I walked 60 miles in the first six days of the Camino. I walked 70 miles in the following ten days. This brings my average mileage down from 10 miles/day to 7 miles/day. According to the guidebook I’m carrying with me, the Camino del Norte takes 31 days to walk from Irun to Santiago. By my calculations, it could take me more than twice that.
As a Project Manager, I would be working hard to figure out how to get things back on schedule. As a vagabond, I’m relaxed and slightly amused. It’s the first time I can remember feeling the freedom to just be in the experience. It’s a change of pace for me - one that is long overdue.
The primary reason that I’ve “slowed my roll” is that my body wasn’t prepared. I suspected the lack of training would make this route of the Camino challenging, and I pushed too far and too fast in the record-breaking heat as I climbed up and down the hills along the Basque coast. By Day 6, I had a bad case of exercise-induced vasculitis. My legs were red, splotchy, and swollen. My body was clearly telling me to stop, recuperate, and re-assess.
I booked a hotel in Guernica and stopped walking for two days. Mostly, I laid in bed writing blog posts and watching “Harlots” on Hulu. However, I did leave the hotel room to find the tile version of Picasso’s Guernica mural and to visit the Museum of Peace. Please visit both if you’re ever in Guernica (Gernika in Basque) - a city that was destroyed by aerial bombing on April 26, 1937; but turned this tragedy into an opportunity to promote reconciliation, peace, and human rights. I was moved to tears by the multimedia display in the museum. I sat in a room and listened to the voice of a woman who described life before that fateful day, including the many times the alarms had been sounded in the past. Then she described the beginning of the bombing. As she did, the room that I was sitting in slowly transformed to rubble before my eyes. The clock on the wall became a twisted & charred memento of a home in ruins.
Also on display in writing - and depicted in international art pieces - is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 as a common standard for all people of all nations. It has been translated into 500 languages, and is as relevant today as it was then.
The Preamble begins “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...” You can read the document at http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
That resonated deeply with me. My Camino has been a daily reminder that we are ALL family. Despite differences in language, nationality, and religion - it seems to me that most people I meet are seeking meaning and connection. Kindness is such a simple way to connect and one that I’ve received or witnessed constantly on the way to Santiago. I don’t think it’s even possible to give as much kindness as I’ve received, but I’m going to keep trying.
Local people lean out of windows to point the way when I’m at a crossroads, looking lost. The receptionist at the hotel in Guernica packed Aloe Vera leaves for me to help heal my legs. A woman from Taiwan massaged my calves and worried about me continuing the walk with sore tendons. A local man in Portugalete bought me drinks, practiced Spanish with me, and took some time to show me around his beautiful city. A man from Colorado gave me tips for my travel to Peru, and continues to send me Facebook messages to guide me along the Camino since he’s ahead of me by a few days now. And then there was Jose - a hippie from Bilbao who I couldn’t understand most of the time -but who seemed to be living in the albergue for a few weeks. He said something about his long hair giving him magic abilities to play his harmonica. He demonstrated how to use a magnifying glass he invented to better see his mobile phone screen with, and he constantly tried to share his food and iced tea with me (and the other pilgrims). He was always smiling or laughing, and so was anyone who interacted with him. Then in Onton, the hospitalera charge us just 12€ for a bed and breakfast, but also served us a delicious magato stew for lunch and paella for dinner - all for donations to go to a local charity. (Post script - I also found out since drafting this blog post that the same hospitalera rushed a German pilgrim to the hospital when she was stung by an Asian hornet, stayed by her side at the hospital, and gave her food and shelter for free another day while she recovered).
Human family. Enough said.
“Mi familia” grows each day, and there is so much I “should” write about, but the word “should” seems to be slipping from my vocabulary. My writing is happening at the same pace as my walking. In fact, it’s lagging behind where I’m at on the Camino. I’m journaling notes each day and posting photos to Facebook frequently, but it will be impossible to capture all of this and put it into words. I suppose that’s part of the beauty of it. I get to share some of this with you, and I get to keep some of it just for me.
For now, I’ve left the Basque Country and I’m traveling through Cantabria. I arrived early in Castro-Urdiales (on August 8th) which gave me the entire day to wander the city, visit the cathedral (more info), and go swimming at the beautiful Playa Ostende. I miss the dramatic coastline and pinxtos, but I’m enjoying the anchovies and tomato spread on toast.
What I’m enjoying most is the complete lack of schedule or discipline. Life is simple. Each day Is about walking, finding food to eat, finding the albergue, showering, and then assessing the state of my body so that I can figure out how far to walk the following day and where I may be able to stay. That’s it.
No meetings or conference calls. No To Do lists or errands to run. No television (other than my Hulu binge in Guernica). No social commitments.
Simple. Beautiful. Each day is an opportunity to connect with other people in unscheduled and unexpected ways. Each day is an opportunity to reconnect with my body - to heal and to listen. Each day I feel stronger and softer - more capable and more relaxed. I’m no longer fighting with my body, but am dancing with it to the tune of my soul. It’s so good to be in a place where I can hear that sweet music again!
And the journey has just begun. I have 385 miles (about 620 km) to go on the Camino. I may pick up the pace as my body grows stronger. Or maybe I won’t. My flight doesn’t leave from Paris until October 5.
Keep reading my blog for reflections and updates about my journey through Isla, Guermes, and Santander...xoxo...