traveled

Countless Miles to go on my next adventure

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

(Note: 3 “Stages” Skipped – Over the entire course, I’m guessing I didn’t walk about 35-40 miles)

1 Bus ride

1 Taxi ride

1 Emergency Ride with my darling husband

My Camino: Day 30 – It’s Almost Over

This time tomorrow – barring a catastrophe – I should be strutting my big ass (well not as big as it was) into Santiago de Compostela having walked some 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France.

Yep, I’m thissssss close to the end of my Spanish Schlep. And I gotta tell you, I can’t wait for it to be over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a blast, but seriously I’m DONE!

I’m tired. I’m sore. I stink. My hair sucks. I miss makeup. I’m sick of sore feet. I’m sick of washing my panties every night. And I’m sick of being terrified that I’ll have to answer nature’s call when I’m out in the middle of nature.

They say walking the Camino is life changing, well I dunno about that. I have a pretty good life and I don’t really want it to change, but I do know a couple more things now than when I first started, and I have some great memories to last a lifetime.

Like walking over the Pyrenees in the rain – that feeling of accomplishment and euphoria when I reached my hotel room after seven hours of hard hiking will be hard to top.

Being in the right place at the right time – Pamplona may be famous for its bull run, but the night I was there, the city through a Giant’s Festival. They say it’s a festival for the kids, and I truly felt like a kid joining in on the fun.

Being in the right place at the right time, part deux! Stumbling into a sleepy hill top town that was all closed up so they could have their own running of the bulls. All the roads and paths were closed so I was forced to sit down, chill, and cheer for those idiots who tried to outrun angry beasts with horns.

Meeting fabulous people from all walks of life; rich, poor, hopeful, hopeless, lost, in love, or out of love.

One of the most fascinating people I met was Tomas, a man from Uruguay, who travels on an Italian passport, who has worked for almost a decade in China, and who was schleping a bottle of red for miles and miles in his backpack. Now keep in mind most people will shed bars of soap because they don’t want to haul the extra weight. But for Tomas, that red was worth its weight in gold. That’s a man who knows his priorities!

My priority right now as I’m just hours from my grand finale – Who do I share the honors with – my hiking boots or my sandals?

My hiking boots have been with me since this whole nonsense began; training in the Rockies, they got me here, got me over the Pyrenees and gave me blisters. I know they’re very sorry about that and really it was the insoles, not the boots, so there’s that…

My sandals took over when my feet were so swollen they couldn’t fit into my boots – heck there were times when I had to walk without the straps even attached. But I dunno, can you really strut into Santiago wearing Velcro?

Ugh

Another Camino challenge they never tell you about in the guidebooks.

My Camino: Day 28 – It’s Getting Crowded

I just couldn’t write yesterday – the news from Las Vegas was too upsetting.

I left the town of Sarria this morning, still saddened by the Vegas news, and the news of the death of Tom Petty.

There I was an American Girl, feeling alone and sad in Spain in a town that is full of energy, known to be extremely crowded with eager new pilgrims starting their walk to Santiago.

You see Sarria is about 100kms from the end, and for thousands and thousands, 100kms is all they can –or want to do.

They arrive by train twice a day by the hundreds, – all bleary eyed from their travels, all with that fresh face of excitement, and all looking for an official store where they can get their “pilgrim’s passport.”

The “pilgrim’s passport” is a document that identifies us as a pilgrim, and provides proof that we have walked, cycled or ridden on horseback, the required distance to gain yet another document, the “Compostela” or certificate of completion – the Holy Grail for those of us on this holy trail.

As we pilgrims travel the Way of St James, we get our passports stamped from albergues, hotels, churches, bars, and restaurants. The stamps are pretty cool and these passports get us discounts and along the route.

The whole reason we get these stamps is to prove to the folks working in the Pilgrims Office at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela that we actually did walk the walk. Or biked the walk. Or horseback rode the walk. Yep, you can ride a horse on the Camino – but no scooters or electric bikes. And no, I don’t know if the horses get one or only those who rode them.

There are two types of compostela certificates: one is in Latin, and is issued to pilgrims who declare that they did the camino for religious or spiritual purposes.

The second certificate is for those who did it for cultural or historical purposes. This one is written in Spanish.

Ok, you still with me here, cuz here is where it gets interesting.

To receive a compostela, you must have completed the last 100 kms of the camino if you are walking or on horseback, or the last 200 km if you rode a bicycle.

That’s right, folks who show up in Sarria and walk just 100 kilometers – that’s just 62 miles – get the same certificate as those of us who have walked 500 miles.

Sorry, but I think that’s just whacked. Some dude shows up and strolls into town and gets the same piece of paper as those of us who walked 500, 400, 300, and 200miles, got blisters, wind burns, sun burns, colds, sprained ankles, diarrhea, and hangovers?

I gotta tell you – I’m kind of pissed.

I know, I know, not very Christian of me, but there I said it. I mean, it’s like they’re handing out ribbons just for showing up!

When I first arrived in Sarria, the town that officially marks the 100kms distance, I was getting all high and mighty and throwing shade at all the new arrivals. All these new pilgrims with their matchy-match t-shirts and enormous backpacks, all smelling fresh and clean.

But this morning – that high mightiness melted away. There was something in the air – besides the fresh smell of soap, shampoo, hair gel, and perfume…. these people were full of excitement, and they were a bundle of nerves.

Just like me when I started!

They were trying to figure out how to walk with their new hiking poles, how to carry their heavy backpacks (many fell, as those of us starting 500 miles ago did), where to eat, how to grab their water bottles from their packs – and how to correctly say the pilgrim greeting, “Buen Camino” which means “good way.” (((FYI it’s pronounced bwin Camino))

It was a good way for me to start the day. Despite the rain and mist that chilled me to the bone.

The newbies gave me a shot of much-needed adrenaline… which I needed to navigate thru the cow fields which just happen to share the official trail. Yep Holy Cows were seen, heard and smelled today.

I also met a holy man – a young man – 27 years old – from Canada here with his family. He’s a newly minted priest. He’s struggling with the walk, and I gave him some words of encouragement and advice – Drink plenty of water, add electrolytes, don’t get upset by all the kids having sex in the albergues, and yeah, it’s ok to pee along the road – just remember to raise your robe!

And then I left him and he blessed me.

A few minutes later I posed at the 100kms mile marker – the end is soooo close.

And you know what, I don’t care. Let the newbies have their certificate, so what if it’s exactly the same as mine, so what if they didn’t walk 500 miles – at least they’re here, they’re trying, and that’s ok in my book. And here on the Camino we’re all sinners, winners, and at times …. losers.

….Baby even the losers

Get lucky sometimes

Even the losers

Keep a little bit of pride

They get lucky sometimes….”

My Camino: Day 26 – Does This Add Up?

I like to pride myself on knowing a lot about very little. I get the big themes, but most of the time I can’t be bothered learning the minutiae.

Like the ‘stans. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan… I just say – Pickastan.

Or Celsius vs Fahrenheit. You gotta multiply by 1.8 (or 9/5) and add 32, put your right foot in, left foot out, do the hokey pokey and that’s what it’s all about.

And then there’s kilometers vs miles. One kilometer is equal to 0.62137119 miles: 1 km = (1/1.609344) miles = 0.62137119 miles.

I know, I know, it makes my head wanna explode, too.

So, this entire trip all 500ish miles has been a kilometer guessing game for me. I tell myself a kilometer is about a half a mile…… give or take…. and then I don’t think about it. I just walk until I get to where I’m supposed to be… No thinking, just doing.

But today as I crossed into Galicia the direction signs for us pilgrims to find our way to Santiago de Compostela changed….. and sent me in a tizzy.

You gotta understand, as I left this morning all the signs were indicating that it was going to be a glorious day.

The sun was coming up, there was a little bit of mist hovering at the top of the peeks where I was headed and my cold seemed to be under control.

I was in love with the countryside and couldn’t stop taking pictures. Fall was putting on a spectacular color show.

I was so enthralled by the beauty I didn’t notice the mist was dropping lower and lower, and droplets of rain were starting to fall, and before you could say, “Do you know the way to Santiago,” the mist has turned to dense fog.

I was climbing up, but I couldn’t see to where or for how far. I would have these moments of sheer terror (“Yep, this is how it ends, I walk off the side of the mountain”) and then I would full of joy (“OMG, this is the greatest adventure evah, as long as I don’t fall off this fucking mountain).

I stumbled into the tiny village of O Cebreiro who’s claim to fame is that THE Holy Grail is said to have been hidden here as late as the 13th century -AND- it is the birthplace of the priest who brought back and made popular the Camino de Santiago in the 20th century….. well at least I now know who to blame for this Spanish Schlep.

I was wet, out of breath and cold as ass, but the local bartender gave me a warm cup of tea and said, “It’s all downhill from here!”

Liar

I had to climb another pass up into another set of mountains and the fog was getting worse. I asked if it was safe to go on, and I got an emphatic nod yes.

So off I went, I mean if you can’t trust a bartender, who can you trust???

It was so foggy, I could have been standing right under the famed bronze statue of a pilgrim fighting against the bad weather at the peak of San Roque ….. and not even know it.

I plowed on, a tad disappointed because those fucking guidebooks had said that today was supposed to be full of glorious views, but whatchagonnado?

Soon I felt the sun and I was beginning to warm up, and then the fog lifted and I got to see some of the Galicia mountains – and – I was able to focus on things other than falling off a mountain…. Things like those new signs to Santiago.

These signs have a countdown in them, letting us know how far we have to go before this whole stupid thing is over. I couldn’t believe the numbers – unlike miles, these signs were in kilometers and I was totally confused.

So I took out iPhone, checked my KM to Miles app and what the friggin hell – I’ve only got like 91 MILES to go.

Those stupid kms robbed me of a major milestone- but I don’t fucking care – this Spanish Schlep is almost terminado! Done! Finito! Fini!

91 fucking miles – Hallafuckinlooyah!

I was a new woman, I was so full of euphoria, I nearly floated down the mountains.

I may not know Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, or how to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit — OR how to measure kilometers, but this I know …..

I’m going to arrive in Santiago on Friday, and somebody better warn the pious that this girl is going celebrate; and it’s gonna get loud, and there will be tears, and a whole lotta ugly cry face.

My stats

18 Miles walked today

(Herrerias – Triacastela)

422.6 Miles traveled so far

83.2 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 25 – Cats, Cocks, and Catastrophes

Well this just sucks!

I should have known that I was going to need to be on my guard today when, at predawn, I first stepped out of my hotel.

My trusted headlamp wouldn’t turn on, then from out of the shadows three guys who I had seen yesterday, and who I overheard saying about me, “She’s going to kill herself if she keeps up this pace,” nearly tackled me to the ground. It was pitch dark and these knuckleheads were lost – asking “me” for directions. Lucky for them AND for me, I had scouted out the route the night before.

Yes, I am that damn good.

The sun is rising later and later it seems, and here in the valley between two mountain ranges, it takes longer for its rays to light our way here on the Camino de Santiago.

It also takes longer to heat up. I’ve got a cold, and the chills. Doesn’t that just suck!!? I want to lie in bed, but I can’t – the fucking hotels act like they’re hotels – they’ve booked my room to someone else.

So out the door I went at Zero Dark 30 along with the other pilgrims. Today our walk is rated as “easy” by the guidebooks – but someone forgot to tell us that.

Nearly an hour in, I saw a small group hanging out in the middle of the road – never a good sign. As I approached I saw a woman on the ground covered in blood. She had fallen, tripped over her own hiking sticks (would have been funny if it hadn’t been for all the blood and the fact that she had broken her ankle and scraped the shit out of her face). The ambulance raced to the scene to take her to the local hospital.

I was telling this story over coffee to a fellow pilgrim about 10 minutes later when he said another person had taken a really bad fall, and then pointed to the sky saying, “Look, that’s the helicopter taking him to the hospital.”

Jesus people it’s just walking.

But it’s not, not really.

For most of us, it’s been nearly a month of walking about 15 miles a day – everyday. I dunno, maybe people are zoning out as we inch closer and closer to Santiago de Compostela.

Maybe we’re so focused on the end that we’re losing our focus on what’s in front of us right now.

I told my feverish self to chill, pay attention, and be the fuck careful.

I ordered a second cafe con leche and watched the local cats beg for morsels – they got a pat or two, but no milk.

Further up the road, I saw a local farmer pulling off the leaves of tree limbs, prepping some fresh switches to lead his flock from field to field.

His littlest lamb even pulled a Madonna for me – Strike A Pose!

And in the cra cra town of Vega de Valcarce the roosters, hens, and geese were all a gaggle about the local gossip. They wouldn’t share it with me, sorry to report.

But I’m sure if these hens could talk, they would explain the goings on – like, why isn’t the house that’s sheared in half condemned, or sealed off, or curtained off?

I mean look at this photo – the tv is still in the bedroom, the beds are made, and the wardrobes still have clothes in them. What the fucking fuck happened here and why doesn’t anyone except for me seem to think this is not normal?

Oh well.

The rural part of Spain is beautiful, but it’s also in shambles. Whether it was Franco, Hitler or neglect, so many buildings are close to collapsing and no one seems to mind. I quicken my pace and hope for the best when I have to walk under these leaning structures. Seriously, one good windstorm and they’re kaput.

But today’s real catastrophe: Love on the Rocks!

Yep, here we are sooooo close to the end and I’m seeing the end of some of my favorite road romances.

Argentina and Mexico couple – over!

Boomer couple – estranged!

You can see the uncoupling of the Camino couples.

Where once these lovebirds were attached at the backpacks, now they’re walking solo. Or eating solo. Or drinking solo.

When I ask about the whereabouts of their pilgrim partner, I get a shrug and a noncommittal “I dunno, he was in a hurry to get to Santiago.”

“Tell me more, tell me more….”

Just like Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson in “Grease,” summer lovin happened so fast, but ohhh those Camino nights – I guess romancing on the holy trail eventually had to come to an end.

The Galicia mountains tower over me.

I’m heading up there tomorrow, and according to the guidebooks, it’s supposed to be a “difficult” day of climbing, so I’m resting now, drinking some Spanish cold concoction with high hopes that I’ll be my bitchy-ass self tomorrow and will conquer those hills… with or without a ladder

But don’t worry about me coach, I’ll be alright.

I’m going to add some wine to my cold concoction and take in this view from my room.

My stats

12.75 Miles walked today

(Villafranca- Herrerias)

386.38 Miles traveled so far

119.42 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 24 – The Days of Wine and Roses!

Fall is definitely in the air here in Spain.

There’s a chill in the morning, and the countryside is alive with the colors of red, orange, yellow, and green.

Nearing the end of my trek across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I’m now in the Bierzo region, a valley between two mountain ranges – one I’ve scaled, the other, the mountains of Galicia loom ahead, taunting me. I’ll be climbing them tomorrow, but today it felt like those last hazy, crazy days of summer.

After setting off on my Spanish Schlep September 6, I am absolutely astonished and a tad sad to realize I’ll be done with this nonsense in just …. wait for it….. Eight Days!

I can’t believe I’m in single digits – eight days. And it feels like that back to school countdown (for the kids, not the parents – two very distinctly different sets of emotions).

Climbing up the mountains of Bierzo I’ve noticed a change in my fellow pilgrims – gone are the days of those Herculean hikes; instead, all of us seem to be slowing down, breathing it all in, holding on because we all know, it’s going to come to an end very soon.

I noticed it first this morning, a woman pulled over from the trail, napping.

A few minutes later, another woman off in a cherry tree grove, reading a book.

Then at lunch, more pilgrims were lingering over their food and drinking it all in- the sun, the warmth, the beer.

You can feel the urgency to just slow down and to make every moment count. There’s more time now to just sit, paint something in a journal, take in the view.

And these hills are working with – not against our bodies. Yes, we are stronger but these hills, these views can leave you breathless – the colors are simply divine. The vineyards that cover them aren’t as well kept as those in the Rioja regions – and their wines aren’t as famous, but from the countryside to the villages you can smell them and you want to devour it all.

As I was walking through Cacabelos (easy to remember, rhymes with Taco Bell-ohs) I actually thought they had to be pouring wine in the streets – the scent was so prevalent. But no.

I came to a house with the garage door open and there were three guys making home brew.

I stopped and watched them press and sample the latest vintage. It must have been ok since the chief sommelier didn’t spit anything out.

Just like back to school season – there’s the shopping here on the Camino. Pilgrims are starting to load up on souvenirs; I can see a new walking stick here and there, or a new pin, even new patches adorn backpacks.

The churches here are smaller, simpler but grand in their own way. A nun welcomed me in to visit her small church complete with a fresco on the ceiling – not quite the Sistine Chapel, but what is.

I find myself thinking back about the miles I’ve covered and how close I am to the end – and just like every child staring down the calendar as a new year of a school fast approaches, I’m full of dread and excitement – I want my life back but I don’t want to give up the magic that can only happen in the summer or on the Camino.

Bonus: I walked through these fields for what seemed like an hour and all I could think of was “Monty Python”

“Someday son all of this will be yours…”

“What, the curtains?????”

I crack myself up!

My stats

15 Miles walked today

373.63 Miles traveled so far

(Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo)

132.17 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 23 – Camino Interruptus

Today was all about letting go…. and holding on.

Ever since I started researching walking 500 miles on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, there was one stop I really wanted to visit, and hopefully make a lasting memory.

I left Rabanal just before dawn this morning knowing that today was going to be a tough climb up to the Camino’s highest point. I wanted to give myself enough time, and I wanted to avoid the blazing Spanish sun.

As the sun began to rise, I was treated to a vast variety of vegetation-evergreen trees, shrubs, and heather and oh so much more.

It was glorious. The sky was that perfect combination of pinks and blues… it truly was breathtaking.

The climb winded up over several mountains and at one point I forced myself to look back and wave goodbye to all the miles I’ve traveled.

As I neared the highlight of today’s walk – Cruz Ferro – I tried to really focus on what I was going to “leave behind.”

Cruz Ferro is a tall pole topped with an iron cross. The site is said to have been an ancient monument first erected by the Celts, then the Romans seized it to honor Mercury (protector of travelers) and then the Christians took it over around the 9th century. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have brought a stone and placed it at the site to represent their “burden.”

During my training back in Colorado, I found the rock I would carry with me to leave in Spain. As I was nearing the site I was trying to figure out what burden it would represent and for the life of me ….

Wait! Is that my cellphone ringing! Yep, it’s my husband who has joined me on my Spanish Schlep. He’s driving – I’m walking – and we are to meet up for lunches.

“I’m lost,” he says.

“Umm, I’m on top of a mountain, turn on your GPS or iPhone.”

“I did, they don’t agree on the route.”

“Umm, I’m on top of a mountain.”

“Ok, ok, ok, I’ll figure it out.”

Ok then, back to my momentous decision-what burden do I want this stone to represent on this holy trail.

And then I had it, I decided when all is said and done, I would use my stone to represent my….

Shit, there’s the phone again!

“Ok, I’m really lost. The GPS says to take the highway and it’ll take me 53kilometers out of the way.”

“Umm, still on the mountain.”

“Ok, ok, lemme see what I can do.”

“That’s a great idea.”

Back to my burden…..

I have none I decided, instead I was going to give thanks for the wonderful life I have, my family, and my friends.

So after dropping my rock I had to make my way down from the Camino’s highest point. And guess what – I found out what happen to all the rocks from pilgrims past.

OSHA would have a field day! The trail (I use that term loosely) is full of river rocks and it was scary as ass! It was a harrowing walk made more difficult because I still can’t wear my hiking boots cuz my feet still have giant blisters, so I’m walking down the mountains wearing sandals and socks.

Soon the river rocks were replaced with slick and fragile slate. As you stepped down on it, pieces would break away.

It was terrifying and brutal on me and my fellow pilgrims. Bum knees were causing people to sit by the side and literally cry. New blisters forced strangers to help each other with make shift ERs.

And then there were the …. Fuckkkkkk there’s the phone again.

“Hey, sorry to bother you, but you think you’ll be able to meet for lunch?”

“Kind of busy here trying not to die on the mountain.”

“Ok, ok, ok, I’ll find us a place and just wait for you.”

Oy!

And then there were the cows…a herd was being moved from one field to the other and they were making our journey even more perilous with their giant patties. (Here’s where I want you to remember — I’m wearing sandals!!!!)

I made it down, and realized I had managed to let go of any perceived burdens, but my husband and I are still holding on to what works for us.

I navigate, I plan, and he (mostly) takes directions. It works for us…. on and off the Camino, with or without GPS, or even Find Friends.

When we get back from our Camino- I’m going to work with him on this whole directions thingy.

My stats

22 Miles marched today – YES, I am that insane

(Rabanal – Ponferrada)

358.63 Miles traveled so far

147.17 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 22 – Oh What a Knight!

Today begins the long, long climb up to the highest point on the Camino Frances.

That’s the bad news – the good news, my ass is looking great and is as hard as a rock.

I walked out of Astorga this morning just as the sun was starting to rise, and stopped to take some pictures of the town’s jewels – its cathedral, and the Gaudi Bishop’s Palace.

Astorga is a stunning village, once a Roman fortress (you can still see remains of the Roman baths) and, according to legend, the site where two big guns preached – St James and St Paul.

That’s one of the most humbling experiences I’m having here on my 500 mile walk across Spain. The history – from the Romans, the Moors, the Jews, and that asswipe Franco – is everywhere. There’s such a sense of permanence. Even this Spanish Schlep I’m doing – millions have come before me, they’ve walked the same paths, stayed in the same villages, and probably bellyached about their blisters and bum knees. It’s very motivating, you know, cuz if they can do it wearing their hairshirt robes, I think I can do it in my Under Armour.

My Camino comrades and I should reach our destination, Santiago de Compostela, in about 10 days.

We’re climbing higher and higher, and it’s so great to see green again after the monotonous march through the Meseta.

This is the most crowded section of The Way. Our merry little band of pilgrims is growing bigger by the day as more and more people join us. I’m told the crowds are really going to pick up in a couple of days as we get closer to Santiago.

This area was once known for being super dangerous because in addition to the bandits and thieves who once roamed these roads, wild wolf packs used to attack the pious.

Wouldn’t that just be the shits – you make it over the Pyrenees, through the Meseta and you end up puppy chow?!

Luckily there are no more wolves – but there are still enormous dogs.

I saw a pack working with or causing great agita for a local shepherd. At first I freaked when I saw them thinking for sure they were either dire wolves or polar bears – hey, if they can have polar bears on a tropical island on “Lost,” I can have magical scary ass polar bears here in the Spanish foothills.

Besides, they say the Camino is a magical place and I had just seen and talked with a Templar Knight!

And held his falcon!

And witnessed his Little Stevie impression.

It truly was a magical mystery tour here on the Camino today; a Templar Knight, polar bears, and an Italian making espresso by the campfire.

Tomorrow heading up into the mountains, hopefully the roads will be better than these.

Here are my stats

13 Miles traveled today

(Astorga – Rabanal)

336.63 Miles traveled so far

169.17 Miles left to go

505.8 Miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 21 – Father Knows Best

There comes a time in every woman’s life she realizes she’s turning into her father…. or her husband.

For me, it was the socks with the sandals.

By now you all know the grisly details of the four ginormous blisters on my feet which have made my efforts to walk some 500 miles across Spain unbearably painful.

Before leaving for Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, I had spent months trying on and trying out socks and hiking shoes. I had been in and out of REI so many times that they knew my name, shoe size, where I had gone to college, and when I had lost my virginity. (If my twin daughters are reading this – it was the night you were conceived.)

But no shoe salesperson can ever prepare you for walking 15-miles a day every fucking day for about 15 days. In the end, your body and your feet are going to do whatever they’re gonna do.

And you just deal with it and continue to walk (and whine).

My pre Spanish Schlep prep also included buying something to prevent the dreaded C-word (OMG people calm down) – chafing.

Now I know there are some women out there who were blessed with the much-envied thigh gap, but the rest of us meatier mortals must have rubbed the gods the wrong way, cuz we’ve been rubbin’ and chafing our way through eternity – and take it from me – it hurts and burns like hell on earth.

But here’s the rub – men suffer from the chafe as well.

My husband had just arrived in Leon to support me and my Camino adventures, and he was complaining about the raw rub.

I told him, go into the bathroom, look for the pink deodorant thingy and apply some of the “body glide” to your boo boos.

I mean he’s a grown man, I didn’t think he needed any more information or a tutorial- right????!!!! Wrong.

Later that evening, I went in the bathroom and noticed the stick of Body Glide wasn’t there.

“Umm, whadya use for your chafing, cuz the pink stick’s not here?”

“Yeah it is – it’s next to that green tube”

“You mean you used this peach colored tube?”

“Yeah, and it really worked well, all the chafing is gone.”

“Umm, that’s my hair gel”

“Well that dippity do, did the trick!”

Who knew a salon treatment for limp, fine, and chemically treated hair would provide such soothing comfort. (I know, I know, “limp and fine” in the same sentence-but it’s too easy.)

That’s when I realized how much we need each other and how alike we truly are.

Where else but on him and other fathers have I seen socks and sandals TOGETHER?

We have fathers from around the world to thank for giving us the ugly, but oh so comfy and practical hats.

And let’s not forget the fannypacks or as they’re called in Ireland, the bum bags. There’s not a dad out there who’s been on vacation and left his behind bag, behind.

And I’ve embraced them all without shame.

The socks and sandals have saved my feet, the hat hides my bed head AND protects my neck and face from the fierce sun, and as for the bumbag – it’s now like a new appendage – I feel naked without it. Kate Spade and Coach your bags are dead to me.

They say you’ll find your true self on The Way to Santiago de Compostela, and if that’s so, then I guess my true self is all dad…..

Hmmmm that’s not such a bad idea, I mean what’s next, me total embracing my dad bod!

Here are my stats

33 Miles traveled today – car with Lou

(Leon to Astorga)

320.63 Miles traveled so far

185.17 Miles left to go

505.8 Miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino:Day 20 – Lazy Days in Leon

There is nothing like a rest day when you’re walking 500 miles across Spain.

I’m in the town of Leon – a city that’s been around since about 30BC, and a spectator stop – full of energy – something I was lacking as I dragged my ass past the ancient city walls.

The architecture is wonderful- a combination of religious obsession and Roman oppression.

The town’s queen diva is its cathedral, built in the 13century. It’s a true gothic goddess known for its embrace of and exploitation of light.

The light show is stunning, and changes by the moment as the clouds move past the sun, and as the sun moves east to west. You can just imagine all the pilgrims of pilgrims past, marveling at the miracle of light.

The cathedral is the city’s spiritual heart – but my heart stopped a beat when I arrived at my rest stop – the famed Parador de Leon – and who is there standing at the reception but my husband!!!

Don’t worry, don’t worry I’m not going all X-rated on you.

My sweetheart is here to cheer me on through to the end of my Camino. He won’t walk, instead he’ll drive and push me beyond my limits so that I don’t quit my Spanish Schlep.

Not that I would quit – no way am I going to let this bitch beat me.

We strolled through Leon this afternoon and bumped into my fellow pilgrims and he was able to witness the strength, energy, and humor of those I’m sharing this slice of my life with.

As we sipped on wine and ate our tapas and fried under the blazing Spanish sun, I pointed out my Camino comrades… “oh that’s the Australian, she’s 73 and traveling on her own, see that guy he’s the German who’s done this six times already, oh look… there’s Peggy, she’s got a bum knee, oh god don’t look, that’s the creepy guy who drinks out of his boots….”

It was the who’s who of the pilgrim parade.

He also got to see how obsessed we are about each other’s feet, legs, and overall health. We are a community of strangers hell-bent on completing a common goal.

Tomorrow we start another climb towards the end of our journey. Since we’re done with the Meseta section, we’re moving on to the wild and rocky Cantabrian Mountain section which includes the high point of the Camino Frances (oh fucking joy), and the third phase of this pilgrimage, the stage known as the spiritual stage.

OMG! OMG!!!! O!M!G!

I’m in high spirits. My blisters are healing, my muscles feel strong and healthy – and I need safety pins to hold up my undies!!!

Yes, the great 500-mile walk diet really works – your panties will fall off after about 250 miles! Jenny Craig – you know nothing!

I’m wrapping up today’s reflections, more tapas – and red wine – await me….. someone get some more safety pins before these panties completely fall off—- and that has nothing to do with my hubby’s arrival (wink wink)!