It’s officially my first snow day of the season: school is cancelled and there’s less than 2 inches outside (a false alarm, but I still got a snow day out of it). I have a stack of books on my coffee table, packets of hot chocolate in my cupboard, Netflix opened in my browser (I just started watching American Horror Story, on the recommendation of a teenager I work with. I’m not sure yet if this was a good idea, or a bad idea).
But before I get to any of that, it’s time for more Camino reminiscing. That walk has been on my mind a lot, lately. Last week I bundled up and went out to a park to do a long walk, and I was surprised by how good it felt. And surprised by how sore my legs were. I realized that it had been over a month since I’d walked more than a mile or two, and man, I could feel it. I think my Camino legs are officially gone.
Maybe it was the walk, maybe it’s the cold weather, but I started doing some research into the Camino del Norte, another pilgrimage route that runs across the northern coast of Spain. It’s more physically challenging than the Camino Frances (which I walked last summer); there are many more hills, many more ups and downs. But the route is supposed to be gorgeous; much of it involves walking on a path that has the mountains directly to your left, and the ocean directly to your right. I can’t imagine a better scenario.
So while I’m dreaming about a *possible* 2015 Camino (we’ll see, we’ll see), I’ve also been nostalgic for last year’s Camino. I wrote a post a few months ago, called ‘Endless coffee, top bunks, and delirium; 7 things I miss about the Camino’, and now I’m back for round two. Here are 5 more things that I’ve been missing about the Camino lately.
I already wrote about how I loved being outdoors every day on the Camino, but you know what I really loved about that? Being in the sun. This is such a catch-22, because spending hours in the sun can be so dangerous. But I can’t help it, I love sunshine, and I always have. My mom saw a photo that I posted on this blog, while I was on the Camino, and her comment was something along the lines of: “Your skin!!! Wear a hat!!!!!!!” And I did, sometimes. I was religious in my use of sunscreen on the Camino though, and one of my favorite memories was standing, sweaty and dirty, in a farmacia (pharmacy) and trying to speak in Spanish with the woman working behind the counter (I knew about a dozen words, so I didn’t get very far). I was pointing up to the sky (to indicate the sun), then pointing down to my skin (to indicate that I needed something to cover it from the sun). She walked me over to a shelf full of tubes of cream, studied my skin for a minute, then thoughtfully picked out a bottle.
So, I wore a lot of sunscreen. And I loved (almost) every minute of being out in the sun. I walked the Camino at the end of June and the entirety of July, and I lucked out with a mild summer. There were definitely some cloudy days, but lots of sunny ones as well. Some days were hot, and some of the very hottest were difficult… but I still loved it. I feel so much better when I’ve gotten a daily dose of sunshine; I feel energized and healthy. And this is probably #1 on my list today because we’re in the very middle of winter, there is snow on the ground, and the days have been very gray. So I’m dreaming about a sunny Camino.
2. Eating endless food (and bread) and not really gaining any weight
I may have mentioned that I was about 5 pounds heavier when I returned home from my trip this summer, but not much of that was Camino weight. Well, maybe a pound (but most of it was due to the 10 days in France, post-Camino, where I ate entire meals of bread, cheese, and wine). I already wrote about being able to drink as much wine and coffee as I wanted, but I have to say, it was sheer joy to eat whatever I wanted on the Camino and not worry about it. I’m not a fanatic when it comes to food and my weight, but in my normal life I try to eat healthy foods and stay active and avoid my very favorite things (like french fries and sweet candy).
But the Camino wasn’t normal life. I was walking a ton every day, so I let myself indulge, and eat whatever I wanted to. It took me awhile to get into this routine (old habits die hard), but by the end of the trip, I was stopping at 10:30 am for a huge plate of french fries and a tall glass of coke, just because I wanted to. I almost always had a bag of gummy candies stuffed somewhere in my pack, and I could eat an entire basket of bread before my three course pilgrim’s meal (and then ask for a refill). All of this eating meant that I didn’t lose any weight as I walked 500-miles across a country, and I was okay with that. But as soon as the walking ended, my appetite, unfortunately, didn’t.
It’s taken months to get back to my “normal” eating habits. I may have lost a pound or two… but then again, some pants are still a little tight. Oh, those glorious days of bread and cheese and french fries! It’s a compelling reason to walk another Camino…
3. The opportunity to take a selfie every morning.
I know that I can take a selfie every morning if I wanted to. But what would it show? Here I am, standing in my kitchen, about to leave for work. Every single day. There’s simply no need to take a picture like this. But on the Camino, I took a photo of myself every morning before I began my walk (there were only two days when I forgot, so I took selfies along the path, instead). I had this idea before I began the walk, and the entire purpose was to keep track of my photos. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to remember which photos belonged to which day, so I decided to take a photo every morning, to separate one day’s walk from the next.
And even if the selfie-taking was a solution to an organizational problem, it’s now become something more. It shows me. It shows me on this walk: the first photos of my pale skin and tentative smile, the later photos showing confidence and happiness. My hair gets a little lighter, my skin gets a little darker, I become more relaxed. Some of the photos are bad (these are all taken approximately 30 minutes after I have woken up… often from a top bunk in a crowded albergue and after a fitful night of sleep. I spend 5 minutes in the bathroom brushing my teeth and splashing cold water in my face, and then I put on my pack and walk, so I’m not exactly looking my best)… but I love that I took them. And I wish I could once again have the opportunity to take a different photo from a different city or town or village every single day.
4. The kindness of strangers.
I think that anyone who has walked a Camino might be nodding their head about this one. There are kind people all over the world, and certainly kind people in our every day lives. But sometimes it takes a lot to see them, or notice them. And sometimes we’re so caught up in the busy-ness of life that we all forget to stop and help someone out. Or we forget to stop and be kind.
But on the Camino there is just so much of it. It took me about a week to get into the habit of sharing whatever I had. I think the first person to show me true kindness was Ibai, and I suspect it’s one of the reasons that I took the time to walk with him and get to know him, and then try to stay with him until the end. It was the end of my second day of walking, and I was setting up my keyboard at a picnic table in the courtyard of my albergue. Ibai walked over, asked if he could sit down, and offered me an orange. There was such genuineness and simplicity in this gesture, but I think I’ll always remember it. I took the orange and then we started a friendship.
And all along the Camino there are moments like these. People help you out with the bigger stuff (when you’re in pain, when you have horrible blisters, when you need directions, when you’ve run out of food), but they help with the smaller things, too. They offer you the bottom bunk. They ask, sincerely, how you are doing (and they expect to hear a truthful answer). They open up a bag of cookies and insist that you take one. And then you, in turn, begin to offer what you have. Your time, your ear, your extra Moleskin, your bag of cherries. It’s beautiful.
5. The people.
Oh, I miss the friends that I made: my Camino family. This post has already gone on long enough, and I could easily write another 1,000 words about the people I met on this Camino, but I won’t. All I can say is that the connections- whether they were people I walked with for 100-miles or people I talked to for 10 minutes- the connections were so much of what the Camino was all about. I miss those people.