Walking “Home” with My Camino Family

I began the Camino Frances on the 26th of May in St. Jean-de-Pied-de-Porte alone and somehow walked into Santiago de Compostela on the 7th of July with four amazing women. A motley crew of sorts, each with our own trials and tribulations that have led us here to “walk it off,” we were somehow brought together for the final stretch. A fitting end to such an magical trip as the closer we got to Santiago, the more the terrain changed and we found ourselves surrounded by eucalyptus trees and rolling hills, much like the ones I grew up with in California. The entirety of this trip has felt like a long walk back to myself, a reclamation of the person I denied myself to become and so walking “home,” with my new Camino Family, if only in scenery, was a very fitting end to this leg of my journey.

The Eucalyptus Trees

Except for one woman who I was destined to meet, orbiting each other’s lives in Fort Collins only to finally meet on the other side of the world, I can’t imagine I would ever have encountered any of the other lovely ladies without the help of the Camino. And so without apology, this is why I have been offline for so long (along with Ipad storage issues) as it seemed to me more important to give my full attention to each of them while I still had the chance.

Even the construction reminds me of California!

And, as of yesterday, all but one had began their journey home and/or continued on their walk to the coast and it felt fitting that the last one to depart was my English buddy Lisa who joined me for her last night in Santiago to watch the “footy” game between England and Croatia with another Camino friend, Joanna, who helped me celebrate my Birthday in Rabes del Calzadas on June 11. None of us are really soccer/football fans but it seemed a fitting way to celebrate this leg of the trip which was, in part, dedicated to my late father, an avid fan and native Englishman. England had only won one championship in the history of the World Cup in 1966 and so Lisa and I hoped and prayed for a miracle that “our boys,” the under-dogs, could upset the favored Croatians, but alas, Joanna got her way with a Croatian win but we were able to keep it “civil” in Camino tradition and had an amazing time none the less.

At A Gramola, the best bar in Santiago!

The highlight of the Camino Frances has definitely been the people I met along my way and just when you think you’ll never see them again, they pop around the corner. Even yesterday, my fifth day in Santiago, I was surprised with another encounter with English Clare, an awesome woman I hadn’t seen since right after Pamplona three weeks ago!

Just outside A Gramola enjoying the sunshine with Lisa when Clare pops up!

Tomorrow, I’ll be setting off on my own again for the next leg of my journey. A four to six day walk from Santiago to Muxia then Finisterre, the town once believed to be the end of the known world. When I first started this blog, I hadn’t decided whether I would walk or bus this last bit, not knowing if I would even like walking day after day but as there is something that still feels “unfinished,” I’m not ready to stop walking!

Daisy demonstrating how to correctly walk the Camino at our awesome hostel Roots and Boots, I first met her in Las Herrias before the big climb to O’Cebreiro

According to my Compostela, the certificate you are awarded in Santiago to commemorate the completion of a minimum of 100km, I have walked 790 km to date and while each day left me physically exhausted, the emotional, mental, and spiritual rejuvenation I’ve experienced has made the struggle completely worth it and I would recommend this journey to anyone looking for a similar boost.

Another chance encounter with an Italian woman I took a 20 minute side trip with to see some Roman Ruins, let’s just call her Ms. G…

All the things that were so inconvenient at the beginning of this trip became second nature. Sleep was but a dream and my late morning starts became less and less as whether I wanted to get up early or not, I did. My fellow pilgrims insisted with the morning shuffle of zippers and plastic bags (next time I will pack everything in cloth as I was guilty of this shuffle as well). One way or another, I had to “conform” in part, become one with the group whether I liked it or not. Though I guess I could have insisted, I realized quickly that this was not a trip of isolation though I am learning how to be unapologetic about my “uniqueness” in the way I prefer to approach the Camino. However, the bigger lesson has been accepting that this was not just a trip of learning how to be me again but of how to fit into the larger scheme of things.

Stacey and I at the biggest eucalyptus tree I’ve ever seen! Pic courtesy of Joanna on a beautiful and memorable walk home…apparently we covered 3 miles after midnight!

At first I could see that I was nothing without the people I find myself surrounded by, for without the validation and affirmation I had so oftened craved in my insecurity, I felt alone and without purpose. I had understood “the problem” with this type of thinking but I can now see the root of this was simply my longing to feel like I “belong,” that I am loved, that I am part of a bigger tribe, that I wouldn’t be abandoned if I was just having a bad day and felt like being asshole (it happens to the best of us). And while I think this journey has truly solidified that “I’m okay” I also know now that the people at home have been trying to tell me this for years so thanks again for all of you who have stood by me!

Lisa, Stacey, and I trying to keep our clothes on at the Tower of Hercules in A Coruana on a side trip to the beach.

When I had this yearning, this “Jones,” to pull away, to act-out, to disrupt the everyday pilgrim flow of ritualistic rinse-and-repeat, even at my “snarkiest,” I wasn’t abandoned. And when I would worry that I wasn’t worth suffering my occasional negative outbursts, especially after Sarria when we were forced to join “herds” of people just starting out, walking the last 100k for their Compostela, I was reassured that I was still wanted and a much needed part of our group who huddled together for the last leg of our Camino, trying to maintain our positive attitudes amongst the chaos of all the newbies we found ourselves surrounded by…(favorite graffiti quote “Jesus didn’t start in Sarria”…. no judge).

Lisa, Stacey, and I in A Coruana at the Restaurante Tamarindo, best Mexican food ever! Thanks to California Mary and Ron for a great tip!

What my Camino Family were able to teach me is that they did not want me to “conform” as much as they wanted to see me settle into my own skin and understand that no one is perfect. That being apart of a “team” is all about give and take, lifting each other up when we’re down, sharing the load, and pulling our own weight when we’re capable.

A surprise run-in with Chantal, a French-Canadian I met our first night in Orisson. And here I thought I wouldn’t see anyone from Orisson again, assuming they would have all finished days ahead of me…the Camino provides!

And yes, you can do this pilgrimage however you want, you can rise each morning at four or five in the morning and race from town to town, pulling 40-50km just to siesta till dinner and back to bed, just to wake and do it again (no judge). Or you can wake when you’re ready, stop every 2 hours for a half-hour break over a cafe con leche or a cerveza, walk 20-25km for the day, arriving just in time for a quick shower before dinner. You can wash your laundry by hand, share the cost of an actual washer with your Camino Family or not do any laundry at all (we all stink anyway). Whatever your speed and goal for the trip, you will find plenty of like-minded pilgrims to share your journey.

Annette, Lisa, Stacey, Texas Mary, and I celebrating our arrival in Santiago. My Camino Family 🙂

Well, that does it for today! Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me! Tomorrow I set off to the coast by foot for the next round of My Camino, another 120km to the coastal towns of Muxia and Finisterre! Stayed tuned 🙂


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