Why on Earth am I Doing This?
Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela must be akin to giving birth to children. Just as mothers manage to forget their labor pains, so fools like me forget the more difficult side of being a pilgrim on the Camino.
There’s a lot to forget – flies, blisters, sore feet, aching knees, walking in the hot sun, spending time packing and unpacking a backpack each day, and the rigors of walking 12-18 miles a day.
Today, I walked 42,989 steps, 17.5 miles, 132 floor at 2.6 miles an hour. It took eight and a half hours. I managed to outwalk a lot of younger people on the Camino. I have a competitive streak, especially when it comes to not wanting to age and become a slug. I take great joy in outwalking young pilgrims!
But the Camino is not about competition. It’s about everything that our daily life refuses us. It’s about unplugging from email, voicemail, cell phones, computers, disruptions, stress, rushing about, taking things for granted, sitting in a chair or an office for hours, having no time for reflection, prayer, and time to clear one’s mind.
The Camino is about escaping all of this, being in nature, stopping to smell flowers, drink clean mountain water pouring out of an ancient fountain that has blessed pilgrims for centuries, exploring a medieval monastery and sitting silently in a church dating from the 12th century. It’s about meeting strangers from around the world, having great conversations, getting out of our head and into our body, having time to reflect and let the still quiet voice of God speak to us.
You can’t help but count your blessings as you walk the Camino. You think of your home, your family, pets, friends, house, bed, creature comforts, work, the stress that you have escaped, the things that you dream of doing and what truly matters in life.
Yesterday, I hiked from Tineo to Campiello. It was hot. I hiked alone. It was supposed to be a short hike, but as I approached an 12th century Benedictine monastery located outside the small village of Oubano, I ran into a young couple who were hiking. They explained that I could get a key from Casas Bernanos to open the monastery and explore it.
This was akin to offering crystal meth to a crack addict. My initial thought was that I’d seen enough monasteries to last a lifetime. It was hot. I thought that I had only four kilometers to walk. The finish line was near. This little excursion would extend it all. But I couldn’t help myself.
Casas Bernanos is like the general store/bar in the village of Oubana. You can stop here for a coffee, cocktail, candy, or a screwdriver or quart of oil for your car. It looked as if nothing had changed in 70 years!
After swapping my driver’s license for the key to the monastery (a guarantee that I would return), I discovered that I had a blister on the back of my left ankle. I used Compeed to dress it. Even Jesus couldn’t heal blisters this quickly. Compeed is an over-the-counter instant miracle. Trust me, it works!
I then explored the monastery and even served as a docent to a family that came from nearby Tineo to explore it. They live 12 miles away and had never visited the 12th century monastery. Leave it to the sweaty, dust-covered guy from Greenwich to be their docent.
That night, I slept at Casas Hermenias, which resembled a Spanish truck stop but with nice rooms upstairs. The food was completely forgettable, but the Radler drafts – a mixture of Grolsch beer and lemonade (the English call this a Shandy) were the perfect answer to a day of rough hiking.
I got off to an early start today – by “Camino deluxe” standards. I was walking by 8:25 a.m. (This is extremely late on the Camino Frances, where pilgrims must be out of the albergue by 7:30 a.m. at the latest. Everyone rises early, bustles to brush their teeth, pack their backpack and move out like rats fleeing a fire.
The first two hours of today’s hike were really enjoyable, even with some steep climbing. Then the road split. I took the Hospitales Variant – the more rugged and longer trail, but one that is famous for its beautiful views. On a misty, rainy or cloud covered day, this can be a treacherous route.
Unfortunately, clouds did cover the mountains until about 1 p.m. It reminded me of walking from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on my first day of hiking the Camino from France to Spain seven years ago. I passed huge clusters of wild horses, large numbers of cattle grazing and two horses trying to make a third horse.
The mountain are spectacular, but I do miss the ocean. I find myself reflecting on walking the Camino del Norte and the Camino de Dos Faros, which take pilgrims along cliffsides (acontilados in Spanish) and looking out of the magnificent Cantabrian Sea and the Costa de Morta seeing waters that sometimes looked tropical in color and ever so inviting. Well, that will have to be my next Camino.
With love and prayers from Spain,