I’m roughly 120km into my journey. My knees eventually reached a point where I could no longer continue until I heal. I’ve been resting in a small town called Estella for three days now.
My heart yearns to be out on the Camino, exploring the road and gaining some mileage. But if I’m to reach the end, I need to take care of my body. So, I sit here in this Albergue (hostel for pilgrims) watching people arrive, unpack for the night, eat and sleep only to rise the next day and continue on. A part of me feels very left out but I know I’m doing the right thing.
Some things I’ve come to learn…
1. Eating dinner is a very communal activity. I meet pilgrims who barely have enough money for tomorrow, and yet buy food to share at dinner. Many hostels have kitchens and without discussing much, everyone buys their food with the intent to share. A couple of euros worth of vegetables or meat and all of a sudden your part of the family. The camaraderie at dinner is very inspiring. And of course there is that guy who brought wine! He’s met at the door with cheers and loving embrace.
Everyone loves that guy.
2. I’ve also observed the support system for one another is tremendous out here on the Camino. Those of us who are injured or visibly struggling receive nothing but the most positive support from fellow travelers. Many of us don’t speak the same language, but helping eachother is universal. I see it everyday – strangers offering advice, medicine and kind words to anyone with blisters or sore muscles. Sometimes it’s as simple as walking together for some distance. Again, this is all very inspiring to see.
After talking with people from literally everywhere, (the two Irish guys, the dude from new York, the guy from Luxembourg who made me dinner when I was too sore to move, the Koreans I shared lunch with, the two former Israeli army guys, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Venetian, the big Russian who’s not Russian but from the USSR, the Spanish… The list goes on) I’ve learned that everyone is here for different reasons. From the end of a long term relationship to a change in careers, to walking in honor of a loved one who’s passed, every story I hear is unique and comes from a place full of emotion.
We’re all walking for different reasons but we all want to see eachother succeed. I guess it’s the bond between strangers I’ve noticed the most. Nowhere have I seen such dedication to people you just met. With the support of my fellow pilgrims, I have no doubt I’ll reach Santiago.
The one thing I keep hearing is, “This is your Camino.” I have no time limit. There is no right or wrong way to walk the Camino. My story will be my own – unique to me. They’re right, this is MY Camino.
Today For the first time, I thought about going home. My feet and my knees hurt so bad, I’ve started to look at the ground for places to just fall over and lye down. I stop randomly and lean to one side to shift my weight and ease the pain – lifting one foot off the ground and gasp in relief. I switch feet, back and forth until I convince myself to start walking again. why does this hurt so bad? is it my shoes again? Is it my pack? But I have a lighter pack than anyone, I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong? in parts of the day, I have to choke back tears so the other pilgrims won’t see me. Alone with my thoughts, my fears and doubts creep to the surface, “I can’t go on. This hurts too much and its not fun any more. Why am I even doing this?”
What’s amazing is I’ve always thought I was stronger than this. I can’t believe how weak the Camino has made me look. I hobble, I limp, I walk bow-legged. I can’t remember ever feeling so defeated And I don’t know what to do. I keep telling myself my body will adjust but…every evening I have new blisters. I try and find a quiet corner to rub my knees so others won’t see me wince at the pain.
I figured two whole days of rest in Estella would have helped but, I’m still struggling. I’ve managed 52km more and am now in the city of Logroño. I can’t decide what to do. I’ll feel so angry and depressed if I quit. But I’m afraid of causing permanent damage to my knees if I continue. Where is that line between pushing myself and accepting my limits? What are my limits?
So here I sit in my bunk on a cold, wet Sunday night in Spain…feeling lost. I spend my time writing and flipping through the photos I took today. I click to each one on my camera and instantly remember that spot and what I was feeling, “Yep. My feet hurt when I took this picture. How did I find the strength to take out my camera? I could barely stand!”
I’m still going, though for the moment I’ve lost sight of why I’m out here. With every day being a struggle, it’s hard to find the motivation to continue. I just don’t know. A thought had crossed my mind however…
If the Camino were easy, then getting to Santiago de Compostella would somehow lose it’s significance. The Camino is meant to be challenging. Ugh… fine, whatever, I’ll walk more tomorrow. But for now just let me watch Arrested Development on my phone and leave me alone.
Made a tiny miscalculation yesterday, a whoopsy-daisy… if you will. I planned on walking about 7km to a town called Naverrete. I made it there really fast so I decided to continue to the next town, where I was assured the albergue there was opened all year.This would bring my total kilometers for the day to 20. I thought, “It will be tough, but I’m feeling good today, lets do it!” To my dismay, the hostel in town was closed, and I was faced with a decision. Either turn around, or walk another 11km to the next town. I pressed forward.
The pain in my feet and knees upon arriving that day is indescribable. But you know what, I walked 30km in one day. That’s almost 20…freakin…Miles! Never in my life have I walked that much in one day. Now I now it’s possible…and that I never want to do that again! EVER! Even if there’s a fire!! Step Brothers? No one? But im proud of myself non the less.
One thing that amazes me is how basic my needs have become out here. I spend my days looking for my next meal, where I’m going to get water, buy medicine and a place to sleep. That’s it. Life at the moment is challenging but simple to understand – eat, drink, sleep and walk. (Whenever I notice myself getting hungry, I usually stumble upon a Tienda and buy a can of sardines, olives, orange and a banana.) I really like how simple and uncomplicated my daily routine is. Non of the stress or hassle of my routine back home. This walk has helped put into perspective what really matters in life. Take only what you need, leave the rest behind.
I have officially walked 134 miles so far.
The past few days have been great. I spent two consecutive nights alone in small albergues. It was really nice to have some time to myself. Yesterday I walked 17km and stayed in a town called Tosantos, in a hostel run by the church. It was… A change of pace. I and seven others slept on the floor, on mats, side by side. This was a pretty sweet deal though. Accommodation is by donation only, (many pilgrims seek out Donativos to save money) and dinner and breakfast were free! We all helped cook dinner and wash up. After some wine and conversation, it was time to head to the chapel for worship.
Our host was a nice old man who spoke no English. He led us into a candle-lit room where the energy immediately changed to a very serious and intense atmosphere. He began to tell us the history of the Camino and how important it is for us to realize what a huge undertaking this is. Speaking all in Spanish of course.
The man continued by explaining how the Camino has the potential to change your life.
His tone and sombre cadence made me think of how many times he’d given this speech, and to how many different people. In an instant I felt lucky to have stumbled upon this place, at this time.
At the end of the service, he passed around a box, filled with prayers written down by past pilgrims. We were to find one in our native language and read it out loud. Across the room, languages could be heard from all over: Spanish, German, Slovakian, Italian, Korean… I spoke the only words in English. I don’t believe it’s my place to repeat them here. But to whomever wrote that note, I’m praying for you and hope you find what you’re looking for.
We all wrote our reasons for doing the Camino on pieces of paper, folded them and put them in the box too. Hopefully our prayers will be heard by future pilgrims as well.