Tag Archive: Pilgrimage



I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 


The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 


First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Or fail. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Roncesvalles

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms)


Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 


Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  


I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


The equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the Via Francigena. The first ends in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain but involves many routes with the same final destination. The latter starts from Canterbury, England and ends in Rome. Specifically, in the Vatican. We walked the last 100+ kilometers from Viterbo to the Vatican. This is our story. 


Day 0: Viterbo

Day 1:  Viterbo to Vetralla

Day 2:  Vetralla to Sutri

Day 3:  Sutri to Campagnano

Day 4:  Campagnano to Isola Farnese

Day 5:   Isola Farnese to Rome/Vatican

Day 6:  Roma, Finally. 



Just click on the links to read the blog for each VF walking day. Buon Camino!

       


Hola, witches! 

I got back this early morning from Rome where I completed my Via Francigena . The last 100 km-Camino from Viterbo to Rome, Italy was most certainly backbreaking and hard on my poor knees. You bet we all felt wasted after each day of 6-9 hours of walking! 


The first day was without a break for coffee, beer or even pee stops. If you need to go, it’s bush land for you. No town in-between. Somehow, I missed the lively vibe in the Camino Frances’ last 100km stretch. Walked 5 days and Day 2 was excruciatingly difficult at 30kms with only 1 break for late lunch before meandering in woodland. We crossed a stream 3 times and I must confess those improvised bridges weren’t meant to encourage walkers. Day 3 was cold and wet. Day 4 was hot and humid. The 5th and last walking day towards Rome was most uninspiring. Roadside walks but most times, no sidewalks. Was I glad we were a big group and a fun group too. In all, we met only 9 other pilgrims. They, on the other hand, must have been pleased to meet our group of 11 pellegrinos.


So unlike my Camino Frances last year. Same last stretch of the final 100+ kms. But no way like it. So here are some lessons learned from this Italian Camino.

  1. None to Barely any breaks for snacks, toilet or just to sit it out. Water bottles a must or dehydrate!
  2. Prepare for ALL weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Needless to say, you need a good raincoat and walking shoes that keep your feet dry. Layer up! Peel off as necessary.
  3. Medications, first-aid kits welcome. We met a couple along the way. The man took a bad fall and they had to quit. They hitched a ride back to town. As we walked, we imagined how it could have been much worse if it happened in the bush land, where we meandered for well over 3-4 hours. 
  4. Lunch stops are for lunch. But don’t overstuff yourself just because you’ve been walking hungry for hours. An energy bar when you’re feeling tired and deprived should suffice. Quit the coffee and beer. With no toilet in sight, it’s best to walk semi-hungry. Alcohol is dehydrating. Save it for dinner times. 
  5. Don’t count on meeting people along the Camino trail. Pellegrinos are very, very scarce. Neither is the trail lined with cottages with people living in them. 
  6. Souvenirs? Forget it. No Camino shells, VF t-shirts, pins etc. I’m no collector, but I would have bought refrigerator magnets and key chains if there were any. 
  7. Stamp your pilgrim passport in the hotels and trattorias where you stayed/ate. There were hardly any tiny chapels along the trail nor in the hamlets we passed. When found, the chapels were either closed or without stamps. At times, we wondered if they’d know if we walked or bused in.
  8. The equivalent of a Pilgrim’s Certificate after walking a minimum of 100 kms is called a Testimonium. This can be obtained in a Center in the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The same Center SELLS tickets to the Vatican Museum and other stuff. So if you think it’s a dramatic moment to have pilgrims lined up to be certified and recognized, you’re dreaming. 
  9. Do your research on where to sleep, eat, have your credenziale stamped, and where to obtain your Testimonium. Even in the Vatican itself, hardly anyone in uniform know what Via Francigena is all about. 
  10. Lastly, I didn’t bring a camera for this Camino. I made do with my iPhone6 plus which takes decent shots. My friend’s Samsung takes even better shots. So we were able to document and chronicle our walk without the unnecessary weight.


So there. We survived the VF, and we’re lucky to be walking together. I dare say the Via Francigena is NOT ideal for solo or lone walkers. 


Watch this page for more photos and details on our day-to-day Camino experience from Viterbo to Roma. 


Buon Camino! 


I have been dreaming of my camino de Santiago de Compostela like forever. I realized that dream on the first week of May 2015. Yes, just this year. And just nearly 3 months ago. I waited for many of my friends to join me, only to decide to do it solo. Well, not exactly solo. I joined caminoways which organized my camino for 6 walking days and booked all my hotel and luggage transfers, as well as my breakfasts and dinners. I dreaded walking so far only to find no decent accommodations and sleeping without dinner. I decided well. The pre-booked hotels and meals were all good, and all I worried about is finishing the day’s walk. All of 113 kilometers in 6 walking days. Minimum daily walk is 15 kilometers. Other days, we walked 30 kilometers including detours! 


 

On the Feast Day of Saint James (July 25), I mused over my own camino. Interestingly, I thought back to all those moments when I felt God’s presence in the green fields, the moist smell of the forest, the encounters with grazing farm animals, the non-verbal interactions via sign language with friendly locals, the centuries-old medieval bridges crossed by many pilgrims before me, the tiny, dark churches in the quaint hamlets we passed, the muddied paths and puddles of rainwater along the trail. NEVER did the pain of walking so many miles in the rain cross my mind. If at all, I look at my little toes and reminisce how I persevered to finish my camino. A little triumphant sensation there, I confess. 


 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time savoring my camino moments after my walk. Soon after, I met up with cousins visiting Madrid and then I had to fly to Berlin to meet up with friends before flying into Copenhagen to join our Scandinavian cruise. After sailing back to Denmark, I then flew back to Madrid with a couple of friends to join up with 2 more couples flying in from USA. The reunion lasted 3 weeks and covered many side trips from Madrid including bus and train trips to Burgos, Bilbao, Getaria, San Sebastian, Lourdes (in France), Irun, Santiago de Compostela (yes, I went back too soon), Muxia, Fisterra, Oporto, Fatima and Lisbon.  The adventure with friends left me no time to really indulge in more musings over my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Besides, the experience was clouded by a couple more pilgrimages to Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal. It’s an altogether wonderful experience. Really. Just that I would have wanted to relive the memory of EVERY SINGLE DAY of my camino and remember how all the yellow arrows directed me throughout my weeklong camino. 


 

I have been “on the go” since May. Even well before that, as I spent a week in Madrid doing more “practice walks” before hopping on that 6 hour train to Santiago de Compostela. When I returned to Manila mid-June, I only had a week to prepare for my family from Sydney spending a whole month with us. Plus there’s the Bangkok wedding which the entire family and a few friends (all 23 of us!) attended. On the feast day of Saint James, the last batch of my OZ family took the flight back to Sydney. I am left with many happy memories of family reunions, wedding, Bangkok sidetrips, and quite honestly, bonding across 4 generations within our family.  Such memories would last me many lifetimes. As would my “me-moments with my God” during my camino. I find it a luxury to indulge myself with those lovely images and experiences from my camino now. No matter what you hear or read, your Camino is YOUR CAMINO.  It’s a personal experience — an adventure, if you like — that is completely your own. I walked more than a hundred kilometers but more than half of those walking ALONE. Alone with my thoughts. In sync with Nature, and over-the-top with the wondrous solitude to pray as much and as long for others, and for myself and my family. Before the walk, I listed a hundred names of people I’d pray for. A kilometer for each, some of whom I do not know at all. The thought of praying for someone else pulled me through. Funny that whenever I prayed for myself, I’d always catch myself praying for “no blisters”. More so whenever I stop to change my socks, wiggle my toes and slather my feet with Vaseline. I even picked up the habit of ordering a beer to “reward” myself every afternoon, and some glasses of red wine come dinner time. Every morning when I woke up, I prayed and thanked the Lord for the renewed energy, well-rested limbs, and newfound enthusiasm for another day’s walk. I never lost the excitement over what I’ll find along the camino trail. Somehow, I likewise looked forward to the mid-morning and late lunch breaks  when I find myself interacting with fellow pilgrims from different countries. One funny thing here is finding yourself deep in conversation with another pilgrim whose name you never asked. Yet you remember his nationality, from where he started his camino, and how long he has been walking.  Other times, you’d be walking with a few for about a mile, engaged in serious and not-so-serious conversations, before bidding each other “Buen Camino”. If you meet them at your next coffee break, you greet each other like long lost friends. Such is the camino routine and vibes and I gladly eased into this  “behavior”. 


 

I finished my camino without any blisters. I pity those who trudged on with blisters, nasty sore toes,  and for a few, lost toenails.  Thankful every time I reached our hotel even when there were days we were soaking from the rain. Nothing beats that first beer of the day. Except perhaps that first minute when you soak your tired feet in a tub filled with hot water. Many times I fell asleep till the water turned really cold around my swollen feet. Every night, I’d wash my hair and then wear my camino clothes for the next day. Yes, fat chance I’d jump into my pajamas and then change into my camino shirt and shorts the following morning. Happened only on the first night. 😄 Waking up every morning was a breeze as I only needed to brush my teeth, put on my socks and shoes, and walk out the room. I’m not embarassed to admit this. Really. And it’s one good advice I’d give anyone planning a camino. Starting the day right, with as much ease and convenience, is the way to go. 


 

SLOW. I’m beginning to like this word. It is NOT a contest. Why rush? You have the WHOLE DAY to do it. My daily camino started every morning at a convenient time of 8:30 am. It helps a lot that you know you have a room in the next hotel where you’d finish your day’s walk.  Invariably, I’m done by mid-afternoon. And that includes coffee breaks, lunch breaks, pee breaks, oxygen breaks, and the occasional beer or wine. Mind you, I lingered over my lunch. It’s a major social activity for the day. A time to meet new walking buddies, swap first-aid plasters and ointments, listen to more (Irish) jokes 😄, “score” some passing hunks on bikes 😜, and share some energy bars sitting and adding weight to your backpacks. Altogether, these breaks are all too important to rest your limbs and maintain your sanity. When you start having a conversation with your leg muscles, your hip joints or your little toes, you know it’s time for a cafe con leche, cafe cortado, cerveza, rioja, or a bocadillo. 👣👣👣


 

Will I do another camino in my lifetime? I’ve met many septuagenarians who whizzed past me. Many walked alone. Many on their 2nd or 3rd camino. I would love to do this again. Perhaps walk the whole hog from St. Jean or Roncesvalles — but in installments. Like a week or 2 at a time.  Let’s see. Meanwhile, BUEN CAMINO! 


 

For more details and photos, check out my blog here.  And yes, do share your own camino memories here. 😀


The peregrinos are coming to town. It’s a Friday and the noontime and evening masses for pilgrims at the lovely Romanesque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela will have 8 robed men swinging the butafumeiro across the isles. As I soldiered on on this wet and windy day, many younger pilgrims zoomed past me, unmindful of the cold and rain. They could reach Santiago in time for the mass at noon. 


Believe me, getting in and out of your rain poncho can be a mood spoiler. Much more so for those wearing rain pants. But it’s the last day. Our last 15 kms. As the Irish, German and locals zipped past on foot or on bikes, each had an expectant look.  “Buen Camino” which means “Have a good camino or walk” has also substituted for “hello” and “excuse me” or “move aside” as when they overtake you along the trail. 

 

Most peregrinos stop at Monte do Gozo to have their first glimpse of the spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It’s the last hill before reaching Santiago, about 4 kilometers away. Windy, overcast sky, cold and wet, we made a collective sigh of relief that the “end” is near. Our hearts felt the church spires beckoning us to march on. 

 

 

As soon as we stood before the Church, the dam broke. I cried. Such joy to be here. Such an honor to make this pilgrimage. All worth the wet, cold, windy camino days. The swollen feet from all the walking and the swollen hand from holding the shaft or walking stick.  This “jubilada” (retiree — which is what they registered at the Pilgrims’ Office when asked my profession) made it! And I’m happy that we made this hike in 6 days, feeling every step of the pilgrimage. Gracias, Señor.

The Pilgrim’s Mass at 7:30pm had the entire cathedral filled up as early as half hour before the service. Came a good hour early and claimed front seat. Soon after the service, the tiraboleiros prepared to swing the metal thurible. Botafumeiro is that giant thurible or incensory that they swing across the isles, up and down, pulled by 8 men in deep red robes. Botafumeiro in Galician means smoke-expeller. And the robed men in charge of the swinging thurible are called tiraboleiros which mean incense carrier in Galician. 

Such a fitting end to this pilgrimage. Feeling blessed. Unlike those who made the 300-800km journey (or even longer), I can’t claim any lifechanging miracle. But I have a newfound discovery. Life, as with uphill climbs, need NOT be rushed. It’s hard. But taking breaks –a breather– every so often makes a seemingly impossible task doable. Often enough, I had to remind myself to slow dow and walk in a relaxed manner. As with life, we sometimes do things just to get it over with. In this Camino, I discovered SLOW works

Gracias, Señor. Gracias, San Tiago de Compostela. Gracias to my nueva amigas : Maria Chus, Herta, Beth, Maryanne, May, Anne W, Helen, Carole, Ann, Misty, Sue. God bless you all😘

http://youtu.be/ByPqqO8Qwus

CAMINO DAY 5: Can you believe it?


I CAN. HARDLY. BELIEVE IT. Five days of walking from Sarria in Lugo to Amenal, just 15 kms away from Santiago de Compostela. When we went past the 20 km marker, I felt like screaming for joy. Never mind that the next 5kms towards our hotel seemed like an eternity. We were tired, after all. 

   


Been blessed with enough stamina and willpower to hurdle this camino which our guide Maria says isn’t exactly 113 total, but much more. In fact, she said we’ve actually done the minimum 100 kms yesterday to earn a Compostela. She measures our mileage each day but only tells us when day’s over. A little white lie, Maria would say. 

  


But naaaahhh. Having gone this far, we’re not about to hop on a cab to Santiago. Well, there’s only tomorrow’s 15 kms towards Santiago de Compostela, so I feel more confident. Tired? Very! And blessed. No blisters. My little toes gave me problems since Day 2, but me and my toes will survive this. 

  


Today’s walk was like yesterday’s —- into the woodlands in many portions, some meters of walking along the roads, pleasant weather. But more excitement today as we chanced upon Terry Porter, ex NBA player, now coach. Spanish media trailed him from the pitstop beer garden to the last 6 kilometers to Amenal. Took photos even if I didn’t even know the guy. Tried catching up with him but at over 6 feet, those long strides would make us eat dust. Well, the chance encounter was a good distraction for me and my sore legs. 😞 
 

  

By this time, I have grown accustomed to more oxygen breaks to pace myself (thanks for the breathing/pacing lessons, Herta!) , zumo (juice) de naranja replenishments every 5-8 kms, and vino o cerveza only at day’s end. I’ve even grown excited over these camino breaks for coffee, snacks, cerveza and chats with fellow pilgrims. Some cafe bars are ok, but got to say the food menu hardly changed. It’s the same cerveza, tea, jamon y quezo sandwich, naranja juice, ensalada, tortilla. The defining mark rests in how they do their coffee and the state of their washrooms 😉
 

   



My right knee started feeling funny after 12kms but my new friend Herta gave me something to spray on it to ease the pain. I am excited for tomorrow’s final leg and happy it’s the last day. My endurance would be severely tested beyond tomorrow, for sure.
 

   


Day 5. It’s more crowded now as we neared Santiago de Compostela. A bunch of cyclists, a group of German and Irish students, a gang of friendly and hilarious Irish women, many having reached this point after weeks on the camino. And many with their entire pack on their backs! This last 100 kms is nothing compared to what these men and women have been through. It’s embarrassing to even talk about how my right knee started feeling funny in today’s walk. Or how my pinky toes are giving me a problem. In fact, I feel guilty just looking tired 😢
 

Funny how one starts thinking it will be another “short hike”. You see, the camino trail should have covered 28 kilometers but a great decision was made to “break” this legbreaker into 2 days. Entonces, it’s 28 kms in 2 days. Enough reason to start a tad perky yesterday and today. But it rained yesterday. Not so today. 


 

We left our hotel in Melide around 9:30am and walked a bit off the trail to visit this pulperia, a church and a zapateria. Another reason to feel perky after a “late start”. For the first time, there was a mass service on this Wednesday during this camino journey. Great start! 


 

By the time we were ready to resume our camino, 2 in our group had new leather boots in their backpacks. If we weren’t full from breakfast, we could have spent more time in that pulperia. 


 


Enjoyed the best weather today. Cold when we started, but sun’s out and trail’s lovely as we weaved through Galicia’s countryside. This part — from Melide to Arzua — is very interesting.  We shared the camino path with cows, had lunch in a small cafe bar (Santiago) whose pet dog attempted to follow us as we were leaving. Friendly dog, friendly cafe bar owner. He gave us so many “freebies” like more cheese, jamon, cake etc. Lovely man! 


  

This part of the Camino is the best so far. “Only” 14 kilometers today through one of the picturesque parts of Galicia. Both the farmlands and villages are charming. Gosh, did I actually say that? ONLY 14 KILOMETERS TODAY. For someone who is lucky to hit 10,000 steps in a day, you better believe that!

 

 

Though I struggled with the uphill climbs — 30 years of heavy smoking do that to you! — I enjoyed the hike. It helps too that we didn’t get rained out today. 


Birds chirping, feeling the “crunch” upon stepping on fallen leaves, crossing a bubbly stream, a slight drizzle, muddy paths, and cow manure here and there.   




It’s hard to deprive one’s self with a copa of vino or cerveza. I should stop. Dehydration  issues and balance issues and all. Even the vino during dinners, much that I enjoy them, should be given up. One of the 4 ladies I’m walking with told me that she’s giving up smoking in this Camino. “That’s great” I said. To which she smilingly replied “…. just that I don’t smoke”. Touche! Let me have my vino!

  

 

There’s a lot of my musings and ramblings as my knees struggled through the uphill climbs, downhill walks and flooded/muddied paths.  Many oxygen breaks happened here. I’m good walking some distances on flat, dry surfaces. And without a backpack! But I’m compelled to use a backpack to carry my change of socks, vaseline, and fleece vest. Oh ok, the chocolate and energy bars are in there too. Galician weather is hard to predict. Funny how I don’t miss sunny spells (I break out in sweat!) and how thankful I am whenever it rains just when we’ve stopped for some coffee or caldo! But today, it rained again on the last leg of the camino. Too lazy to put on my poncho. Just trudged along hoping the hotel is at the next bend. 




Being close to Nature makes for good contemplative monents. Whenever a gust of wind ruffles your hair, you cant help but smile. The aroma of cow manure brings you back to your senses, but in a positive way. For the life of me, I welcomed the scent of farm life. The simplicity of Galician life renders you grateful that you’re doing this walk, able to count your many blessings. A pilgrimage or an adventure? It is both for me. I wanted to challenge myself as much as I wanted to do my “spiritual retreat”. I’m having my moment. Can’t even bring myself to complain when it rains, gets really cold or when I couldn’t figure out where to step on a muddied path. Really. 




“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen”.  — Linda Hogan 

Buen Camino!

Day 2: A VERY WET CAMINO


It would be another 23 kilometers today and the weather forecast says more rain. Oh dear. Left our hotel at 8:30am, careful not to drink much coffee nor fill up  much on breakfast lest I go looking for a bush in the next 5-7 kilometers leaving the town of Portomarin towards Palas de Rei. Wearing only my windbreaker over my Merino shirt and shorts, I welcomed the slight drizzle and hoped it would be like yesterday’s weather. It was not. 

   

And just as I dreaded, it was a long uphill climb. Darn! It’s a struggle to stop, get my backpack off, take off my windbreaker, dry up a bit (you can break out in sweat walking!) then deciding whether to put the jacket back on or wrap it around your waist. Unlike Day 1 when we crossed many fields, a forest and a bubbling stream, today’s walk didn’t present much by way of “communion with Nature”. For a good 5 kms or so, we walked along a major road which we had to cross 3x I think. Oh Lord. 

 

We were only too happy to stop at Casa Garcia for mid-day refreshments. This guesthouse looked better than most. Cozy. Our next stop was LUNCH where croquetas de quezo y patatas, hamburguesa, tortilla and empanada were enjoyed while it started to really pour. Thankfully, I brought my fleece vest and raincoat/poncho. So, 4 layers of clothing — shirt, fleece vest, windbreaker and poncho — and my gloves and beanie completed my ensemble to battle this Galician weather. And I calculated there’s 10 more kilometers at this point before reaching Palas de Rei!

  

The Camino is truly a test of willpower. I decided on just doing the last 100 as I don’t have the energy to walk 800, or even 500 kilometers. Now I ask myself if I have the energy for even 100-113 kms. I’m bushed!

If only I could break the camino to walk only 10-13 kms daily, I’d be fine. IF I had the luxury of time, I would have gone for 10 days. But as it happened, I’m stuck to do this in 6 days. Thus, the first 2 days’ walk bring you near the halfway mark at 23 kms/day or a total of 46 kms. out of the required 100 to earn the compostela. 

Before long, we were approaching Palas de Rei. But I fell behind the pack to change my wet socks. Can’t risk having blisters. A slather of Vaseline which i carried in my backpack and I’m good to go for the day’s final 3 kms. Somewhere along the path, the road was all mud and water. No space for a single step without risking a slip. I wondered why this man was standing along the elevated edge seemingly waiting for pilgrims. He stretched out his hand and said “I’d help you”. Reaching for his hand, he pulled me towards the elevated bank where I trudged on to finish my day’s camino. What a gallant peregrino!

By the time  we reached Complejo de Cabana in Palas do Rei,  we got quite a surprise. Not 23 kms we’re told, but 32.6 kilometers. Duh? No wonder I felt wasted. My feet need some serious TLC. Gosh, I can’t believe I paid for this! Lol. Buen Camino!

 


Well, not exactly. Or you wouldn’t be reading this. Pre-booked hotels via caminoways.com have excellent wifi connection. Yey! But I confess I felt a great deal of excitement over the looming solitude and physical challenge as I prepared for the last 113 kilometers or 70 miles walking from Sarria in Lugo to Santiago de Compostela. As the day neared, i grew more anxious…. bordering on nervous wreck. Can I really do this?



Switching off. At least for 6 hours each single walking day. No sweat. I can easily do that. Even longer, if need be. My practice walks then lasted 2-3 hours straight. Like 20,000 steps or so. But this time, it’s not only longer hours. The ground’s not paved nor even, and there’s an incline here and there. In some spots,  it’s not even dry. Very wet, I may add. Even muddy. Every couple of hours, the camino is suspended for some serious oxygen breaks, backstretching, fluid replenishment, dry-ups, pee breaks, or just a change of socks and slathering of more Vaseline on the feet. 




 


“Every pilgrimage is a journey backwards. Every pilgrim’s step is a step towards his childhood.”   
         — Charles Foster (The Sacred Journey)
  
 
There is a saying on the French route: the first third is physical, the second third is mental and the third third is spiritual. Many pilgrims seem to fall into this rhythm. In my case, it started out as spiritual. I wanted this so much as my own spiritual retreat of sorts. I likewise made a mental note that 113 kilometers is punctuated by gastronomic breaks and all I had to do is think pulpo gallega and caldo gallego to keep those legs moving! As I took my first camino step, my faith & confidence combined to make this a meaningful Day 1 of my camino. As the roads and paths stretched before me, the physical demands of the camino wiped out all pulpo dreams. All I wanted was to reach the pre-arranged hostel, take a bath, put up my legs and sleep. These images all threatened to break my concentration as I prayed many rosaries. On Day 1, 6 rosaries. 
 
 
 
I was NEVER more aware of my body and physical state than NOW. It’s like I know the condition of every toe attached to my feet. Like I’m having an altercation with every leg muscle. My brain’s all messed up halfway through Day 1’s camino. It’s 23 kilometers today. Yeah, what a fine introduction. But looking at many pilgrims from all over the world passing me — a few limping through, having walked nearly 700 kilometers — it is such a humbling experience NOT to complain. 
 
 


Dinner in these parts is at 9pm. I worry I may not make it to dinner. Definitely dinner is more a social activity rather than nourishment for me this time. It’s a struggle to keep awake after the hike and then, a leisurely stroll around the village. I know others may think this part of the Camino is the more popular, more touristy, noisier, more about the adventure rather than the pilgrimage type. But hey, who’s judging? Certainly not me. We come for different reasons. We each make our own Camino? But whoever said it’s easy is lying! (And it’s only Day 1 😭😭😭)