The Camino: Part 1

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that has been happening since the 9th century from the Prynese mountains in France to the coast of Spain. It has been used as a spiritual and religious journey, a penance for crimes commited, and a quest for healing of those afflicted by leprosy and various other maladies. The journey moves through many different climates like the mountains of the basque country, deserts of Castilla and Leon, and rolling hillsides of Galacia. People from all over the world walk this path uniting in a common language of Spanish when they can. Over a thousand years of history is present in the gothic cathedrals or statues defaced by Napoleon. This has been a shared journey by many pilgrims; I’d like to share mine.

I love Spanish. I think it sounds so beautiful and the opportunity to communicate with someone else in a special language is so luring. I was studying Biology at Texas A&M (whoop!) when I picked up a Spanish minor. It wasn’t easy; I was making A’s in biochemistry and barely scraping by with B’s in Spanish. One professor in the department opened a program to better studying Spanish and the culture of past and present Spain on the Camino.

At the time, I was wrestling with my self identity. Having lymphedema had changed my life and I felt very weak and out of control for about 3 years. This opportunity to walk across Spain with all my belongings in my backpack could be what I needed to prove myself. In a way, if I could backpack across a country, then I could do anything. I didn’t need to let my physical dysfunction limit me.

When walking the camino, you carry everything you need in your back. Packing light is essential. You have your outfit on your person, and one in your backpack. Everynight, when I arrived to my hostal/hotel/albergue, I would wash my socks, underwear, perhaps undershirt. I also had some Clif bars, a water bottle, camera, sunscreen/soap, and a first aid kit. I would use hiking boots and keep a pair of Tevas in my pack for in the evening. All of my clothing was quick drying fabric; which payed off on the days it rained all day. At the time for compression, I was using a circular knit knee high and pantyhose (20-30 mmHg) and elasticized gauze. I brought some short stretch bandages with me to bandage at night. I would wash my compression garment every other day.

I really like pilgrimages as they are a good analogy for life. Every day, no matter how well you slept or good you feel; you have to get up and walk to your next destination. Some days the sun would be out and birds would sing; friendly pilgrims would greet you. Some days it would rain all day and you’d essentially be alone. You didn’t really have a choice but to go to the next village because another pilgrim scheduled to arrive later in the day will need your bed. I think about this sometimes when I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed. I have found usually if you just get going, you will be grateful you did.

Daily, I would hike 10-15 miles. My group which consisted of students, the professor and her husband, and our guide Curtis, would all have breakfast, fill up our water bottles, and head out. There were guideposts with a shell indicating you were on the right path. The shell was a symbol of the camino because pilgrims from the interior of the continent would walk to the beach and grab a shell from the shore of Santiago de Compostela, and return to the place from which they came. Pilgrims do also bring rocks to leave at various outdoor places. I guess sometimes on your journey, you have to leave various things behind to open your hands for what you are about to receive.

I really enjoyed walking the camino with my roommate Grace. She was a few years younger than I; very wise and her spirit was bright. We laughed a lot and also walked in silence as well. Some people in our group identified their motivation as to get in better shape. They used the camino to get 6-8 hours of walking in a day and really pushed themselves by going as fast as possible. For me, I was less concerned about the destination and interested in the process. Especially because it would take a month to reach our destination. Because of this, Grace and I would usually would be the last to arrive in the new town with our group.

The professor would call us “tortugas” or turtles in english because we were so incredibly slow. This really got under my skin because my own goal wasn’t to walk as fast as possible. I didn’t feel like she understood me or my motive. I also told a story to myself that it meant that I was “less than”. This really poked at my wound of not enough” or “unworthy” because I had a physical impairment.

To be continued…

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