Category Archives: spain

Facts, four months in

Almost four months ago I landed in Barcelona at 8PM wearing $80 travel pants I agonized over buying, haphazardly navigated the train, and spent the one kilometer walk to my hostel struggling with my 12 kilogram backpack and feeling so paranoid that I kept looking over my aching shoulders into the empty shadows to make sure no one was following me. Then I ate dinner alone—ordering the only thing on the menu that I could read and tipping over 20% to a very confused waiter—and went straight back to my hostel bed to find WiFi and anxiously text friends from home. I don’t think I spoke to one person all day.

Yesterday I skipped a potential Skype session to dance wildly on the beach until 3AM, found a dance partner for the night in a blonde British boy, woke up at 7AM to say goodbye to the two friends left in my hostel dorm (both of whom I hope to meet again in the upcoming months), and changed into ~$6 Thai baggy pants gifted to me by one of said friends. Then I hopped in the back of a converted pickup truck/taxi where I chatted with two guys studying in Hong Kong, barely survived a nightmare ferry ride with Jehvon and Dan, talked seasickness with a few other travelers, trusted a complete stranger to watch over my backpack while I went to the toilet, and ordered a bowl of dumplings of an unknown flavor for lunch.

This trip has given me so much already.

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no8do

You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted
Just remember on the way home
That you were never meant to feel alone
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine
Another good time coming down the line

I am finished walking, and back to the type of traveling that I still haven’t completely figured out yet.

But—quite literally—time is money when you are away from home, so last week I bought a ticket and hopped an overnight bus to Sevilla. I was always jealous of those people who were bold enough to travel into the unknown on a whim; now I am one, and this makes me giddy beyond belief.

In Sevilla I rediscovered the joy of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night, and felt the familiar pangs of loneliness—two things I haven’t had since August.

But I also discovered bullfighting and flamenco and the butterflies that come with not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, but that it could be anything.

A new Australian friend who’s been traveling for 10 months kept referring to our hostel as “home.” I think that helps.

One night outside a local flamenco club, a girl from the Canary Islands crossed herself while telling me I was crazy for walking the Camino solo, and that mi madre was also crazy for letting me go… Fair enough, I guess.

But then had another whim, bought another bus ticket, and let everything change.

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Lessons on arrival

“Everything you do in life will be insignificant… but it’s very important that you do it.”

The Camino is teaching me perspective.

This country does not revolve around me. The world does not revolve around us. The universe does not revolve around the earth.

And when the starry night sky makes you feel like you are breathing the heavens, or the ocean looks like you are soaking in eternity… you realize we are all just tiny blips on the radar of life—but still, we must figure out how to make our tiny blip the most meaningful.

———-

I arrived in Finisterre yesterday—the end of the earth. Somehow, without me even realizing it at the beginning, this has always been the true end goal. Santiago was just a cathedral in the middle. Finisterre is geographically the closest I can get to America, while still being thousands of miles away.

And as I watch the sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean, changing shape as it lowers beyond the horizon, I can’t help but ask myself why on earth I am here, when everything I know and everyone I love is on the whole other side of the planet.

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Lessons, week 5

It’s rained for the past five days now, leaving everything damp—our clothes, our shoes, our beds, and our spirits.

The rain also washes away the pretenses, and all of our flaws start to show through.

And here, there’s no escape from constantly being around other people, so as I pick up on annoyances, I wonder what others must be thinking about me.

But I also see my growth. A year ago one of my best friends introduced me to A Complaint Free World, and now this is something I try to always keep in mind. Plus, we are pilgrims—we should have no expectations, only gratitude.

When you are constantly walking somewhere new, every day is filled with first impressions. And it’s so easy to judge: people, food, locations. I want to be someone who looks closer, who is generous with her benefit of the doubt.

And even more than that, I want to live in a world where this is the norm. I know my students are judged every day just because of what they look like and where they live, and I have been given so many more opportunities because I grew up in exactly opposite circumstances.

Europe is strange in that political correctness is not nearly as widespread—their history is different, and in a way, it seems as if they have less to compensate for. But while I just can’t let the snap judgements go, I don’t really know. I can’t change a culture.

“When I first met you, I thought you were childish because you were clingy and very giggly and only talked about unimportant things. But now, after a month, I think you might be the most grown up of our whole group.”

My friend from Liechtenstein tells me this, and I realize that I guess I should just start with myself. I need to work on my first impression, too.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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