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A Life Changing Trip: Walking the Camino de Santiago

Nobody could have prepared me for what happened on the Camino de Santiago. The humility, the pain, the grief, the fear, the pure human kindness and greater understanding of God’s love – and the weeping for all of it together and separately and the finality and great feeling of accomplishment. Like a race that actually ended without me thinking I could do better. All of this AND doing it with my daughter was a journey I could have never imagined.

Walking the Camino de Santiago with my 22-year-old daughter was a fleeting bucket list thought turned dream. When my daughter said, “Let’s do the Camino when I finish college,” I was skeptical. She’s young and plans change frequently for the young. I didn’t actually purchase the tickets until August because I really couldn’t believe we’d actually get to go.

I’ve only been out of the country one other time and my daughter had never been. Everything about this trip was new. She had to get a passport. We had to get backpacks and other travel gear. We had to learn about planes, trains and buses. We had to learn about accommodations.

We took Spanish lessons. We met with people who’d done the Camino. I went to presentations. I bought 22 pairs of boots to try, thanks to REI. We both walked…a lot. I quit playing soccer five months before the trip to decrease the chance of injury. She did squats to prepare for the pack. We were ready.

Our first reality check occurred at the airport in San Francisco. I purchased one way tickets to France. Apparently you can not do that. You have to have tickets to somewhere else or they won’t let you board the plane. We bought a train ticket to somewhere in Spain. We flew direct to Paris on a budget airline and then flew to Biarritz France. Biarritz is a quaint beach town on the coast of France. That was our first excellent surprise. It was so nice there that we decided to stay an extra day. We also picked up an extra traveler. We met a young girl from Lithuania in the airport who was also doing the Camino. She planned to stay in the airport for the night. She kept us company for the next 18 days.  

Camino de SantiagoWe were told that the Camino de Santiago is a place where you don’t have to have any plans. “You just walk and stop where you are ready to stop.” We hate planning. We got to St. Jean Pierre De Port where most people start this pilgrimage, and we were shocked. It was extremely busy. We didn’t have any reservations. Fortunately, we went with everyone else to the tourist center to get our Pilgrim passports and got suggestions for places to stay, then waited for a one to open. We stayed in our first albergue that night.

We were warned of the snorers. We were in a room with about eight other travelers, all older than me. They went to bed at 8:00 p.m. The snoring was loud. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I asked to sleep in the living room area and the albergue owner kindly accommodated my request.

We started our walk over the Pyrenees the next day. That night, we stayed in a monastery with 100s of other people. We started making reservations the next day for the projected places we’d stay. We did that for a couple days and then decided we wanted the real experience and began to relax a little with that. We met other travelers who helped with reservations and getting information.  

Camino de SantiagoWe started the idea of the trip thinking it was going to be just a walk. We are both former college runners now. I’m more former than she. We thought walking would be easy. Walking is not that easy when you do it for hours with a pack. It was easier for my daugher than for me. It was humblingly hard for me.

I got blisters. Lots of blisters. I switched boots to running shoes. I tried mole skin, second skin, sheep’s wool, threading my blisters, lubbing my feet, and kept getting blisters. I knew I`d never have a chance to do this again. I would have walked on fire. People were so nice about this. Random strangers gave me advice, supplies, shared cab rides and a couple of young italians that my daughter befriended became my partners in the ”crime” of riding the bus and cab. This was also part of my experience with pure human kindness.  

Camino de SantiagoMy daugher had to do so much for us. She carried my boots on her back pack. She made many of the reservations and shopped for our food for the next day. She found pharmacies to get supplies for my blisters. She figured out train and bus schedules for us to take breaks. She was amazing. She became an equal adult on the trip.

Learning to sleep with 100 other people is challenging. Communicating in another language is difficult. Negotiating life with another person for 40 days is not easy. Doing that while walking 15 miles a day, staying in albergues, pensions, hostels, hotels and apartments elevates the difficulty.

In difficulty comes truth.

Camino de SantiagoThe truth on this trip came in so many forms. It appeared in a priest`s firm and providential words. It came in realizing my limitations, temptations, and fears. This truth transfigured into a love and kindness I wasn’t familiar with. It showed itself in the hours or walking and communicating with my daugher. It was vivid in the grandness and obvious reverent detail of the cathedrals in Leon, Burgos, Santiago and churches in small towns.

The owner of the first albergue shared her couch, and in the morning she reassured us. In the 18 days our friend from Lithuania was with us, we formed a lifelong Camino family out of truth, trust and love. In a moment of despair/discouragement someone encouraged me gently and firmly. A man carried my pack with his when I couldn’t. Another man from Seattle kindly acted as our caring guide and personal photographer. Two other women from Colorado and Israel befriended us and continue to communicate, send us gifts, and talk about future caminos.

Camino de SantiagoThe age range of other walkers was 20s to a few in their 80s. We spent a good amount of time with a group of 15 young people. These travelers were from Italy, Lithuania, Argentina, and Israel. Only two had known each other before the walk. They walked together, sang together and cooked together, then we all slept together in bunk rooms.

On the days when some couldn’t walk the Camino de Santiago because of blisters or other maladies, they cared for each other. They shared all of this with us. They included me, not just as my daughter’s mom but as another traveler. They also included other travelers. At times I looked around at our big dinner parties, and saw them navigating each other’s languages and cultures and I smiled at the surrealness of the moment. What would I have given to do that at their age? Then I realized the gift of being able to do it at my age WITH my daughter.

Camino de SantiagoTruth, love and kindness showed in my daughter’s willingness to stay with our plan to stay together, and finish together. Several parents on the trip made comments about how we should take times to separate from each other and walk our own walk. Our plan, the only plan we really had, was to walk together. We walked, navigated, learned, loved and finished together, first in Santiago and finally in Finisterre. We have now gone on, together, to our separate journeys knowing the truth that she will always carry my boots with the legs and strength I gave her.  

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