Post-Camino “Come Down”: A Journey Along the Portuguese Coast

As was semi-expected leaving Santiago, I found myself on a four hour bus ride to the bustling city of Porto, Portugal wondering what the rest of my trip would be like now that I had “finished” the walking part of my Camino. While Porto has so much to offer in history and sites to see, I immediately felt a longing to be back with “my people” and the shared experience of camaraderie, struggle, and the jubilation that such experiences create in my heart of hearts.

Upon arriving at the bus station in Porto (a 34 euro fare from Santiago), I immediately felt a sense of loss, almost regretting my departure, even going so far as to wonder if the lovely staff at the albergue Roots & Boots, my favorite place I encountered during the entirety of my stay in Santiago, would perhaps let me come back and volunteer as a “hospitalero,” a person who works at an Albergue, maintaining the facilities, greeting and serving the guests in exchange for free room and board.

But alas, there is no going back, or at least not for a few years as I can definitely see myself doing yet another Camino when the time presents itself. However, my longing to stay isn’t unusual, as I heard tales of pilgrims never leaving the trail, finding that life on the Camino in all its simplicity made more sense than anything they had ever found at home.

Some might say that it’s just another way to “walk away” from “real life” but I understand the impulse to be more about “walking away” from all that life is not really about… working long days, long hours, knowing the people you work with better than your own family. Instead, the Camino offers a way of reconnecting with the earth and like-minded people from all over the world; a way of living that simply requires one to walk, talk, listen, and meditate on the meaning(s) of life.

I’ll admit that part of me, when booking my first plane ticket a year ago, contemplated never coming back to the U.S. at all. However, I was surprised to find plenty of reasons to return home; renewing my commitment to family, friends, and a brand new beginning at life. Whereas before the trip, I felt somewhat lost in the world, now I have relocated the basic unwritten laws of what it is to be human: to quote my father right before he passed, “Just love”.

A fundamental compass, love can easily be anyone’s guide for the toughest questions life presents: for me, the big mystery is what I’ll be doing after the Camino. While I have ideas, I hold no certainties at this juncture. But whatever it ends up being, and maybe it won’t just be one thing… but whatever it is, I will just ask the question “does it bring me more or does it take away from the feelings of love I have for life RIGHT NOW???

As for the “Comedown of the Camino,” its only temporary or maybe that’s easy for me to say because I don’t actually come home until September; I’ll “cross that bridge when I get to it! Good news is, after a few days of needed rest (don’t expect to sleep much on the Camino), I finally found myself enjoying being a “tourist” again. Porto and Lisbon were beautiful cities, reminiscent of the San Francisco coast with warmer weather and prices way more reasonable.

Douro River in Porto, Portugal… Tons of restaurants, shops, and live music!

My first hostel in the heart of Porto was called Light Point https://m.facebook.com/lightpointoporto/. LP outdid my expectations and the bar/cafe has amazing, reasonably priced food; my fav was the salmon guacamole tostada! Only a thirty-five min walk or 20 min metro ride and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the downtown shopping district, historic sites and monuments, the massive Douro River and all it’s river front shops, restaurants, and live music, and tons of cool after-hour hang outs near the university.

Check out the area of Matosinhos if you’re looking for Porto-light; Matosinhos gives you easy access to the city (via metro) as well as the beach. I recommend the Fishtail hostel: they have free bike rentals and its only a 25 minute ride to Piscinas des Mares, man-made pools built into the existing rocks that are fed by the Atlantic Ocean. Only 5 euros and the water is a bit warmer than the actual ocean (brrr). But I was fortunate enough to locate surfing lessons on the other side of the port and they provided a wet suit! Surfing was 20 euro for two hours and well worth it!

Piscina des Mares – just google it!

If you’re in the Lisbon area, plenty of things to see/do! If you’re young and in the mood for fun….late, late night fun… there is “Pink Street” a district everyone out after 2a.m. ends up dancing the night away till 6a.m.! I wouldn’t know myself but I have it on good authority from a bunch of 20 somethings that 1. Barrio Alto for pre-night (12a.m.- 2a.m.); 2. Walk the five minutes to “Pink Street” and good luck getting up early!

Lisbon Trolley…

If you’re a little more…mature…or not… there is a great beach front that is easy to get to by metro. Just a forty minute ride from Lisbon, the quaint little beachtown of Cascais is a fun 1/2 day trip. It’s a busier beach but compensates with a walk up bar and paddle board rental; cute boutique “touristy” shops line the streets nearby; and awesome food! If you are craving Indian food after a long Camino (like I was), try out Masala, “literally” one of the best Indian restaurants I ever been to and if you go for lunch; super affordable!

For a more picturesque way to pre-party for the night to come, I suggest a sunset sail: try Sailing with Nigel http://www.sailingwithnigel.com/, a tour you can also find through TripAdvisor. The crew was awesome: They informed us on Lisbon’s history; mingled and provided food which included Portugal’s famous pastry, Pastel de Nata; and never left our glasses empty! I was definitely my preferred way “to see” Lisbon, and they even let me steer the boat! Thanks to Allie and Kristen for inviting me πŸ™‚

Sailing with Nigel pic provided by Allie…

Allie and Kristen are (much younger!) friends I made at Impact Hostel, an awesome stay that supports volunteer trips (if you ever feeling like traveling with more of a purpose – and they really do take all ages, even though you might feel like you’re back at camp :). The staff and guests alike were truly a great group of people of all backgrounds who share a common desire to help!

Allie had already been in Lisbon for three weeks working with ReFeed, an organization that collects left over food from restaurants and bakeries; repackages and hand-delivers to low-income families. Kristen had just arrived in Lisbon to begin a stint with a conversation group that provides protected land for wolves who can’t return to the wild due to injury or previously inefficient captive conditions.

If you are in the mood for less hustle and bustle, I suggest checking out the seaside town of Setubal, an hour train ride from Lisbon. Thanks to Ricardo, an awesome guy I met at a cafe across the street from my hostel, Arrabid’in, I was able to hire a water taxi arranged by Ricardo, who called on my behalf, and was nice enough to drive me to the harbor and even lent me his beach umbrella.

While the beach in walking distance from downtown Setubal is also pretty awesome, the water taxi took me to Coelhos Beach, a much more secluded “Praia” with clear waters and plenty of space to stretch out or “frolic” near the ocean. Coehlos Beach is the sister beach of Galapinhos, a previous winner of best beaches of all of Europe. Apparently the word is out but if you like more people and a beachside bar and restaurant, Galapinhos is the winner, but why settle for just one: Coelhos and Galapinhos are linked by a trail with a short (but steep) walk. And the water taxi will arrange a pick up time for safe travel back to Setubal.

https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=zUZ7nQip&id=A42076FF80D01D6C0C2B5201B4DC16C581B06F58&thid=OIP.zUZ7nQipbXvy-hfUIahLxQHaE7&q=coelhos+beach+portugal&simid=607989220655366474&selectedIndex=0

My last week in Portugal will be spent in Lagos, the beachside resort that offers great weather, a happening night life, and plenty of water/land sports. As soon as I arrived I made sure to fill my week up with plenty of outdoor adventure! Today I rented a motor scooter and visited the neighboring city of Sagres, the “end of the known world” in Portugal.

Cliffs and Grottos along the coast of Lagos…

In Sagres, you can find more beaches, surfing and other water sports, a historic light house, an old fortress, great seafood and cool bars: I visited the bar Dromedario https://www.tripadvisor.pt/Restaurant_Review-g189121-d1928289-Reviews-Dromedario_Bar_Sagres-Sagres_Faro_District_Algarve.html, where I had the best mojito of my life (yeah, not Cuba, but still!) created by a skilled bartender that brings all of the Hollywood artistry I remember wanting to learn from Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail!

Light House at Sagres….also the name of the “purest” beer in Portugal -my fav!

Tomorrow I’m off for a kayaking trip of the famous ocean caves that line the coast of Lagos! So that’s it for now and I’ll keep you posted on how the rest of my week in Lagos goes! Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

More Camino Magic: The Lost Archive

Hi there! This is a special edition, one that I started over a month ago and thought I had lost via a bad wifi connection one day at the San Bruno hostel, a lovely Italian run place where I had a great night with many lovely Italians, a few Americans, two Brazilians, and one French woman. Can’t think of the town we were but it is one of the many stops after Carrion des Condes (sp?). As it illustrates more of the magic of the Camino Frances which I now more than ever believe in since running into Danish Andy a few days back in Santiago. Andy has been on a mission to walk all the Caminos and has been at it for the last 18 months. Andy confirmed that the magic seems to be focused on the Frances which cements my theory (in my mind at least) about the pull of the Milky Way above and the supposed magnetic energy field below that follows along that particular route to the Atlantic Ocean. Two must-see “sacred-site” destinations include the seaside towns of Muxia and Fisterra (and possibly a third sacred site in Naoi – tho I didn’t get a chance to visit that one). This “magic” may be why many have walked this path even before historic records were kept – but for more info on this, see my earlier piece entitled “So what about the Pagans? https://mycaminojones.com/2018/05/20/so-what-about-the-pagans-1-day-to-takeoff/ . But the following is my true story that I was able to attach a fitting ending to in the last few days. Enjoy!

….The magic continues. As I had been feeling so grateful for the poles and the sandwich ( see https://mycaminojones.com/2018/05/31/magic-of-the-camino-part-one/ and https://mycaminojones.com/2018/06/02/magic-of-the-camino-part-2/ ), I made it my mission to try and return the favor, keeping an eye out for lost items along “The Way” and trying to find their owner. Also, I have been thinking about the things I would like to manifest just to see if they would show up too (like the razor I lost in Pamplona).

In Logrono, I bunked next to a man named Len who turned out to live five minutes from me in Fort Collins. The next day I decided to walk with him to the next town as he seemed to be pretty lonely, having started a longer version of the walk in France 23 days before me, a stint that hadn’t included any “English speaking pilgrims”.

On our way, Len I were split up when I ran into Terry and Jeff from Virginia. I slowed down to talk to Terry as we had run into each other a few days earlier when I was walking with the Californian Shira sisters, Patti and Janet and their English buddy Clare, a nurse with a deadline to finish the Camino in time to return home for an Eminem concert (talk about balance…I like her style!).

The Shira sisters and I had all been at Orisson the first night of our trip. We didn’t get to talk that night but I remembered them sharing their story at dinner, as is the custom at Refuge Orisson https://maps.apple.com/place?address=D428%2C%2064220%20Saint-Michel%2C%20France&auid=3263663677069212223&ll=43.108741630296066%2C-1.2392234802246094&q=Refuge%20Orisson.

Australian Mary, who had also been at Orisson that first night (you can read more about her in Camino Magic 1&2), and I had bumped into each other again for the like 5th time just outside of Pamplona and decided to grab a coffee to catch up on the last few days of our journeys. We were just finishing up when the Shira sisters walk into the cafe with Clare. We chat for a bit and they give Mary and I each a little angel they had made to give to people they met along the Camino. I tell them that this reminds me of the gifts people make and give out at Burning Man and it turns out that Patti (Shira 1) had gone to Burning Man too.

Mary, headed out to catch a bus to Estella as she had a bum knee she needed to rest for a few days (and that would be the last time I would see her). I was going to leave too but something was holding me there and the Shira sisters invited me to join their table. Patti and I start talking “Burning Man” and I tell her about the last time I went, taking my Dad’s ashes and how I almost didn’t get into the event at all. I’ve told this story so many times by then, so I was really surprised that telling these ladies brought me to tears (the second time I’ve cried on this trip). We all end up sticking together for the rest of the walk that day and that’s when I meet Terry and Jeff for the first time at a break at the top of the first hill out of town.

Fast-forwarding to the second time I meet Terry and Jeff (with Len): Len, being a fast walker moves ahead (“my pace is my pace”) and Terry and I chat for a bit. She becomes my new inspiration to stay positive about the physical discomfort of the trip as she suffers from the side affects of Lime Disease and has severe pain in her feet so has to take it really slow. She explains how important this trip is to her even though the disease has left her in a constant battle with her body.

We catch up with her husband Jeff who had been chatting with another pilgrim up ahead. I move-on ahead of the couple to and stop at a cafe for a quick coffee and an apple. Twenty minutes later I walk up the street towards the town square of Navarette and run back into Len who had stopped for a lunch break. I sit with him in the square and he, being a generous guy, offers to share his Serrano ham and cheese with me.

While we sit, chat, and snack, a German man comes out of the Church and walks up to us with a credential (the document that each pilgrim carries to prove he/she/they/ have been traveling the camino by foot/bike/or horse by receiving stamps from places along the way – a real-life scavenger hunt, I suppose). The German man doesn’t speak English but he can tell we do and points to the name and address on the credential as a Nichi from Victoria, Texas. Len remembers that it’s the woman he had met a couple days before as, while he didn’t remember her name, he did remember her being from Victoria (and in fact we had just seen her ahead of us ten minutes before running into Jeff and Terry). I had even got a flash of her face as she walked on ahead of us though I wouldn’t exactly been able to pick her out of a line up.I take the credential from the German man and figure with Len’s help, we would run into her eventually, as that’s how the Camino works.

Len and I carry on and I learn that he was a fire fighter for 30 years in Philadelphia where he was “born and raised”. I learn that he was burned in a fire and that because of the cut backs in staffing, he hadn’t been found right away. I guess there had once been a system in place that each firefighter had a buddy that was responsible for making sure they would each make it out of a building (as he had been a part of search and rescue). I guess Len was burned in more ways than one as the incident left him a little disenchanted about his chosen profession. Its no surprise to me that he was having similar feelings with the Camino Frances, feeling like it was very “commercial” and, in his opinion, all any of the locals were concerned with was making money off the pilgrims.

Len and I at a photo op when we first meet Juli who was nice enough to take our pic.

While I understood where Len was coming from, I didn’t see it this way. I felt the Camino Frances was the perfect example of the give and take systems that represents just another aspect of life. Sure, there were people and businesses trying to sell you things along the way but I was sure appreciative that they were there! Where else can you hike for over a month and not have to carry excess food and water!?! Yes, they made money off of us but it sure was nice when I turned a corner after a long, lonely stretch of hiking and there was a cafe/bar with cafe con leche or a cerveza with my name on it!

Len and I have a great night in Najera with the youngest traveller I had met up until this point, Juli from the Netherlands, who joins us for the last 7k into Najera. At 18, Juli had come on the Camino alone to avoid biting her nails waiting on her test results from her final test that would let her know if she had graduated from high school. By dinner, she found it funny that Len and I had been behaving like an “old married couple,” bickering about when to stop, how far to the next village, and where we should stay. It was that night amongst the three of us over a bottle (or two ) of wine that I really get the full story from Len and why is heart seemed so closed off from the Camino “experience,” as the old adage of having “been burned before” never seemed so fitting.

Juli and Len on a quick stop on our way to Najera.

The following morning Len and I set off to Santo Domingo and sure enough, after I insist we stop for a beer at a nice place between the two main albergues in the heart of the city, we run into Nichi from Victoria, Texas who, if it weren’t for Len, would have walked right passed us. All the while I had her credential in my pocket just in case, but I would never had recognized her without Len’s help. She’s ecstatic, especially after she asks me my name and I tell her that its Kim and she responds, “No way, that’s my sister’s name!,” claiming that “stuff like this has happened to me the entire way,” and I immediately understand that she feels the magic that I do although it still seems to allude Len.

I do manage to loosen Len up a bit later when I sneak two beers for us into the bell tower in Santo Domingo so we can listen to the chimes go off at the top. He couldn’t help but laugh when, knowing we only had ten minutes that I run all the way down the stairs, back to the hostel, up two flights to the snack machine (I love Spain), bought to cans of beer, and ran all the way back with two minutes to spare. “I didn’t think you were really going to come back,” he says.

Len with the beer in the bell tower of Santo Domingo.

The chimes were a little underwhelming as they did not swing at all, having been modernized (without our realizing) and simply chimed via loud speaker… I guess that rope hanging all the way to bottom of the tower was just for show (who would have thought). But this only adds to the hilarity of it all and we hang out for a bit and end up having a nice chat with an Irishman and his 16 year old son who join us at the top and I imagine how great it would be to walk the Camino some day with my son.

That night Len cooks us dinner and we join a Norwegian couple who I had a communal dinner in Logronos . The night is typical “Camino” filled with laughter and good banter. The joke is we all know sleep will be fast and fleeting as the albergue and and the town of Santo Domingo is famous for their “chicken story” which tells of a young woman from the town who falls for a young German pilgrim traveling with his parents. The pilgrim doesn’t return the girl’s love and so to get back at him, she plants one of her valuables amongst his possessions and claims he has stolen it from her. Stealing, being punishable by death at the time, the pilgrim is hung in the square and his body is left hanging there as an example to others. The parents of the pilgrim leave to continue their pilgrimage to Santiago. As it was the custom to return to your home by foot, when the parents return to the town of Santo Domingo they visit their son’s body that is still hanging in the town square.

The Norwegian couple (in the middle) after our communal dinner in Logrono.

The pilgrims are quite surprised when the body of their son comes to life on the rope. The Son tells his parents that he is indeed alive and that need to go tell the mayor to cut him down. The parents visit the mayor during his dinner and relay the tale. The mayor responds that their son is as likely alive as the chicken he’s about to eat. Sure enough, the chicken comes back to life and the mayor, now a true believer, has the son cut down and given a full pardon regarding the theft. The moral of the story being that every pilgrim is granted a wish by walking the Camino and the parents had asked St. James for the return of their son who they knew to be innocent of the crime.

Anyway, long story short, our albergue, along with the Cathedral (which has two roaming amongst the pews), keeps chickens as a reminder of the miracles of faith and the magic of the Camino (maybe they don’t use the word magic but this is my blog). Sure enough, the chickens start crowing at 4am but Len and I still manage to be the last stragglers out of the albergue which kicks you out promptly at 7:30a.m. (Now I really know why they keep those chickens). A great place though, especially considering the price of 7 euros. Full, kitchen, nice couches and a huge dining area where you can mingle with other pilgrims (like we did with the Norwegians).

The cathedral in Santo Domingo from the infamous “square”…

On my final full day of walking with Len on our way to Belorada, I find a black scarf and again, just in case, I tuck it away in hopes to find the owner. However, my pack and my mood begins to get weighed down with other people’s baggage as no matter what I did or say (tho there were a few laughs shared between us that’s for sure) I could no longer bear Len’s attitude regarding the Camino and the persnickety comments he had in regard to almost everything including the chickens! I begin to feel rushed going at Len’s pace, skipping photo ops, cute cafes I normally would stop at, and he seems to offend/scare off other pilgrims that I would have like to have gotten to know with his loud/abrasive humor.

That night, I turn down his offer to join him in town and I had a lovely chat with a Canadian couple from Vancouver who have also had their run-ins with Len and they compliment me on my patience. I end up having a nice dinner with Swedish Maria and get to listen to her fascinating life as a nurse that included a tour of duty attached to the Swedish army looking for land mines an weapon caches in Kosovo. We exchanged emails and I now have a friend to visit in Sweden when I’m ready. And later back in our room, I meet Spanish Clara from Bilbao (I want to go!) who lives in London as a nurse – (she and I will end up running into each other again after Astorga.

And that’s when I realized that trying to “take care of Len” and his down and out mood was not serving me, especially since listening to Maria’s story and how she had to lay down the law with “her men” about working too hard in the crazy Kosovo heat, about how she told them she would not come out and save them if they insisted on working throught their rest breaks, risking blowing themselves up in the midst of it all. The keyword here is boundaries and the lesson for me was “make some!”

So, that next morning Len and I head back out on the trail again but this time I’m feeling the weight of his mood with every step and for the first and only time during the entirety of the Camino I’m feeling the pangs of my old “depression”. We stop at the next cafe and I happen to run into the nice group of Italian women who I think might have dropped the scarf the day before – sure enough it does belong to one of the ladies who is super grateful. But instead of feeling the love of helping, I feel the lesson of giving back people their “shit” to carry themselves and I promptly decide it is time to “break up” with Len, telling him I need some time to myself, and walk on immediately feeling a sense of lightness for letting go of everyone’s baggage.

Walking with Len, I met this dog who also just needed a little love and attention.

I realize that I am not the one in charge here, that I am, like all the other pilgrims walking the Camino Frances, simply a vehicle for “something bigger” when it decides that I’m in the right place at the right time but that it is not something I can control. So, sure enough, when I tried to have my way with the “magic of the Camino,” thinking I could be some sort of savior to the travelers around me, the Camino found another way to teach me a valuable lesson.

I know this was a long, drawn out way to get to the point of all this but it does illustrate one of the many ways the Camino works, pushing and pulling you along, making sure you run into the people you need to learn from, and inevitably figuring out why everything had to happen the way it did! I suppose I have to give myself credit for taking action with Len, as I was also told by one of my many mentors before the trip that lessons without follow-through are just nice sounding words.

And while I still feel for Len and hope to catch up with him in Fort Collins some day as he is super intelligent, funny, with a big (yet broken) heart, I had to come to understand that the relationship at that point wasn’t serving me and that it wasn’t my job to “save” him. One thing that seems so “Camino” to me now, is learning how to break old patterns. And though I still have a few more to break and a lot more growing to do, as it takes a lifetime, “I did all I could with the information I had at the time,” (more wise words from a new dear Camino friend).

Okay, that’s it for now! Thanks for reading!

While in Porto, Portugal, enjoying some rest and relaxation, I managed to make it to the Frida Kahlo photography exhibit – a truly amazing woman who epitomized the idea of rising above the challenges life hands you!

The not so “Practical” Lessons of the Camino

So now for some of the “practical” parts of the Camino based on what I’ve learned from my own experience. Simply put, expectations are a “bitch” so not having any is the best way to travel. I have to give myself a pat on the back on this one as I really didn’t have any and was blown away by the results. However, I think the key to this was traveling solo, only having myself to answer to. While I have never felt alone on this journey, meeting and traveling with many other pilgrims, I was able to listen to my intuition more clearly and could say yes or no to anything and anyone.

On the way to the 0,000km marker in Fisterra…

I’ve already written frequently on the subject that for me, this journey was the beginning of the end of my “forced isolation” I had underwent during a heavy bout of depression after my father died. But much of that isolation was a result of not feeling capable of living up to what I thought others expected of me, that I everything I did was wrong. I wasn’t able to create boundaries, I was indecisive and even the smallest decisions I had to make seemed overwhelming.I second-guessed everything and so the easiest thing to do was hide.

My buddy Talitha, blind, 72yr old, and has walked the Camino 13 times! Anything is possible! Side note, the man to the left is Jason from Montana, I would officially meet him later that night though I knew his name and story from Hungarian Suzanne, a woman I met in Muxia 4 nights before. That’s how the Camino works.

Depression is “one hell of a drug,” to play on Rick James’ now famous quote regarding another powerful drug (cocaine). And while depression and narcotics are completing different things in name, I find the mind-altering effects to be very similar. After many years of self-analysis, therapy, and search for meaning with the aid of many “self-help” books, I’ve come to the conclusion that each individual must find their own “way” and how I or anyone else decides to rid themselves of the “unbearable mental baggage” they carry is their own prerogative but I will say the Camino can do wonders!

And here I thought I was going to be writing today about what to wear, what gear to bring, what to leave behind, where to stay, where not to stay…. I guess I just have to admit that this is not that kind of blog!

View from the coastal alternative route from Muxia to Fisterra…

While I know that I am not the only one to have this experience, my depression had left me in a deep dark hole with the feeling of no escape. The Camino, while it wasn’t the solitary reason of my assent out of the darkness, it has been the culmination of a much longer trip “to hell and back” and the perfect ending to an arduous journey much more difficult than anything my legs and back have experienced walking 500 miles.

Another pic from the trail from Muxia to Fisterra…

And so yes, this blog might not be the best guide for “practical” solutions on how to pack or how to train for such an unpredictable physical journey, but I do think embarking on the Camino evolved into to a “practical” solution that has helped me to heal the cracks in my psyche. In a sense, I simply “walked it off”. But timing is everything and if I had come on this journey any sooner, I don’t think I would have been ready to see, hear, feel, or accept the lessons I’ve experienced thus far. Which in a round-about way leads me back to the topic of isolation.

View from Fisterra near the lighthouse...

I think the old me, five, four, three, two, one year, or even six months ago would have had a completely different experience on the Camino even if I might have taken the same route and met the same people. There is a point or various points in my depression that I felt like a horse wearing blinders….and earplugs for that matter, and unable to see any other option than the one leading me down a scary dissent into the pits of despair, feeling utterly hopeless.

On my way Muxia…

I can imagine that if I had walked the Camino any sooner, I wouldn’t have been ready to listen to others and empathize with their pain that, when it boils down to it, wasn’t very different than my own. So my “practical” advice for those in a similar situation embarking on their first Camino would be to understand that, as many Camino friends reminded me, the people you meet are some reflection of yourself, and that, good or bad, you are being given a chance to come to terms with what you see, hear, and feel.

This guy greeted me in Fisterra

But I still had to do the work and, as I was also advised, that meant learning to say yes and no and setting boundaries as the old me would have easily given way to what others thought or demanded of me. But instead I learned early on to stick to my own schedule and not give into the pressures to speed up or slow down or when to wake up or stop for food and drink. Wherever I go, there will always be the push and pull of “ought to” and “should do” of others around me, but the Camino has helped me to be better at listening to the beat of my own heart and understand the difference between intuition and guilt.

Post sunset pic in Fisterra

One of the many side-effects of depression was becoming lost in my own diseased brain and only being able to think about me, me, me. And while I already wrote about this is my last post, I want to re-emphasize how the Camino has helped me to reintegrate into humanity. The beauty of this type of journey includes the bonds and pacts I was able to make with others and I never knew who I would end up clicking with regardless of their nationality, age, religion, political belief or language barrier. So, along with listening to my heart, was also having a filter for knowing when I was just being completely selfish and understanding the responsibility and need to be reliable amongst the people I had come to care about. Yes, I wanted and still want to fulfill my own agenda but not at the expense of others.

Met this guy on the way to Fisterra

However, maintaining the balance of intuition and compromise can be tricky but I think the best way to illustrate my point is with an actual story that happened just a couple of days ago. Having arrived in Fisterra (Finisterre) on Thursday, having two lovely nights on my own to reach what felt like the real “end” to my Camino where it was once believed to be the end of the world, I received an invitation to join my new Camino buddy, Irena at a place called the Lil Fox House about 7km outside of Muxia. Having heard about this place from another Camino pal, I was curious to check it out as it was marketed as the perfect place to end your journey, inviting pilgrims to a quaint little cottage where the owner Tracey, an avid Camino walker herself, will wine and dine you, sharing her home for a little rest and relaxation to ponder your experiences.

A view of the light house in Muxia…

However, Irena and I turned out not to be in the mood for rest and relaxation and found ourselves thoroughly bored. And so even though we were scheduled to stay one more night we made the decision to be true to ourselves and return to Fisterra, planning our escape like two teenagers sneaking out after curfew from the nice but very matronly woman who had wanted to keep us locked up in her in peace and tranquility. So when our fairy godmother stepped out to the local festival with orders for us to eat our soup and make her a salad for dinner, we quickly packed up our things, cleaned up our mess in the kitchen (yes, I made her the salad) and promptly called a taxi to take us back to the civilization. (Okay, maybe not the most mature way to get the job done but it worked.)

The split coming from Santiago… I ended up going to Muxia first…

Upon arrival we knew we had made the right decision as we came across some of Irena’s Camino family on our hunt for a supermercado that might still be open (it was Sunday and none were). They asked us to join them for dinner and discovered that Irish Emmit had been in Fisterra for five days and had yet to walk to the official end. So we made a plan to walk together with his Sardinian buddy (brother from another mother) Francesco, first showing them the San Piedras stones, the megaliths once celebrated by the Celts and the perfect place to watch the sunset before continuing on to the last mile marker of the Camino.

The view of Fisterra from the megaliths at San Piedras…

On preparation for our departure, we encountered another Camino buddy, Irish Jarlath who Irena and I first met in Liras and he too was just about to make the same walk in search of the stones. So the four of us set out on the hour long walk to the top of the peak to San Piedras and when we arrived we made yet another friend, Japanese Yuki, who was already atop the stone we were aiming for (its amazing how easy it is to bring someone into your circle simply by offering them a beer!).

Pic courtesy of Yuki…

The night could only be described as EPIC! and even Hollywood could not capture (though it did feel like a movie) how utterly amazing each of our experiences were on those magical stones overlooking the town of Fisterra and the open waters of the Atlantic. The view on both sides could never truly be done justice by camera (well, at least not by my old school Ipad no matter how much I enhance them). Each of us brought something different to “the table,” and somehow an American, a Slovenian, a Sardinian, two Irishmen, and a man from Japan found common ground on what felt like the top of the world.

Me and the boys...

And to think, Irena and I might have missed out if we had settled for the little cottage in the middle of nowhere! We came away feeling as though we had passed the test, “slayed the dragon,” not letting other people’s priorities for life overcome our own… and thank god we did, as the weather the following night completely blocked the sunset and we may have never run into Irena’s Camino pals as she was longing to reconnect with someone from her original trek and to experience a “real finale” to the Camino on the sacred stones she had come so far to see.

The Sunset from San Piedras in Fisterra….

As for me, this is the “shit” I live for! And while it would have been fine to have that same sunset on my own, being able to share the experience with others filled me with hope and reminded me that I really am a part of something “bigger” than myself and that I am finally ready to start giving back to the world that I’ve come to grow into and finally love. And while I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me, I’m very excited to find out and I know now that I am perfectly capable of doing it my own way.

This Pic was also taken by Yuki….

Okay, that’s enough for now, though I do want to mention that I finally found my “end” to the Camino and although I had planned to keep walking to Porto, Portugal, I have discovered that I’m content to end it here, at the “End of the World.” I do know I have another Camino in me but I am okay with being patient, taking the lessons I’ve learned and letting them sink in over the next two months of my trip.

I’m headed back to Santiago today for the St. James festival and have decided to listen to another Camino pal, Irish Gus, who informed me that if I go “hug St. James” I can ask for my Camino wish! And even though that might mean I have to wait in line for an hour (which I detest) its worth a shot at a wish come true…now to decide what to use my wish on!

Of course, I’ll keep writing (as long as my Ipad permits) and keep up the theme of the Camino as I have been told that the lessons keep coming long after the actual walk is done. And as I am not returning home until September, My Camino is still in progress I suppose, regardless if its by foot or by train, by bus or by plane (shout out to Dr. Seuss).

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

The fireworks from Santiago…

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

All Good Things Must Come to an End…And Some Bad Ones Too

Less than 200k to Santiago!!

Today being my first writing day in almost 9 days, I’ve been finding it hard to think of anything to write. It’s not that there isn’t anything to say but the opposite. I feel filled to the brim with everything I’ve seen, heard and experienced. Entering the “Spiritual Phase” of the Camino has put me into a state of shock about how close to the end of my journey I really am… well, at least the walking part. And many pilgrims talk about how this phase is almost “the come down” of the Camino. Like the end of a really good summer vacation… we all must go back to “reality” at some point.

The Camino and its Signs to Keep Moving Forward.

I understand now why my old self, the one who made all these plans six to ten months ago, decided I couldn’t come home right away extending my trip till the 17 of September and only then because I want to be home for my son’s birthday. Even back then, I had understood that I wouldn’t want to rush the experience of the Camino. I knew I would need time to absorb everything I’ve learned about myself and the people I’ve met along The Way.

I am in no way ready to come home yet. I can tell the Camino is not done with me and I’m already making plans in my head to return, wanting some how to get my Mom and son back here too. Even if they couldn’t or wouldn’t want to walk the entirety, there are ways to experience the soul of this journey without having to walk every bit of it.

There is also so much I know I’ve missed along the way as it impossible to do everything. There are towns, like Villafranca del Bierzo and Molinaseca that I was privileged enough to walk through but felt locked into my “schedule” and didn’t stay the night even though my soul ached to do so. And there were some towns and albergues I would love to have had more time in and would love to return to as well like Aloha Hostel in Pamplona https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187520-d3373582-Reviews-Aloha_Hostel-Pamplona_Navarra.html and Hostel Leon http://leonhostel.es/. I do feel like this trip has been the reconnaissance mission for more trips to come.

Villafranca del Bierzo, one of the towns I hope to return to someday.

Two days ago I saw a tarot card the XI of Swords that was placed purposefully on a post after a little stream in a small stretch of woods. After googling the explanation, I understood that it signifies leaving the past behind. That as difficult as it is to leave the things that I have loved but no longer serve me or even the things that I don’t like about myself but are just predictably reliable, the picture on the card suggests that there is a chance at a brighter future, suggesting what is lost in the departure will be replaced with a more meaningful future.

Even as I sit here at Casa Lixa, the awesome little albergue in the quaint town of Las Herrerias, I can feel the literal winds of change coming down the mountain I must cross over tomorrow into O’Cebreiro. After walking thru some rather hot days, the forecast for the next week will drop in temperature with occasional thunderstorms which seems to parallel the emotions of pilgrims I’ve talked to, like myself, who are lamenting the near end of such a meaningful journey with people they have come to know so well in what seems at the same time the entirety of a lifetime in a blink of an eye.

It seems fitting that, in what takes most pilgrims three to seven days to complete, I am dragging my feet, stopping nearly every other day for rest and completation before making it into Santiago for a total of 11 days. If you read my last post, you’ll remember me mentioning how the third phase of the Camino, the Spiritual Phase, was to begin in Leon. But I just had it clarified by Darren, a nice Irishman on a bike that stopped to chat on his way up the mountain, that the Spiritual Phase really begins at the Cruz de Ferro, the spot where pilgrims leave a stone for their loved ones, present and past. This seems to be more true with my own experience.

The day I reached the cross (Ferro), I had a stone for my late father that I found on the trip that looked like it had an “H” for Howard scratched into it, I had a stone for my son, Jacob who I hope will be called to make his own pilgrimage someday, and an almond seed I had picked up after Pamplona to symbolize a new beginning for myself. I placed them at the base of the cross and poured some of my dad’s ashes on the spot. I was a little emotional at this point, fighting back tears behind my sunglasses, but something didn’t seem right placing all the ashes there so I held some back.

At first, I thought maybe that I should keep some for Santiago as something didn’t seem complete with the spot I chose. So, retaining half of the ashes, I walked back down the hill, mindful to not step on the thousand other stones and memories intentionally placed by my fellow pilgrims. I guess the experience was leaving me underwhelmed, having thought I was ready to let everything I had been feeling about my father’s passing at the cross. But something wasn’t right. I wandered back and forth around the area nearby, keeping to myself by the picnic table in the shade, having a hard time feeling vulnerable amongst so many people.

Then I saw my Tom, another pilgrim living in Denver and now a new friend I had met first in Los Arcos around the second week of the trip and again the following day at a bar where he helped me with my back and shoulder. He is a gifted healer of sorts who I ran into again for the third time the night before the Cross in Rabinal del Camino where he helped me and a dozen other pilgrims with leg, neck, and back issues.

Tom and I leaving Ponferrada

To understand Tom, you really have to meet him in person but his specialty is linking your pain to your mental and emotional struggles. For me, he nailed it on the head when he said that the pain that I hold and must except forgiveness for is betrayal. It took me a bit to figure out what he meant but I soon realized that the person I have betrayed most throughout my life is myself. Not knowing how to say no to others or even to my own gluttonies has been a repeating pattern that has often left me shamed and feeling powerless.

So when I saw Tom sitting on the other side of this platform that had the numbers of a clock around the edge, something I still need to research for its significance, I walked over to it and stood in the middle trying to figure out this emotional block I was experiencing. That’s when Tom came over to me and put me on the 9. Being a fan of numerology, I immediately thought of integrity and wisdom. What wasn’t I being honest about?? Even though I was feeling rather self-conscious about all the people around, I finally just took off my hat and sunglasses and squatted down over the IX.

That’s when Tom came back over and placed his hand on the base of my neck, applying pressure and then that’s when I stopped thinking and started feeling. Finally the emotion came and Tom wrapped an arm around my shoulders in a much needed embrace and the tears began to flow. We remained there for a few moments, me no longer caring what anyone else saw or thought. Tom then gave me my space and I sat down on the nine facing back towards the Cross.

That’s when I saw it. The “H” I had been following since the start of the trip. On the rock hill at the base, half way up there it was, and I finally knew where Dad was meant to be, feeling as though he had somehow beat me there. So I got the remainder of the ashes back out of my bag and headed back up the rocks. It was there I was lucky enough to see my buddies Mary and Ron who happened to snap some photos of the occasion, sending them to me just when I needed them for this post, as I sure wasn’t in the mood to take my own photos at the time.

Still emotional, I headed back into the woods after Ron’s suggestions to go take my time and find some privacy back behind the shrine. That’s where I saw this rock and it became clear that the forgiveness I needed was not only from myself but from my father as I still held a lot of guilt and regret for not spending more time with when I could…but luckily his sense of humor wasn’t lost on me either….

I don’t know what to expect over the next 11 days to Santiago but I know I will take my time and savor every second that I have left on this journey that is helping me in more ways than I could ever imagine.

….I should note that after taking a few hour break from writing this post, I have surrendered to the fact that I don’t want the walking to end as there are a few other issues I must deal with that I think might need more than eleven days. So I just did the math, and if I alter some original plans, I don’t have to be in Lagos, Portugal until the 3rd of August…and really I don’t have to be anywhere until my locked in reservation in Alicante, Spain on the 20th of August. And honestly, after all the walking so far, I find it hard to think about just sitting in one place for three or four days as I find I’m not that great of a tourist, much more interested in talking with strangers and walking in nature.

But as I don’t want to get carried away, as I won’t know how I feel until I feel it, I have just cleared my schedule after a three day break in Santiago, 10-13 July. The entirety of the walk to Finisterre is 80k (4-5 walking days at my pace) then north to Muxia is another 40k (2 days) https://www.pilgrim.es/en/finisterre-muxia/. If I bus back to Santiago, it is then another 280k to Porto, Portugal (10-18 days) and another 80k to Lisbon (3-4 days). This gives me (19-25) days of walking not including the occasional half-day or day off every 4-6 days. I have to August 1st to cancel my reservations in Lagos and Faro (Booking.com) if I make it to Porto and want to keep on to Lisbon https://www.pilgrim.es/en/portuguese-way/.

And now that I’m in country (in continent?) and feeling braver, I’m considering looking into couch-surfers https://www.couchsurfing.com/ to save on some travel cost after the walk to make up on unexpected Camino expenses (mostly the pharmacy on feet stuff!). Keep you all posted on that! Thanks for reading!

Some More “H”s I’ve Seen Since the Start of the Camino…

Challenges on the Camino: Part One…and Two

While walking the Camino has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself, it does come with it challenges. Tom, an awesome 77 year old man I met briefly the other day during my first cafe stop in the little pueblo of Puente Villarente said it best, explaining how the Camino introduces itself to a Pilgrim in three phases.

The Physical Stage through the Pyrenees.

The first phase is the physical challenge as it begins in St. Jean by sending you on an immediate incline with steep climbing and even steeper descents. The second phase is the mental challenge leaving the city of Burgos when you encounter the Meseta, the long, drawn out part of the Camino where the scenery grows monotonous and the weather gets hotter and the walking, though not harder, is more of a challenge because by this time most pilgrims have had foot, knee, or back issues and is guaranteed to start each day in some sort of discomfort. And the third is the spiritual phase which is said to begin in Leon, when…well, I can only imagine as I’ve just leaving this big, beautiful city today.

While I’ve definitely have had to overcome the physical discomforts, nursing a couple of blisters, and the sciatic pain that wakes me up at night, I find the mental challenges interesting as they seem to be my everyday ones from home delivered to me through my encounters with other pilgrims. The best way I can explain it is through that mirror analogy that someone (can’t remember who) came up with that basically says that each person you meet in your life is a mirror reflection of yourself, in that, what you like or dislike about a person is most likely the things you like (or want to be more like) or dislike about yourself.

The Mental Phase through the Meseta.

The biggest slap in the face for me so far has been the occasional encounters with the “Negative Neds” and “Negative Nancys.” Having felt so happy to be here, following through with a dream I’ve had for years, I’ve been finding it really hard to have anything to whine about on this trip. But I’ve had a couple encounters now with people who have nothing positive to say about anything. So, during those long, hot days when I’ve walked completely alone for hours on end, I’ve thought about the mirror theory and what lessons I can take from these “Camino Haters.”

And the truth wasn’t too hard to find. The reality is, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been right at this moment. But its hard not to be when I’m in my “Happy Place,” traveling, seeing new things everyday, meeting new people, this experience on the Camino being all I could ever hope to do the rest of my life! But, looking back at my history, I can only admit my own tendencies towards negativity, especially during the few years after my Dad died, when I was at my lowest point of my life, completely depressed, finding it near impossible to find joy in anything even when I was surrounded by the people I most cared about, doing the things I loved most.

But now, when I meeting the occasional “Debbie” or “Donny Downer,” the kind of person who wants only to leach onto your soul and suck every ounce of positivity out of you until you are at their level just so they can have some one to commiserate with, it makes me want to “repent” own my past “suck-y-ness” and thank all my friends and family who managed to put up with me in my worst and most selfish, self-centered moments even though I know I must have left them feeling drained and much lower than I found them.

I guess now the challenge for me is how to maintain the positivity and the lightness I feel here upon returning home to “reality”. I feel certain now that I cannot go back without a plan, a new goal to work towards, something that will keep me moving forward so that I don’t become stuck in my old ruts and routines that have I’ve repeatedly played out before. This means admitting to myself that the limiting beliefs of what I’ve always thought I could and couldn’t do must be addressed and “challenged” themselves.

The Spiritual Phase and what’s left to come.

I can no longer wait for life to deal its cards for me, I must choose my own or suffer the consequences of being unfulfilled, thinking only of the “could” haves, “should” haves and regrets. There are many roads to travel in this lifetime and none are any better than the others but its the ones I have purposefully choosen that have lead me to my fondest memories and greatest lessons in who I really am, the good and the bad. And while it has taken me years to give up the idea of perfection, I finally see that simply trying and failing and trying again brings more joy and enthusiasm for living than remaining passive and stagnant, waiting for life to just happen to me instead of going out and making it happen.

I guess what I’m getting at is that even what seems like a negative experience or challenge has its silver lining in that it has offered me life lessons, but it is still up to me to choose to accept them and/or break from my old habits and comfort zones to put these lessons into action. The only thing that scares me on my return to “reality” is that I’ll go back to believing that it is the ONLY “reality” possible, that I’ll be sucked back into the vortex of a misguided belief that success in life is only dependent on what I do for a living, how much money I make, and how much I have saved in my 401K. Not to say there is anything wrong with wanting this kind of life if its the one that makes you happy, but it has never been my “choice” yet I have let my “failure” at achieving it define my self-worth.

So, with that I am hereby declaring my intentions for the next 9 years as a way to “keep myself honest” about where I want my life to go. Travel is a must, writing is a must, but I also want to spend time with the family and friends I have left on this earth so there will have to be some compromise and how often and long I can depart from the reality back in the States.

However, having met some many people along this journey who are in fact making this kind of life and reality as well as financing it, I think my first step is to get the Teaching English Abroad certificate (TEFL) https://www.internationalteflacademy.com/faq/bid/102043/what-is-tefl-and-what-is-tefl-certification.

So after I finish my pilgrimage to Santiago and continue my “spirit-quest” down through Portugal, I am going to make sure I have signed up for classes back home, whether online or in person. And well… I guess that’s it, that’s the decision I want to focus on and speculating past that is like trying to guess what the third phase of the Camino will bring…I just know until I get out there any do it so with that I guess it is time to hit the road!

Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any ideas or resources about teaching English abroad, I’m ready to listen!

Lessons from the Camino: Part One – Acceptance

While the lessons of the Camino aren’t exclusive to the pilgrims who walk along it, as these simple lessons can be learned anywhere and on any day in anyone’s life, they have come to me along this journey in such a concentrated form, condensed in time and space, it reminds me of the Minute Made orange juice we used to get from the freezer section at the grocery store when I was kid. These lessons have come so hard and fast that I am very grateful that I gave myself scheduled layovers or “writing days” to allow them to fully sink-in.

Acceptance has been a recurring lesson throughout my life but never has it been more apparent since experiencing the “pains” of child birth, basic training, or the car accident that left me hospitalized when I was 16. Of the three, the Camino is most similar to basic training in that, not only do you deal with the issues of your own acceptance, you witness the trials and tribulations of other pilgrims’ issues along the way as well. Some travelers are more skilled than others in how they “handle” stress, but either way, the Camino has demonstrated a continuum of possible reactions for every situation. One of the major pilgrim challenges that comes to mind has been starting off each day not knowing where exactly they are going to sleep each night.

When it comes to accommodations along the Camino, there is a plentitude of options. Now that I am two weeks into the trip, I have stayed in every type of housing possible (except camping… maybe next time). In the beginning of my trip, I relied on my Booking.com picks, mostly hostels and technically up-to-date albergues that gave me the piece of mind that I needed back home in Colorado, almost a security blanket of sorts. But eventually, when I was finally “on the ground,” I knew I was going to have to stop being a chicken and accept making do with finding accommodations “on the fly,” as not every town offers an affordable option through Booking and some villages you come across are hardly on the map.

My first unknown destination was Los Arcos. Arriving late, I found that most of the albergues were booked up and a couple I decided were a little sketchy to enter (though from later reports, I heard they were just fine) so I ended up spending my first night at a regular hotel. I had to accept that it was a little out of my budget, but the benefits included my own shower and a huge double bed without the rumblings of close-quarter roommates. Sounds like a dream, I know…but while the place had all the amenities, it lacked the character and inclusiveness that I had felt sharing bunks with other pilgrims, all “in the same boat” and with similar reason for being there as I. However, time alone can be lesson in acceptance too. (The lesson learned that day was a classic, “the early bird gets the worm.”)

I stayed in my first “donativo” Municipal albergue in the little city of Najera, only giving five euros for the night’s stay, thinking I could make up a little money for over-spending in Los Arcos. And yes, I feel a little guilty even admitting this, as the staff saved my hide when they let my buddy and I in after curfew as we got carried way, enjoying wine and a few stories, completely losing track of time as is doesn’t get dark until after 10pm here in Spain. We really were fortunate, as my buddy relayed a story about some folks he had met that found themselves in a similar predicament. They had received permission to be late so they could watch the entirety of a “very important” soccer game, but the guy who told them they could stay out forgot to inform his replacement. These folks ended up finding a car that was unlocked and slept in the parking lot. Talk about acceptance.

The Najera Municipal provided me a bed in one large room that could house up to 90 pilgrims and this was the first place I’ve encountered (but not the last) that didn’t supply a blanket. Not having a sleeping bag, sleeping sack, or blanket of my own, as I had chosen to accept this occasional inconvenience for a lighter pack to carry on my journey, I had planned on using my multipurpose sarong for such an event. As it was also acting as a towel, I simply accepted that I couldn’t take a shower until the morning so I could keep the sarong dry. I donned all my warmest layers, very grateful that I had packed such items for just this reason.

It all worked out, as the 70 plus people inhabiting the room that night raised the temperature substantially and I actually had to shed clothing in the middle of the night. Not showering turned out to be a good thing as well, as I was told by many a pilgrim that the hot water had run out and so I felt extremely fortunate (and a little full of myself) when I took my piping hot shower the next morning after the water heater had a chance to recover.

As it turns out, some of my most comfortable nights came at the cheapest albergues and donativos (donation only). One cozy little place called La Casa Roja, a donativo in the small village of Ages, offered an attic space with eight one level bunks. I hadn’t even planned on staying in that little town originally as I was supposed to stay at the Municipal in San Juan de Ortega. But there was only one accomodation in the entirety of San Juan (and nothing else) and I had accepted the advice of a few pilgrims to forgo my original plan and continue on another 3 kilometers to Ages for more options.

Even though I had to duck every time I got out of bed, it was one of the best nights I’ve had on the trip. I dined with Antonia, a Croatian woman, Silvka, a German woman, and Silvia, an Argentine woman and had a blast listening to all their stories and their motivations for being on the Camino. If it wasn’t for Antonia, who I had walked into town with and who seemed to know everyone in the little “red house” upon arrival, I probably would have paid twice as much at the other albergue up the street. It turned out that there were only three of us in the attic that night and they even supplied free blankets! I guess “going with the flow” is the true practice of acceptance.

With the constant chatter about bed bugs, some people might have been too scared to use the blankets but I accepted the blankets gratefully, having learned by then that bed bugs are really a roll of the dice no matter where you stay (as pilgrims can transport them), accepting that it could happen regardless of the place or how much you paid to be there.

However, my acceptance was tested that night when a neighbor up the street came home blaring the Gypsy Kings with full base. At first, I wanted to walk down the street and ask the person to turn it down, even visualizing a near death fight scene breaking out, me using my walking sticks to bludgeon the speakers to smitherines. But I realized that I was probably the only one awake in the “little red house” and that if I walked out to complain, I would probably wake up everyone else on my way down the creaky stairs (the opposite of my heroic fantasy). Instead, I “turned my frown upside down,” shut the window, put my earplugs back in, and found that simply accepting that the music was just going to be there, I was able to stop focusing on it and drop off to sleep. Whether it is loud music, loud roommates, or roosters waking me up at 4:30 in the morning, I’m learning that not getting a full night’s sleep is one thing I just have to accept on the his trip. (No wonder the Spanish take a siesta.)

A few other tests in acceptance have been the weather, the physical discomfort of walking 12-15 miles a day, sketchy wi-fi, and knowing that I’m probably going to gain weight on this trip from all the bread they serve in this country. (When in Rome…or Pamplona?). The weather has been a huge test in acceptance for many of us pilgrims that I’ve met thus far. This year has been an unseasonably wet spring here in Spain. But, as I know it will get warmer quickly, as the summer is nearly upon us, I’ve accepted the on and off again rainstorms, being grateful for the cooler weather to walk in and especially grateful having “gleaned” the navy blue poncho (with the maroon hair tie) someone forgot at the first cafe a few miles outside the city limits of Estella (I’m still looking to find the owner).

The discomfort that comes with walking 15 miles a day is another test. I mean, of course its going to be uncomfortable, that’s to be expected. But acceptance of the pain and discomfort is quieted when I remember that there are people walking along side me with much greater hardships than mine. There are people here twice my age, people with past injuries and ailments much greater than my own, and people with much heavier hearts. Accepting that my story is not unique or more special than anyone else’s has been a humbling experience and one that makes me feel grateful for the life I’ve had up to this point, teaching me to accept how lucky I truly am to be here at all.

Okay, well that’s all I have time for here in Burgos as it is time to accept that I can’t spend my whole day editing and not every blog entry can be perfect as I need to hit the trail, moving on to the next little town of Hornillos del Camino. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

Magic of the Camino: Part 2

When you check into the Albergue Refuge Orisson http://www.refuge-orisson.com/en/ you are asked if you would like to purchase a sandwich for five euros (muy caro!) to take with you upon departure as there is not much between there and Roncesvalles.

In actuality, there is a food truck on the way that is much more affordable, but not knowing that at the time, I paid for the sandwich, figuring the up-charge was worth the convenience factor.

But the next morning, ready to hit the trail for the first real full day of walking, planning to carry on past Roncesvalles to the town of Espinal (around 13 miles), I completely forgot to grab my sandwich.

By the time I remember, it was too late to even consider walking back for it and I berate myself over not being more responsible with my budget. I meditate on my issues with over-spending off and on for the rest of the walk and finally come to the conclusion that a trip like this could be literally once in a lifetime and that I should give myself a break on the “money woes” as I’ve tired of hearing myself whine about it, realizing no one else wants to hear about it either, especially in this setting.

I make it to Hostel Haizea in Espinal feeling blessed to have made it without any mishaps, a definite confidence booster considering I haven’t walked over ten miles since basic training in 1998.

The next day I walk with my new Australian friend Mary (see https://mycaminojones.com/2018/05/31/magic-of-the-camino-part-one/) to the Basque town of Zubiri, meeting up with Carlos, a multi-lingual high school teacher, born in Bordeaux, France, who lived and attended college in the U.S. (Steeler Fan), and now teaches English, French, Math, and Physics (I think I’m forgetting a language…) in Mexico City (one of his parents is Mexican but I’m so good with details – all I know is he is awesome and I have a place to stay with him and his beautiful wife and daughter).

After Carlos and Mary check into their albergues, we meet up for a drink and I, unable to resist, order a salad with eggs, asparagus, tuna, green olives, and cheese. My cravings being adequately satiated, I say goodbye to my new Camino friends and head on to Larroasoana where I am booked for the night.

Upon arriving into the quiet little village of Larrasoana, I follow the signs (hard to get lost on the Camino) to my albergue, San Nicolas https://alberguesannicolas.com/. After checking in, my hostess shows me to my room of four and I find the room already occupied by two other women. One napping, the other taking care of their next night’s accommodations on her device (I’ve never truly appreciated WiFi until this trip).

The woke one (he-he), sees my Colorado cup attached to my bag (my plan worked!) and says,

“Hey, are you from Colorado?”

“Yeah, you”

“I live in Longmont,” she points to her friend snuggled up head to toe in her sleeping bag, “she’s lives in Loveland.”

“Oh cool, I’m from Ft. Collins,” I laugh, “One, two, three,” gesturing as if I were looking at the map of northern Colorado.

“I’m Laurie.”

“Kim, nice to meet you Laurie.”

“And that’s Stacey,” gesturing to her mummified friend on the bunk across from her.

Then it hits me. Triggered by the name Stacey, I remember being back in Fort Collins at our locally owned Old Firehouse Books https://www.oldfirehousebooks.com/ picking up a copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage that I had preordered the week before. The woman checking me out (not like that) asked me,

“Is this the book about the Camino?”

“Yeah”

“My friend is doing that at the end of May.”

“Oh yeah? So am I, maybe I’ll run into her, what’s her name?”

Flash forward to the hostel,

“Wait…. is her name Stacey Johnson?” I ask.

Laurie looked at me like I was the Long Island Medium (“The buttons, tell me about the buttons” – for you CJ πŸ˜‰ ).

“Wait, do you know her?”

“No, not at all,” I laugh.

Apparently Stacey Johnson’s attention perks up at the mention of her name and out pops a full head of blonde locks (very Haley Mills from The Parent Trap) and a barely woke (hehe) face with one eye open.

I relay the story to them about the bookstore and we laugh at the “coincidence” and they end up inviting me along to dinner so we can keep talking.

Turns out Stacey Johnson and I have some things in common having both attended Colorado State University, graduating with English degrees around the same time. We were both born in California, and strangely enough, we both fractured our pelvic bones in car-related accidents…. weird. It also turns out that all three of us were on the same flight from Denver, scoring the same incredible $200 flight to Paris via Norwegian last Aug-Sep.

Comparing schedules, the girls and I have similar time tables for the Camino, so get connected via Facebook. The next morning, they head out early and I take my time as I had been getting over a cold I caught in Paris, so I sleep-in, literally being the last person to leave the hostel just after 8am.

Nothing in town is open yet so I hit the trail with plans to stop at the Cafe La Parada in Zurein that Stacey had mentioned the night before.

Arriving at the cafe, I opt to sit inside as there is some construction going on across the way. I get my typical cafe con leche and a tortilla with spinach (similar to a quiche). They have Wifi at the cafe and so I decide to hang out for a bit as there is a big group in white shirts walking for Diabetes and while “causes” are awesome, they take up a lot of room…. (cough, cough) on the trail.

At this point of the trip I’m not surprised when I see Mary walk into the cafe and we share a coffee with her new New Zealand pal Jan who she stayed with in Zubiri. Catching up on the happenings since we last saw each other the evening before, I relate the story about Stacey Johnson, and we shake our heads at all the “woo-woo” stuff that’s been happening since beginning the Camino.

Mary and Jan head off after their coffees and I hang out as I’m impelled to wait, kind of thinking maybe Carlos would walk in next but really just in no rush as I have all day and am content taking my time getting to my next stop in Pamplona.

Waves of people come in and out and finally I’m left alone, the solo pilgrim in the place and I decide that I’m adequately fed and coffee(d) and am ready to pack up and head out when I notice that someone forgot their sandwich on the table in front of me… their ham sandwich.

“The Camino Provides” again… and to add to that, what you have once forgot will be returned to you.

Now, will it bring back the razor I forgot in Pamplona……

We’ll have to wait and see….until then, thanks for reading!

Stay tuned πŸ™‚

Magic of the Camino: Part One

Upon arriving in St. Jean de-Pied-de-Port to begin the Camino Frances, I met a woman who relayed a story about her taxi driver on the way into town. In short, he explained to her “the magic” of the Camino, that simply, because of what he referred to as the “magnetic energy field” in the area in combination with the Milky Way above, Pilgrims walking “The Strange Road to Santiago” would witness or experience magical events.

I have only spent four days on the trail as of yet but I have to say, I am already a believer.

Heading off on my first day on The Way, my fellow pilgrims and I were met with torrential downpours and I immediately started having doubts about not purchasing walking poles as the ground was sure to be muddy and I knew from others that there were many steep downhill parts that could get pretty treacherous for even the most avid hiker (which is not me).

Noticing the day before that the price for walking poles in town was cheaper than the ones I bought in the U.S. (before returning them to the store, thinking that T.S.A. would never let me carry them on the plane), I set off around 8am to begrudgingly make my purchase before heading up the mountain to my first over-night stop at the Refuge Orisson albergue. As I had feared, the store wasn’t open yet and wouldn’t be open until 10am and I was beginning to regret not buying them the day before.

Being the woo-woo person that I am, I decided to head to the coffee shop across the street to consult my tarot cards on whether to wait to buy the poles or to just start walking. When I went in, I spotted an American couple finishing their coffee at a communal table and had the feeling I should sit next to them.

We exchanged greetings and, as is the custom when traveling, the first question that came up was “Where are you from?”

“Colorado, ” I replied.

“Oh! Us too, Colorado and Nevada. First time on the Camino?”

“Yes,” I said, “And you?”

“This will be my third, and she and I did the Norte for our honey-moon a couple years ago.”

“Awesome, well I was just about to ask my tarot cards whether or not I should buy hiking poles for this trip, any advice?”

“Yeah,” the woman piped up, “my first piece of advice is stop consulting tarot cards!”

I laughed, and so did they.

“Ahh,” I said, “but the tarot cards led me to you. No, but for real, poles or no poles?”

As it turns out, they had successfully completed all of their long hikes throughout their many adventures, never once using “sticks”.

Satisfied with their answer, and not really wanting to wait another hour and half for the store to open, I set off to Refuge Orisson, eventually reuniting with the couple on the steep ascent to the same albergue (hostel) where they and about 40 others would be staying for the night.

We arrived in Orrison a few hours later without peril, as it is hard to hurt yourself hiking when huffing and puffing uphill at a snail’s pace. After a quick lunch of soup, a leftover banquette from the my morning’s breakfast, and a beer, the sun finally made its appearance for the day and I spent a lovely afternoon sipping wine and chatting with various pilgrims on the deck, enjoying the gorgeous view of the mountains and valleys below.

At some point, I noticed a woman sitting on the other side of the table pull out a bottle of wine from her backpack.

“Smart lady,” I said to her. “I just overpaid for mine at the bar.” (Side note: If you end up making this trip yourself, make sure to pre-book at Orisson as it is a pretty excruciating first day to attempt the entirety of the leg to Roncevalles as there is a lot of elevation to manage, up and down; and second, heed the example of this “smart lady” and tote your own booze and food as Orisson is quite more expensive than any other albergue you’ll encounter on the Camino.)

We got to talking and she explains that this is first solo trip in 64 years and that while she has faith that she will be okay, her daughter is a little concerned. As it is my first solo trip (in 38 years), we chatted about the pros of traveling solo (as there are many) and had a few laughs and finally got around to introducing ourselves.

“What’s your name?” She asks me.

“Kim.”

“Your kidding, that’s my husband’s name (with a y).”

“Haha, no way!”

“I’m Mary.”

“Of course it is,” and I explain that ever since my grandmother died (also Mary), I have felt she has been sending Mary(s) to look after me.

She decides that it would be funny to take a photo with me so she can send it to her daughter to reassure her that “Mum” is fine and she’s found her new “Kym” to look after her.

But it turns out that it is Mary that ends up looking after me…

The next day I head with the couple from Colorado for most of the day but we end up splitting up at the fork before the descent into Roncevalles (side note: the trail to the right at col de Lepoeder, although a tad longer, is easier on the knees). Ending their day in Roncesvalles, they went right, and me, heading farther down the trail to the town of Espinal, I went left. It was the first time during the walk that I found myself completely alone in the woods, seeing only four other pilgrims on the way (the perk of not staying at the main stops).

Heading down the mountain, I begin to understand the benefit of having the walking sticks, as the trail becomes uncomfortably steep and, as it had rained for the last two few days, its very muddy. I try to stay mindful with each step but after 12 miles of walking, the brain tends to wander.

Just as I heard the bells of the cathedral in Roncevalles, seeing the fence that separates the trail from the road ahead, my left foot slips, shooting my left leg diagonally across my body in front of me. Luckily I catch myself as I’m sure that would have been the end of my MCL or my ACL (or whatever). Two minutes later it happens again and I’m glad no one is around to hear me taking the “lord’s name in vain” so close to the church ahead.

As I emerge from the woods to the paved road ahead, the weather turns stormy once more (rainy this time of year) and I decide to power on to Espinal rather than stopping for a beer in Roncesvalles as was my original plan. The trail is much easier from that point on and is flat for the most part. My mind wanders again to the events of the day and I remember Mary and think to myself that maybe I should write my next blog post about my grandmother.

I cross a few streams and I find myself longing to stop to put my feet in for a quick break but I don’t want to stop in the middle of the trail in case another pilgrim should happen upon me as the only place to sit is on the stone overpasses over the creek and they are pretty narrow but I look back as I cross one of the last streams to reconsider and a rock catches my eye at the bottom of the stream. I can tell it has been written on and I now I’m forced to stop to see what it says.

I take off my pack, pull up my sleeve, and reach my hand into the water to pull out the smooth, heart-shaped stone…. it reads “Love for Everyone, Hatred for None” and its signed Mary…

Feeling a little goose-bumpy, I replace the rock into the water where I found it, re-don my pack, and set out again on the trail. I eventually give into my desire to soak my feet but I’m completely lost in thought about the sequence of the day. I keep thinking that the Australian Mary would love this as we had been talking about “woo-woo” stuff at Orisson, me telling her everything I learned about the Pagan history of the Camino, her telling me I should make sure to read Louis Hayes when I get home to Colorado.

Finally, I reach the town of Espinal and locate my hostel. I check-in, drop my pack off in my room, and head to the bar for a beer and some wifi before dinner. I turn the corner for the bar and at this point in the day I’m not even surprised that I see Mary standing at the bar ordering a wine with two other women I had met at Orisson.

I grab her arm and she turns to me, her eyes immediately lighting up.

“Kim!”

I laugh in response, understanding immediately how she feels to see another familiar face on a trail full of strangers.

“You won’t believe what’s happened to me since Orisson.”

Mary relates her day’s events about having hooked up with another woman solo-traveler from Australia who led her on a record pace to Roncesvalles.

“Yes, I saw you two pass us early on,” I say.

The other Aussie had reservations at Roncesvalles but Mary had sent her pack on via paid transport to Espinal and had decided to cab over to meet it, not wanting to head back on the road solo so late in the day.

“So when I get to my hostel, it’s empty, not a soul in the place,” and she expresses how she suddenly had been overcome by regret, feeling so isolated, thinking she had made a big mistake not sending her pack to the Roncesvalles Municipal church where most of our cohorts from Orisson had stopped for the night.

“And when I get there, Kim, I pick up my pack and someone else’s pink and purple poles are attached to my pack….”

….As I am running out of time and battery, I’ll let you connect the dots from here but I will say we did our best to track down the owner of the poles and eventually do but as it turns out, she has already purchased a new set and isn’t thrilled at the idea of carrying extras.

I am introduced to the expression, “The Camino Provides” as she explains that she hadn’t even paid for the poles now in my possession as someone had left them in her car a couple years prior.

The story doesn’t end here and in fact I have two other “magical” stories that I hope to share with you all soon enough but alas I have been having too much fun at the Aloha Hostel here in Pamplona, meeting fellow travelers and being educated in Espanol by a lively Spanish land owner on holiday from Bilbao by the name of Lourdes (so much fun!)

Stay tuned!

Gone But Not Forgotten

Being a very emotional person, I knew I would eventually shed tears at some point(s) along this journey. However, I was surprised by WHY the first drops would actually fall.

Waiting for the train to St. Jean de-Pied-de-Port, where I will be (God-willing) beginning my trek for the next 7 weeks by pied (foot), I was killing time over a Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins which was given to me by my friends BH and LJ as suitable reading material for a long and spiritual trip.

Amanda, the main character of the story, although pregnant and ignoring the advice from her friend “Nearly Normal,” that she might jostle the baby loose, decides to take the risk and ride on the back of her new hubby’s motorcycle, rather than spend one minute apart from him on their road trip.

The scene, though not even remotely connected, immediately transported me back to a memory I haven’t thought about in years. Near the end of 2003, I had also just learned I was pregnant and decided to continue on with my planned ski trip with my Dad’s friend BJ even though pregnancy at the time still implied some sort of disability to many.

BJ had always been like an aunt to me, or rather, the “cool aunt,” who knew how to listen and was never too old to horse around. Camping, hiking, swimming, golfing, skiing, you name it.

While I hadn’t known officially about my pregnancy until arriving in the Bay Area, I did know intuitively before flying out from San Antonio where I was stationed with my then husband.

Maybe because I was so young at the time, just 23, I was too embarrassed to buy a pregnancy test on my own. Much like I had been too embarrassed to head into the store to buy “light days” for my grandmother as an adolescent, literally running away down the block to avoid the shame of what would entail becoming a “woman”. (Even writing the words “light days” makes me want to delete the paragraph.)

Never feeling comfortable being a girl, as they were either portrayed as weak and helpless and/or loving dolls and dresses, not matching up with my boyish look or preference for G.I. Joes, I would be embarrassed by many things seemingly required of my gender. Even fearing a simple shopping trip to the mall with my mom, worrying that someone from school might see me in the women’s clothes section, which, I admit, still makes me uncomfortable today, like I am still some sort of imposter that shouldn’t be there.

So having “the feeling” that I was pregnant was very foreign to me and quite unexpected, although I had been married for almost four years by then and the risk was always in the back of mind. However, my husband and I had just agreed to “call it quits” on our marriage.

He had already been discharged from the service and planned on heading to Colorado for college and I had already been struggling with my sexuality and was on the verge, though delayed once again, of admitting to myself that I was actually more attracted to women.

As we had been married so young and so suddenly, only having dated for three months prior to eloping, we had reached an accord, to let bygones be bygones. We both agreed that we had been young and foolish to have taken on a responsibility such a marriage, which, I’ll admit, I had never given it’s due respect, always preferring to run with the going got tough.

And so that winter, I was heading to California for the holiday alone to tell my friends they could expect me home permanently, that Mike and I were splitting up (cordially), and I would come home to Cali after my discharge the following year.

When I got to the Bay Area at the start of my trip, I would head directly to my buddies’ place, as was my normal routine. Even confiding in them was difficult but I knew they would be there for me as always. And of course, they were.

One of my buddies even went to the store with me to get the pregnancy test, which she would end up buying for me along with a pack of cigarettes for herself. (She would keep the receipt for that purchase on the fridge for quite some time).

Its no secret now that my intuition was right and I was indeed pregnant. And now it was time to tell all my family. Well, I wouldn’t say that they were totally supportive or to say the least thrilled. Not that I could blame them, already knowing the status of my already crumbling marriage.

I tried not to let it bother me, and even though I never doubted my decision to go through with the pregnancy, as something internally assured me it would be okay, I was sensing the worry from my family that my decision would somehow be ruining my future. So, I guess it came as a relief that I had the chance to get away from my relations and head to the slopes for a few days with BJ and company.

BJ was a bit of a role model for me because she was as tough as she was sweet, smart, financially independent, and had just as many male friends as female, if not more. And as a “tomboy” trying to fit into the straight world back then, she gave me some semblance of hope that a girl like me possibly could be attracted to men too, after all, I thought I was in love with Cary Grant (…yeah, I get it).

So when I worked up the courage to tell her on our drive up to Tahoe, I was trying hard to hide the fact that I was really seeking her approval. Approval, for one, that it wasn’t going to kill me or the baby to go skiing, as I wasn’t any kind of thrill seeking skier, never diverting from the “blue squares” that marked the intermediate slopes, and two, that having a baby wasn’t going to ruin my life.

Tense as I was in anticipation of her response, to my relief, she just smiled and, thinking back on it now, she would be the first one (outside of my buddies) to say congratulations without having to choke down any kind of shock or disappointment, which, as it turned out, was all I needed and wanted to hear from someone in my parents circle, their opinions meaning so much to me, as they still do today.

She would never know how much this would mean to me, as it allowed me to shore up the courage I needed to carry on without fear of the future I would be realigning with my decisions. And though it wasn’t easy, Mike and I would end up trying to stay together for the sake of our son, doing the best we could at the time, though the inevitable would end up prevailing.

It was a tough time for both of us and I, shamed by our failing marriage, would withdraw from much of my contact with my parents friends, feeling as though I had somehow been letting them all down with my choices, and I would consequently, see BJ less and less as I grew older with my own issues and new family to tend to.

Unfortunately, BJ would end up dying unexpectedly leaving anybody whoever knew her with an incredible hole in their heart. But looking back now, I think her own intuition was at work as she struggled to maintain her usual jovial demeanor that last day I saw her on the golf course years ago.

I wish I could remember everything she told me that day as I get the feeling that she was trying to convey an important message about life and everything she had learned but at the time I was only wishing for the “good ole BJ” to reemerge who I could enjoy a few beers with to numb my own selfish woes.

It occurs to me now that I never had a chance to grieve her properly, my father having spared me the invite to her memorial service. I think he was always doing his best to spare me any bad news or unhappy event including the severity of his own terminal illness.

But I see now the value of really having a chance to mourn the ones we lose. That maybe becoming a whole person is understanding the idea of impermanence so that we might better treasure each of our waking moments to their fullest.

As the death of my father sparked my interest for this trip on the Camino in the first place, maybe it is fitting to remember BJ now as well, as she, like my Dad, was an avid traveler and it’s easy to imagine her taking this journey with me, talking and laughing in her awesome Boston accent every step of the way.

I like to think maybe her spirit flashed upon me right there and then while I was reading, as the sudden emotion washed over me as I was waiting for the train to take me to my next destination. I even imagined that maybe it was her in the form of the little train station swallow that swooped down right at that moment, fearlessly, looking me up and down before grabbing a spare crumb on the cement floor at my feet.

But it doesn’t really matter why I was brought back to that memory, I guess it’s just important that I remembered it at all. And while this post really doesn’t have much to do with the Camino itself, I’m beginning to see how simply undertaking this writing project, letting out the past events that still haunt me, is in fact healing my heart and making space for new beginnings.

So here’s to all the awesome “adopted” aunts out there! They might not be related by blood, but they love with all their hearts just the same. I miss you Beej and I’m only sorry now that I couldn’t tell you to your face how much of a blessing you were to me in my youth and how, by your actions, you gave me permission to be the rough and tumbly, yet sensitive person that I am today.

….Thanks to everyone again for reading as I never could imagine that I would be brave enough to put any of this out there in the public ethers. And just so you know, I have made it to St. Jean and will begin the “strange walk” tomorrow morning, headed for my first stop at the tiny mountain town of Orisson. But until then, please enjoy the following pics as I recommend, to anyone who has the chance, to visit this beautiful and historic town of St. Jean de Pied de Port! Stay tuned πŸ™‚