I did it. I walked The Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, where I received the official Compostela certificate with my name written in Latin.
* How far did I walk? According to Distance Calculator Ponferrada is 251 km [click for map] to Santiago.
Was walking the Camino the life-changing experience I’d expected?
Yes, plus much more…
My journey along the Camino wasn’t a race, but by simply walking, with no agenda other than to look, listen, enjoy, and appreciate each day’s gifts – even if it were just to meditate on the wind blowing my hair – I felt as liberated and free as the birds flying over my head.
I walked with a great group of Canadians led by Sue Kenny: Guy, Lynne, Maria, Barb, Gail, Lise, Donna, Judite, Mary and Margaret Mc.
We’d walk in little groups and then walk alone for a while, but one never walks alone on the Camino.
I met people from many other countries and whatever their language we all spoke English, and had a common goal: to get to Santiago.
I must tell you about Kurt, a teacher from Germany, who gave me a little massage every time he saw me.
“A massage for Rosie,” he’d say…
The first time he worked on my back, my shoulders were hard like rocks, it’s not easy carrying a backpack of about twenty pounds. Thanks to his kindness I didn’t have to carry those rocks on my back.
And Olga from Barcelona (in the picture below). When we first met each other walking along the path and I told her my age, she didn’t believe me and said,
“Then I’m 80!”
I bumped into her a few days later and she thanked me for being an inspiration for her. She felt old because she was going to be forty this year, but after meeting me she could see she didn’t have to be scared of aging.
“I’d say, you’re as old as you feel… and I don’t feel old.”
When you walk everything slows down, your senses are in overdrive so when you hear the birds, see the flowers, the views and the butterflies flying circles around you, it’s as though you’re appreciating it all for the first time.
It’s only when you’re pushed out of your “comfort zone” that you discover parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. Of course you have the choice whether to give up – and many do – or to push yourself to carry on.
When I started walking seriously last winter, I’d feel empowered after each hike – especially those over ten miles – but as I didn’t walk again until the following weekend, I had a whole week to rest, and sleep in my own cozy bed.
On the Camino
- we walked fifteen to thirty kilometers each and every day
- I was the packhorse who had to carry my own “stuff” on my back
- plus I slept on a narrow bunk bed
- in a narrow sleeping bag
- in a room with dozens of other people
Even though I’m not a happy early riser and it took me a week before I managed to get a good night’s sleep, I got up every morning at 6:30 a.m, stuffed all my shit back into my backpack, and walked an average of twenty kilometers, often with aching limbs, until I reached that night’s rest stop.
After the first few days we agreed we preferred to start walking as soon as we got up, and have our breakfast café con leche and toast at a bar in the next village which was usually around four kilometers away, or an hour or so of walking.
At home, I never-ever leave my house without my morning coffee.
On the Camino I didn’t ever feel angry or frustrated or just mad about walking in a caffeine-deprived state. I got up and walked…and enjoyed it.
Galicia is green like Ireland because it rains a lot. We were fortunate not to have to walk in the pouring rain and cold like the pilgrims who walked before and after us, but as it was unseasonably hot during our Camino – we had about five days of +90 degree F temps – I can tell you that walking in the heat is draining and leaves you wilted at the end of the day.
It was after day three that I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone into a place of strength I didn’t know I had.
That was the day when we had to walk twenty kilometers up to the medieval village of O’Cebreiro, which is situated on the summit of the mountain at 4,100 feet, and all that on a +90 degrees F day (unusually hot for those parts)
After walking most of the morning next to the river and through charming villages in the valley I began to wonder whether the climb I’d dreaded was going to be an easy hike along winding paths that simply went up and down again, when without any warning the paths became really steep, and rocky.
As we climbed higher on the winding paths the scenery became more and more breathtaking. Because the hot sun burned off the fog that always hangs over the hills, we were given the rare gift of being able to see the spectacular views around each and every bend: the rolling mountains in front and beside us, and the valley far below, everything so green like Ireland …
The next few photos were taken by Lynne of yours truly on that long day’s hike.
That night in O’Cebreiro I was so exhausted from the grueling climb in the heat and the lack of sleep that I almost fell asleep during the Church service, and walking back to my room I couldn’t get rid of the thoughts of home where I could have a nice hot bath, and sleep in my own soft bed. I almost wept.
I’m eternally grateful to Donna and her homeopathic first-aid kit. She gave me something to take, which sounded suitable when she read the description (and it was), but I can’t remember what it was.
I went to bed early which gave me rare time alone and an opportunity to write in my journal.
I wasn’t the only one who struggled after that hard day. We all found the going hard and poor Barbara ended up with heat stroke and a high temperature, which kept her in bed for twenty-four hours.
I notice, as I write this post from Los Angeles after a day of hiking (we walked Segment 6 of the Backbone Trail today) how exhausted Mr F and I are this evening, even though we only walked about seven miles with just a few little hills (plus we are sleeping in our own bed), so I’m not surprised I had the mini-meltdown and now I really wonder how I managed to keep going?
P.S. The Church service in O’Cebreiro was given by a couple of priests with the help of a slide-show in several languages.
I don’t want to diss the church, but the video monitor made it seem more like a TV church service from Texas, than a medieval church on top of a remote mountain in Spain.
to be continued….
My previous posts on The Camino: