Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lessons, week 4

“[She] had been starting to notice, more and more, that meaningful changes didn’t happen when you expected and that you didn’t graduate when everybody claimed you did, with ceremonies and celebrations and moving vans, with diplomas and severed ribbons cut to applause. Those turned out to be nothing more than suggestions. The big changes came mostly at odd, unexpected moments and often in private, delayed or speeded up or beyond the last minutes, during ordinary conversations instead of speeches, half hidden like a mole on the back of someone you mistakenly thought you loved but in fact didn’t, or in sentences you might tune out on another day in another mood in another light, or in all variety of unplanned meetings. And while you were waiting for them to occur things got taken—not just from you but by you, though you hardly noticed until it was over.”

This week we passed the Cruz de Ferro. You’re supposed to bring a stone from home to lay at it’s base to signify your journey, and for many, it’s a huge turning point, a representation of big changes made or soon to come.

I reached it as the sun was rising over the mountains, but left behind nothing… maybe because I’m not quite sure exactly where home is yet.

And I don’t believe that my changes will come at any one cross or church or city. Instead, I see them in the worn tread of my trail runners, in the conversations where I start to refer to you in the past tense, in the days I think I might want to stay here forever.


The Camino is teaching me anticipation.

Every day is like a new crush, born with so much promise and beauty that both reminds you of days past, and makes you forget anything that came before.

And I rush and I dawdle and I fall in love and soak it in.

But the last two or three kilometers—no matter how tired I am—I speed up. Because those steps right before the final destination comes into view, those are the seconds where you can feel it: the giddiness, the excitement, as if an entire town could represent the specialness of your very first kiss.



Lessons, week 3

Every morning we wake up, pack our bags, and walk about 5 kilometers to coffee.

This is my favorite part of the day: café con leche (y uno más azúcar, por favor).

And if our timing is right, the sun has just started sneaking up into the sky, spreading the creamiest shades of red orange yellow pink purple through the wispy morning clouds.

“This is happiness,” says my Quebec friend, and I have to agree.


I had a semi wine-induced dream about you the other night, and it left me aching, as if I had left you behind only yesterday instead of having barely heard from you in the past month.

The next day, I walked 32 kilometers as a sort of therapy, to process.

I think that just about everyone comes to the Camino because of love. We all have a nicely packaged surface reason—a lacking job, uncertain studies, a thirst for adventure, a desire for religion—but really, the question is always about love.

I have been walking for 20 days now, but I don’t think anyone has found the answer yet.


Time is different in Spain.

I love siesta. There are at least two hours every day, right in the middle of the day, where I must relax—or, at least, there’s literally nothing else to do but relax during that time, because everything is closed. Same on Sundays, all day.

I love that the church bells chime sporadically, and that their ring never exactly matches the actual time.

And I love how especially meaningless time becomes when walking.

There is usually an alarm. 6:00 or 6:30, or 4:30 that one time we wanted to walk in the full moon.

But after that? Nothing.

When I’m walking, I get lost in my mind to the point where I can’t tell if 5 minutes or 50 minutes have gone by.

I sing songs and replay old conversations and listen to the squeak of my backpack and write my bestselling memoir and try to translate my thoughts into the limited Spanish I know and count my steps and try to do the math to figure out how far a kilometer really is (seriously, why is it so hard??)… and then I crest a hill and suddenly the next town is there. Or (more commonly) it’s not, when I am so sure that I probably must have already walked that last 5 kilometers so seriously where the eff is the town already because I might just be ready to fall over from exhaustion…

And then there’s lunch time and shower time and laundry time and then me time. Because there’s actually nothing else for me to do. No deadlines. No commitments. No television. Just time.


The Camino is a test of endurance.

How many kilometers until your feet blister and your shoulders tense?

How many nights of bunk beds and snoring and early curfews and earlier mornings?

How many days of communal showers and hand washing laundry and incessant flies and questionably clean premises?

I forgot my only pair of long pants at the albergue a few nights ago. It was also the pair of pants that I spent too long researching, and too much money on. But really, it was the pair of pants I had worn only twice… and only because everything else I had was being washed.

And so I am choosing patience. I am choosing forgiveness. I am choosing to accept my slightly lighter backpack, and let it go.


Lessons, week 2

The Camino is teaching me to trust.

Every day I trust in the strength of my feet and my legs and my back to work harder than they ever have before, and the power of my mind to push me forward when it’s 2PM and I’m 25 kilometers in and I just want to lay down in the Spanish sun and die.

I trust in my friends to share fresh bread and laundry duty and wine and shampoo and stories, and to reserve beds and give encouragement and trade massages.

And I trust in The Way. That I will always find a clean place to sleep and a hot meal to eat and that next yellow arrow pointing me in the right direction even in the half-darkness of 6:30AM.


This week has been a test in forgiveness. And I am trying, trying, trying to learn to let go—and realizing that this may be the hardest and most important lesson of all.

I have walked almost 400 kilometers in 14 days, but I am still full of impossibly high expectations and stale anger—toward myself and some of those I left behind.

But as I stare up at the magnificence of the Burgos Cathedral and realize what it must have taken to create it, or breathe in the wonder of the expansive early morning stars in rural Spain… I have to think that these sour feelings I am holding on to are a bit silly—and that trust must also include forgiveness. Which I think is the first step, at least. And so I keep moving forward.


Lessons from the Camino, week 1

I have been the English teacher in my group of Europeans (and Quebecers) so I pause because it sounds funny when I hear my friend say, “I feel like I deserve everything now.”

But she’s right. Every cookie, every shower, every break where we can put down our bags and take off our shoes is more incredible than you could ever imagine.

And there is so much I don’t need. I can carry everything I own, pee next to a vineyard, lay down in the street when I’m tired, use the same soap to wash my hair and my clothes, and not wear underwear because I actually hate washing clothes (and scheißegal).

Yesterday I shared five mattresses with eight friends on the floor of a gym for 3€, and I think I might’ve gotten the best night’s sleep yet.


When you’re walking 30k a day, you feel every ounce you’re carrying. So when the Spanish man I didn’t know stopped to offer me a poncho as we trudged through the cold rain, his kindness left me speechless.

One of the reasons I’m here is because I lost my feeling of independence. When you’re with the same people all the time, sometimes it feels like you’re never getting exactly what you want… and I was okay with that for a long time. Until I wasn’t.

But I don’t really know. Because I don’t feel like a pushover when I offer my trekking poles to a friend who’s struggling, or when I share my last bit of food with a stranger on the trail. I just feel good.

And I am learning even more about the spirit of generosity from my new friends. I see how they carry their garbage from lunch 10k in order to find a trash can; how they selflessly wait for the whole group before finding an albergue for the night, even if it means spending extra (or sleeping in a gym); how they share not only their things, but also their knowledge and stories and experiences.

So I think that actually this is independence: being so sure of yourself that you have the ability and desire to also care for others.


I am serenading the Spanish landscape with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together when the man from Copenhagen stops me and tells me to take off my headphones.

“The Camino has so much to tell you. Are you afraid?”

For now, yes.

“Is it your fear or someone else’s? Listen to your stomach. Listen to your body. Send everyone else’s fear away.”

I have to walk faster so I don’t start crying for the first time on this continent. But he’s right. And maybe by next week, I’ll be ready.




I ask one of my German friends if he was the one who slept in the bed next to mine our second night on the Camino. I tell him that I thought he was the boy who kept smiling at me but didn’t say a word.

“I was so happy those first few days,” he says.

I can’t remember how many days I’ve been walking but I’m finally getting the hang of it, I think.

From my journal yesterday:


I am thankful

Today should be my fourth day walking, but instead it is almost 6:30AM and I’m still in bed. (And my bed has sheets!)

I have zero blisters, but we are in Pamplona, and I might’ve helped to heckle my new friends into staying here an extra day just so I can see the plaza de toros and “Hemingway it up.” (I am teaching terrible, made-up English phrases to my European friends.)

And so yesterday we walk a light 19k day and then cook my first family dinner since July.

I make all 10 pilgrims go around and tell what they are thankful for before we eat our pasta, and I know that I have officially fallen in love with the way the Camino has provided us all with exactly what we needed.

The countless 1.50€ bottles of red wine solidify our fast friendship… and as we stumble to bed after our 11PM curfew, we know we also kind of have no choice because probably everyone else who’s been trying to sleep for the past two hours might hate us for being so loud.


What would love do?

“You are so open!” A Dutch boy tells me this after we have been walking together for only about one kilometer, and I know I’ve been talking too much.

I’m not sure why it’s so easy to tell complete strangers things that I hesitate telling my closest friends.

On Saturday, I took a train and then a bus over the French border to Saint Jean Pied de Port and I felt lonely for the first time since I left. Like really, heart-wrenchingly, wanting to curl up in a ball in my bed lonely.

Things I couldn’t do: curl up in a ball in my tiny sleeping sack, get on the internet with no WiFi within two kilometers, or talk to anyone in English as all my friends for the day were Spaniards.

But then I started walking. And I learned: sometimes it’s okay to not make plans (and sometimes it means waking up an hour before you’d have to just to make sure you have food), it’s unreal when the fog is so thick over the Pyrenees that you feel like you’re walking IN a cloud, I can keep pace with the boys on the trail and in the bar (okay, no one’s really surprised by this, except maybe my middle school gym teacher), and sometimes the best days are the ones with amazing views but no pictures.

And when you’re talking to a Scottish boy about your mutually favorite TV shows (we agree that our albergue last night could’ve been the set of Orange is the New Black), a South African woman about traveling the world for 26 months, a German boy about the beauty of Lonestar tallboys and how all the coolest girls drink beer, and a Dutch boy about how broken unrequited love can leave you… you realize you’re not so alone after all.

“We’re all the same.” A Quebec girl tells me this, and I believe her.

Buen camino.