I had every intention of checking in weekly and sharing my experiences on the trail and yet lack of technology intervened as well as a few very long and intense days that had me stumbling into my accommodations with just enough energy to clean up and crawl, literally, into bed.
One thing I had not shared to avoid worrying my mother, friends and colleagues, was that my international cellular plan did not work at all in connecting me to the internet, calls or maps. Nor did any of my downloaded offline maps for the Camino. So, basically, I had to wing it. Completely disconnected most days, with snail-paced internet access, if at all. Was that divine intervention?
When I backpacked for 7 months around Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa in 1993/4, I was able to call home only once per month to my then boyfriend, now husband and to my mother. I sent postcards and airmail from every town that had a post office along the way. My mother saved all my letters and postcards and they are among my most valued treasures today along with my journal and photos.
There is something very liberating about being self reliant and cut off from technology.
You really experience the world in a different way. You also find out what kind of company you are to yourself. Can you be alone with your thoughts and enjoy the company you keep? Try taking long walks in solitude (without music, audio books, podcasts, calls with friends, etc), you don’t have to travel outside of the country for that. I was shocked at the number of people so connected to and distracted by their phones on the trail. It was more unusual to pass someone without earbuds or a phone in their hand. We are not comfortable with silence. The constant stimuli is what distracts us from the internal work that needs to be done in order to fully step into optimal health and peace of mind.
Many may know the Camino as an ancient Catholic pilgrimage for Saint James, the apostle of Christ who was martyred by King Herod in the Holy Land in 44 AD. His remains were retrieved by his followers and taken back to Spain and are now housed in the famous cathedral in Santiago de Compostela which translates to “St. James of the field of stars”. Many who walk it do so as a form of retreat for spiritual growth.
The seed of my Camino was planted when I read Paulo Coehlo’s book, “Pilgrimage” in 1992. Emilio Estevez’s film “The Way” (2010) caused that seed to sprout. The trip was booked in pre-COVID 2020 to correspond to many significant milestones and commenced on July 28, walking until September 8th. The day I landed in Spain, I read a quote shared by Tim Ferris and the words percolated in my thoughts for 5 weeks:
So wildflowers will come up
Where you are.
You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
As mentioned in previous Camino updates, there have been many challenges that have shed light on my strengths and my weaknesses and offered a sort of compass to direct me more intentionally on my path after the Camino. I share this with you not to deter anyone from embarking on this journey, but to create awareness that even the most prepared, fit, nutritionally sound, and disciplined will have moments of suffering and discomfort on all levels of their being. I had hundreds of folks wishing me a “fun” and “restful” time….two words that definitely do NOT describe the experience of walking the Camino.
Here is a list of a few issues I dealt with throughout the journey:
- Blisters on my little toes that needed daily wrapping and wound care
- Injury to my right ankle (week 1) that will require further evaluation when I return home (ligament tear? avulsion fracture? Downside of going 5 weeks without the low dose naltrexone that I forgot to pack resulting in a massive flare of my old rheumatoid arthritis pattern that likes to settle in my ankles?) – the pain is intense and swelling constant.
- Insomnia like I have never experienced…lucky to get 4 hours of sleep the entire trip despite a history of perfect sleep patterns.
- Daily anxiety as I walked into the unknown without a map or a guide and different language dialects from one region to the next.
- TMI warning – Intense constipation likely triggered by a gluten and or corn exposure (also week 1) – 3 weeks without a BM can be crazy making and worrisome and took a LOT to get things on the move again. Thankful to find a great holistic pharmacy along the way well stocked with herbal products and nutritional supplements like magnesium.
- Acne like I had in my teens likely triggered by the previous issue of things being backed up. Corn exposure, too much rain and too little sunshine also slows the healing of my skin. And the mask acne is real….a lot of my lesions along the mask contact areas.
So after nearly 4 weeks of these hangups on the Camino, I used the only tool I knew could resolve most of these issues. Fasting. For 5 days, I walked 8-10 hours a day with my 18 pound backpack ingesting only water, electrolytes “thank you LMNT!!!” (It’s A Sugar Free Electrolyte Drink Mix With Everything You Need & Nothing You Don’t), and an occasional black coffee. That was my turning point from which I broke through all the physical, emotional and spiritual barriers that were put in my path. I had never done this much physical activity in this kind of fasted state and was astonished at my stamina, strength, clarity, and transformation of all my ailments listed above. We are far more powerful than we are led to believe. I have said that so many times, but was reminded of the reality of this simple truth.
For me, getting out of the cities was almost as challenging as getting soaked on the trails. As my husband and sister in law can attest, my inner GPS does not work, but it is even worse in big cities and especially those with winding cobble stones tucked between ancient and modern architecture, most without street names. Add that to physical exhaustion, no working map support, and different language dialects from one region to the next as I walked from the French/Spanish border starting in Basque Country and walking through Cantabria, onward to and through Asturias and culminating in Galicia, hugging the Cantabrian Sea most of the way before going inland after Ribadeo toward Santiago de Compostela. Each region has its own personality, history, and cultural offerings.
A compostela – The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago
There are mythical stories on how this came to be where scallops preserve either St. Jame’s body or a bride groom and his horse that would otherwise be lost to the sea. It is depicted in markers along the Camino, in significant works of art (e.g. Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” from 1485) and in medival times, was awarded upon completion of the pilgrimage. Read more on the symbols here >