[So forgive me please for interrupting my Camino de Santiago series with a two month National Parks Road Trip. (You can check it out on my Instagram.) While traveling 10,000+ miles there was very little wifi and even less time to devote to my sweet, little blog. So to hold you over while I get reacquainted with indoor plumbing, here is my Camino experience in 100 words.]
“I’m walking Compostela.”
I had cried a desert dry. I was parched.
“That is exactly what you should do…Let the Camino flow through you. El Camino has graces; the Camino itself,” the Spanish accent rolled off the priest’s tongue. “You can’t receive those graces anywhere else.”
Meditating on his words, I walked. Kissing each church door that I passed; the Camino flowing like a fountain, seeking to forgive the travesty I had left. Thirty days I walked, until I reached The Apostle. I came with expectancy; Santiago met me on the Way. Now my name is Joyful Life.
My walking partner and I parted ways after three days. As much as I enjoyed his company- his knowledge of the local flora and his manners (while we were walking) that ended at the alburgue when the hostess thought we wanted one bed. I’m not sure what he told her in spanish, but I was not on board. The idea never even entered my mind! Seriously crazy.
In the end, he stayed at a different alburgue but you know how the Camino is. You step out into the dark morning and viola, there are the pilgrims you walked with the day before. Sometimes welcomed and sometimes, well, let’s just say, I welcomed solitude-while it lasted. No harm done.
“Don’t worry, About a thing, Cause every little things, Gonna be alright.”
-Bob Marley, Three Little Birds
Yep. You got it. Add to playlist along with No Woman, No Cry.
The past two years had been wrought with trauma along with indescribable emotional pain. The emotional pain was so real that it affected my physical integrity. I literally felt my heart in my chest breaking. My life of the past twenty-five years had been demolished out of malice. And so here I was walking across Spain, seeking the grace to forgive the perpetrator of the destruction.
My next Camino will be for you; and all survivors of violence- even sexual. Please know that God heals.
Add Redemption, Dermot Kennedy and The Cave, by Mumford and Sons. This is real. It’s about having the strength to forgive and move forward.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Back to the graces of the Camino for God’s love is magical.
Like I said, I had not planned on walking the Camino when I came to Spain last summer, but the Way called me. When I told a friend in Madrid about this he shared with me his wisdom:
“That is exactly what you should do…Let the Camino flow through you. El Camino has graces; the Camino itself. You can’t receive those graces anywhere else.”
-A Holy Priest from Madrid
“And let your mind wander,” I recalled my friend saying.
Add: Lost in My Mind by The Head and the Heart.
Memories came forward stirring up the muck in my heart. Anger and sorrow would ebb; and love would flow as I released the pain to the One who took it on Himself. There was nothing too great for him to bear. The more I released the more joy I found. The more joy I found, the more peace I recieved. The Camino flowed through me.
Add Ripple, by The Dead.
I kept walking keeping my chin up; that part is essential: HOPE.
Also, don’t forget to smile at the your fellow pilgrims. Be ready with “Buen Camino” to greet them. They have their sufferings too. No pity parties on your Way. Just keep adding to that playlist.
For me it was: Keep Your Head Up (Ben Howard), Panic! At the Disco’s, High Hopes, and for fun, This Is How We Roll, by Florida Georgia Line. Music is therapy for the soul.
Singing is praying twice.
Go to every Pilgrim’s mass you can. Offer up all of the muck along with all of your efforts of this Camino with the priest’s offering. Let His love flow to your very core. He did not do this to you, dear one. His love heals. He is there. Present.
He knows your suffering.
She knows the scandal of injustice.
Ave Maria by Beyoncé added to playlist.
If you can, receive everything on your pilgrimage as a gift. The blisters, the fatigue, the aches, the heat, even the illness that may come.
And come it did. A nasty cough. Try as I did, nothing seemed to relieve it. I hope my roommates were able to get some sleep. I sure wasn’t. But the worst part was my difficulty with my asthma. I had to make some choices and they were not easy.
In the end, I made the right choice for me. I realized that my pilgrimage to Santiago was to visit the Apostle in celebration of his feast. That had always been my dream. To celebrate mass there on July 25th. For me it didn’t have to do with how many kilometers I could walk in a day, or even getting my Long Distance- even though something inside me really did want that.
And so without shame: I got on a bus.
I knew I needed to practice self-care and I could not safely walk the next stage. The unexpected benefit of the short- again, short- bus trip, was being able to dry up my drained blisters by pouring rubbing alcohol on them a few times during the day while wearing my open toe Birks. I’m certain “experts” will warn not to do this; you should listen but it did seem to help me. A little.
That- somewhat of a rest day- along with some new cough lozenges seemed to help. (Shout out to the pharmacists along the Camino.) I was walking again the next day, no longer in solitude but with the Moldovan pilgrim I met walking to Logroño. Remember the one who sang the Beatles? That day we would walk for 30+ km, the longest stretch of my Camino.
We stopped at a place that had la ensalada de papa. Score! While we walked he told me that most people can only handle being around him for a couple of hours.
Spent more time with him in Leon…I started to think his friends were right.
I had been making due with one pair of hikers since Logroño and so now in Leon, I had a chance to shop! Where did I head to? El Cortes Inglés, of course. Now it wasn’t quite the same experience as shopping in Madrid but I didn’t have much time anyway. I did manage to find the most beautiful blush cotton dress with long flowing butterfly sleeves, the floral motif reminiscent of the gardens of Alhambra. Putting it on after a long day of walking the Camino felt heavenly. Best. Decision. Ever.
Add to playlist: Señorita by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. Not for the Camino Playlist. Instead add: King and Lionheart, Of Monsters and Men.
The Moldovan left in the morning to do his 50 km day. I stayed and toured the Cathedral.
It is breathtaking.
And so worth the late start.
Now, just so you know, I am glad I came to the Camino alone. I would not have it any other way. There really was a beauty in going it alone. With complete freedom, I became dependent on God for my strength. Being alone enabled me to rediscover myself; the strong, friendly, gritty, joyful, free-thinking, feminine me; the me who had to be buried in order to survive an abusive, patriarchal relationship.
For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. -San Pablo
…I AM FREE.
Brand New by Ben Rector gets added to the list.
Thank goodness for my playlist. The next stretch of the Camino is black asphalt and car exhaust.
Someone told me that I really should stop in the next church because the statue of the Virgin of the Camino had a lot of significance. I do not know the story of this statue. What is clear is this image is special. Very special.
A Thousand Years, Christina Perri, added to the List.
I urge you to stop here even if the locals don’t want you to. They may even charge you for being a vagabundo–a vagabond. That is what my lunch receipt said. Just shake the dust off your feet and go to the friendly little peregrino eatery just across from the church. They welcome pilgrims with a smile.
Add to playlist: Shake It Off, by Taylor Swift.
Also, if you leave before dawn, be careful. Another pilgrim and I, missed the Camino due to some very large dogs being let loose on us. To afraid to turn back, we kept going not aware of our mishap. We eventually both made it back to the Camino, after probably two hours of walking. She had to climb a fence and cross a highway. Lucky for me, I checked my phone when I came to the only crossroad. I was able to cross through a little village that eventually met up with the Camino. I never want to see those dogs again! They were as big as lions.
A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh A-wimoweh…S T O P. Hold up a minute. That song will be stuck in my head forever.
Okay, that’s better: “Don’t worry about a thing…”
Now, after making it back to the Camino, I ran into the pilgrim priest again, along with the pilgrim I had started off with that morning. Fr. Jojin told me about a monastery that he was headed to for evening vespers chanted in Latin. I so badly wanted to go but as I was still feeling sick, I didn’t think I could make it. He made it, and sent me a little video. Little did I know, I would be there soon along with a caravan of American pilgrims.
Get to add to the playlist: Pretty Shining People by George Ezra.
But first Astorga:
The lessons Astorga had for me: Good things come to those who wait. Remember my 4th of July longing for a bacon-blue burger? Got it here. Right outside the bell tower.
The other lesson? Bed bugs are nasty little buggers. I saw my first poor victim of bedbugs. Fear is the right response. The worst part? Instead of compassion, she had to be greeted with: leave & follow this protocol. My heart went out to her.
That night, I crawled into my silk, wrapped myself up like a caterpillar in a cocoon and slept soundly. Tomorrow would be another day of Wake, Walk, Wash, Wine, Repeat… I need a vacation.
Single gender bathrooms would be welcome too…
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I received my credentials along with a pilgrim’s blessing at the Royal Parish Church of Santiago and St. John the Baptist in Madrid. I was officially a pilgrim. I had not come to Spain planning to walk. It was His plan, in His time.
I arrived by train in Pamplona on the feast of John the Baptist, June 24, 2019. I participated in the Pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral. That is where I met the first member of my Camino Familia, a pilgrim from Croatia. I will always remember him walking into a great hall of the church and belting out a Croatian marian hymn. It was a sight to behold.
Jose Maria, an exceptional volunteer, gave us a lovely tour of the cathedral and later, Father led a nice community time of sharing and prayer. This was so much more than I expected. I now felt like a pilgrim.
First hurdle for this American peregrina? Going into a bar and ordering pinchos- alone. First lesson learned? SMILE = FOOD + BEER. Invaluable.
Later on I would learn, if you add rubbing your tummy to the smile, you will get the best chicken dinner you’ve ever tasted. That would be in Villamayor de Monjardin. Don’t worry; there is only one bar so you will find it. Unfortunately, it is only open- sometimes.
“We never shall know all the good a simple smile can do.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta
Day One Walking: First up Mt. Perdon. And then, D O W N…Oh, the knees. My training consisted of walking from Decathlon to Decathlon in Madrid, trying to get the gear I needed for my impromptu, but long desired, pilgrimage on the Way to Compostela. I was hurting.
My hosts at the first alburgue were so gracious, even allowing me to pick cherries from their trees. And, dinner? AMAZING. The wine? So nice. The heat wave? Starting tomorrow…
A German Pilgrim.
We attended the Pilgrim’s mass together at St. Michael in Estella.
San Miguel, my patron saint, has a fierce devotion to me. (I say that tongue in cheek but it must be said.) I try and return it in the same measure but I’m certain I will never quite match him. It was so special celebrating mass here, receiving the blessing from Fr. Michael who shares devotion to our namesake.
Fr. Michael gave the pilgrims a holy card with the Pilgrim’s Prayer to our Lady of Rua printed on it. I carried it with me, trying to pray it everyday. By the time I arrived in Santiago it was so worn that it looked nearly as old as some of the churches along the Camino.
After the blessing it was time for tapas and cervezas. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, I had to remind myself that I was in Spain. The baby eels on the little plate helped with that. Topic of the night? What else, US politics.
As I passed the multitude of churches along the old pilgrim route, I made the practice of kissing each door as a little sign of my love to the Presence who may be inside. Just a small act of devotion for so many graces.
Yes, the heat wave arrived. The pilgrims I was privileged to walk with are survivors. We walked the meseta- think Death Valley- while temperatures scorched Europe, reaching 44° C. Translated into American? Just over 111° F. Maybe it got hotter. I wasn’t keeping track. I am thankful to the bartender in the village that gave me gazpacho. I’m certain it saved my life. Gracias.
The pilgrims from LA I met walking the meseta were thinking of leaving and going to Scandi. I get it. No judgment here. The American mom with her young daughter was thinking Ireland. Smart move. I hope they made it to the wine fountain first. The vino is not bad at all. Salude.
Pilgrims who had started in St. Jean had three days on me: three extra days of blisters, injuries, and exhaustion. How happy we were to arrive at an alburgue that offered us foot baths and a laundry spinner. The hosts even let me join them for the ride straight up a jaggedy dirt road, to an old fortress. Their ministry to pilgrims was so appreciated but how it saddened me to hear them say “that they were the only thing spiritual on the Camino” when Christ Himself is present; waiting for hearts with humility to be open to sweet communion in the Eucharist.
Walking to Logroño on a Sunday afternoon with new boots two sizes too big; so much better. Left the old boots on the church steps with the hope that they could go to someone who needs them. Met a pilgrim from Moldova who sang the Beatles. All You Need is Love became the simple truth of the Way. And so began The Camino Playlist.
Just before Logroño, lining the Camino, are fruit trees. A local woman was gathering the cherry like fruits. When I asked what they were, the kind woman filled her second bag with half of what she had gathered- and gave them to me! So kind and generous was her heart.
Add to playlist:
Heart of Gold by Neil Young
“I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold…”
I didn’t think my feet could carry me any further- but it was Sunday- and I needed to make it to mass so I kept going. In Logroño, waiting for the Moldovan pilgrim, was a pilgrim from India, a Catholic priest, who the Way brought into my pilgrimage as a shepherd while I was so far from my shepherds at home.
Another one added to the playlist: Shed a Little Light by GoldFord.
I told this pilgrim priest that I needed to go to mass and he walked me to the Cathedral. Mass had just begun. Elated, I opened the door with my pack still on my back- a hot mess- and not caring! Thankfully, the pilgrim priest checked the mass schedule, looked at me and decided that we would go to mass that evening. Now it was time to get a bed. And then, food!
Felt so blessed to be able to help prepare the pilgrim’s meal at the alburgue; yes, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but in the end many hands made light work. The food was delish! Mass was lovely too.
Add to playlist: Kenny Chesney’s Get Along.
The ringing of the old church bells calling the faithful to prayer- what a memory. When I heard them ring, I would run fearing that I would miss the celebration. I learned I typically had 15 minutes to get there. So thankful to be able to pray vespers with the sisters at the monastery. Beautiful sweetness.
“40” by U2 added.
Loved Santo Domingo. The mosaics in the crypt are muy bonita. Such a nice pilgrim’s mass. Realized I left some clothes in Logroño. Checked a local store for some new hikers. €65. Ouch. Made the decision that I would get by with the one pair of hiking pants I had, save my money and wait to buy something I loved. Best. Decision. Ever.
Gloria by U2 added.
Walking into Burgos I met the first of the LA ladies. Kelly and I connected right away as we could relate to situations we each were going through. We soon caught up to her friends, Becky and Sylvia. We would meet each other walking many times over the next three weeks. Love the LA ladies. And, the Burgos Cathedral is amazing.
Can’t forget Willie. On the Road Again. Added.
Met up with the Croatian pilgrim I met the first night in Pamplona. So surprised as he is a giant and I walk at the speed of the snails because of my asthma. As we were talking about the Good Shepherd and the 23rd Psalm, what should approach us? Yes, shepherds leading their sheep down the Camino! Seriously, Providence. It is true, the goats seperate themselves from the sheep. It is their way not the way of the shepherds.
Can’t not add: I Will Follow. Yes, I know, more U2. But it’s vintage…
Darko and I continued on our Way, reciting, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He leads me,” taking turns in each of our own tongue. Pretty magical. We soon parted ways. I am as slow as the snails.
Add to playlist: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello.
So how is it being in a foreign country on the Fourth of July? Honestly, hard. After another scorching day, I’ll I wanted was a bacon-blue burger, watermelon, potato salad and a nice local brew in my hand. I wanted to kick back, watch the fireworks exploding across the sky, while Don Henley’s, American Pie looped in the background.
Give me some little American cuties turning cartwheels with their red, white and blue ribbons twirling like sparklers from their pigtails, while their older brothers are taunting them with snakes caught by the creek; the TNT poppers exploding at their bare feet. Give me that, and I’m good!
While there was a place to kick back with a beer, the open field behind the albergue remained vacant of exploding stars in an American anthem.
The church bells called the village to mass and I went running. There was even a sing-along where every country was invited to sing a song important to them, but everytime I suggested, God Bless America, it was nixed. Another tradition missed. How ’bout, Immaculate Mary?
A m e r i c a n.
North American that is.
I checked the store for hamburger. None. Although interiorly sullen, I kept my American chin up and enjoyed the paella along with the company of the Chinese, Italian and French Canadian pilgrims at the dinner table. The next day, Tom Petty’s, American Girl was added to the Camino playlist.
“Well she was an American girl, Raised on promises, She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there, Was a little more to life, Somewhere else, After all it was a great big world, With lots of places to run to, Yeah, and if she had to die, Tryin’ she had one little promise, She was gonna keep………She was an American girl.”
Well, the sun still rose the next morning and it wasn’t long (just 15 km) before this American girl was biting into the largest, sweetest slice of watermelon she could remember. It tasted so good under the shade.
While the scroungy dog listened intently to his master, the watermelon vendor shared his verse with the pilgrims resting at his establishment; a poem he wrote about el Camino. It was recited in Spanish. After all, this is Spain.
One by one, the other items I missed so much; la hamburguesa, la ensalada de papa and los fuegos artificiales, would come to me as I continued my Way…
…Hit play. Boots of Spanish Leather, The Lumineers. They’re Colorado-grown.
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?
Hey, thanks for checking in! Part 2 is coming soon. So subscribe. Also, what do you think? Share your thoughts below. Cheers!