The Camino: Part 2

It’s really interesting how you almost form a little group with the people who walk the camino with you. I got the opportunity to walk with Vern, his parole officer Carl, and a german sheppard. Vern was sentenced to walk to camino for the criminal activity of stealing cars as a minor in Belgium. The trio would sleep in a tent nightly and we would see them daily on the path. I remember the day we reached our destination, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Saint James); Vern yelled some expletives atop the stairs. We walked for a month to reach our destination. We walked for many different reasons. We walked to be transformed. I don’t think Vern fully commited to his transformation by the evidence of his potty mouth in one of the most holy places.

Physically, there were many challenges during the journey. One of our group members fell down a hill and luckily only injured his pride. Another group member got an overuse injury called achilles tendinitis. He had to be taken in a van daily in leiu of walking and didn’t get to collect his pilgrim’s certificate at the end of the journey.

For me, I developed blisters on my heel. I had brought a supply of Cephalexin (an antibiotic) with me during my hike in case I got an infection given the limited availibility of pharmacies along the way. I luckily never developed an infection, but instead had to switch to my sandals during my hikes and remove my shoes as soon as I got to a new village. I felt limited because instead of exploring upon arrival, I was caring for my feet. Another preventative measure I took was cleaning around my toe nails meticulously and wearing clean socks to prevent anything fungal/bacterial. We frequently would stay in hostels with many strangers and group bathrooms. I would shower, let my feet dry 5-15 minutes on a towel prior to applying my compression garments while trying to stay out of the way of other pilgrims and hostel clients.

I ate everything that was offered to me and liked 95% of it! Our Spanish breakfasts were a little light by American standards that largely consisted of a sweet bread and milk. We usually made tortas or sandwhiches for lunch. My favorite torta was tortilla espanola which was an omlet with potatos and onions. Nightly, we would try the cuisine in the village of choice. In the basque region there was a lot of seafood. I remember a lot of entrees were served with fried potatoes. Perhaps everyone loves french fries? I drank a lot of water and would fill up my two water bottles whenever I got a chance. One day, we even encountered to red wine fountain. 🙂

I also noticed at the end of daily hiking, my swelling would actually decrease in my leg. I’m not sure if it was from the activity, water consumption, lack of food preservatives, or what contributed to this. I have been on some hikes through Yosemite and the like since then with the same result. I think this is an important finding and am curious about the mechanism.

Tortugas for life:

Facts: I studied Spanish for 4 years and went on a trip with with my favorite professor to understand spanish culture and language. My personal goal was to complete the camino representing my physical limitation of lymphedema does not make my decisions. I had to take extra time to take care of my legs before the day began, increased time after the walk was done, and spend some time trouble shooting blisters. I was probably in better physical shape than the rest of my study abroad group.

The story: Because I my teacher called me a turtle, I could not walk as fast as the rest and because I wasn’t walking as fast, I was less physically able to do the camino. I had set myself up for failure; my life ahead would be me stuttering as I tried to come up with excuses why I couldn’t participate in life like everyone else.

Fact check: The story I just described should highlight the lens I already viewed myself through. All I had to do was collect evidence and interpret other people’s words to boost this self defeating narrative. Just because we tell ourselves stories of not enough, not worthy, etc doesn’t mean that is reality. Sometimes in the journey to transformation, your own worst enemy or demon lives in your own head. If you are putting your worth on the line, you better make sure the voice in your head is supporting you, otherwise no amount of support or external feedback will be enough.

There are many tales of pilgrims meetings a demon during their pilgrimage. In fact, it is a halmark pilgrim experience. Some stories posit this demon as a test that is so uniquely tied to whatever the pilgrim has struggled with in the past. Since my pilgrimage, I have viewed this struggle as my inability to ask for help or pride. I was unable to give feedback to my teacher about her insensitive comment. I was unable to ask for extra time or space to compression wrap or take care of my leg. I was unable to process these feelings with my walking buddies because I couldn’t ask for someone to listen to me in my vulnerability.

Asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. The openness to trying new things is brave. Slow and steady wins the race.

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