“Don’t let your fears load your pack,” Rick said to me on our third day on the Camino. He’d read this advice on a Camino Forum, but admitted he didn’t follow it close enough. As we walked along, he decided to heed this advice and let go of his bedbug spray. Years ago the hostels along the Camino had a problem with bedbugs, but I’d read it had since been remedied. I hoped that was true. So did Rick.
The trail marker was ambiguous. I thought it pointed to the mowed path off to our right. My new friend Michel thought it meant we were to stay on the paved road we were on. I recalled that my map indicated we’d be walking along a road for most of the day, so I listened to Michel, but was nervous we were going the wrong way. Walking through the Pyrenees with 22 pounds on my back, I didn’t want to have to backtrack.
Rémy and I placed our orders for paella at a cafe on the square in Pamplona. It had been a long day walking the Camino and we still had a few more kilometers to go. Our packs sat on the ground next to our table. As we sat sipping our beer, I saw Antoine walking across the square. I had met Antoine a few days earlier — he’s a 27-year-old Frenchman on his second Camino in less than one year. He had his 40-pound pack on his back, walking sticks in one hand, and a guitar case in the other. I called him over to our table.
Rocks are not the first things I’d think to bring on a 480-mile pilgrimage walk across northern Spain. Hiking shoes, dry-wicking shirts, sunscreen: yes. But rocks? Though not shown on any packing list, I would wager that many of my fellow pilgrims along the route to Santiago de Compostela (a journey popularly known as the Camino), are carrying their own rocks.
Note: This post was written by Rebecca Gallo and originally posted at bustedhalo.com
Is it too early in my trek to say that this is, hands down, the best experience of my life so far? It’s only Day 3 of walking The Camino, but if I had to end it tomorrow I’d still say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Think about this:
- Every day I meet people from all over the world who want to share their time, there insights, and their stories with me.
- I am carrying on my back all I need to live for the next six weeks. (Yes, the pack is entirely too heavy at 22 pounds, but that’s a whole other story.)
- I’m surrounded by people who are sharing the same experience but for all different reasons – providing an endless source of interesting conversations.
- I am walking in nature every day for miles and miles. It’s not only good exercise, but also meditative. And, I come up with some of my best blog ideas when walking alone on a wooded path. (I keep a small notebook in the pocket of my convertible hiking pants to jot down said thoughts.)
- I can take each day as it comes. There are no definitive plans other than to follow the trail. Somedays I end of walking farther than I imagined. No matter – I’ll always find a place to lay my head and food to fill my belly. (The latter is sometimes in a restaurant, sometimes cooking with others at the hostel.)
- I get to do this over and over for forty days – how blessed am I?!
I fully realize that what I’m doing would not be everyone’s idea of the best thing ever, but let me tell you this: if you get to have just one experience in your life where every day, at some point, you find yourself with tears in your eyes because you’re so happy to be where you are right now, oh how lucky you are.
Note: This post was originally written by Rebecca Gallo and published on bustedhalo.com.
Why would a woman with serious doubts about her Catholic faith embark on a 480-mile pilgrimagetrail across northern Spain? Maybe I’ll know by the time I finish. For now, the answer to that question is this: I just know it’s something I’m supposed to do. My gut, my intuition, my heart, my God (I use them all interchangeably) has never steered me wrong. From the moment I decided to take this journey, everything has fallen into place — as it usually does when you trust in God.
While most of you are sleeping soundly tonight, I’ll be 30,000 feet in the air trying to do the same. At 10pm, I leave JFK and head to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. From there, it’s a bit an adventure to get to my starting point for the Camino: St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
- Thursday, May 10, 11:10 AM: Touch down at Charles de Gaulle. Get my bags. Go through customs. Hop a bus for the 45 minute ride to Paris’ other airport – Orly.
- 3:00PM: Depart Orly for Biarritz, France – on the same flight as two fellow pilgrims from South Africa with whom I’ll travel the rest of the way to St. Jean. (More on that below.)
- 4:15PM: Arrive Biarritz. Take a half-hour bus ride to the Bayonne train station.
- 6:10 PM: Take the train from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
- 7:36PM: Arrive in St. Jean. Make my way to the hostel I reserved. Eat something. Hopefully get some sleep.
- May 11, sometime after 6AM: Wake up, write three pages, eat, don my pack and head out for my first day on the Camino. Walk 5 miles up and up and up and up into the Pyrenees to Orisson. Note the snow in the pictures on their web site. Let’s hope I don’t see any of that.
I posted my start date and location on a Camino Forum a couple months ago. Thanks to that, I know of seven people starting with me. Brad is originally from Nebraska, now going to school in DC. You can follow his blog here. Next I heard from Daniel who informed me he and his two friends (all from Switzerland) would also be starting from St. Jean on May 11. Next Christina from Germany asked about car pooling. I gave her the name of a web site for that as I’m aiming to take public transit from the airport. Then there’s Charmaine and Chrisi – the two girls from South Africa who are actually on my very same flight from Orly to Biarritz. So for those of you that said, “You’re doing this alone?!” rest assured I’ll have some company along The Way.
And if you’re still picturing me walking something akin to the Appalachian trail, go on Netflix and watch The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. You’ll have a much better picture.
Note that I’ll also be blogging for bustedhalo.com along the Camino. I will link to those posts from this site (so subscribers – you’ll still get an e-mail notification), but you’ll find those posts on bustedhalo.com first. The first post is due to go up on Friday, the second possibly on Monday.
Any words of support or encouragement are welcomed – ideally via the comments section on these posts or via e-mail. Thanks to everyone who helped me get this far:) Next post will be from Spain!
I don’t know that I’ll ever shake that initial jolt of fear that shoots through me when I arrive alone in a foreign country. I follow the crowd through the terminal to baggage claim. Traveling only with carry-on luggage, this is where I abandon them. I look around to find the bus or train I need to get to my destination.
Sometimes, I don’t even have a destination when I arrive. During a visit to Rome a couple weeks ago, I headed to the bookstore in the train station first. I was in this same station with my sister ten days earlier so I knew they had a section of English travel guides. I flipped to the index in a few of them scanning for the word, “hostels.” I opened my small green notebook and jotted down a few ideas for places to stay. My next stop was an internet cafe to research my options a little more. I wrote down the contact information and directions to my top three choices. A phone call to my first choice disappointed me a little – they only had one night available and I wanted two. My intuition told me to go anyway. So I found the bus that would take me there. I got off one stop too early. With my few Italian words and the helpful people at that bus stop, I was able to find my way.
My intuition, as usual, was right. My roommate and I had a nice chat when I arrived. She and I decided to meet up later that evening for dinner. Upon our return, I met a few more people traveling alone and was invited to dinner again. I declined, but spent a lovely couple hours with that same crew the following morning. Over breakfast in the garden at the hostel, we all worked out our plans for the day. Thanks to a couple no-shows the previous night, a bed was available and I got my wish to stay there for two nights. Cam and Gary decided to take their chances with the proposed train strike and head to the train station anyway with Florence as their destination. Daniel and I took off for a stroll through the Villa Borghese gardens.
A few days later I reflected on all the ways in which my three weeks in Italy prepared me for my upcoming Camino:
- I got reacquainted with all the emotions involved in waking up in the morning not knowing where I’ll lay my head down that night – something I’ll do nearly every morning on the Camino.
- I was reminded of what it’s like to be alone in a country where English is not the native tongue. The result? Anytime I heard people speaking English, I found a way to get into their conversation. It’s a great ice breaker.
- I remembered why it is I love staying in hostels (meeting people!) and how imperative it is that I bring my ear plugs and eye mask (lest I get no sleep – snoring does not help me descent into dreamland, nor do early-risers keep me there).
- I learned why it’s best, if I have the option, to stay on the top bunk. (Every time the guy above me moved, the whole structure shook and I was woken up. I lamented about this the next morning, and a new friend informed me this doesn’t happen if you’re on the top bunk. Note to self.)
- I got plenty of opportunities for walking with my pack. Like the Camino will be, I walked both alone and with others – sometimes spending whole days with people who were strangers only a few hours earlier.
- I got to test-run how best to write on the road. I took legal-size printer paper – a stack of five pages – and folded it in half. This gave me a little booklet of twenty pages. I made seven of these packets and filled them as I went. The idea is to make them into a book now (something I learned at the Folk School, then perfected while at Glenda’s in February.) I wrote my blog posts in these packets, too, and when I got to an internet cafe I pulled out my entry and typed it up.
- I got to test-run traveling with my pack – which pockets are best for which items?
- I recalled why it’s so good to pack everything in zip-loc bags: my pack may get wet in the rain, but nothing else will. Have you ever looked into the top of a large backpack? At first its appears to be a bottomless pit. Not so when everything has its own see-through zip-loc bag – I could pull out those bags, toss them on the bed, find what I needed, and throw them all back in.
- Best of all? I was reminded and encouraged that yes, I can still travel alone. And that there are tons of people like me out there to meet along the way – all with their own fascinating stories. (Note to God: If you’d like to send someone my way who would want to travel with me for the rest of my life, I’m open to that. Thanks.)